Nothing kills the momentum of a new initiative like the folkloric stories of past failed attempts that circulate whenever a leadership team attempts to unveil a transformative vision. This collective memory—usually circulated in hushed, cynical tones behind the scenes—that the organization has of similar initiatives that were introduced with enthusiasm, only to fail to produce any real results in the past, is exactly what ensures that history will repeat itself again. Whether we have labeled an initiative the “program of the month” as an excuse for not getting on board or we have heard the phrase from those who are not as enthusiastic as we are about what we are about to embark on, we know that it could turn into a self-fulling prophecy and slow down progress unless we clarify our messaging.
It is apparent to me that leaders are often looking for that new process or procedure or tool guaranteed to create engagement and improve their results. My experience has been that, while access to the latest technology often acts as an effective catalyst, the fundamental attitudes and behaviors that make or break a team are timeless and universal. While their particular manifestations can and should change depending on each unique situation, the fundamental beliefs that undergird them invariably cultivate the sense of personal accountability that directly impacts the results that the team produces, no matter when and where they are implemented.
What do you think about when you hear about someone who has spent the better part of the past 25 years of their life abusing hard drugs and going in and out of prison? Would you be surprised if I told you that I recently met a bunch of people who fit this description, and that I could not have been more impressed with their strength of character, integrity, commitment, and leadership? Would you believe me if I said that they constitute an ideal model of how business culture should function in the world? Well, it’s true!
Spoiler alert: the answer is “Yes!” As I have worked with clients, whether internal such as during corporate leadership roles or external clients such as in my current practice, I have often been asked this question, with the underlying assumption that these options were somehow mutually exclusive. In answering this question, in many cases I have had to influence clients to take a different approach than the one they had in mind, because it was based on the mistaken assumption that you can’t do one while you do the other.
I will never forget the look on my kids’ faces the first time they were served a summons to appear in court. They were about 9 and 10 years old. The letters addressed to them arrived in the mail. Somewhat excited and surprised that they had received official looking correspondence in the mail, they opened them and started reading: “You are hereby summoned to appear in…” That’s when they started to get a bit concerned. Bewildered by the idea that they would need to go to court, they handed me the letters, hoping that I could explain what was going on and whether there had been some sort of mistake. As it turned out, there hadn’t been any mistake at all.