JMW Consultants is again named by Forbes as one of America’s Best Management Consulting Firms. Only 230 of approximately 710,000 management consulting firms in America were recognized. The list, compiled by surveying more than 7,500 partners and executives of management consultancies, as well as 1,000-plus senior executives who worked with such firms over the last four years, is divided into 16 sectors—from aerospace and defense to financial institutions. You can see the list, and what Forbes had to say about compiling it, here.

We particularly appreciate this recognition from our clients and peers, as for us, it speaks to JMW’s core commitment to provide extraordinary support to leaders who are committed to making a decisive impact on the future of their organization, their customers, their industries and the world.

From politics to technology, financial markets, and organisations globally, broad-scale disruption has inarguably become a new norm. Every business leader I meet now recognises the relentless need to flex and adapt in a constantly churning marketplace. Indeed, transformation has become one of the most overused words in today’s lexicon.

Yet with ever-present disruption, many transformation efforts ultimately fail to stick. Sure, we see impressive turnaround stories and waves of success. But in my view, too often it takes little more than a small market shake-up to prompt an ebb in progress, then a slide back into habitual practice and predictable performance. The demand today is for transformation that not only unleashes entirely new thinking and action to deliver new levels of high performance, but also persists in the future.

Through first-hand experience – both positive and negative – exceptional leaders are discovering the kind of breakthrough thinking and behaviour required to generate transformation that truly endures. Their hard-earned success stories demonstrate a complete shift in what it means to be a leader. Whether in response to a major industry disruption or you’re seeking to overturn a pattern of underperformance, or seize a compelling opportunity – here are six questions to ask, and six things you can do to take a lasting leap into new territory.

1. Is the past running your future?

How people view the future is always informed by how they view the past. The starting point for a transformational change effort has to be with senior leadership engaging in their own self-reflection. Without this first step, it is unlikely the change effort will ever gain traction.

What you can do: Reveal what’s in the background. To move forward with a realistic chance of success, you have to shift the way people in the organisation – including the executive team – are relating to the strategy, their roles, and their industry. It’s critical to reveal what is often veiled from view, yet the biggest determinant of how people think and behave, and ultimately the biggest determinant of performance. 

People often assume they see things the same way; but if you put eight people in a room, they’re likely to have eight unique perspectives. Being able to engage with each other from those different perspectives yields tremendous learning and insight. It is a true leadership skill to be able to unearth people’s relationships to what they’re dealing with, then show people a way to evolve beyond perceived limitations.

For instance, my colleagues and I worked with an Australian water corporation as it emerged from Australia’s Millennial Drought. There was a troubling budget shortfall, a massive project behind schedule, and a tariff structure in need of reform. Almost no one involved believed that the Managing Director could steer the organisation away from predictable failure. But within two years, more than $3 million in cost savings had been identified, the project was well underway, and the tariff system was being re-written by a working group of local water committees.

Their path from underperformance to success started with a very candid conversation amongst all key players involved. Then came collective agreement on incredibly steep targets against terrible odds. It was an approach everyone could not only live with, but take a stand for. Indeed, with a sense that they could help ensure the very future of the organisation, people coalesced to work through many impediments – and their own initial disbelief – to turn things around dramatically.

2. Are you trying to avoid the predictable trajectory – versus taking it on?

Do you have an understanding of your organisation’s predictable level of performance in the event that nothing changes? It’s imperative that senior leaders have a sober understanding of their current performance trajectory – and whether that’s where they want to end up. If you’re an executive and you take a close, honest look at where you’re headed, it could be that a lot of what’s ahead is similar to what you’ve already got, or even worse.

What you can do: Confront the trajectory and identify what you’re committed to achieving. Well beyond 95% of the time, when a committed, accountable executive takes a clear look at what’s predictable, they’re not satisfied with what they see. When that predictable trajectory is rejected, there has to be alignment amongst the executive team about what’s unacceptable and has to be confronted.

A powerful way to understand what people are committed to is by first identifying what is of fundamental importance to the organisation. Once a team has a shared view of what’s most fundamentally important to the organisation, you can refocus and gain clarity about what that a new future would look like.

