“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn, more, do more and become more, then you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
One thing that I have never been accused of is not leading from where I stand in an organization. I have been one that is constantly thinking “fringe” ideas that may not have dropped into mainstream just quite yet. I often describe it as a lone person shouting into the wind waiting for the others to show up, which on occasion, they do.
I think this is something that many of us are aware of in our own personal makeup. I truly believe that a great deal of people often out of sheer curiosity investigate something, see a need, a possibility of change and work to make a difference. I also feel that in the face of poor or no leadership that there are others who will rise to the call. These are often the leaders from within the organization that through sheer desire to do something amazing inspire people to join them.
I am known to say frequently “if you drop 5 people on a desert island, someone will rise to lead the others. And it is not necessarily the one with the title to do so”. So I wanted to discuss this idea in this post. How, no matter where you are, you have the opportunity to lead. It’s usually a matter of inspiration and context that define how that unfolds.
I just don’t have enough power.
I have spoken with a lot of people over the years who try and convince me that they are unable to affect change in the organization as they do not hold a position of power or influence within an organization. While I believe fully that there are organizations that are so entrenched in hierarchy that impact on a broad level can be very difficult, what about affecting change at a local level, a micro-level, a personal level?
I guess what I am getting at here is that nobody is completely powerless to the random acts of circumstance. There has to be a realm for each of us in which we have the potential to influence. If not, you are most likely a lemming; watch out for that cliff coming up, that first step is going to be a doozy.
What I am really asserting is that sometimes there is absolutely no one who is going to sanction what you know needs to be done or can impact a positive change. In most cases, if you are waiting for that to happen, it may be a very long wait. I am not advocating that you proceed in an anarchistic manner to “do whatever you want to do”. But as Ghandi said, “be part of the solution”.
It’s really easy to identify problems. If I put my mind to it right now, I could create a list of 20 problems in no time flat. But here’s the harder part … is solving the problem.
Or even better, just come up with a potential solution, any possible solution, that can be immediately actionable. Not something that depends on a funding stream, 14 departments to change their process or the CEO to be fired in scandal. What is the simplest possible solution that you could try today? Have one in mind? Willing to try and implement it?
Are you a little worried? Good. You probably should be.
Most of the time fear of failure or putting ourselves out there with an idea that is different to make something better is deeply nested in a heavy dose of fear. It’s what inspires some and crushes others from even getting started. That fear usually reminds us that there are consequences to our actions, which is a good thing. Leaders often take risk. It’s what they do.
Please do not feel alone in this idea of fear. I have it. Each and every time I take a small risk and try something new, I have that fear inside me. It’s just part of who I am. It has stopped me as much as it has inspired me. It’s not unnatural.
However, true leaders may often be so consumed and impassioned by an idea or the potential of change that they feel compelled to champion thi cause in the face of potential failure. This is what often inspires other in these leaders to listen and follow them. They are on a mission and we just want to be part of it because we want to be part of something great.
Their unwavering belief in what they are seeking to change can be truly inspirational! So fear is not necessarily a bad thing, it just reminds us to consider how impassioned we may be to solve a particular problem or champion a cause as balanced to the risk we are willing to take for our vision.
Where you stand today.
So back to our original idea, can you lead where you are now? Are there immediate problems or opportunities that you can tackle and make things better? Are you willing to take these on with passion no matter in anyone joins you in your quest? Then you may actually be ready to start leading from where you stand right now.
It’s not a difficult thing to do but we often get overwhelmed by the idea of change on a grand scale. We perhaps see the larger issue and often stand the risk of getting bogged down with those items that far beyond our scope of influence and can take the wind out of our sails. I have done it times myself.
Seeing the sheer amount of effort that lies ahead of us to run a marathon can often keep us on the couch. Don’t fall into this trap. One of the supporting agile values is the “value in the work not done”. You have to be willing to make changes where you can. This often takes a prioritization approach, which is hard. Most people agree that having 3-5 priorities is manageable. Even Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great” indicates that “if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority”.
But what if we could step back from the grand “save the world” solution and perhaps take a moment to reflect on those tiny pain points that might make things a little bit easier, more productive, more visible or solve some small problem; wouldn’t that be a good thing? I think it might.
But shouldn’t we set really big goals for ourselves? Sure, why not. Let’s not forget they exist but let’s put them into perspective They are often called BHAGs.
BHAG stands for “big hairy audacious goals” and are those things that may drive the small actions we take to get there. This term comes from the book “Built to Last”, authors Jim Collins, and Jerry Porras (Jim Collins being known for his follow-up book “Good to Great”) when they examine successful visionary companies. A BHAG, as described in the book, encourages companies to define visionary goals that are emotionally compelling. Whereas a lot of companies set goals in months, quarters or years, the target of a BHAG is a 10-30 year goal to progress to an envisioned future.
The book defines a true BHAG as:
“A BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”
Here are a few examples of BHAGs:
Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Microsoft: Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
Amazon: To be Earth’s most customer-centric company.
Facebook: To make the world more open and connected.
JFK’s Moon Challenge: This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.
So having a “big hairy audacious goal” is, in itself, a good thing. An envisionment of the future that inspires on an emotional level. But we must ensure that we do not become overwhelmed by trying to continually compare our short term achievements to that BHAG directly as a measurement of progress as not to underwhelm us to our achievements and impact we are making today. Look at it as a roadmap, not a measuring stick.
So let’s get our leadership on!
So we talked about several things that help point us in the direction of leading from where we stand. Let’s recap.
Questions we might ask ourselves:
- Do I have or need a BHAG for what we want to do? Is it something that emotionally connects for me and potentially for others? Am I seeking a broader future goal or simply a local immediate change?
- Where is my level of influence? What things can I impact today to make a difference to help me get move towards my perceived future? Is the change I want to make within that level of influence?
- One thing we did not really discuss, Am I being responsible to (myself, my co-workers, my organization) and reasonable (again to the same parties) in what I am trying to do? Am I being self-servant or “serving” in my actions?
- Does the thought of failure concern me more than the positive impact of change itself? Am I willing to accept the consequences of the actions I take, good or bad?
- Am I waiting for the authority to enact change or am I using this as a mechanism to not instigate the change myself?
- Whom does this change impact? What are their motivations?
- Am I willing to accept failure and learn from it?
So we have examine the items surrounding the change, now is the time to put things into action. If we have indicators that we are willing to champion this change, accept the consequences and seek to rally additional champions of impact, we should get things into motion.
The CEO of PureWow, Ryan Harwood states that “the worst decision is indecision”. This is a modern restatement of a battle strategy that indicates “when confronted with an enemy on two possible hills, the worst decision is to not charge either hill”.
So if you make the decision to affect change from where you stand today, make it happen!