Identity, honesty and adaptability are key to growing as a professional as well as an organization.
Having a clear sense of identity is important for leaders and organizations. In the play Hamlet, William Shakespeare speaking through Polonius provides this fatherly advice, “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” A clear identity enables leaders and teams to be honest with each other as they seek to compete in business. Honesty among individuals as well as within teams facilitates real time adaptability to changes in the market that are critical to sustained success.
Let’s break down the quote from Polonius to peel through the layers that will enhance our growth mindset:
1. “This above all else…”
You must prioritize. There’s isn’t enough time, money or resources to do everything. There are limits and they can demotivate you or force you to take the smartest risks you can imagine. To activate your growth mindset you cannot lose touch with reality, you must learn the ever evolving terrain, rules, resources and limitations. Again, reality is not the enemy, it is essential to growth.
Author of Organizational Physics, Lex Sisney, has composed Three Covenants of operating agreements to help teams maximize input and buy in. Covenant 3 states, “The goal is frank and honest discussion of the facts before a decision is made, followed by total commitment to implementing the solution after the decision is made.” Those in a position of leadership do well to understand that they need as broad a net of inputs as possible from within as well as without their team.
Failure to listen to those who are in the field distributing your products or services, those frontline employees, is cutting your organization off from valuable perspectives. Leaders also must understand that conflict does not have to be negative. Creating an open forum where ideas flow without filters requires the allowance of dissension. The team can create healthy boundaries for discussion to remain civil while making clear the timeline for disagreement and the expectation of buy in once the decision is made. As Sisney put it, “Put another way, it’s OK to question a decision up front but it’s not OK to fight it or ignore it during implementation.”
2. “To thine own self…”
Organizations that struggle with their identify will struggle to clarify their value proposition in the market place. Organizational culture and identity sound like such lofty concepts but they are merely reflections of the teams day to day actions and the identity of the leadership. Your company culture is what you do. Your organizational identity often mirrors that of your leadership. We make culture and identity abstract when we try to create them rather than recognize what they are and then optimize them.
In The Real Life MBA, Jack and Suzy Welch write, “The only reason to talk about behaviors at work is that leaders need be very public, very clear, and very consistent about what kind of behaviors are needed in order to achieve the company’s mission.” Leaders must lead by example, it should be the working definition of leadership but often it falls short of action. When those in a position of leadership understand themselves they free up capacity to find and build other leaders who will round out the team needs so that the mission can move forward. When leaders don’t understand themselves they often lead by fear and hold the team back from reaching its potential.
Clarity comes from truth. Collaboration comes from a willingness to receive input. By combining clarity with collaboration, leaders, teams and organizations will unlock the capacity to compete.
3. “Be true…”
There is an emphasis on authenticity which is important for individuals as well as organizations. Yet, if you are failing or heading towards decline, it takes a strong person to admit they need assistance. In the rapidly evolving market everyone must be acutely aware that what worked last month may not net the same result this month. The need to adapt and adjust to the market is constant. Failure to recognize this reality is a recipe for certain failure.
Our values should be set in stone, in so far as they reflect our ethics and core culture, but our approach to the needs of our clients must be fluid. Lex Sisney shares more on how we remain true to ourselves and yet flexible, “If you want to scale your business successfully — without sacrificing innovation, core values, or execution speed as things get more complex — you’ll need to design on principles, not policies.” Good leadership recognizes the survival of the fittest, which isn’t so much that the strongest and richest survive but those who most adaptable to their surroundings. Recent history has shown how industry giants have been toppled by rigidity and replaced by entities that were willing to change their approach with the fluctuations of the market.
Being yourself and building an authentic company are not unreachable philosophical dreams. A leader who is listening will reap the benefits of real time feedback so that their team can adjust course expediently. Jack and Suzy Welch address innovation in this way, “It can and should be a continual, ongoing, normal thing. It can be and should be a mindset that has every employee at every level of the organization thinking as they walk in the door every morning, “I’m going to find a better way to do my job today.” Leaders who understand themselves can create teams and cultures that thrive. Competing in the market requires a strong identity with adaptability. My father in law wisely calls this rigid flexibility. Stay true to your core and nimble enough to adjust to the tides. Have a vision, work tirelessly to execute on your mission but don’t get so transfixed that you are unable to adapt.
Maintain rigid flexibility as you clarify your identify, build an authentic culture and adapt through collaboration.
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