Choosing to Lead: Reacting or Creating

The world is changing.  For some it’s a sudden shift in the tectonic plates, for others it’s a discomforting rumble.  While “change” has always been a fact of life, today’s change  feels different: There is more than the usual uncertainty about where this will all end up.

As leaders, how we respond and the model we are to those around us during these dynamic times will determine whether we create the change or the change creates us.  We have a choice.

The popular mantra of the day, “it is what it is”, will lead us down the path of change that creates us.  The implied assumption of our powerlessness guarantees our response will be a Reactive one.  In this scenario, we see our best shot at stability, safety and security in a threatening world coming from the adoption of one or more of the following strategies:

  • Hyper Control – a death grip on anything within reach, an almost obsessive need to manage every conceivable variable, personally;
  • Active Denial – passive or aggressive discounting of any view of reality other than ones’ own, dealing with differences by attacking or distancing oneself;
  • Passive Compliance – acquiescence to circumstances, not rocking the boat or otherwise asserting oneself in ways that might challenge the status quo.

I’ve described these strategies in stark terms.  In practice they play out more subtly.  In the moment they feel like an appropriate, even justifiable, response given the perceived threat posed by the current environment.  The problem is that all of these strategies – while creating an illusion of stability, safety and security – will serve to dig the current hole deeper and ensure the outcome we least desire.

As leaders we need to recognize when these Reactive patterns are kicking in and discipline ourselves to choose a different, more courageous response.  I know the choice seems obvious.  The problem is the tug of the Reactive response is strong because it feels safe.  The illusion of comfort and security it creates is seductive.

In times like these, we need a new mindset, something akin to: “It is what we make it” – a full on bear hug embrace of the notion that we can and must be the creator of change.  Doing so requires a much more powerful and Creative stance in response to the current environment.

Moving to this Creative response requires a conscious and deliberate choice.  That choice is enabled by a combination of honest personal reflection and candid dialogue with others.

Here are 10 questions that will drive you and those around you into the Creative space.  Questions 1-4 are useful to spark Creative dialogue with others about the organization’s response to the current environment.  Questions 5-10 will help to compel more personal reflection.  They ask you to consider your own responses and what you need to do in order to better model leadership likely to create the change.   To neglect or marginalize these considerations is to put you and your organization at risk of becoming victims of the Reactive.  As you read both sets of questions, pay attention to what others occur to you:

  1. Looking Back: 12 months ago – what was the business landscape? How were we responding to our market, our internal needs?
  2. Present State: Today – what has changed about the landscape? What facts can we cite that accurately describe the impact of those changes? What decisions have we made (or not made) because of the current uncertainty? Are there decisions that we need to re-examine?
  3. Looking Ahead: In the future – what might be the implications of the current environment for our future business model/strategy? What changes do we need to consider across the entirety of our organizational system?
  4. Building Capacity:  While paying close attention to our short-term needs, how can we also take advantage of this time to build long-term capacity?
  5. Presence: How am I personally finding ways to maintain some semblance of balance in my life and encouraging others to do the same? How am I a source of calm and reason for those around me?
  6. Integrity: What does my own internal value set (my Best Self) say is the right thing to be doing and am I listening to it or not?
  7. Vision & Purpose: How am I focused on what’s best for the broader organization, even when it may mean sacrifice for me or my part of the company?
  8. Courage & Authenticity: How do I ensure that I muster the courage to talk about the world as I see it and experience it – advocating for my views and perspective – without shutting out or shutting down the possibility of other views or perspectives?
  9. Learning: When/where am I creating the opportunity to actively and openly inquire into the views, perspectives and knowledge of others, suspending my own beliefs long enough to truly understand another and what they see?
  10. Teamwork: How am I actively looking out for other’s best interests, finding common ground for agreement, even when it’s challenging? What do I need to do to ensure people have a sense that we’re in this together, truly caring about and for one another?

Times of extreme change demand that we master the skills implied in these questions.  Answering them and others unique to your organization will enable you to collect the great diversity of data that will be essential to navigating this time.  The result will be your emergence on the other side, stronger and better prepared to take full advantage of the opportunity that does lie ahead – because you created it!

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