Seven Principles to Leading in These Times of Upheaval

By: Kate Ripp


"Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But that still implies that change is like death and taxes; it should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable. But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm." --Peter F. Drucker

Organizations that can’t deal effectively with change may not be around long. Change is the game today, and it’s happening so frequently that one change is barely complete before another one begins.

How do you ensure that you remain competitive, structure your organization so it’s most effective and manage resources so the company’s most profitable?

Look to the Future

The Internet and other technologies, while allowing us to be in constant contact with many people, also create overload situations. This can take your eye off the ball. We need leaders to keep people focused on the 2-3 things that are most important to them, their department, their business, or their company.

Imagine you’re driving down the coastline and on your left are rolling hills, on the right are cliffs that drop to the blue ocean below. From this vantage point you can see for miles and miles. You’re enjoying the scenery with the top down on your convertible, favorite tunes are playing, the wind is on your face and through your hair, and suddenly you come around a curve and encounter some of the thickest fog you’ve ever seen.

What do you do? There are a number of reactions: you slow down, turn on your lights, tense up, turn down the music, try to focus your eyes on what’s ahead.

Then you go around the next curve and it’s clear again. You take a deep breath and relax, turn off the lights, accelerate, turn up the tunes and enjoy your cruise once more.

This illustrates the importance of vision, especially when things are moving fast. How fast can you drive in the fog without risking people’s lives? How comfortable are you with someone else driving in the fog? Are you able to go faster when it’s foggy or clear? Obviously, when it’s clear.

Constituents of all types demand that leaders be forward-looking and have a sense of direction. You and your leadership team need to have clear vision with certainty of purpose and innovative ideas in which you engage people and keep the momentum moving forward.

First Who, Then What

Jim Collins, in his years of research that led to the discovery of the five levels of leadership, tells us that good to great companies attend to people first, strategy second. They get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off, usher the right people to the right seats and then figure out how to drive it.

When you compromise on the quality of people on your bus, you falter. So, how do you know if you have the right people in the right seats?

1. They must have the core values of the organization. If the values are there, you can draw upon them, if not, usher those people to the door.

2. The right person on the bus is not someone you need to “manage”. You may need to guide them, teach them, help them in their role, but not manage them. If you have to manage them into right behaviors, taking a lot of your time and energy, you’ve probably made a hiring mistake.

3. They have the capability in the seat they currently hold to be potentially one of the best in their industry or field. They may not actually be the best now, but they have the potential to be.

4. They understand the distinction between having a job and holding responsibility. You’ll know if they operate on the principle of personal responsibility if they see a hole and feel the need to fill it to make things better.

5. Ask yourself if you were making the hiring decision all over again, given everything you know having worked with the person, would you still hire him/her?

6. Be Fair to people. If you have the right person on the bus, but in the wrong seat, it’s not the person, it’s a management issue. Premier companies connect people’s talents and needs to the organization’s requirements.

Lead by Example

Rousing speeches or talk about promising futures can be inspiring and important, but constituents expect leaders to show up, pay attention and participate directly in the process of getting extraordinary things done. Exemplary leaders model the way and exhibit the behavior they expect of others. Be clear about your guiding principles to gain commitment and achieve the highest standards, speak openly about what you think and believe. Set the example through daily actions that demonstrate you are deeply committed to your beliefs and values. Words and deeds must be consistent.

People follow the person, not the plan. Sure, you need operational and strategic plans but elaborate acts aren’t necessary to set an example. The most powerful examples can be simple behaviors that go a long way to show people who you are as a leader: spend time with someone, work along side with colleagues, be highly visible during times of uncertainty or tell stories to make values come alive.

Bridge the Gap Between Strategy and Performance

Strategic plans are mechanisms to stimulate disciplined thought. All too often though, leaders in fast growing companies hammer out the perfect strategic plan or await a paradigm shift. You certainly must have plans, but we’re moving too fast to rely on accomplishing the daunting stuff without taking incremental steps to gain commitment and momentum.

Leaders understand how hard it is to get everybody excited about a vision; they know they must show something happening. The challenge is that sometimes the tightrope looks just too high to even take the first step.

In fact, only 63% of the companies achieve the objectives that their strategic plans promise. Where’s the gap?

According to authors Michael C. Mankins and Richard Steele in their Harvard Business Review article, “Turning Strategy Into Performance”, the key issues are directly related to how well the leadership team communicates, creates short and long term plans, and holds themselves accountable to take ongoing steps to get to the stated results. Research points out that these skills are the biggest levers to directly impact the strategy—performance gap.

The amazing thing is that leaders in most companies know this, and yet like most others they may lack the know-how and rigorous discipline to make sure these issues are addressed each and every day.

