By Martin Fisher
What is the most important job/function of a leader?
- Inspire the team?
- Use resources effectively?
- Make tough decisions?
- Set an example?
- Develop others?
All of these are good answers and are important things for a leader to be sure they are accomplishing in an organization.
But none of these is the most important answer.
The number one job of a leader â€“ the reasons leaders exist â€“ is to bring change to organizations.
â€œThat’s silly!â€ â€“ is a common reply I hear when I make the statement.
â€œLeaders only bring change if change is what the organization needs. They assess the situation, analyze their resources, and only make changes if there is a reasonable chance of the change improving the organization.â€
My response to that, in the words of my teenaged daughter, isÂ â€œPssh!â€.
Change:Â If you aren’t doing it, you’re doing Leadership wrong.
Effective leaders are never satisfied with the status quo.
Of course, leaders will continue to celebrate good performances, boast the capabilities of their team, and value the circumstances they find themselves in. But more, a leader has the ability to see and accept the organization as it is and form a clear vision for how the organization can (and should) be.
Leadership, a friend once told me, is the where the science of the possible meets the art of the dream.
Leadership is the nuanced ability to see what could be and come up with the plan to create it out of what is already in existence. Effective leaders almost instinctively realize that slow and incremental change is a prison and that the only escape is dramatic and disruptive change.
Leadership is â€œDisruptive change?â€
That’s crazy talk!
Look at all the people who lost or almost lost everything to disruptive change: New Coke…Webvan…the Pontiac Aztek…Hooters Air…
Only a fool or a liar would say there is no risk to disruptive change. But there are things you can do to minimize that risk:
Think, Rethink, and Rethink Again
The leader has to be completely honest with themselves about the environment they operate in, the resources available, and the chances of the disruptive change actually taking effect.
This thinking must be complete, honest, and is not done until the leader understands the environment completely.
The leader then needs to find a small group of trusted other leaders that they can toss the idea to with the intent of these other leaders shooting it so full of holes that almost nothing remains.
Whatever is left — whatever survives the onslaught — Â forms the base of the next round of thinking. Once the thinking is done the thoughts have to be able to be put into simple and actionable statements:
- Changing the organizational structure? Then create a org chart to talk to and demonstrate.
- Changing processes?Â Then show a picture that details before and after with the benefits.
- Changing the mission? Then create a succinct mission statement and show what is being changed and why.
Whatever the change, come up with a picture (1 slide, please, not a full deck â€“ that’s for later) that can be used to explain the â€œwhy and howâ€ of the change.
Talk the Team Through The Change
The worst thing to do once the thinking is done (you think) and the picture is ready is to simply dump the change on the team.
One of the biggest (and, sadly, most common) mistakes leaders make is to forget that, while the leader has been thinking through this change for weeks, the team just got told of the change and needs time to process and unpack it. They deserve the chance to see what the change is, how it impacts them, ask questions, and get answers.
The effective leader is able to effectively communicate the change to the team.
Using the picture of the â€œhow and whyâ€ to show the team how the change will impact them and how it helps getting team goals accomplished.
Then step back, listen, and engage in the conversation. Remember â€“ the team knows the system and might reveal something to tweak the change. In fact, this could be the difference between success and failure.
â€œThat sounds an awful lot like sales! If I wanted to do sales I’d of taken that job with my cousin at the furniture store!â€
Is it like sales?
Well, if â€œsalesâ€ means influencing people to see things from different perspectives â€“ then yes.
But I prefer to think of it as â€œCasting A Visionâ€ â€“ which is what we’ll talk about next time.