We have found this to be true whether within a single organisation or a collaborative effort. For example, we saw it in an infrastructure project that was one of the most geographically challenging undertakings in Australian history. Five partners came together to deliver this high-profile, multi-million-dollar road upgrade on a very tight deadline, in the context of dangerously dry and shifting soils. The beginning of the effort was rocky, and the trajectory was dismal. Yet they ultimately delivered ahead of schedule and under budget, with awarding-winning standards for safety, quality, and environmental protection.

The starting point was getting people together to ask the hard questions up front, and gain clarity about outcomes of fundamental importance to each stakeholder group. Then came agreement about the type of no-blame culture that had to be developed, and a collective commitment to a set of daunting milestones. An essential step in their success was confronting what would have otherwise been inevitable failure.

3. Is anyone really innovating – and what does that mean?

Most leaders agree that innovation is a good thing; everybody wants it. But there is far less agreement about what it is, and how you unleash people’s drive to invent. Are your people innovating – or are they problem-solving with occasional creativity?

What you can do: Create an environment of innovation. I assert there are three ways to view innovation, and one that’s the most powerful. People often think of innovation as (1) an event – using one technique or another, people come up with new ways of approaching their work. Or sometimes people think of innovation as (2) a process – developing ways of doing things that help you pool the best thinking in your organisation on an ongoing basis. But the kind of innovation that results in major organisational change is innovation as (3) a capability. When innovation becomes an embedded capability, real transformation can follow.

My colleagues worked with NATS, the UK’s largest air traffic organisation, in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the US. The newly-appointed CEO at the time, Paul Barron, had a tall order of things to remedy, from financial disarray to chronic system outages and a management team that had lost its footing since a partial privatisation. Yet between 2004 and 2009, the organisation achieved a stunning series of wins as it delivered shareholders their first- ever return on investment, was voted the Best Air Navigation Provider in the world by a panel of peers, and increased share price 700% over five years – while also dramatically decreasing delay per flight.

As Paul observes, building a capacity for innovation was central to the turnaround. At first there was the motivation of necessity, as he recounts: “From breakdowns come breakthroughs. When you’re flat on the floor, thinking, ‘how are we going to get out of this,’ new ideas emerge.” Then, senior leaders developed the capacity for innovation throughout the organisation: “We engaged the workforce in finding solutions, rather than thinking we could find them all ourselves…and rather quickly, we were regularly operating in new ways that consistently generated new levels of results.”

In addition to new ideas, innovation is about what gets executed. The objective is to make everyone innovative every day, moving from a process-driven functional organisation to an outcome-driven cross-functional organisation. It’s about moving from “innovations” that are ideas with a beginning and an end to “innovation” that has a continuous and strong presence.

4. How effectively are you executing?

Too often, we can get pulled by what’s immediately in front of us or the crisis of the day. Have you developed the kind of discipline to focus instead on what will really take the business forward? Do you delegate in a way that really holds people to account without micromanaging?

What you can do: Operate with discipline in execution. True discipline of execution is required to keep people’s focus. That means extreme diligence with regard to key performance metrics, and people being willing to come forward about any issues that might impede progress.

This takes a particular type of dialogue, and a willingness to be able to come forward with thoughts, ideas, and concerns that you’ve thought were not that important – or could potentially disrupt things – rather than move everything forward. That’s a fundamental part of this process. Being able to have that level of authenticity and straight talk will enable you to put it all on the table in a constructive way – which can result in a collective commitment to doing something pretty great together.

Consider the experience of New Zealand-based Z Energy (known as “Z”) and Mike Bennetts, appointed Chief Executive of Z in 2010. After 99 years of operating as the downstream branch office of a global firm, the business had to suddenly stand on its own feet. There were immediate demands to drive revenues and address customer concerns. Yet Bennetts knew he also had to step up and declare what Z Energy stood for – and would be – in the long term. He worked with key leaders to develop the “Z Leadership Framework,” where they committed to measurable outcomes, standards for achieving them, and principles for their actions. This work eventually extended to the staff population, including the “people at the pumps.”

The way this change initiative at Z Energy was executed made it virtually impossible for people to revert to old, plodding behaviours and any tendencies to assign blame when something didn’t go right. As Mike observes: “We had all these employees who basically felt like they’d been bought up in a sale. We had to be mindful of that every step of the way, and never relented in our commitment to our broader goals.” By 2013, book value for the company had increased from NZD $700 million to $1.6 billion. In 2016, Mike was named the Deloitte Top 200 CEO of the Year and Z Energy was named the Deloitte & AJ Park Company of the Year.