In order to make things happen through commitment and accountability, leaders need to enable constituents to attack the gap between strategy and performance.

* Clearly devise and communicate strategy and accountabilities—who is on the hook for what?
* Align leaders around top initiatives and ensure collaboration occurs to achieve stated results—everyone driving for a shared set of goals and not for individual gain
* Measure and monitor performance each and every month to ensure progress continues to move at desired levels—progressive, results-driven meetings without room for a lot of excuses

Plug the Profit Holes

Virtually every company is faced with maintaining market share, cutting overhead, keeping key staff, reducing exposure and risk, investing in R&D, managing variable costs—and adding value to the product or service that their customers purchase.

Are you as a leader focused on profitability as a project of choice? Businesses spend money needlessly because they think they should or need to spend. There are some not so obvious expenses or places to reduce spending to lesson the drain on profits. They’re called profit holes and there are at least thirty. Here are ten:

* Weak plans--sharpen focus and accountabilities
* Keeping unproductive employees
* Slow to market
* Nepotism—hiring family and paying them too much
* Slow accounts receivable collection rate
* High inventory
* Advertising the wrong message, to the wrong media
* Wrong products: sell what people will buy, not what you think they will buy
* Excessive décor, overpaying fringes
* Accounting errors—poor auditing and system design or controls

The point is that it’s worthwhile to identify, exactly, the real source of profitability and the not so obvious drains on that—to look beyond the numbers and into the source.
Having said that, the right people in the right positions are your greatest assets, so don’t put profitability above people.

Foster Collaboration

“You can’t go it alone” as the saying goes. Collaboration is the master competency that enables teams and organizations to function effectively.

Collaboration is vital to achieve and sustain high performance. At the heart of collaboration is trust; without it, you cannot lead, you cannot get extraordinary things done.

In a PricewaterhouseCoopers study on corporate innovation in companies listed on the Financial Times 100, trust was the number one differentiator between the top 20 percent of companies surveyed and the bottom 20 percent. The top performers’ trust empowered individuals to turn strategic aims into reality.1

Simply put, when leaders create a climate of trust, they take away the controls and allow people to be free to innovate and contribute. Trusting leaders nurture openness, involvement, personal satisfaction, and high levels of commitment to excellence.2

Exemplary leaders know that self-serving behavior will lead to organizational suicide, and that to be successful, they and their team members must subordinate their own goals to the service of the greater good. To get extraordinary things done we must rely on each other and have a positive sense of interdependence where people know that they cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds.

Be the first to trust. Ask questions, listen and take advice.

Choose Balance

An executive client of mine once told me, “What drives me as an effective leader comes from this inner ‘I feel good’ place because I treat myself well. The more I do in physical, spiritual and mental health, the more I feel exponentially more powerful, capable and confident. I’m a better manager, nicer parent and more productive.”

Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great”, talks about his research of leaders who had balance and those that did not. He says that the split was about 50/50. For half of them, their life was about building a company, many had troubled marriages and not much else going on outside of work. The other half had balanced lives.

Is it possible to build a great company and also build a great life?
Coleman Mockler, CEO most responsible for Gillette's transition from good to great, had a great life. Coleman's life revolved around three great loves: his family, Harvard, and Gillette. Even during the darkest and most intense times of takeover crisis, Mockler maintained remarkable balance in his life. He did not significantly reduce the amount of time he spent with his family, and rarely worked evenings or weekends. He was so good at assembling the right people around him, and putting the right people in the right slots, that he just didn't need to be there all hours of the day and night.3 He chose balance.

When you look at both sides, the half that has balanced lives endures much of the same intensity and issues in building their companies, as do the half that doesn’t have balance.

What this indicates is that those who have balance, choose it. Whether you can have a balanced life or a life with other components in it besides work is not a matter of circumstance, but a matter of choice. Maybe the half that doesn’t have much other than work doesn’t view balance as important?

Want to learn more?

If you want to unearth what you as a leader passionately care about, reach breakthrough goals and learn the ideas, methods and tools that enable you to make the difference you’ve always wanted to make, contact Kate Ripp at 303-697-5914 or by email [email protected] or visit her website www.championleadersinc.com

1. Innovation Survey (London: PricewaterhouseCoopers, 1999), 3.
2. The Leadership Challenge (James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner)
3. Good to Great (Jim Collins)

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Prior to establishing her coaching practice, KATE RIPP spent over 20 years in fast-growing, small and mid-sized corporations, in multiple business development, training, and operations leadership roles. Kate’s hands-on business knowledge offers you cutting edge solutions. To learn more about Kate and get your free report, HOW TO THRIVE IN CHAOS: Seven Principles to Leading in These Times of Upheaval, visit championleadersinc.com

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