Updated: Jun 26, 2022
Adapting boldly is one of the four behaviours of world-class leaders. Leaders who adapt boldly are roughly seven times more likely to succeed than those who wait for change to confront them.
Yet, adapting boldly these days is even harder than in the past and so is the leadership challenge.
Sustainability, talent retention, technology, economic shifts and new business models, and employee engagement, are just a few examples of changes that drive organisations to reinvent themselves. In parallel with reinvention, organisations also need to perform.
New strategies, policies, ways of working and new standards will resolve part of the challenges an organisation is facing.
But when the desired changes don’t stick for the long term, there is an unseen part of the story that calls us to pay attention and needs more exploration. The unwritten rules by which an organisation functions are deeply ingrained in the culture, behaviours, routines, recognition measures, and communication lines, including what is unsaid in the face of the challenge.
The turning point in a transformation is to acknowledge that particular ending point: what worked well up until that point but doesn’t serve anymore, either because the goal or the context of the organisation has changed.
Endings are uncomfortable and for that reason, we avoid them even when they are obvious. The longer we postpone the endings, the longer we postpone the new beginning.
It’s way too important to leave anyone guessing what ends.
When leaders call the endings explicitly, in the first place to themselves, everyone is given clarity and the space to focus on what is to come.
But how do you point out what needs to end? Here are a few exploratory questions, with courage and curiosity:
What has made us successful so far, but has now become an anchor into the past that stops us from evolving?
Where do we have evidence of something not working, but we are too over-invested and we avoid making tough choices?
Where are our behaviours different from what we say the intended future looks like?
If we were to redesign everything from scratch, what would we leave out?
What would a new leader in this position put an ending to?
We can’t design strategies or drive performance based on information we are not aware of. Neither can our teams.
In the midst of uncertainty and transformation, the attitude we have towards endings can be the ingredient that sets us apart and takes us one step forward to the future of what our organization can look like.
The leaders who want to adapt boldly will benefit from asking the hard questions about those mechanisms or ways of thinking that need to end. Finding the answer to those questions and communicating them to the wider organization will be one step into that future.
Let go of the past.