5. Is everyone pulling in the same direction?

For any of this to work and stick, leadership at the very top has to be aligned. We all know there’s a tendency for organisations to be siloed. People really have to develop the capacity to think from the whole of the enterprise. This is key as execution continues over time and people face inevitable challenges and perhaps even setbacks.

What you can do: Create a line of sight between people’s work and the aspirational future. The key here doesn’t lie in avoiding the issues, but how people relate to them. If people can embrace challenges or disruptions as opportunities to dig in with the change – versus trying to avoid any hiccups along the way – the change effort can continue to support the desired performance gains. You may never get the change management perfectly “right,” but as long as you keep people working in the same direction, your evolution will continue. This is the experience of organisations who have embraced that they need to be agile and resilient enough to continually look at the changing landscape, and flex and adapt accordingly.

In a daunting oil and gas project, my colleagues were called in to support an ambitious effort to develop a remote deep-water gas field. For decades, the world’s most powerful energy companies had failed to do so. When five joint-venture partners took on the challenge, the effort almost failed before it really started. What steered the project away from collapse – and put it on course for completing the design and engineering project phase in record time – was redefining that moment of near failure. Every key player was brought in to discuss what had to happen and when, and to agree to a broader vision they were committed to delivering. Their ultimate breakthrough success wasn’t about the many hundreds of details involved, but rather, the bigger picture that united and motivated the partners.

6. Is your leadership up for this?

Leaders in your organisation may have a conceptual understanding of the future state that’s required, but may not have confronted what that will look and feel like. For a major transformation to take hold, leaders have to be on board in a way they have probably never been before.

What you can do: Develop new leadership capabilities. There are critical cultural traits to embrace if you want to cause total transformation in your organisation, among them: trust, innovation, taking initiative, and risk-taking in the context of learning. What’s required for transformation is something that many leaders will find uncomfortable and difficult at the very least: leaving the comfort zone of analysing and minimising risk to a new normal of learning and pivoting.

My colleagues in the U.S. worked with Terry Milholland during the eight years he served as Chief Technology Officer and Chief Information Offer for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Terry received numerous federal and industry honours for the way he stepped into an organisation with a legacy 1990s IT infrastructure and led it to becoming a 21st-century, world-class IT function. He took his organisation from being an underperforming bureaucracy with a slow-moving culture to an award-winning, high-performance agency with a transformed culture – and in the process, managed a historic modernisation that fundamentally changed and upgraded the nation’s tax system.

The key to his leadership success? “It was about engaging our people and leaders … and convincing them that they could actually do extraordinary things, even in an IT culture heavily constrained and generally risk adverse,” according to Terry. “By equipping our leadership, articulating a new possibility of being world-class despite all the barriers, and beginning to operate with first-rate controls for oversight and accountability, our team was able to deliver successes that some people in government never thought they would see.”

And one more point: Don’t ever let up. While there’s no debate about most senior leaders’ appetite for change or intellectual understanding of these concepts, we find that in practice, there is little understanding of the rigorous effort that will be required to make a real change. It’s not uncommon to witness an element of overconfidence about what it will take to change and operate from a completely different frame of reference and mindset. People simply don’t know what they don’t know.

In each of the examples I’ve mentioned, the successes realised would never have taken hold if senior leaders hadn’t done the grappling and work required to surrender the leadership habits that were no longer serving them. Moreover, they adopted new ways of operating that showed their people how serious they were about making something happen. Transformation can’t occur on paper; it has to happen in the context of tough business challenges that leaders decide to take on real-time in new ways.

This kind of effort has to be extremely intentional, and closely linked to crystal clear business objectives. It’s not that continuity is the enemy; it’s that consistently higher performance is essential for organisations who want to operate with speed and agility as well as longevity and sustainability. The end game is total transformational change that sticks, even – especially – as the organisation continues to evolve into higher performance at every turn.

Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) is expanding in importance for investors in measuring the return and risk of investing in an enterprise.

