“Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so just because you might not like what you find.” Colin Powell, Lessons in Leadership. We’ve all heard the slogan, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Colin Powell was saying sometimes it is not obvious what we need to change until we look a little closer. Jack Welch, formerly GE, would say, “if it ain’t broke, break it.” We, as leaders need to constantly be looking below the surface and uncovering what needs to be changed to ensure we remain relevant and competitive.
Those at the higher levels did not get there or stay there by not taking risks. They got there by be willing to take appropriate risks and make appropriate changes along the way. Leaders go against the tide and bet higher. Leaders make the call about making a change, never the team, and then leaders will include the team on three key elements to implementing any successful change. We have to address The Why, or purpose. A leader will pull the team together and communicate clearly why it is important or necessary to make a change.
Second, the most thought about but least talked about element is letting the team know what’s in it for them and the team. When any significant level of change is about to be implemented, the team is thinking “What’s in it for me?’ It is a potential silent killer, and if not addressed, can undermine and completely derail our success. Realizing the team is unlikely to raise the question, except with one another, the leader will defuse the issue by raising the question and answering the question for the team. The WIIFM needs to be a mix of both tangible and intangible benefits.
Finally, a leader will Empower the Vision by providing a picture of what success looks like. It is critical that the team sees what you see, wants what you want and that success is both reachable and attainable. If so, they will embrace it, own it and commit to the vision.
Of course, there has to be an exit strategy. A leader must be willing to say, “No matter how far down the wrong road you’ve travelled, be willing to turn around.” – Chinese proverb. It is about taking calculated risks, staying curious, and being willing to change lanes if necessary and go a different direction. Unlike the majority of companies who try to cut, cut, cut their way through a financial downturn and difficult times, legendary leaders understand that risk and change must occur or we become stagnant and weaker and often times lose our best talent. We are not talking revolutionary changes, that include high-stakes gambling or survival instinct, but taking appropriate risk to move the organization forward.