It’s often quoted that organizations rise or fall on their leadership. During the first World War, British Soldiers were said to be Lions led by Donkeys this described the British infantry of World War I and to blame the generals who led them. The contention is that the brave soldiers (lions) were sent to their deaths by incompetent and indifferent leaders (donkeys).
Is there a parallel between “Lions led by Donkeys” and modern the organizations management. At least there is a need to bring the engine room closer to the bridge.
The iceberg of ignorance study found that senior level management is often so far removed from day-to-day business operations that they fail to understand the systems and processes that affect both employees and customers. The most alarming result of this study suggests that this can have an impact on company profits by as much as 40%. The iceberg of ignorance should be a concern for any company. Left unattended, the iceberg of ignorance leads to employee disengagement, frustration at the front-lines and consequently high attrition and poor business performance.
Organizations drift from insurgency to incumbency and lose their edge to bureaucracy. If you wish to kill a frog, throw it into cold water and slowly turn the heat up until it is boiled. The nervous system of the animal is too slow to notice the change in its environment and the frog dies happy. So why are organizations condemning themselves to slowly die, like the frog through procedures, complicatedness and bureaucracy?
Once an organization is praised by its customers and recognized as market-driving, the temptation is high to become arrogant and pretend that we know better than our customers what their needs are. And little by little, we drift from the top right box to the bottom right. This move is insidious since, just like the frog, nobody waves the red flag of customer obsession since the financial numbers comfort us with the idea that we are doing it right.
Many plane crashes find their root cause in the fear that subordinates have to challenge their leader although he ignores facts and consequently takes the wrong decision. When an organization is successful and that risk aversion takes over, leaders will promptly edict rules and procedures in the hope of keeping the organization at the top. When there is fear, when the power distance is high, those who see on the ground that such procedures will further remove us from our customers, will sadly think job safety first and comply with the procedure.
When organizations and humans enter in a state of anxiety which is often the case shortly after reaching the number one spot, or when a crisis is looming, they drift from a High Energy/High Self-Assurance mindset to one of High Energy/Low Self-Assurance. Yes there is energy but it is a nervous, almost desperate one.
What do humans tend to do when they are anxious? They tend to follow rituals, look for the providential savior and do human sacrifices. Today this has become setting procedures, look for a new providential leader and lay people-off. When organizations and people are anxious, they forget the core of their strategy the customer, revert to procedures and comply to orders.
Whether you wish to maintain your number one status or go back to it, what can you do as leader? There are three things as turnaround leaders to do:
Don’t go back, move forward: Technological progress has revolutionized our ways of working. Going back to something you were before will increasingly sound like a useless defense mechanism. Moving forward and integrating technological revolutions in your ways of thinking and working will be a better choice. No organization will revert back to what it was. Co-creating clarity about where your world, your organization and your people go will be critical for sustainable and turn around.
Act your way into a new way of thinking: As a leader, in order to be credible and inspire your people, you will need to act and behave in ways that are coherent with your desire to become a simpler, customer obsessed organization. You will need to have the courage to spectacularly deconstruct what you allowed your organization to construct.
Speak to your followers hearts so that their minds and souls will follow: Disruptive leaders understand that what will move people away from loss aversion, fear, procedures and other assumed usefulness will not be more fear and more constraints but emotions and passion, profound sense of purpose.
Too often, inspired leaders seeing that the edge of their organization needs sharpening, believe that a new strategy, a reorganization or a motivational boost will be sufficient to get them back to number one. Getting back to the top starts with your own behavioral change as leaders. Organizations are shadows of their leaders, that’s the good news and the bad news! So get down in the engine room before it is too late.
Managing Partner Watermark Consultants