In a recent JMW Thought Leadership Series Webcast, we spoke to six Senior Executives who have been engaged in their company’s response to ESG. Our candid discussion will cover this emerging phenomenon organized around the following questions:

Watch the discussion with six senior executives as they discuss how ESG is here to stay and what they are doing about it.

Hear from seven global Senior Executives and how they are adopting their leadership styles and actions to navigate the uncertain times of today.

So, you’ve made it to the top of your organization. There’s an incredible sense of accomplishment when you’re recognized for your talent and track record. Indeed, you may think you have what it takes to move on to even greater success.

Here’s the thing: What got you here may not be a match for what’s next. This is particularly true when you consider the magnitude of disruption in the marketplace. While “leadership development” is an all-too familiar phrase, there’s no escaping the imperative to continually learn as a leader. Yet people who have worked to achieve the most can also be reluctant to take on the necessary work to become better leaders. But if you’re a leader who isn’t constantly learning, you could find yourself left behind.

Learning to be a more effective leader can be a double-edged sword: It’s both attractive and a bit of a threat.

It’s also the only way to see what’s truly possible for your organization. However, many of us have some kind of baggage when it comes to personal development. Maybe our ego gets in the way, or we tell ourselves there’s no time for that, or our pride won’t stand for appearing less than perfect – or all of the above.

If you’re willing to accept that there are always aspects of your leadership that could improve, it’s time to make it operational. There is tremendous power in demonstrating ongoing self-awareness, and great liberation in acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers. And here’s the thing: Leadership development isn’t a one-time event. It’s an iterative process of leading and learning that will power you through the best of times as well as the tough stuff.

Do you have repetitive ways of talking and doing things that have dimmed in effectiveness? Are there suggestions people offer you repeatedly, but you’re not really listening? Do your people have new ideas that never seem to go anywhere under the “how we do things here” status quo?

Whether you’re continuing to learn as a leader in a formal or informal way, here are some tips for yourself and for fostering an environment that invites the continuous development of your people.

See beyond

That big deal your team just cinched – or that discouraging result – is over. The world has already moved on. See beyond your last win or disappointment to what’s on the horizon. The most effective leaders I know have learned the value of continually reassessing where their businesses are and pursuing the extraordinary achievements that are still possible. They never stop questioning if there’s a better way to get the job done. Are you exercising leadership by aspiration or by authority?

Be inclusive

Allow your people to see how they can influence the future and equip them to do so. Invite disruptive thoughts not only to be aired, but pursued. I’m not talking about one-off brainstorming, but rather having new approaches become part of the fabric of your team. I have seen leaders reinvent their games by building cultures where innovation isn’t a one-time event; it’s something that becomes inevitable in their business environment. What has more gravitational pull in your organization – being right or daring to have a new idea and take a risk?

Foster commitment

Some of the best business leaders lead with the “why” of their work. There’s an almost unstoppable power to a shared vision that gets people engaged at all levels of the organization. This transcends the tendency to focus on the “what,” “when,” and “how.” Sure, achieving unprecedented things can be a messy process. Obstacles can impede progress, resistance can complicate things, and setbacks can imperil everything. But if the collective commitment holds steady, people will prevail against odds. Are the people in your organization struggling to deliver, or are they committed to a “why” that keeps them going, no matter what?

Operate with discipline

A fundamental that’s often overlooked when you’re in the home stretch of realizing a new vision: It has to be crystal clear to people exactly what success means. Even in the midst of making historic progress, people might still be hanging onto obsolete visions of what winning looks like. Rigorous measurement is critical to keeping people accountable and aligned. How painstakingly are you defining and evaluating high performance? Are you communicating consistently and doggedly about the metrics that deliver success?

One of the most important things you can do as a leader is continuously seek opportunities to learn – from the people around you, from the results you see (or don’t), and from new thinking. It can transform your ability to lead people to successes they never imagined. It’s not an easy process, but it’s a much more reliable one than you may realize. If you want to take your people to groundbreaking performance – not just once, but again and again – the commitment to leading better than ever begins with you.

Picture this scenario: You are charged with executing a new vision and strategy that offers the possibility of significantly improving the future of your company. Most people agree with the need for the big changes, yet they say things like, “It’s too much,” “we’re burned out, it will never work,” “we can’t deliver what’s needed now and make these changes,” etc. The big question is often not why, but how? As people begin to really come to grips with implementation and the changes in mindset, structure, reporting, and delivery required, the following experience unwittingly pervades and starts to take shape:

A sense of being disrupted;
An overwhelming feeling of discomfort; and
A mood of discontent.

