You’re trying to move forward, as a leader, but how hard do you push?
When your sense of urgency seems greater than others on the team, it can feel like you’re dragging them along. Are you going at a reckless pace and losing credibility as a leader? When is fast too fast?
You don’t always have a clear understanding of what to expect next, so should you slow down?
Or if you’re used to planning things out and being deliberate, are you waiting too long? Is your team waiting on you to make a decision or take an action?
How do you gauge the appropriate speed of activity? The amount of change to introduce?
It isn’t an exact science, but there are several things to keep in mind in order to ensure that you have the energy, alignment, and momentum to achieve your goals. Sometimes you can safely put the pedal to the metal. Go all out. And sometimes you need to take your foot off the gas. To listen. Or prepare. Or pivot. But in both cases, you want to make progress towards your goal. Day after day.
Lots of people dream…and stay stationary. Others are quick to give you their opinion…to say why something won’t work. And there are those who intend to take action…tomorrow. Or when they feel like it.
When you have the confidence in your actions, your team senses it. And when you move, they’re right there with you. They follow your lead. To make things happen. To create momentum. To accomplish goals. And then they’re ready to climb the next mountain with you.
It’s Kind of Fuzzy Up Ahead
There are several realities about leadership in the 21st century that you need to keep in mind. Embrace the fact that change is constant and the pace of change is accelerating. Consequently, new methods, new technologies, new opportunities are being introduced every day. That allows new leaders, who aren’t set in yesterday’s processes, to potentially lead earlier. And go farther.
Even pre-COVID, there was a lot of uncertainty about the future, in almost every market and every industry. COVID has served to accelerate some trends and heighten additional areas of uncertainty.
The term VUCA was first introduced in 1987 by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, and later adopted by the military. It is an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It is now used regularly to describe the general business market today and to reinforce the need for agile systems in how we conduct business. Things. Change. Fast.
Volatility — the liability to change rapidly and unpredictably
Uncertainty — when the availability or predictability of information is unknown
Complexity — when things are interdependent and interconnected (inside and outside your organization)
Ambiguity — even when you think you’ve got all the information that you’re going to receive, the path forward may remain unclear.
VUCA — the reality in COVID and post-COVID business.
As a leader you need to create systems that give you timely information so that you can make decisions and implement adjustments as needed. Quality business intelligence is a competitive advantage today and it’s going to be a necessity in the near future.
Get Off the Couch…and Put Down the Remote
Your overall attitude should be to err on the side of moving forward. Not recklessly. But relentlessly.
There are normal reasons why individuals and teams get stuck in neutral. Consider your own team and where these might show up:
Lack of self-confidence — people don’t believe that they are qualified to take bold steps or make appropriate decisions. Some people have more hesitant behaviors by nature. Others have never been given the opportunity to speak up at work. Ever. Look at them and then look in the mirror. You may have the opportunity to change the arc of their career. With encouragement. With respect.
Fear — people are afraid of making mistakes. They are fearful of uncertainty. They remind me of the athlete who walks onto the court or the field saying, “don’t make a mistake, don’t make a mistake…” They become paralyzed from taking action and are ineffective, and are a detriment to their team. Others have worked for bosses who attacked them for making mistakes, so they learned to stay quiet. And color inside the lines.
Complacency — people get comfortable with their routines and see no need to do anything differently. Often this is with team members who perform well and get decent results. This is where the expression “Good is the enemy of great” applies. They think they are in a groove. It may be a rut. They’ll consider making changes…manana. Maybe.
Go Back to Grade School Physics
One of your primary roles is helping your team overcome inertia. Continuous learning. Continuous improvement. Helping people embrace change.
As a leader, you are leading a team of human beings with their disparate personalities, behavioral styles, risk tolerances, and experiences, all showing up when they come to work.
And groups of humans are likely, over time, to put Newton’s First Law on full display — a body at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by a net external force. As a leader, guess what? That net external force? That needs to be you. Otherwise, it is market forces, the disruptive competitor, things outside your control. Those things that are OUT THERE. Let it be you, through your communication and your inspiration. Through your example.
