Symbolism can be a powerful method to align an organization to a new way of thinking. Transformational leaders know that everyone will be looking at what they say and do. One of the basic tenets of effecting culture change is to create experiences that will reinforce the beliefs that you want people to hold. These experiences can be small words of support, a well-written sincere note, or a key policy decision. But they can also be bold acts that create a lasting impression and become the basis for stories and legends. Consider the following symbolic acts – one in world politics and one in business.
At the 1995 World Cup rugby final, Nelson Mandela put on a jersey of the South African Springboks, which under apartheid had been the exclusively white national rugby team. Mandela purposely chose to wear the uniform of the sport that black South Africans had always seen as that of the oppressor. The symbolism was unmistakable. It was an overt statement to millions of South Africans that he sincerely believed in reconciliation in the new democratic South Africa.
Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines, was trying to send a message to all his employees that the old rigid rules were history. He wanted everyone to make whatever decision they thought was right for the company and the customer. To make this clear, he staged a book burning, where the previous “rules manual” was ceremoniously set afire in a 55-gallon drum in the parking lot. This story soon spread among the employees. Message received.
The use of symbolism is not only within the purview of world political leaders or company executives. Creating experiences is only limited to your imagination and the thoughtful consideration of the message you want to send.
What is your reason for either aspiring to be a leader or wanting to be more effective as a leader?
Perhaps you are motivated by the potential rewards (compensation and recognition) that come from additional responsibility. You may decide that developing stronger leadership skills is part of an overall professional development plan.
Alternatively, you may believe that a leadership role is part of a central purpose in your life. It may be important to you as part of a personal identity. You may be driven by a sense of obligation to serve others in some leadership capacity.
In a recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors tested the hypothesis that potential leaders with a combination of motives were the most committed and highest performing. Their findings were somewhat surprising.
Is there an undiscussable topic that is preventing your team from working well together or is causing you to avoid working on the things that matter most? Then you may have an elephant in the room.
An elephant in the room is an obvious truth or condition that is being ignored or not addressed, or a risk nobody wants to discuss. Everyone knows these elephants exist – but we try to avoid them or refer to them obliquely. They are often discussed privately either before or after meetings. Our fear is that if we talk about these elephants, they will come to life and trample us. The problem is that unless and until we are free to identify and discuss these sensitive topics openly, they never go away.
“Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
– Henry Ford
Do you consider yourself an optimist, a realist, or a pessimist? Many experts have opined on this topic as it relates to leadership.
Dr. Martin Seligman, a prominent researcher in the field of optimism, claims that optimism or pessimism lies in the way you explain the events that happen to you. Our thoughts can cause us to assess events inaccurately. They can also cause us to jump to erroneous conclusions.
Strong leaders are seldom characterized as pessimistic. By definition, if someone in a leadership role sees mostly negative outcome, it will be nearly impossible to rally the masses to meet a difficult challenge.
On the other hand, it is uncommon for dynamic leaders to see themselves as pure optimists. Someone with this view could be seen as a Pollyanna – a person who doesn’t have a grip on reality and believes that everything will eventually work out, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Rather, the consensus view is that the most effective leaders are those who lean toward optimism.
How many variations of products or services does your company offer? A few? A dozen? A hundred? More? Are all of these products really required to meet customer demand? Does it make sense to provide all these choices to your customers?
Many companies have embarked on a journey of product proliferation. In an effort to capture more market share, we have seen an explosion of customization and niche marketing. A trip to your local grocery or large retail store confirms this. For example, 352 distinct types of toothpaste were sold in 2010. There are entire aisles dedicated to cereal, dog food, and toilet paper. Have these companies enjoyed increased profits by offering all these new products? Not necessarily…
In this post, we will briefly discuss the implications of having too many products (choices) on both (1) revenue and (2) costs.
What words would describe the relationship with your manager or supervisor? Would you use words like subservient, directed, chain-of-command, or authoritative? If so, it is unlikely that you are providing the greatest value to either your boss or the organization as a whole. It could be that you don’t know how to effectively manage up.
In their recent book Influencing Up, David Bradford and Allan Cohen advocate that employees have greater capacity to influence their boss than they might believe. Their contention is that powerful people need powerful direct reports. More specifically, leaders need people who take initiative and get things done. They also contend that leaders need direct reports who are willing to speak truth-to-power in a way that is respectful. So how can direct reports manage up more effectively? It starts with understanding how to be more influential with their manager.