Why does this often happen when big changes are in play?

As human beings, our natural tendency is to fear change. Change triggers our survival instinct. Our immediate reaction is often shaped by a need to keep in place what was (The Known) and resist or battle with the changes (The Unknown). Whether threats of change are real or imagined, external or internal, our unwitting drive is to seek out homeostasis–a state of relative stability–however incongruous that may be to growth and progress. But in today’s disruptive age where change has become the norm, this mythical state is becoming more and more elusive. Given that’s the case, how do we accept and even embrace change? And how do we as humans reconcile the new norm with our survival-based automatic behavior patterns?

The human reaction of Disruption, Discomfort, and Discontent comes along with making big changes.

Bottom line: Change by its very nature is happening all the time and we tend to want to avoid it.

Over the past 35 years, JMW has been revealing to our clients that it’s their “unconscious drive for security” or better said—keeping what we know in place and avoiding what is unknown—that limits vision, strategy, execution and ultimately results. Creating new mind-sets and providing people with the tools to execute and deliver a new future is what JMW does for its clients. We’ve helped create a different mindset around change and provided our clients with the tools and actions that have allowed their companies to go beyond their perceived limits, take on new challenges, and deliver extraordinary levels of performance and results.

We’ve helped our clients realize that what got them stuck and kept them stuck is not knowing how to deal effectively with the inevitable Disruption, Discomfort, and Discontent that ensues when confronted by change.

The 3 Ds that come along with real systemic change:

Here’s how it seems to work: When people make and agree on commitments and challenges that require them to think and act beyond their history, culture and capabilities, it creates disruption. Disruption in how business is currently done currently and how it needs to be done for the future. This Disruption creates a sense of not knowing how to work and maneuver, and therefore brings people to the edge of their learning–Discomfort, and once that discomfort sets in a mood descends and pervades the environment–Discontent. Sound familiar? It’s not surprising that all three tend to come together. The impact of Disruption, Discomfort and Discontent produces a lack of focus, distraction, risks to safety, and weakness in performing, execution and delivery. Bottom line, a highly distracted workforce consumed with fear, trepidation and negative thinking causes people to check out both mentally and physically. It happens to even the best of us and it’s not a workforce issue, but rather a capability challenge.

Is the answer to stop taking on big challenges and making big commitments and promises?

Of course, one way to prevent the 3 Ds is to stop making big commitments in the first place. Without big commitments, there’s no pressure, but also no new achievements in performance and results. That’s certainly one path to take. Unfortunately, while that sounds okay, overall performance and motivation of people slowly erodes and decline is predictable. A much more productive path is to embrace the 3 Ds. Learn to deal effectively with the 3 Ds as access to results beyond the norm and to changes in culture and performance. That gives people and organizations a new future. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but having people become effective in dealing with this phenomenon is the way to go!{{cta(‘ae23bbdf-404a-4b87-a05a-7a25988358ab’,’justifyright’)}}

So what are some tips to dealing with the 3 Ds powerfully?

Big change, transformations, new structures/processes may all be good for the future, but if you don’t bring your people along with you, you’ll struggle to deliver on your promises. The key to a successful transformation is to develop a cadre of people who can traffic through disruption, discomfort, and discontent without a big crash—and JMW is perfectly placed to help you do that.

At JMW, we have dedicated ourselves to developing extraordinary leaders through the pathway of “discovering for oneself.” Through our many years of experience, we have learned that this approach makes a profound difference to those seeking behavioral change and accelerated performance. Leadership is an art and a science—not a recipe or formula. In this series, we’ll look at a variety of perspectives regarding leadership that may allow you to discover what it takes to be a leader in today’s environment. Fundamentally, effective leaders make a decisive impact every day.

Why is this discussion especially important now? The current circumstances have unexpectedly left many leaders blindsided, unhinged, and untethered. Many companies face bleak times whether challenged by being a significantly smaller business to conducting business in new ways to overwhelming staff with challenges they have never faced before. For many of us, there was a place to anchor ourselves—a future you could predict and even create. Now there seems to be more uncertainty than ever. Dealing effectively with the normal ups and downs of the marketplace is not a new economic challenge, however the additional concern for the life, health, and safety of people is unprecedented. The challenge facing leaders today is successfully navigating through this year and determining what their businesses will look like in the future.

