In the past month and a half, the world (and organizations) has changed in ways that would have been unthinkable as recently as January 1st of this year. The proximate cause of these changes has been the COVID-19 pandemic.
If a measure of leadership effectiveness is creating meaningful change, then COVID 19 has been an effective (though obviously not a benevolent) leader. But I am troubled by a question: Why did it take a tragedy like the pandemic to drive leaders to create bold change (like working from home)? Why are we in normal times willing to accept so much air pollution when six weeks of driving less makes such a difference? An even more important question: Will leaders (and I) be willing (or able) to drive bold and necessary systemic and organizational changes once we are back to our new normal?
I have been having a radical (or maybe heretical) thought of late. What if the emphasis placed on self-awareness, self-management, employee engagement and participative leadership, combined with a misunderstanding of what humility means, has caused leaders to be afraid to lead?
To be clear, I am not saying that leaders don’t need to be humble and self-aware. But humble leaders use their skills, experience and knowledge to attract and inspire followers towards the achievement of their vision. And research has found that effective leaders are ambitious, courageous and bold, as well as humble and self-aware.
Winston Churchill said, “You have enemies? Good. It means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Too often, I fear, our desire to maintain harmony, gain consensus and not make others (or ourselves) uncomfortable prevents us from taking the bold action that is necessary for change to occur.
A quote from Warren Buffet that I learned during the Great Recession is appropriate to this new time: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” The current crisis is showing us where our organizations (and our country) are failing. If we are not going to go back to the way things were once the pandemic is behind us, we need to ask ourselves some challenging questions: Am I willing to risk initiating a difficult conversation the outcome of which I cannot control? Am I willing to state my opinion clearly and respectfully? Am I willing to be a directive leader when necessary, even if my decision will be unpopular? Am I willing to act on my convictions, not just talk about them? In other words, will I make my leadership matter?
I am challenging myself to think, speak and act more boldly. And I am challenging clients to do the same. If you aspire to cultivate your ambition, courage (and healthy humility), give me a call. I’d love to be your partner in this worthy effort!