leadership development

Why Is It OK When You Say It?

I recently asked a group of senior leaders how comfortable they thought people are telling their boss that they don’t know how to do something. The response was unanimously “not very”. The next question to this same group of leaders was “As a boss, what is your reaction when someone comes to you and says “I don’t know how to do this?”” The immediate response was, “How can I help?”

So why is it OK to be on the receiving end of the request for help and yet so difficult to be the person asking for help? Why is it that being vulnerable is still so hard to do?

Being vulnerable takes a great deal of business maturity and an environment of trust where it is safe to be exposed. And why would companies want to create such an environment?

Consider the business efficiency and effectiveness of an environment where people are encouraged to openly say “I don’t know”. It short-circuits the process of wondering, guessing and hoping that things will get done properly. Think of the time saved. Imagine what could be accomplished. Picture the engagement level of your employees and satisfaction levels of your customers.

Now consider how you make it OK to say “I don’t know” in your business.

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A Leadership Revolution

There are many theories on what makes a leader great and even more models on how to become one. Regardless of the method or methodology, there is one element common throughout great leadership.

Great leadership is the power to ignite the spark of inspiration within others. It is about creating the opportunity for someone to feel compelled to take a step outside their comfort zone to be or do something that they haven’t previously been able to. Leaders have the ability to trigger in others the wonder of transformation. To redefine one’s belief in what is possible.

A leader with a high degree of emotional intelligence wants to get things done by igniting and inspiring people from within.  Such leaders are able to engage the interest and motives of others to create conditions that enable them to succeed.

Now imagine the revolution if everyone could inspire in others a transformational moment in time; one in which they unleashed someone else’s inner super power to conquer what they once deemed the impossible — to tackle a new issue with confidence and passion with the feeling that they have conquered the world. Transforming “what if” into “what is”. Moving from “I can” to “I have”. Now imagine that is not just people in formal leadership positions.

Consider this a calling to all people to engage, encourage and inspire in others the opportunity to become more. That would prove an incredible achievement for individual, team and organization.

What do you hope to ignite with your leadership revolution?

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Ready. Aim. Fire! The rallying cry for successful change initiatives

We all know that the only constant is change. And with about 70% of all change initiatives failing what that means in today’s challenging business climate is that, while all the more critical, it continues to be challenging to make change happen.

Even after thorough and proper planning change initiatives commonly meet reactions from employees like “that’s not the way we do things around here” or “this is the latest flavor of the month”. One thing I find that companies struggle with and that would make your change initiative more successful is creating and bringing to life a compelling vision for change.

A compelling vision is more than just having a meeting where you share an acronym with a logo and a catchy tag line for the undertaking. For a vision to truly be captivating it has to be motivating and inspirational so that people eagerly move toward the new destination created by the vision.

Part of being a good leader is being able to create and communicate your vision. For significant change initiatives, leaders need to be masterful in creating the vision of the new destination. This takes skill, time and repetition of the message. Leaders also need to be authentic about challenges to be faced, commitment needed and what to do if people don’t feel up to the task because being on the bus but not being an active participant is not an option. Consider for example the programs that both Zappos and Amazon have in place for paying employees to quit.

One of the most commonly missing pieces I find when crafting a compelling vision is creating a “burning platform”. The burning platform makes it clear that staying in the current position isn’t an option. Change is uncomfortable. What leaders need to do is make it more comfortable to move forward than to remain where you are currently.

So how do you create the burning platform that is inspirational? Let’s break it down…

The burning platform for me is visually depicted as a wooden bridge that acts as the transition between what your business has been and what it can become. The wooden bridge has a very deep canyon below and the bridge is on fire. Now imagine you are standing in the middle of the burning wooden bridge. As the fire continues to burn it becomes more and more risky to stay standing on the bridge. The art of effectively creating the burning platform for change is enabling people to be brave enough to walk forward to a place unknown.

To be successful leaders must:

  • Make the vision clear and compelling drawing people forward enabling them to overcome their natural fear and resistance to new and different things
  • Ensure forces are stronger drawing people forward than their inherent desire to return to what is familiar and comfortable
  • Create a sense of urgency around making change happen

An example of where this was well done was a leader in a segment of the quick service restaurant industry. It was faced with the challenge of creating the compelling need to change while being a leader in their category. To create the need for change the point of comparison was reframed. Rather than being satisfied at being a leader in their category the gauntlet was thrown down that it wanted to be the leader in the fast food restaurant overall industry. That completely changed the landscape. The goal was clear. The company wasn’t number one but it could see the taillights of the industry leader and now all it had to do was close the gap. The sense of urgency came from the fact that the industry leader was moving forward. The vision was clear, the rallying cry went up and the company was able to drive change with this renewed focus.

One thing that companies can do to significantly increase the success of their change initiatives is create a burning platform. Once the vision is clear you need to delicately set the torch to the platform to create the sense of urgency around the need for change compelling people to move forward. This is one area time and time again I see as an opportunity for companies to be more successful with the change initiatives.

As you begin your strategic planning for 2015 ask yourself: Are you ready? Have you thoroughly planned out your change initiative? Is the aim of the vision clear and laser focused? Is your vision compelling including a burning platform for change that is really on fire? These questions will help lead you to achieving greater success with your change initiatives.

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