This series of provocations will not be the answer, but rather seeks to open new thinking that may challenge you to discover new possibilities for yourself, your organization, and for the future of your companies.

Very bright people may need only be disturbed or disrupted, … shaken up, … challenged, questioned deeply, bothered, to have them bring new insights to existing knowledge.
Chris Argyris

There are an overwhelming number of people writing on this subject right now and providing their best advice, techniques, tried and true methods and processes. These tips are all useful, but can you apply them so that you reliably make the difference you want to make? You might reply … it depends. Let’s not rehash what we know or don’t know. Let’s dive into the realm of what we don’t know that we don’t know—that which is blind to us and limits our view of what is possible.

To begin this provocation, consider this perspective:

Effective leaders and leadership may be more a function of where one is oriented than what one knows.

Let’s discuss two distinct orientations you may not have considered: Leading from the stands and leading from the field.

Leading from the Stands

One of my clients said it best, “Leading from the stands is very different from leading from the playing field.”

What is he talking about?

What’s meant by leading from the stands? Go back to a time when you attended a large event with a lot of people gathered, like a baseball game. There you are, sitting in your seat in the stands, watching and observing all that’s happening. From this perspective, you see many things to comment on, offer opinions about, judge and evaluate. You might even shout out a litany of non-stop assessments of the players, the umpires, the plays, the team managers and even the score.

What gets unnoticed in all this musing is that nothing you think about or say—even said wisely or loudly—makes a difference to the game itself happening on the field. There’s nothing wrong with this chatter; it’s appropriate from the point of view you have of the game. Consider however, that your speaking does not trickle down to the players on field or alter the plays or the scoreboard. If winning means you score more points than your opponent, and this orientation cannot affect winning, then it makes no difference—or said more plainly—offers no reliable approach to making a decisive impact in the world.

How does this discussion apply to leadership and management? Leaders and managers often fall into the same orientation—unwittingly observing performance at work. They hypothesize, criticize, judge, evaluate, point fingers, blame, assess, complain, report—and like the game watcher—have hopes of impacting people and their performance, but ultimately fall short. Why? This orientation does not have the purpose, power or positioning to alter the views and actions of the players, and ultimately, the results.

Especially during these times, the pull to lead from the stands is stronger than ever. Some leaders unintentionally retreat to the highest seat they can find and yell the loudest from afar. What other choice does a leader have?

Leading from the Field

If leading from the stands does not offer power to impact performance such that desired results are achieved, then what does? Leading from the field. What does it look like to be a leader on the playing field? You probably don’t have an answer to this question, and that’s the point I want you to get. There are no answers or formulas to apply on the field, there’s only being on the field in the game and working it out from there. While this isn’t an answer, it’s something new to consider.

The application of answers or formulas are past-based solutions to problems that have already happened. The actions leaders generated that worked were invented and enacted in the moment and explained afterwards. Then someone said, “That worked! Write that down and pass it along.” Ergo a formula for success, the next book.

How do you lead from the playing field?

You set aside what you already know intentionally. You have experienced what I’m pointing to. Take a moment and think of a day at work when you said to yourself, “I made a difference today. I altered an undesirable outcome to a different one and that made a decisive positive impact.” What was your experience of yourself, your people, and your job? Was it like a sense of being productive, satisfied, effective? Able to move the world around you? Did that sense of yourself carry over to those with whom you touched outside of work? I bet you know what I’m talking about. You were not applying some formula or merely some theory you picked up on your leadership journey; you were being a leader in the game leading from the field. While you may have experienced more discomfort and risk, you may also have found your way into this arena of leadership.

How do you move from the stands to leading from the field?

You make that commitment and choice. You commit to getting on the field and notice what comes out of your mouth—speaking that explains or speaking that fosters action.

Working side by side with others, you intentionally speak and listen to others from a commitment to discovering and inventing rather than knowing or confirming. From there you create the next moves. As you make that commitment, you may find yourself and others seeing new and different actions to take not previously considered. The co-creation of actions you and your staff generate builds an environment for results beyond the circumstances.

