Leading Change; Physician Heal Thyself
by Kevin Dwyer
A malaise exists in many organisations which limits their ability to achieve even modest goals. It is not specific to any industry or any country. It is not specific to public or private enterprise. It is specific to leaders who do not want to, or are incapable of, leading.
The malaise is a tendency amongst leaders to identify a weakness in their organisation or across their industry and to do very little about it. The usual expectation is that someone else will fix it. That someone else is often government or government sponsored or controlled bodies. Sometimes, however, the solutions are left to that invisible duo, “them” and “they”.
Leaders of organisations who find a weakness affecting their ability to reach their goals must practise self help. If they are insightful enough to determine the problem, then surely they can go to the next step and devise solutions without the need of government intervention.
It is fine for organisations to seek help from government or other parties. But when that help is not forthcoming because of a lack of resources or other priorities, the treatment for the diagnosed ailment can only be found in the hands of the “physician” doing the diagnosis.
Examples of this malaise are all too frequently apparent.
For example, associations that decry the lack of specific competencies in their industry as a whole, push the problem to government to “improve” the education system. This is a natural reaction and probably one of several worthy options to explore.
However, if the curriculum changes required are too expensive, too elitist or just plain inappropriate for the majority of school leavers, then the government may well not accede to the request fully. The answer is not to berate the government for a decade for taking no action, but to take action within the industry.
When I completed university with a science degree, the clearest piece of knowledge I had was that I had just learnt to learn and that my greatest level of knowledge and skill building was ahead of me. I was not surprised to find that Shell has extensive supervisory, management and leadership training programmes.
If competency shortfalls are a real problem for an industry then it is in that industry’s interest to fix it by building industry wide training, skill building and coaching programmes to address the shortfall.
The same problem of lack of competency occurs at organisational level too. For example, organisations often lack project management skills. Organisations without project management skills tend to run bad projects; missing milestones, having cost overruns and not delivering the intended outcomes.
At some stage or other the organisation will review a project, especially after a poor project and ask the question, “Why do we always run bad projects”. The answer of course is, “Because we have few or no people with project management skills”.
The solution is to buy or build the skills. Unfortunately, when the solution tends to be nobody’s responsibility the building of skills requirement only gets raised again after the next poor project with the question, “Why do we……”. This scenario is frighteningly common.
One organisation I know, knew it had a chronic inability to prioritise the large number of important projects. This inability was causing frustration and wasted effort in the seven figure bracket. They set up a project to develop a detailed prioritisation process that utilised their extensive IT capability for assessment and communication of priorities.
The project manager was pulled off the project before it was completed. At subsequent management meetings over the next two years, the lack of a robust prioritisation process was debated, discussed and glossed over without any action to fix it.
The malaise identified by these three examples characterises a leadership style which is shallow, indecisive and seeks to shift the burden of accountability for setting and achieving bold goals to “others”.
The malaise occurs even when opportunity beckons. Instead of identifying a problem, leaders identify an opportunity with attendant risks. Instead of analysing the risks poor leaders analyse the opportunity to the point of paralysis. Rather than understanding the risks in detail and addressing them through detailed contingency plans, they avoid the risk altogether by taking no action.
Leaders are paid not just to understand problems. They are also paid to take action. They are paid to provide the leadership of their teams so they are compelled by example to take well considered decisions to progress the organisation towards its goals.
Leaders must take it upon themselves to make “it” happen. Shuffling off responsibility for action to committees, subordinates, government departments and forever bemoaning the lack of action is not good enough.
Leaders are in the position of being able to both diagnose the ailment and treat the ailment of an organisation. If they won’t do it, who will?
Kevin Dwyer may be contacted at http://www.changefactory.com.au firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin is the founder of Change Factory, a company which helps organisations who do not like their business outomes get better outcomes through changing people's behaviour. To find out more about Change Factory and see more articles visit http://www.changefactory.com.au