Bill walked into his first coaching appointment with a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself, standing poised and determined, with a finger pointed upward, about to make an important point. “This is why I need coaching,” he said. “When I’m out of town, the leadership team has taken to putting this representation of me at the head of the table. When I asked them why they do that, they said that I am confident, shrewd, and decisive, and they want their decisions to be like mine. This is their visible reminder. It’s the ‘what-would-Bill-do?’ that guides them.”
Mike had progressed quickly in the organization to quite a lofty position. Along the way, he grew more and more certain that his way of doing things was not just good, but downright inspired. After all, he was being recognized by frequent promotions, so he had to have the winning formula. Some people didn’t see his way of doing things as the One Right Way. At first they tried suggesting other ideas and constructively offering other perspectives. Mike wasn’t buying them. Gradually these colleagues came to dislike and disrupt Mike’s success, and worked around him rather than with him. Mike couldn’t figure out why he was being ostracized – and no longer promoted.
If only someone had offered Mike the witheringly wise words of Mark Twain: “It is discouraging to try to penetrate a mind like yours. You ought to get it out and dance on it. That would take some of the rigidity out of it.”
IBM undertook a study to determine what gets in the way of companies being able to implement the changes that will realize corporate strategy. The Number One reason, identified by fully half the respondents, was ‘corporate culture’. (“The Enterprise of the Future: IBM Global CEO Study 2008.” IBM Corporation. May 2008. www.ibm.enterpriseofthefuture). Other academic research and consulting studies point to the same major culprit in derailing change efforts.
We all nod our heads. We’ve had this experience and know the statistics are true. But then we shake our heads in confusion. What is this thing called culture, how does it work, and why is it so prominent in limiting our ability to change? And what can we do about it?
Culture is like an iceberg, with most of its weight and bulk below the surface.
This spring I asked for a quote on some landscaping, and my mouth dropped at the price tag and the timeline. “How could planting a bunch of perennials cost so much and be such a lengthy project?” There was an edge in my voice that I sealed with a withering, “I could do it myself in a quarter of the time with a good shovel!”
But the landscaper was patient. “You could,” he said, “but it might not turn out the way you have imagined it.” He then explained how the excessive clay in our soil needed to be broken up and mixed with a more loamy soil to suit the temperament of the plants I’d picked, and the drainage needed to be altered for the plants not to remain too wet for too long or they wouldn’t flower much. And some light trimming of adjacent trees would assure the right amount of light. Oh, and by the way, included in the price were two trips back to my property in summer and fall to be sure that first year growth was properly trimmed to maximize root establishment and re-flowering the next year. He did offer that by selecting different plants that better matched the soil conditions, the price and time could be dramatically reduced, both at the front end and the back end of the work.
There are many good reasons to set personal goals for our development as leaders – skill growth, enhancement of ability to lead people, strategic thinking ability. But one question we often forget to ask ourselves in selecting our goals is, “What do I need to develop in order to lead not just today, but in the future?”
Here are three goals you may want to consider for your own development that are tuned to trends.
“If you don’t know where you’re headed, any road will take you there.” That Hindu proverb takes on special meaning as we anticipate the first months of a new year. What a perfect time to focus on fresh beginnings and set our sites on achieving important professional and personal goals!
But setting our sites is the easy part. Most of us have at one time or another made New Year’s resolutions or set professional goals that went unfulfilled for lack of follow-through. We’ve learned the hard way that creating a plan, and then keeping ourselves motivated and disciplined enough to stay with it until we achieve our goal, are the real challenges.