No challenge lasts for ever. No mountain is ever too high to climb or too big to move. The opportunity for leadership is a daily challenge and call that you must answer truly and urgently. With good leadership impossible things become possible and practicable. With poor leadership possible things become impossible and impractical. Leading is no easy task, and the stakes are even higher in a season of change and turbulence. Then, as in this season, leading is challenging, complex, fearful and calls for decisiveness and candour. Fearful things are not to be feared. They must just be understood. Mr. Nelson Mandela said it well when he testified: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
You cannot talk of leadership without talking about change, vision and strategy. Leadership faces brutal realities. To move forward it is important to have the personal strength to name the elephants in the room, the courage to learn and unlearn, and then taking responsibility for casting vision, creating the momentum towards the desired future. All that we need to win is already there and leadership is the ability to harness resources and deploy the required capacities. Change always meets resistance, it can be hard and challenging but it is always necessary. When you can still change there is hope, when you can no longer change you are hopeless. Leaders are merchants of change and purveyors of enthralling visions.
Leadership calls for clarity regarding the desired end state, communicating for action, bringing to the table those who are capable and talking bold committed moves. There is a leadership dearth wherever you see stagnation. The leadership challenge calls for taking a balcony view to the situation, dealing with complexity and having the emotional grit to see clearly and act decisively. Not all change is necessarily, and not all activity is called for. In a turbulent context change is happening fast and ongoing learning, experimentation and reflection are key for effective leadership. Not all change is improvement, but without change there can be no improvement.
Stop shifting blame. Eliminate excuses. Stop thinking of a leader as some glorified being and realize that you are a leader in your sphere and what you do makes a difference.
Step forward, speak like a leader, take your place on the line, take the heat and choose to make a difference. The blows of criticism come heavy when you are in leadership. Let them not break your spirit. Without taking personal responsibility there is no leadership action or movement. Turbulent times bring with them troubling baggage. There is no pride is staying on the sidelines, living in the shadows, hiding from reality and hoping that things happen on their own. Without clear leadership intent, committed action, there cannot be any change, nor forward moment. The future is too delicate to be left to chance.
Turbulence and change, move the cheese and cause icebergs to melt. Turbulence unveils hidden skeletons, unsettles comfort zones and shifts agendas. So many new things are happening and so much that was familiar works differently. Regrettably past success loses its value fast. Times of change and turbulence are not times of despair but discovery. They are not times of despondency but decision. Whatever happens decide that you will survive and thrive. You will bounce higher and further.
Two leadership challenges always come to the fore in turbulence. These are technical and adaptive challenges. When seasons change, change is imperative, and self-denial is foolhardy. Change amplifies the need for change. Clear issues that need to be addressed just need technical action to be addressed. Turbulence has the mind of a rebel and does not play to our comforts, or convenient excuses. Turbulence is not a season of excuses, finger pointing, shouting contests or mud-slinging. What must be done must be done and done urgently. Things that matter most must not be at the mercy of those that matter least. Abandoned and misplaced priorities need to be reset to deliver the necessary change and needed action. Turbulence also brings the new. This calls for adaptive leadership. Adaptive challenges call for greater adaptive capacity. Building on the past, we brace to manage change and deal with its challenges. In adaptive leadership past answers are not sufficient for the new questions.
Mr. John P. Kotter, cut out a professorial career at Harvard University as a change management and leadership expert. In 1996 he wrote the book “Leading Change” and blazed the trail showing leaders how to lead in times of extreme change and turbulence. Storms come and it is how we respond that makes all the difference. In 2002 after being involved in many change initiatives, gather change stories and conversations he wrote: “The Heart of Change.” In leading change, Mr. Kotter advanced his 8-step change process. Leading change is an ongoing and iterative process because change is an ever moving and drunk wheel. The first step in Kotter’s process is to establish a sense of urgency. For change to happen there must be a motivating force. Elsewhere he calls this establishing a burning platform – something that makes the change necessary and urgent. Until people see the need for change they usually waddle their way towards change. Fortunately during turbulence there is no need to preach extensively the need for change because every can see it.
Once the first step is in, the next steps involve creating a guiding coalition; developing a vision and strategy; communicating the change vision; and empowering the team for broad-based action. To keep the change momentum going Kotter counsels that the next step involve generating short term wins, consolidating gains and producing more change and then finally anchoring the new approaches in the culture. Kotter’s wisdom in leading change is still valid and serves as great advice for all leaders in any change process.
Turbulence is always pregnant with opportunity. How you respond to change makes all the difference. If you respond positively to change, change lifts you to new places and possibilities. Poor responses to turbulent lead to trash, turmoil and trouble. In Kotter’s Heart of Change he states that the biggest challenge is always changing people’s behaviour.
The biggest challenge then for any leader is communicating to change and shift behaviour. The leadership challenge rests over four domains: leading self, leading with others, leading others and leading ahead.
Leading self requires on going reflection, feedback and coaching. Leadership growth has no end point. Personal leadership requires an ongoing review of the needed skills, time applications and the areas of priority and value in the leadership work. When a leader stops growing, they clog the pipeline and become a liability. Novel times calls for different thinking and new thinking gears.
Leaders have to work downstream, mid-stream and upstream. Working down stream involves working with the people you lead. The medium or horizontal stream involves the various horizontal relationships that a leader has to build. Leadership is never a solo task. Upstream involves dealing with those that as a leader you have to give account. Each of the streams is important and critical.
All change takes time. Leadership is the ability to hold the pressure, manage personal hungers and not letting up. It involves the ability to maintain focus and keep the main thing being the main thing. No winter lasts forever. No season lasts for ever. Even the challenges that we face now have to ultimately give way. Rise and lead.
Committed to your greatness.