Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hit the ground learning

Many leaders feel like thay have to hit the ground running when they come into a new position--change things, fix things, save the organization, prove themselves, etc. But this superman-style leader is obsolete, if he ever was anything more than  just a figment of our imaginations. More likely, he'll come in like a whirlwind and wind up alienating every stakeholder in the place and just making a mess.

A better approach, say Barry Jentz and Jerome Murphy, is to "Hit the ground learning, rather than running."

Their EntryPlan approach starts with a one to six month "no change" period in which the new leader just gathers information. Instead of changing things right off the bat, she makes a plan for interviewing stakeholders. She embraces the inherent confusion of coming into a new organization and embraces a collaborative model of leadership--prioritizing stakeholder voice. And she establishes trust and lays the groundwork for a collaborative culture.

She presents the info collected during the interviews back to the whole community and asks the question, "How can we make sense of this?" This leads to (hopefully) whole-community ownership of the problem, and better buy-in to collaborative solutions. As Ronald Heifetz and Donald wrote in their classic HBR article
"Jan Carlzon [the transformational CEO of the Scandinavian Airlines System] encouraged responsibility taking at SAS by trusting others and decentralizing authority. A leader has to let people bear the weight of responsibility. 'The key is to let them discover the problem,' he said. 'You won't be successful if people aren't carrying the recognition of the problem and the solution within themselves.' To that end, Carlzon sought widespread engagement."
I don't need much convincing to go along with Carlzon's decentralizing approach. I think that's where we need to head as a society. But there's no doubt it's radical. We're all so used to hierarchies and top-down authority, and we're all so not used to distributed, collaborative leadership in which everyone takes responsibility for decision-making and improvement. But the EntryPlan approach seems a great way to introduce the concept while beginning to build real capacity for collaboration. What a great way to hit the ground as a new leader!

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