In times of accelerated change like the ones we are experiencing, what differentiates an ordinary organization from an extraordinary one?
In this short article, I want to share a fundamental premise and four key elements every leader should consider to make a genuine difference and make their organizations extraordinary.
Before delving into the premise and the promised elements, I want to share, as a context, a quote that Jack Welch, former president of General Electric at the end of the 20th century, has left us and that I believe reflects the spirit of this writing in an almost premonitory manner:
“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near."
Based on my reflections on this sentence, I then propose a fundamental premise:
An organization’s ability to adapt depends on its leaders’ ability to adapt!
And from this premise, I want to invite readers to ask themselves these two questions:
1. How is your organization’s ability to adapt today?
2. How is your ability to adapt as a leader today?
I think that an extraordinary organization is the reflection of exceptional leaders. It may be pretty bold to say that just four elements will immediately turn us into exceptional leaders and make organizations extraordinary. Well, I want to clarify that these four elements, although I consider them to be critical, I do not intend for them to be interpreted as the only elements, nor as a copy-and-paste recipe. Instead, I plan for each reader to consider them, reflect on them, and draw conclusions and observations.
Live the purpose and values?:
The first element is related to clear, inspiring, forceful purpose and values.
According to Fred Kofman, executive coach and president of Conscious Business Center International (CBC), we could define leadership as encouraging an organization’s internal commitment to achieving its purpose with integrity and effectiveness.
In their organizations, in their teams, and their own daily lives, why do they do what they do? What values are they honoring with their usual behaviors and decisions?
Beyond a series of statements, purpose and values are compelling tools leaders use in agile contexts. They are lived in everyday life.
Once values and purpose are defined and stated, leaders demonstrate their integrity and the importance of these values and purpose with their behaviors and decisions, first leading themselves. Then, based on their role-modeling and moral authority, leaders demand it from the people around them, guiding and helping them become more aware of their behaviors, decisions, and relationships with the purpose and values.
In an agile context, the daily decisions of leaders are truly driven by a higher purpose and the internal commitment to achieving it with integrity and effectiveness: PURPOSE-DRIVEN.
Get and share relevant information:
The second key element is that a leader in an agile context always observes and carefully monitors their environment and how it moves. What has changed? What is changing? What could change in the future?
The leader’s role is to obtain and share relevant information, data, and facts related to the economic, social, political, and environmental situation, the market, its customers and behaviors, and technology trends, among others.
These data should have a purpose and be converted into information to allow timely decision-making to respond at the speed that market dynamics require.
Based on data, transparency is the primary nutrient of decision-making capacity, and timely decision-making is the primary nutrient of adaptability, enabling us to respond to the daily needs of our customers, creating value for them.
In an agile context, the daily decisions of leaders are driven transparently by data and not by imaginaries or assumptions: DATA-DRIVEN.
Focus on people and value creation:
The third fundamental element is the focus on people and the early and continuous value creation, which are closely related.
These are some of the questions a leader in agile contexts always asks: Who are my customers? Who are my collaborators and partners? How much do I understand their daily lives? What do they value? What relevant pains or needs do they have? What do they long for? How can I contribute to making their lives better?
A leader understands that value only materializes when a person receives and validates whether what we deliver effectively meets their needs and solves their relevant problems.
Within this third element, I want to highlight that when talking about people and creating value, the game is caring.
Leaders must take care of their permanent development as a person, professional, and colleague and of their collaborators and partners, their development, and well-being.
When genuine care emerges from leadership, everyone will be concerned, on the one hand, with caring for customers and doing as much as possible to understand and contribute to the continued satisfaction of their needs, and on the other hand, with caring for the organization and contributing to proper use of resources, processes, tools, conversations, among others.
If, based on the purpose and vision, we take care of people and their interactions in our role as leaders, we will be taking care of the outcome and the impact.
In an agile context, a leader’s main priority, reflected in their decisions and actions, is satisfying people’s needs, changing their lives—PEOPLE-DRIVEN—through early and continuous delivery of value—VALUE-DRIVEN.
Embrace infinite adaptability:
The fourth component of the leadership role in an agile context is the ability to adapt. We are moving from the era of transformations to infinite adaptability. We will transform again and again without stopping.
This element is supported by the previous three. For a leader in an agile context, their decisions based on purpose, data, people, and value must lead them and the organization to develop a better response capacity to:
- Read the signs in the environment and even anticipate them,
- Identify the problems that make sense to solve, and
- Gradually and collaboratively solve these problems in short learning cycles.
In times of accelerated change like the ones we are experiencing, what differentiates an ordinary organization from an extraordinary one is the ability of its leaders to live and inspire in others the higher purpose and values, the decisions based on data, the focus on people and value creation and of course, their adaptability.
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