Use the Force, Luke…
One of the surest ways to address inertia and keep the team — and yourself — action-oriented, is to provide context.
There are different variations on a quote that is attributed to Viktor Frankl and Frederich Nietzche (that I’m taking the liberty to tweak here): “When you have a strong enough why, you can bear with almost any how.”
As a leader you need to provide great clarity and consistent reinforcement of your organization’s purpose and your vision for the future.
When team members are like-minded in purpose and you are rallying around your common “why,” it allows them to push through unsettling events and unpleasant surprises.
When you have painted a vivid picture of your vision for the future, such that they want to make that vision a reality, they will be more likely to take action. When you can help them understand how their roles and their daily priorities contribute to achieving that vision, it is powerful.
As a leader and as a team, it is important to remember that the focus is progress, not perfection. Progress is made in small, positive steps. Every day.
When each member of your team can identify one action that provides the greatest traction towards achieving the vision, provides focus and clarity. Dave Anderson, the author of and It’s Not Rocket Science, uses the acronym EDMED to describe the necessary approach to these daily actions — “Every Day Means Every Day.”
Don’t Be Reckless…and Wind up at the Wrong Destination
You aren’t looking to create activity for activity’s sake. Seek input from your team. Their involvement will increase buy-in when it comes time to execute. Their insights may help you make a more informed decision. You can have a bias towards action and still listen to your team. Pay attention to your introverts. They may have observations that are helpful, or may signal resistance that you should be aware of.
You also need to have a relationship with someone who looks at the world differently than you. Your compliment. Your alter-ego. If you are data driven, they may be relationship-focused. If you are big picture and visionary, they have the detail and execution gene. Their yin to your yang.
If you are fortunate enough to have that person on your team, you need to have a relationship based on mutual respect. On trust. But you share the vision. You’re both passionate about the why. And if that person tells you that you missed something, or that the emperor / empress has no clothes, you need to pay attention.
Take their input. And then go take action.
The Freight Train Coming Down the Tracks
When you have a bias for action, you create momentum. Don’t underestimate the power of momentum to overcome minor setbacks and mistakes in an organization. It provides energy and narrows focus.
John Maxwell illustrates momentum by saying that a train going 35 miles an hour can break through a five-foot thick, steel reinforced concrete barrier sitting on the tracks. Momentum is a problem-solver. But he also suggests that a one-inch block in front of the driving wheel of a train at rest will prevent it from moving at all.
As a leader the spotlight is always on you, and people follow your example. For good or for bad.
When you have a bias for action, it becomes infectious. It also permeates your approach to business.
When you’re running a meeting, err on the side of moving along. Have a mindset of twice the content in half the time.
Have the conversation, send the email, make the offer, introduce the idea. Take the first step. Then take another.
Build momentum. You can break through obstacles…as if they weren’t even there.
On Your Mark…Get Set…
You want to get things done. Hit goals. Improve results. Do more. Do better.
But in your leadership role, how do you accomplish that with your team? All the oars pulling together. And how hard can you push? Should you push?
People seem to fall into habits. They get lazy. They don’t have the same focus on the future that you do.
Start by looking in the mirror and how you are leading them. Then look at your messages. What and how often are you communicating?
Make sure you are clear and consistent in reinforcing the purpose and vision of your company — or your department — or your team.
Acknowledge the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that is out there. We all experience it — so embrace it. It’s a VUCA world we live in. Use that knowledge to your advantage.
Make sure that there is Intentionality, clarity, and alignment throughout your organization. Where people understand how they contribute to achieving the vision. And they know what they need to do every day. EDMED.
You can dream, but be known as a doer. Daily progress by you. Daily progress by your team.
Small actions, each day, every day, by every member of the team, can be powerful. It can move a mountain. Or achieve a goal. Or realize your vision.
Well, don’t just sit there…go make it happen!