This is the question that came to my mind after reading the answer in C. Otto Scharmer's book "Theory U". I felt like if I was playing “Jeopardy!", the American TV program where you have to guess which the question was starting from a given answer. Somehow the process was reversed, like if I was starting to learn from the future as this was emerging. Exactly the effect Otto is talking about in his book.
I'll share the answer with you in a while, just bear with me for a minute. As I'm finding a source of inspiration on a remote island in Thailand, I must say that I find intriguing how the process of creativity seems to take place, most of the times in peaceful states of open mind and relax. I'm wondering if you might be in one of those moments right now. If you were, how would you experience it?
The best leadership tool is oneself
During the last years I have spent lots of time coaching executives all over the world, from Australia to Canada and the USA, including Asia and Europe, and there is one unique thing I have observe as a key factor between those who succeed and those who don't. It all starts with oneself, and playing a bit with a quote by Frank Zappa: “Our minds are like parachutes, they only work when they are fully opened”.
Most of the times the starting point is similar: the need for a new innovative strategy in order to create a cultural transformation to achieve the new ambitious vision. The problem with that approach comes when leaders reject the fact that change starts within. Leaders with a fixed mindset will expect to be able to solve tomorrow's challenges with yesterday's solutions and create a new culture at the same time. This is so because this would mean that they don't have to change and that they can keep disconnected from any emotional engagement with the organization.
This type of leaders tend to reject any type of personal development or teamwork, and they disregard the needed effort to put during the "creating-process" as they are too busy taking care of operational "urgent" items. They tend to think that the problem is simply the others and see change as a threat to their status quo. This type of leaders finds difficult to recognize that resilience is built from an excellent level of self-awareness, and the need to be coached in the process. Have you ever heard about a great sports person who achieves great results without a coach?
Another common trace is the big gap between what they think, say and do. I remember the case couple of years ago when somebody contacted me asking for coaching support. He was looking to transform the company’s culture via a strategy based on innovation. He really thought that was the answer to his challenges, however, he kept on telling me how busy he was at the moment with some urgent items which just came up. He just wanted some kind of quick solution so his employees would change their behavior and achieve higher goals. At the same time, he was explaining to me how important "his people" were for him, but some minutes later I saw him shouting at an employee telling him he better fixed that problem or else. When I asked him about his approach he said that it's important to keep people on their toes and create a clear split between personal life and business. In his world emotions did not have space and people personal development was something he was not willing to invest on.
This is a situation I have observed on more than one occasion, and sometimes decided that there's no point to work with that leader, as he is not willing to invest on what is really important to create a sustainable transformation. On some other situations, I have observed just fear, fear of not having all the right answers. And that’s ok because is then when cultural innovation will take place. When a leader is aware of this and is willing to put herself through the transformational process, it is then when you will know that success is inevitable.
So this is the simple answer to the initially given question:What is really stopping companies' development right now? The lack of interest to invest time and effort on the best leadership tool a company has. The best leadership tool is oneself.
Creating a new sustainable culture
Which is the source of our actions and the habits that create a culture? This source goes beyond strategies, budgets and what you might ask people to do.
As a kid, I spent lots of time with my grandparents. They had a farm and were harvesting crops and vegetables. My grandpa used to tell me that the real secret of a good result couldn’t be seen. Those crops had to be cultivated, taken care of in a nurturing way. But not only that, none of those crops would get to that final form without an initial step, an excellent soil. I was fascinated to find in Otto's book a similar example, which was the same that allowed me to understand the key to cultural transformations.
One can have an excellent strategy on how to grow crops and buy the best seeds one can find in the market. One can put that strategy right the way into action, planting those seeds and foster the growth by stressing the crops with all kind of chemicals or other solutions. However that's not what will bring a sustainable success, yet lots of leaders would choose this option.Success will come when the farmer has spent enough time making sure that the soil is at its best, equipped with the new needed nutrients and that all parts of the field are ready to start laying the seeds. And that's just the beginning; the farmer will need then patience to nurture the crops in a proper way, with care. Giving the time to the crops to grow at is own rhythm while offering the needed support on the way.
In order to endure that journey successfully, the leader needs to have a compelling vision. A vision so strong and ambitious that it’s shared by each member of the organization. My grandpa usually spent almost 80% of his time on the initial steps, and the last 20% collecting and preparing the final product. I believe, as Otto does in his book as well, that sustainable transformation will take place only when the process follows this organic process.
We have been running at INNEOX Liberator many “Vision Boot Camps” all over the world, obtaining always the same final result: a shared purpose and meaning beyond a nice printed document. A successful leader will have an inspiring long-term vision and will spend the needed time to make sure that the needed growth mindset has been cultivated in the whole organization. It will be then when the company will be ready for a push towards the cultural transformation that will create the new needed habits and attitudes. To define the strategy is the simple part, to accept that the difficult part is achieved only by personal growth and talent development focus is another ball game where only the true innovative leaders will dare to undertake.
So... What have I learned?
I have been working with leaders who dare to undertake this process. Leaders who saw in innovation a new way to work with strategy, and in human centricity and people development the answer on how to create a sustainable success.
I will share with you the most common reflections I have heard from all the inputs I have been receiving during the last changes in successful corporate transformations:
1- It's a messy process. More than a process it's an art, where the presented steps are more guidelines and frameworks. The truth is that you better be prepared for the art of creation.
2- It takes time. There are ways to accelerate transformation by forcing people to change via threats or other mechanisms with some short term restyle. In the long run, it won't work as it will not create the new habits you are looking for in a repetitive manner. Keep the core, stimulate progress and accept that it will take time.
3- Change starts within. The most common reflection I usually hear is the benefits that going through a personal coaching program has had for the executive, and as well as how hard it was to deal with the Ego. All leaders who possess a growth mindset realized that they were not done yet as this is a journey, not a destination. By telling to yourself that you are done and that there is no need to spend time on your own self-awareness (by the way, if you heard a little voice telling to yourself this words... that was your Ego trying to distract you from achieving your true potential) you are also limiting your own potential. By accepting that change starts within, and that you own that part you'll be one step closer to your success.
So if the best leadership tool is oneself... what would have to happen for you to start working on it? What could you specifically start doing in order to develop that great leader within you and unleash all your potential? Or will you tell me that your Ego did its work successfully and you have better things to do?
How could I know which path will you chose, if start working with your personal develop right the way or wait few days until these words have sunk into your unconscious. Or maybe you already started without even noticing.
Enjoy the journey!