Too many of us think that leaders are born, not made. We presume that leadership is an innate skill that we either have, or we do not. The reality is that leadership skills can be successfully taught, and learned. More importantly, good leadership gets demonstrated in a variety of contexts, by people of all levels and from all walks of life. Leadership isn’t necessarily the product of conscious intention; it shows up because it is needed. Above all, though, leadership is a performance; it involves embracing the behaviours and performing the roles that are essential in the moment, in response to the situation, to attain the outcomes that are required.
Many of us find the complexity of the world difficult to manage. Particularly now, we want simple answers and easy solutions. We would like to take all the mess and awkwardness and shove it under a large enough carpet that it won’t see the light of day any time soon. That doesn’t work, sadly, and simple solutions expressed confidently aren’t a substitute for the messy, difficult work of muddling through and persevering. Embracing complexity requires work and effort; that starts with recognizing complexity for what it is.
I wrote last week about the transition that I was undertaking to a new approach to time management. At the time, I presumed it would be a relatively easy change to make. I knew I needed new software. I thought that I already had the practices and concepts down. I believed that I had ample time to get things sorted and organized in time for the new year. I was wrong on all counts.
“Why?” is undeniably a powerful question. But we often think about our why in grandiose, abstract terms. We tend to emphasize the philosophical rather than the practical. And yet, at its core, “Why?” is the most practical question that you can ask. And the one you always need to be prepared to answer. Don’t tell people what to do, or how to do it. Instead, get them excited about the why, the way it makes a difference, no matter how prosaic and simple the task at hand might be.
Culture shapes how things get done in organizations. It also defines what gets believed, and what we accept as truths. We create a shorthand for what’s acceptable, and we broadly understand where the lines are that we should not cross. That’s all well and good, until we actually need to challenge the truths, and consider crossing the lines. When we need to stand up and stand out, things get interesting.
I’ve long argued that organizational practices need to be adapted to an organization if they are going to be effective. They need to fit the culture, and make sense in the way that the organization works. But what happens when you do all the right things, push all the right buttons, and the practices don’t get used? A curious case study.