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How Multiplied Leadership Can Create Change and Adapt to Constant Disruption

Old paradigms die hard.

In an ironic twist, organisational change that used to take place over decades can now happen in minutes. But our response to this new reality is all too familiar, and all too human.

In an age where people deeply distrust top-down, command-and-control leadership … we find ourselves crying out, “Come back!”, when the natural consequences of spreading self-rule yield nonstop change.

Most businesses, to varying degrees, ignore the call for change until it’s too late. Of those that heed the warnings, however, there are still plenty of casualties. It turns out it’s not enough to know your company needs to change; you must be equally attentive to how that change occurs.

In other words, most disruptive change does pose a threat to business. But as you’ll see, that’s usually because we prioritise micro-management of it after the change takes place, when we should be obsessing over it before we pull the trigger.

Picture going from a regular job, where your duties and working hours are decided for you, straight into becoming an entrepreneur. There are heaps of blind corners, as you assume responsibility for your schedule and priorities.

The psychological parallel with change leadership is to position yourself ahead of a constantly evolving curve, while maintaining fundamentals that hold steady. It’s sort of like having one foot on solid ground and the other on ice.

Leading change authentically can sound overwhelming. But the good news is there are plenty of healthy examples to borrow, from multiple organisations around the world.

In even better news, you can begin from exactly the place you’re sitting when you read this. Done right, you can expect it to spread and multiply – a welcome change of what passes for “communicable” in the era of COVID-19.

Unitive provides education for leaders seeking to effectively steward change in their organisations. Click here for a list of services we provide.


Why The “Waterfall” Can Neither Dominate, Nor Disappear

Undoubtedly, websites like Amazon changed how we buy and take delivery of consumer goods. There’s no need to leave your home, unless you urgently need something they can’t deliver in an appropriate amount of time. Their obsession with giving customers what they want has paid handsome dividends.

What’s not changed the entire time is the need for electricity and internet connectivity, which were around long before e-commerce. Shut off the power grid or disrupt the transmission of data through fiber optic cables, and we’ll go quickly off-course.

It’s essential to maintain the fundamentals that enable us to specialise and innovate. It’s also critical that we maintain an attitude of growth, and not become complacent.

Looking back at some of my own experience, I could have done with a better understanding of how this pattern works. I began my career and adult life with a worldview of certainty. Life was a series of equations to be solved, and my background and upbringing were (I was told) ideal training grounds. This is the equivalent to the “waterfall” mentality.

Slowly at first, but then with a huge acceleration, my personal life crumbled. I went through a divorce in my early twenties, which shattered a lot of illusions I’d held. I’d gone into marriage with some unrealistic expectations, which gave way to depression, anxiety and alcoholism when they weren’t met.

Oddly enough, you can experience similar chaos in your own life, even while the marketplace applauds you. I went through all this while rising in stature at my corporate career. Success kept me busy with travelling and working long hours. Had I been more conscious of it at the time, I might have found the words to question how we define “success.”

But as time wore on, those words found their way to me. The painful process of going through divorce, alcoholism, panic attacks and a nervous breakdown left me quite speechless. I recall empathising with William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who said, “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I was so convinced that all I had to do was perform in the workplace and earn more money, that it cost me everything I loved – except the money.

This is the primary concern of the old waterfall model. It’s preoccupied with efficiency rather than effectiveness. Efficiency can be a good thing, but it can have terrible consequences if you’re quite efficient at doing things wrong.

With Unitive’s education platform, however, you can be both effective and efficient. Click here to learn more.


Three Ways to Disrupt Your Personal Leadership Model

The old model is fine for management. Managing someone or something implies “control.”

In the context of human interaction, most of us are very good at “managing” when we are children. It’s the classic example of “Who’s the boss?” Management is about positional authority.

But while executives and senior leaders can and should lead through change, they frequently complain that the results don’t manifest among the teams they lead. They themselves might change … but the people working under them do not.

One huge necessity for a culture where everyone from the janitor to the president embraces change, is a culture of permission and inclusiveness.

In recovering from my intense personal sorrows and failures, I learned an important lesson about the world we live in. My normal approach was to assume that planning required minimal control, and the real value lay in micro-managing execution.

I came to find things were frequently the opposite. It was the planning that required huge amounts of my time; the execution could (and would) take care of itself, if everyone on the team understood the vision.

In other words, I had to be content with an outcome that worked fantastically, even if it didn’t match my abstract expectations of what it should look like, or how it was done.

It’s rather like planting a certain type of seed. You have a general idea of how it will look, but you don’t expect it to be a mirror image of what you see in a painting. You simply have to take great care at the nursery to buy the right kind of seeds.

So, let’s examine three ways you can disrupt your personal leadership model, to adapt to constant disruption.

1. Learn to have influence without having control.

A lot of what leaders wish they could see in team members boils down to initiative. If you’ve ever led someone who doesn’t need to be told what to do, you know how simple that makes things.

Self-directed people can occupy the lowest rank in a company, and yet they are unquestionably “in leadership.” They’ve learned to lead themselves. In all probability, they’ve been fortunate to have shining examples of leaders in their lives, and it’s rubbed off on them.

Your example of being a diligent leader, open to trying new things and willing to accept failure, is an example of wielding influence without being in control.

2. Develop a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity.

An unspoken fear in organisations typically goes something like, “This person wants my desk.”

People in management sometimes see their subordinates this way, and it betrays a lack of willingness to improve, coupled with a distrust toward high performers. This is the very opposite of what should happen when human beings work together toward a common goal.

If you’re in leadership and you struggle with fear that one or some of the people you lead wants your job, the only person you can truly “control” is yourself. No matter how true it might be that someone wants your desk, the one thing you can do to keep from losing it is to improve yourself.

If you’re a vice president, for example, and your senior manager does want your job, and your employer wants to give it to them, the only sensible thing to do is to work yourself out of your current job. Not by failing or abdicating your duty, of course, but by doubling how hard you work on your own value.

Wouldn’t it be much better to get promoted to CEO and vacate that spot, rather than lose it because your subordinate outperforms you?

The only way that happens, though, is when you have a mindset of abundance. You’re not threatened by someone else’s performance, because you know how hard you work on yourself.

Begin your journey of working hard on yourself and transforming your organisation through Unitive’s online education platform.

3. Be open to possibilities outside your understanding

Executive coach Rick Watson says the hardest part of being an executive in the technology business is “understanding what’s possible.”

If you remember, there was a time when the world thought Steve Jobs was crazy to suggest we’d migrate away from hard-line connection to access video content. We thought there was no way we could ever leave DVDs or USB connections behind.

But we did leave them, and we don’t miss them at all. It’s far preferable to the average person to be able to play video content directly on their smartphone.

As leaders, we could take a page from the technology industry. One of the reasons they’ve been so massively successful is creative engineering. But this kind of innovation only takes place in an environment where leadership gets out of the way and takes risks, especially with things they don’t understand.

When you incorporate these strategies into leading change, you set in motion a culture of multiplied leadership. It’s been said the best leaders in the world “work themselves out of a job,” because they create and empower multiple new leaders from groups in their charge.

Recalling what we discussed about “influence versus” control and the abundance mindset, you can create a very different kind of organisation. A culture filled to the brim with leaders, serving in every position from lowest to highest rank.

If it’s not obvious by now, businesses with multiplied leadership cultures are the dominant economic forces of our time. That makes the question much simpler: What kind of organisation do you want to lead, going forward?