Leadership is understanding the balance between the push for purpose and the need for action. Human beings are drawn to thoughts of what’s possible and what could be. We are built for a focus on a brighter future.
But a critical leadership skill is to the ability to link today’s actions to that possible future.
It’s an ongoing dance between helping people get excited about the wonderful future possibilities while not getting stuck in a “wonder” mode.
Anchoring to the Future
Highly successful leaders are exemplary at creating a cultural anchor to aspirations for a better future. This is where the organization is successful as a result of a philosophy or guiding principle. Successful leaders speak about it every chance they get.
Creating a culture where people are thinking about how to get things done through the lens of that philosophy is exemplified here:
- “Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” ~ Tony Hsieh
- “Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel.” ~ Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kellarher
- “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” ~The first of Google’s “10 things” (that are the foundation of their culture)
What all of these statements/sentiments have in common is they are guiding principles or the guard rails of how decisions are made in these organizations.
- Nothing is done at Zappos that would ever undermine the customer experience.
- Southwest will seldom hire someone that is not fun or has a good sense of humor.
- Google won’t tolerate people that don’t abide by their “10 things.”
Leaders in these many other organizations work very hard to speak about and act on these principles or “purpose.” Each of their actions emanate from them.
So why isn’t it easy just to say things like this and every company turn into Zappo’s? Don’t most organizations have “guiding principles” or Mission Statements? Why don’t people just get on board and make it happen?
Linking Actions to that Future
Many leaders don’t take the next logical step. They forget to create causal links between the future they’ve been sharing and the actions necessary to take to get there.
There is a a tendency to believe that people should just understand why an action, task, or project is necessary to get to that intended future. But the truth is they do not. If leaders don’t intentionally make that causal link, then people will make up their own meaning. Usually this meaning is neither powerful nor is it attached to an intended future.
This can lead to outcomes that are not in line with that intended future:
- Irate customers – My wife’s recent interaction with a car dealership while trying to get a refund. She dealt with the folks from the “back office” until she wrote a letter to the owner of the dealership and put something out on Yelp that she got no service.
- Lost sales – Ron Johnson’s failed strategy at JC Penny. SO many employees didn’t know how to act or what they were to do differently in the new paradigm.
- Bad publicity – As evidenced by the recent recorded call regarding a customer trying to cancel their Comcast account
The list is really endless. But the bottom-line is that when people don’t know how their role, action, task or project fits into the bigger picture, they are left to wonder. The result is almost never that good.
So what can a leader do?
A simple and direct method is to make sure that every role, task, or project links directly to the future that the leader has envisioned.
If the leader’s vision of the organization is to revolutionize how people buy clothing products on the internet by delivering the best customer service, then each process that is developed needs to be in line with that intention.
A Great Example
For example, the new employee training must be grounded in delivering a unique and powerful customer experience. This training should be so intense that at the end of it people are given the opportunity to leave the company with pay.
You can imagine that the conversation about developing that new employee training was something like this:
“We need to create an on boarding experience that ensures the people we hire understand that every action they take should be in support of the customer experience. At the end they should be able to determine if they see themselves in that future.
As opposed to this:
“Okay, we need to create an on boarding program that gets people in and out in about a week. It should teach them all our most important processes and make them aware of our employee code of conduct.”
Leaders must not only create the vision of the future, but tie everything back to it. Without anchoring and linking, leaders can leave people in a state of wonder.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow
When people are left in a state of wonder they do things like this:
I was checking out at a big box store with my elderly Mom and some small kids in tow. A pair of $8 shoes I was buying rang up for $10.
I questioned the clerk on the price.
She said “No they rang up for $10. You can go back there and check it yourself.”
I wasn’t about to do that, so I just settled up for the $10 and left the store frustrated at the experience. Grrrrrr…
When I got home, I pulled the shoes out of the box and guess what. The actual price tag on the shoes said $8! I was right all along! Grrrrrr…
The next day I went back to the customer service department for a refund and happened to be waited on by the same sales clerk that insisted the shoes cost $10.
When I showed her the price tag on the shoes she said, “That wasn’t my fault; it was the cash register. I can’t help you.”
The moral of this story: Don’t leave your team in a state of wonder.
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Anil Saxena is a President & Senior Consultant Cube 214 Consulting
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
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Image Sources: inspiringthealtruisticmoment.com