Leadership and Change
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SignLab from CADlink


Leadership and Change

The speed of business evolution is constantly changing.

By Johnny Duncan

Growth and change are necessary elements in any business. While both can be satisfying, painful and memorable experiences in business they are often the success or failure of a business. Good planning and follow-through are the keys to success. History provides us with numerous successes and failures that have been experienced by all levels of people and from them many lessons to be learned.

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  • In a letter written in 1829 by future President Martin Van Buren to President Andrew Jackson, cautioning him to put the brakes on the future, he writes:

    January 31, 1829

    To: President Jackson

    ...As you may well know, Mr. President, “railroad” carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by “engines” which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.

    Martin Van Buren
    Governor of New York
    (Quoted in “No Growth,” The American Spectator, Jan. 1984)

    The future is advancing at breakneck speed. In 1829 it came fifteen miles per hour. Today it rushes toward us in quantum leaps. With that future comes changes of unheard of proportions in how we do whatever we do. The smart players, are far as leadership is concerned, are completely rethinking the nature of organizations and the nature of leadership for the world of tomorrow.

    Today workers are demanding to participate in decisions that are affecting their lives. A different kind of workforce fills our ranks. There appears to be more of a trend toward flat organizations. Fewer people believe the centralized institutional approaches have the necessary wisdom or capability to spawn progress. No longer are employees willing to just blindly accept whatever comes down from the top. The democratization of companies is threatening the very survival of many more traditional organizations. This democratization is forcing us to reevaluate our very understanding of the role of leaders and leadership, and how we structure organizations.

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    The new generation has lost confidence in the hierarchical processes of government, church, education, and business. Younger people are just not interested in investing their lives in the maintenance or advancement of institutional structures. They want to go where the action is, they want to make a difference, they want to work in flat organizations, and they want to control their own destinies. They prefer a highly decentralized, grassroots approach to problem-solving.

    Leaders as Dreamers
    Change is inevitable; not to change is a sure sign of imminent extinction. Leaders who don’t change with the changing climate of our future world will find themselves only a museum attraction.

    Leaders are paid to be dreamers, or should be. The higher you go in leadership, the more your work is about the future. As a leader, you have very little influence on what is going to happen in your organization over the next six months, but you can make daily decisions that could have a profound impact on the company one and five years down the road. Some may be thinking, “How can I drain the swamp- how can I plan for the future- when I’m up to my neck in alligators?” The oppression of the urgent always fights against our planning and thinking time, but if we don’t make the time to plan for the future we will be its victims. A style of reactionary leadership will eventually develop, but what is needed is proactive leadership that anticipates the future.

    Leadership must always be devoting itself to the issue of goals and strategies. It is the manager who asks how, and leaders ask where and why? Walt Disney was a visionary leader. Here is a portion of his portrayal of the future just before ground was broken for Disneyland in Anaheim: “Disneyland will be something of a fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showplace of beauty and magic. It will be filled with the accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make those wonders part of our lives.” (B. Thomas, Walt Disney: An American Tradition, 1976:246) Now that is dreaming!

    A man was running in his neighborhood recently and told me the story about a square marble stone with a brass marker in someone’s front yard. It caught his eye as unusual so he stopped to investigate and on the marker were these words: On this spot in 1897 Nothing Happened. There is probably some truth in that marker. Some truth for our organizations if we were to die today. What would the stone read if placed in front of your business with today’s date on it? Whether we like it or not, we are in the middle of a paradigm revolution. Things are changing dramatically on the economic front. If we don’t flex in response to the changes external to us, we will become obsolete.

    In the mid 1970s the Swiss watch industry made 85 percent of all watches sold in the world. By the mid 1980s they had laid off 25,000 watchmakers and were down to 15 percent of the world market. The quartz movement, invented by a Swiss watchmaker but rejected by his superiors, redefined what the world thinks and expects of watches. Only Seiko of Japan and Texas Instruments of Dallas saw the future and now lead the industry. The business world is full of examples such as this. What can we do to keep the pace with change?

    Here is some concrete advice to help leaders embrace and address change:

    Set aside time
    Get away for a whole day once per quarter to reflect on the future. Start with one to five years out and then ten. It is important to take time away from the swamp, and forget about the gators! The best time for future thinking is out of the office. Keep a “future file” in your computer, where you can store your dreams and then refer to them often.

    Perform a “vision audit”
    Take the time to ask insiders and outsiders how they feel about the strengths and weaknesses of your company. Send out questionnaires and ask for honest feedback. Learning organizations are not afraid to hear the truth. Ask questions such as:
    What are the strengths of our group?
    What are our weaknesses?
    What do we do poorly?
    What do we do well?

    Create a vision statement
    Even if you already have a mission statement, creating a new vision statement will add spice to the soup. Develop a fresh perspective that you can communicate to everyone in the organization. Make the statement reliable, credible and attractive.

    Set short- and long-term goals
    Set annual goals for your organization and quarterly goals for your departments. Remember to make them SMART goals:
    S- specific
    M- measurable
    A- attainable
    R- relevant
    T- trackable

    Concentrate and eliminate
    Concentrate on those things that your company does well and improve on it. Teach and train your people to know those products and services inside and out. Strive to be the best in that field. Then, eliminate the things that are causing your organization to lose focus. Sometimes trying to do too many things right causes you to lose sight of the things you did right originally.

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    Expect great things, attempt great things
    Expect from your organization no less than what you expect from yourself. Hold others accountable to strive to be their very best-- nothing more. Empower them to dare and to dream. A stagnant pond can really stink after some time. Move the waters around. Don’t always be moved by them. George Bernard Shaw said it best: “I am a dreamer. Some men see things as they are, and ask why; I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

    We are moving faster than 15 miles per hour so we need to think faster. By dreaming and planning, a good leader can take his or her organization above the chaos of change. Don’t be stuck in tradition of the past 50 to 100 years. The labor pool you are hiring from wants excitement and movement. They want to be part of a winning team.

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