In a Harvard Business Review article, Michael Beer and Nitin Nohria wrote: “Despite some individual successes, however, change remains difficult to pull off, and few companies manage the process as well as they would like. Most of their initiatives—installing new technology, downsizing, restructuring or trying to change corporate culture—have had low success rates. The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.”
Although written in 2000, asking executives today, the statistics seem to be about the same. The costs of this are staggering. What is at the root of this failure rate? What is missing?
It is the third transformation needed to be a powerful leader: becoming someone whose word is their bond.
In business and life, there are always situations, changing conditions, problems large and small. This is part of the fabric of business and life. There are a multitude of difficult circumstances and good reasons why something can’t/didn’t happen. And leaders are in the business of making happen what was not going to happen.
Here’s what George Bernard Shaw had to say about this:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him.
The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself.
All progress depends on the unreasonable man.
-from Maximums for Revolutionists
How do you become an “unreasonable” leader?
Quoting Michael Jensen, Professor Emeritus of the Harvard Business School:
Doing what you said you would do when you said you would do it.
The essence of being “unreasonable” and making happen what otherwise would not happen, what is often inconvenient, uncomfortable, and uncertain, and what sometimes may even seem impossible, is being someone whose word is their bond—in particular in the face of one’s own self-doubts, considerations, and one’s own “reasons why not.”
And such a leader asks the same of those they lead.
This is the lever that moves the mountain.
Leadership in the Heat of Battle | Transformation #2: Going Beyond Who You Are Now
Leaders must often make impossibilities happen. How do you do that?
We all have a view of what is possible. Additionally, we have ways of functioning that we know produce results and achieve objectives.
To make an impossibility happen, you must expand the scope of what is possible, and you must go beyond your habitual ways of getting things done.
Take a moment and answer the following question:
What characteristics, abilities, traits do you rely on in yourself to accomplish things? Make a list. I’ll be silent while you write. Take a couple of minutes…
What is something you want to make happen or achieve—something big, something beyond what you’ve accomplished before—perhaps an impossibility? Take a moment and write that down…
If you compare the two lists, and you’ve picked something big enough, you can see that list 1 is insufficient to accomplish list 2.
You must go beyond who you are now, your “comfort zone”. But even more than this, the very strengths you rely on are at the same time your limitations.
If you look at this from a neuroscience perspective, what’s stored in your brain, among everything else, are sets of patterns of behaviors that worked in the past to give you what you wanted. These patterns, or from neuroscience, these sets of neuronal patterns, get “activated”. Like calling up a particular program in a computer. The brain, which is designed for our survival, is a repository, a library of such winning patterns for us to get by, succeed, win, even to survive.
Although we may think you are acting freely, when closely examined, you can start to see the repetitive nature of these behaviors. And they worked! In the past. Here’s the problem: when you are presented with situations that are not the same as the past, that have elements in them, complexities, that you’ve never encountered before—OR if you want to make something happen, produce a result, beyond anything you’ve ever accomplished before—an impossibility—then these patterns from the past may not serve you. Starting when you are a child, through your teen years, and through your early adulthood, you and I formulate these strategies. Then we get stuck with them.
A CEO of a growing technology company who was very hands on, getting involved in everything, as the company expanded, became unable to control it all.
He had to begin trusting, managing/delegating to, and empowering others.
He had to go beyond the strengths, abilities, approaches that had worked in the past, and discover new ways to think, relate, plan, communicate, act to be appropriate to the scale of opportunity now in front of him.
So, the second transformation of a leader is this…
to recognize these habitual formulas, begin to see how they limit, and be willing to go beyond them to achieve something big, something extraordinary, perhaps something currently impossible!
Your comments and questions about Leadership Transformation #2 above, and our earlier post for Leadership Transformation #1 (here) are very welcome.
You’ll also want the “The Six Leadership Keys” for executives.
Leadership in the Heat of Battle: Transformation #1: Powerful Listening
Watch this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubNF9QNEQLA
What does this video (and listening) have to do with leading effectively?
Leaders need to be vividly present to what is happening around them, and most importantly hear exactly what others are communicating. That includes hearing what others are not saying that they are saying. This allows a leader to get critical information needed to make appropriate decisions and take effective actions. It also allows those they lead to experience that they’ve been heard. What is more frustrating than attempting to say something to someone and not experience you’ve been heard?
When a leader listens, they strengthen relationships and build trust.
The video illustrates how much we miss that is going on right in front of us, and by extension, how much is being communicated that we’re missing.
How do you know you’re not listening powerfully?
- Is there someone around you who says the same thing over and over as though they’re not being heard?
- Is there something someone else is telling you that you don’t want to hear it? that you disagree with? that you think is wrong? and you listen to them with that going on with you as they speak?
- While they’re speaking, are you evaluating, judging, diagnosing, solving?
- While someone is speaking to you, are you finishing their sentences? interrupting them with what you have to say? attempting to correct what they’re expressing? preparing to defend yourself against what they’re saying?
- Do you get impatient when others speak? do you want them to “get to the point”?
- Are you in a hurry to get somewhere or do something, and find that you don’t have time for what people are saying to you?
- Are you not hearing the people who are closest to you? that you care most for? family?
- While someone is speaking, are you predicting what they’ll say next or thinking that you already know what they’re saying?
These are some of the pitfalls leaders fall into regarding communication. So the first transformation a leader must go through is to realize how much they do not hear. The pathway to actually listen deeply is to first notice how much you habitually do not. This fact may be something you may not want to confront. However, true transformation always begins with great honesty and telling the truth about what is happening now.
Also, are there things you want to communicate to others, and you don’t have a sense they’re really hearing you? You cannot put water into a cup that is already full. Begin by hearing others completely—let them empty their cup. Then there is room for them to hear you. You have experienced wanting to say something to someone, and as they are speaking, you can’t wait to tell them what you have to say. And this makes it difficult for you to hear them.
Take on really listening to people and watch the miracles that will occur around you!
Want the “The Six Leadership Keys” for executives?