What if our aspirations went beyond next quarter, next year… even beyond the the five-year plan? What if we were bold enough to step off the trend line, resist reverting to the mean and wevcreated something new? What if we consciously chose to avoid the trap of mediocrity – blindly following best practices (i.e., used the most) – and allowed our organization to invent, innovate and evolve? What if we truly embraced the relentless pursuit to unleash the full potential of our organization, our team and our people? These questions are rarely posed in the corporate world and, if asked, rarely entertained with much seriousness. Yet, we see organization after organization slowly, sometimes quickly, revert to the mean – to the “me too” world of limited risk and more-limited innovation. To sustain value creation (and, perhaps even to survive) these questions must be addressed. This is what leadership should be about. Leadership is a lifelong practice. It is not simply a process of continuous improvement or better performance. These are given as requirements in the organizational world.
Leadership is about being better in a way that yields a sustainable way of doing better.
Leadership is creating movement toward potential – a relentless pursuit of an aspiration, of a vision. In lieu of aspirations that reach for full potential, many organizations settle on measurable, attainable short-term goals as incentives. The setting of and working toward these goals are well-established management practices, however, they do not inspire us to go beyond, to really reach for a greater potential. In most organizations, people will do the work to meet these short-term goals. But will they go beyond? The evidence indicates that most will not go beyond in the typical corporate environment, let alone take the risks of redefining potential and inspiring others to a greater vision. Studies consistently suggest that employees are not fully engaged in their work and do not see their work as meaningful.
How can organizations transform their leadership cultures?
They must redefine their culture from a set of explicit and implicit rules of “how we do things around here” to a “way of being” that inspires people to do extraordinary work that moves the organization and its members toward full potential. Moving toward a greater aspiration demands inspired work. Great leadership is about aspiration, inspiration and perspiration. Leadership teams must share a vision of what the team’s full potential looks like. Mostly, leadership teams wish to be high performing, collaborative and innovative. They design norms on how they “do” this. Great teams explore how to “be” this kind of group. A great team and its members explore the boundaries. They work to discover the unknown/unseen factors that keep them from operating at at their highest levels.
This process begins with uncovering the vision of what full potential looks like.
These teams must have a kind of social vision. After all, the great cultures and societies in history were all created with some sort of social pact. They asked, what type of society do we wish to be? They did not sustain a thriving culture by doing first and then figuring out what kind of society they wished to be. The American experiment was about a way of being. That is why the US Constitution is so short – it is a cultural/social vision. It is not a long list of tactics and tasks. It is not a codification of all the rules and standards which are created in response to the needs of the time and are meant to be consistent with a way of being. Visions are not finite and therefore they are not literal. We paint the vision and keep moving toward that vision. Vision is about potential. What could we be like?
Leadership is the relentless pursuit of potential and the agility to adapt as times/circumstances change.
Once a vision is owned, leadership creates movement toward the potential of the team/organization. The goal is not to reach the vision! The vision is a guiding light – a moral compass – so that we know we are moving toward potential. If we reach the light – the journey is over. Then what? In effect, leadership is a lifelong practice of guiding the organization toward potential. Leadership consists of practices to help understand when to shift tactics to stay on course, or correct course, toward potential. Leadership consists of practices to ensure that all different perspectives are synthesized to more effectively move toward potential and to avoid the pitfalls of a narrow scope. Leadership consists of practices that keep leaders awake.