Mark Twain is commonly given credit for this saying, although there is not conclusive proof…
When an organization is undergoing a transformational effort, employees’ commitment to their own transformation is crucial to success, starting with the executives. More good management will not inspire the changes that will be necessary. The changes in an organization’s transformational effort will include process changes, cultural changes, and personal changes in ways of working. The changes needed will move along at an accelerated rate if the executives of the organization are modelling their own commitment to creating and implementing a new way of being a leader of the business. This starts with the executives inventing and executing a new future state for themselves.
Taking a Stand
What we mean by taking a stand is a simple concept, but quite challenging to implement. When you think about it, there is one speech act that creates a possible new future―a declaration.
There are many historical examples that we all recognize as declarations that changed the course of human history:
- “We hold these truths to be self-evident―that all men are created equal” – Declaration of Independence for the United States of America
- “Put a man on the moon by the end of the decade” – President John F. Kennedy
When these declarations were made, the current reality of the times did not match what was being said. For example, all men were not created equal in the 18th century when this statement was made. One’s state in life depended on what family you were born into. In early 1961, the U.S. was losing the space race, with no prospects for making any step-changing advances. There are many examples of a leader making a bold declaration that inspired and motivated large numbers of people to take new actions to make this new future occur.
By making a declaration – that is, to speak into existence a possible new future – it’s the first step in creating a new reality that is a break from the current one. But making a declaration is not enough. Committing to that declaration is required. Committing oneself to making the new future occur will begin the generation of new actions that will usher the new future into reality.
So, our definition of “Taking a Stand” is: Making a Declaration, plus Committing to it
Here’s the good news – as human beings, we take stands a lot. When people examine their own lives, they can recall times when significant changes in the direction of their lives were taken. Frequently, people remember these times as moments when they “decided” on something. Looking back, they can see that they actually envisioned a new and unpredictable future for themselves and started taking new actions to fulfill it. So, when we are working with individuals inside an organization on taking a stand for themselves as a leader, they are able to draw on their own experiences in life.
Taking a Leadership Stand
Creating and implementing a new way of being a leader is taking a leadership stand. The process of creating a leadership stand is shown in this simple graphic.
Imagine that the orange circle represents all of “who you are” currently as a leader. For the most part, executives have far more leadership traits that work well for them. In taking a stand, recognizing some of these traits can be really useful in distinguishing “ways of being” a leader.
Shaded in this illustration are “areas needing improvement”. These areas are usually well known by the executives because of various feedback mechanisms through their careers. Traditionally, people approach their leadership development by taking on these areas needing improvement and converting them to successful changes in their leadership. We have found, and there is a lot of research data showing, that “fixing” elements to improve are not the most successful ways to develop one’s leadership. Fixing something starts with a negative – that is, fixing implies changing something that is currently bad. Taking a leadership stand is not about fixing something, but rather creating and executing something.
The larger bubble in this illustration is a visual on a leadership stand. You will notice that taking a leadership stand is about expanding one’s leadership. There are some key variables to consider when creating this leadership stand.
- The Wow factor
- Would make a difference to you and to the organization
Inventing and committing to a new way of being a leader must be inspirational to the person. Without this element, the new way of being a leader will be difficult to execute. The changes required will be hard to make because it becomes a “have to” rather than a “want to”.
The new way of being a leader must be desired by the leader. If the person doesn’t really care if the necessary changes are made, then the new actions and ways of thinking will be difficult to implement.
A leadership stand must be a game changer for the executive to be most effective. This wow factor needs to be a sufficient jolt out of the current box that they are in. The leadership stand needs to be big enough to generate the uncomfortable changes that are necessary.
Since the executives are committed to making a difference in their organizations, the leadership stand must be a significant change that will contribute to the organization as a whole.
Finally, the leadership stand must be actionable. Only describing this new state of being a leader will not give the leader the thoughts about how to make the changes desired in real time. I often ask the person I am working with to do a litmus test. “Imagine a meeting or a recent time when you were involved with a group of people. Notice how you are being and your actions in this situation. Now install in your head this leadership stand. What would you do differently, if anything?” This view allows us to observe significant changes or not. If not, we must keep working on the expression of the leadership stand so that the leader may make changes, moment by moment.
The arrows in this illustration show the new actions the leader can invent and take from the expression of their leadership stand. Declaring a new way of being and committing to it is how a leadership stand is generated. Considering new actions and behaviors is necessary to give the person the best chances of success in their leadership stand.
Ways to Get There
When in the process of creating a powerful leadership stand, there are several things to consider during the process.
- Someone you are inspired by, that you admire, that you have thought about wanting to be that way as a leader
We all have people in our lives who were role models for us. These people were being certain ways that were inspiring and motivating to us. They may be teachers, coaches, managers, and/or executives that we found to be motivating to us. In fact, they often were instrumental in our advancing into new roles or opportunities.
- You might have a burning desire to be this new way
Frequently, people we are working with have thought to themselves “I wish I could be that kind of a leader”. These areas that are desired are a good start in inventing a leadership stand that will be very effective for the individual and their organization.
- Is there a recurring theme in feedback or annual reviews that occur
When there is a recurring theme, or an element in feedback that is mentioned, this can be a starting point to inventing a leadership stand. The outcome from this work will not be about fixing this element. Rather, it can illuminate a direction or approach to an effective leadership stand.
A Few Leadership Stand Examples
Here are a few examples that illustrate what an effective leadership stand could sound like.
- An effective project manager promoted to a new strategic project whose project members were peers:
- I am an inspired and inspiring leader
For this project leader, we didn’t want to change the many ways of being and behaviors that were highly successful as a project manager. However, something was clearly missing in the ways the project manager was executing this critical strategic project. After thinking it through together, we came to the realization that the project manager was only focusing on controlling the project. Since the team members were this manager’s peers, this command and control way of being was just not effective. Getting the manager’s attention on their team, in addition to the project management, helped them become a much more effective leader of the project.
- A highly successful sales person was promoted to national sales executive:
- I am a centered and thoughtful leader
Some of this leader’s strengths in sales were getting in the way of her being an effective national sales executive. The person’s sense of urgency, decisive and quick responses, and the take charge attitude necessary to be successful in sales were some of the strengths. However, when leading other sales managers, these were undesirable, causing some unwanted turnover and unsuccessful sales efforts. By committing to being centered and thoughtful, the leader was able to adopt new approaches to being a national sales leader. These new approaches were added to the strengths the leader already demonstrated.
- A soft-spoken scientist in his first leadership role:
- I am a bold leader, always making a difference
This manager was literally a rocket scientist. Their strengths included a ton of smarts and brilliant project management. But consistent feedback included “being too quiet and withdrawn”. This manager took this leadership stand of being bold, which gave him behaviors that created more expression and “out there” approaches to leading the team.
Execution and transformation require something “exceptional”. Simply being the same-old-same-old ways is unlikely going to be successful.
Any transformational change for an organization will be uncomfortable. Old ways of being and ways of working will be ineffective in realizing this transformational change. Execution and transformation projects move about as fast as the development of the executives who are accountable for them. Executives must step up as role models for all of their employees, showing that they are also committed to making changes in the ways of managing and leading the organization.
When executives take their own leadership stands, and demonstrate their stands in public ways, they will serve as sources of inspiration to others throughout the organization. This includes the opportunity for anyone in the organization to take their own leadership stands out of their commitment to advancing the transformation for the organization. It is essential that the senior executives are fostering this kind of mindset and behavior from everyone in the organization, and that examples of “being a leader” are recognized and appreciated.