Be mindful that your orientation is a moment-to-moment choice. Here are two practices to work on that will put you in the game:

Stop: Telling or narrating
Start: Asking and making requests

Unclear? Probably because there is no instruction sheet to follow, just consider going to work tomorrow and start experimenting. See if you can—at will—orient yourself to leading from the field to discover your next moves. See if you and others are more enlivened and stronger in the face of the circumstances.

One final thought. Discover for yourself that leading from the field makes you a player in the game and from there the future looks very different.


Elizabeth Dorey also contributed to this article

Most leaders of successful organizations in the global marketplace understand they need to be extremely dynamic, agile, and resilient in an ever-changing landscape. Many of them also understand that when it comes to transformation — and the importance of causing the significant and sustainable shifts necessary to remain as competitive as possible — it’s not a one-shot deal. The current marketplace calls for having the kinds of cultures, leadership, and strategies that can flex and adapt and cause transformation time after time. No organization has the luxury of stagnating in the status quo or even being satisfied with continuous improvement after a single paradigm shift.

Read the full  article as published in WaterOnline, November 2016

When business leaders speak about risk, the conversation inevitably focuses on how to avoid as much of it as possible. This gives rise to countless ways of measuring, prioritizing, and mitigating risks. This perspective on risk is perfectly understandable, and indeed, is critical to running a business, but what if there is another way to think about risk that would allow leaders to have far greater impact?

There’s a certain payoff to operating in a mindset that is solely focused on avoiding risk for the purpose of reliably predicting and delivering results: it’s familiar, we can protect ourselves and our interests, and we can have some level of certainty when we commit to something that we’ll be able to achieve it. There is a cost to this mindset, though. If you’re focused on avoiding risk, your orientation will always be around staying safe, and you will be hamstrung in terms of taking the kinds of risks that could generate significant returns.

Instead of focusing on mitigating risk within your current business, and avoiding the risks associated with taking what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos refers to as “bold bets”, we invite you to flip the script on risk and ask yourself a different question: what are you giving away by looking at risk as a threat or from the perspective of what you could lose? What value are you taking out of the business by operating in a way that is familiar and predictable?

It’s perfectly natural to want to stay safe. Our brains are wired to have things be predictable–to avoid, at all costs, what we consciously and unconsciously perceive as threats to our survival. If you want to elevate your impact on your business, however, sometimes the most valuable place to look is at what really matters: what is all of this in service of? What’s the point? Then, consider: what are you giving away by not pursuing opportunities that could cause a demonstrable step change in performance? Given our default way of thinking about risk, this is not an easy thing to take on, but if you’re not willing to look, you may miss fundamentally game-changing opportunities. As Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi puts it: “The challenge of the leader is to look around the corner and change before you need to change””

Being “fit for risk” does not simply mean having quantified and mitigated away all the risks your business may face.

It means confronting head-on that the way you are operating, inasmuch as it is familiar, predictable, and safe, could be constraining your performance and producing diminishing returns. When we work with our clients on creating and delivering exceptional results, there is always a moment when the conversation switches from “why we can’t” to “what’s possible here”. That’s the moment when we know the risk script has been flipped and they’re ready to take something on that represents a fulfillment of what’s actually important to them.

Once you’ve switched your view in this way, you’re positioned in such a way that risk is no longer something to evade, but something to take on in a prudent, thoughtful, productive manner. This opens up an entire world of possibility, where you can use your current platform to build a growing, sustainable organization. That sense of possibility will not live on its own. True leadership comes not just in creating a bold vision for the future, but in keeping it alive through conversation. People’s natural orientation to risk will arise anew, every time, and generating the vision will require continuing to alter the conversation from avoiding the risk of taking these “bold bets” to what you could be giving up by not taking them.

“Life doesn’t always present you with the perfect opportunity at the perfect time. Opportunities come when you least expect them, or when you’re not ready for them. Rarely are opportunities presented to you in the perfect way, in a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. … Opportunities, the good ones, they’re messy and confusing and hard to recognize. They’re risky. They challenge you.”

– Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube

Kerri Andrews-Smith, Territory General Manager, Southeast Region, Baker Concrete Construction, shares her views on leadership and the impact of the Being a Leader & the Effective Exercise of Leadership program.