by Mohan Nair, author of “Strategic Business Transformation: The 7 Deadly Sins to Overcome“
It’s been a grueling five years. On the global stage we’ve seen bailouts, rampant unemployment, sluggish consumer confidence, declining home values, and rising prices. For those still lucky enough to be employed, all this doom and gloom has manifested as insecurity, fear, stress, and overwork. We may be technically in recovery, but at this point, employees are over it. They’ve been “harassed into productivity” for so long they’re either actively seeking new jobs or running on autopilot and dully hoping things will change.
And let’s be honest: As a leader you’re as burned out as they are. You know in your heart that the only way you’ll ever make it in the global economy is to get people engaged, motivated, and passionate about their work. But trying to do so with your worn-down spirit and kit of blunt leadership tools is a bit like fueling a rocket ship with tepid bath water.
The old ways of leadership, the old rules, might as well be hieroglyphics on a cave wall. Since our brave new world is dominated by ‘unknown unknowns’ — and powered by serving rather than winning — organizations have to change the way they lead their people.
The future belongs to those companies that have the mojo not just to withstand change but to actually create change in their favor — and hopefully in a direction that’s good for others. That requires a business model in which there simply are no sharply defined leaders and followers.
Without a doubt, the old “daycare” employment model is obsolete. It’s no longer acceptable for people to enter the office looking to be told what to do next. (For one thing, employees are as likely to be a continent away as parked in the next cubicle over.) And yet, many organizations simply paint a “new economy” façade on a rigid old top-down hierarchy paradigm and expect people to thrive. Guess what? They won’t.
So let’s say you are a leader who recognizes the need to transform your organization. How do you break the self-destructive cycle and change the unhealthy employer/employee dynamic that is crippling everyone? Quite simply, you start by transforming yourself. Here are some tips:
Admit you have a mojo dysfunction.
Your company has been operating in survival mode for a while now, and that’s not good for anyone. But before you can reignite others, you must reignite yourself. That means much like the alcoholic who must admit she has a problem, you must (metaphorically) say, Hello, my name is ______ and I am an old-paradigm command-and-control leader. Worse, I have been running on empty for a while now. It’s time for me to rediscover my basic leadership beliefs and leverage them into a new beginning.
Sure, it can be hard and scary and exhausting to realize everything you’ve built your leadership legacy on is wrong. It’s a lot easier, in the short term anyway, to go on pretending nothing has changed. But once you find the courage to face the truth, you take the first step toward a new paradigm that’s so much better for all concerned.
Realize that you, personally, have to change.
Business transformation begins with personal transformation. Recycling your usual skills only recycles your past. Only by recharging your leadership mojo — getting back to your basic beliefs and rediscovering your passion in light of a new reality — can you transform yourself and your company.
Seeing the world as existing to serve you is obsolete. It’s not about you anymore; it’s about others you serve. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and other social reformers have it right: They did not start out to be social reformers; they just wanted to make things right. They started with themselves, then their neighborhood, and then the world.
So, mojo starts with you. You can change any circumstance if you change your view of the situation.
Find your competency.
Acknowledge to yourself and to others what you’re good at and not so good at. (Don’t be bashful: Vulnerability helps people connect to you and makes you a better leader.) But this is only a starting point. To be a great leader, you need to know what you’re great at. This is the skill set around which you will package yourself inside your organization.
Think competence, not capacity. Being capable of performing is not enough. That will seldom give you the advantage you need to spark real change. Finding your competency is more about the recipe than the ingredients. Think of yourself as an artist, not a painter; an author, not a writer; a composer, not a musician.
Now, translate that competency into value.
Ask yourself: How can I put my competency to work inside my organization? How can I use it to provide value differently to a transformed world? Great leaders can put value into any object.. We see hints of this when we hold onto a simple object because it reminds us of someone or some event. A rose? A pen? A lucky outfit you wear on special days?
Mother Teresa’s value is compassion for children. That was her brand. What do others feel when they hear your name? What is your mojo? Once you figure out how to provide value to your organization, your organization will be able to share that value with its customers.
It may be that your value requires you to move into a new part of the organization. That’s okay. Many people find that they are in the right organization but in the wrong department to maximize their best selves. Be open-minded about where you belong and can do the most good.
Create a solid platform for work.
The skeleton of your platform was constructed a long time ago. It is made up of your skills, your experience, the knowledge that defines you. But are there missing planks? Knowing what you want to do, where are the holes that will hinder your ability to execute? To innovate? Figure out how to fill in the holes with new skills, new experiences, new knowledge. Do this now. Make it a priority.
A résumé is not a record of your jobs but a recipe of the platform you call your skills. A new job, or a new role inside a current company, is not merely a place to land. It is the next step of your evolution as a leader. Think about it this way as you make your decisions.
Awaken your cause.
Find the one thing inside your company that you feel passionate about. (If you can’t find a cause, you may as well forget being a leader!) Maybe it’s customer service. Maybe it’s mentoring. Maybe it’s product innovation. Whatever your cause may be, make it your mantra. Let it drive everything you do. Mojo begins and ends with your realized purpose.
Cause is so much more powerful than mission. Causes are realized while missions are given. Causes transform while missions inform. Causes start with an individual. Leadership mojo is unstoppable if powered by a cause.
Commit to servant leadership.
Gandhi was not capable of being a good lawyer. In fact, he was laughed out of his first case. Eventually, he realized he was at his best when he was serving others. It was his power source. It can be yours, too. Being successful in business today means bringing back your leadership mojo in a different way — not based on ego but in service to a higher order.
How can you take all we’ve discussed so far — competency, value, platform for work, cause — and use them to serve others? That truly is the million-dollar question. How can you take all of these facets and apply them to transforming a situation for your customers or your employees?
Find and leverage momentum.
This is where mojo finds its true fulfillment (not to mention financial reward). What is momentum? It’s the force of an idea and the acceleration you give to take hold of a market. The Pet Rock from the ’70s represents speed, which is just force applied to an idea. On the other hand, the iPhone represents momentum: It’s something people needed and wanted without realizing they needed and wanted it. So do Starbucks and Disney: The former filled the need for coffee communities; the latter filled the need for a business model based on happiness.
Momentum is a unique way to view the market. Companies that don’t understand it will miss the drivers that indicate where momentum is going. Those that do will get there first with products designed to be hot sellers.
If you think about it, leveraging momentum is the pinnacle of servant leadership. You’re so tuned into your customers that you know them better than they know themselves.
We live in exciting times. What a wonderful privilege to live and work in an age where the marketplace rewards the best of humanity — our desire to create, to innovate, to take risks and fly without a net, to serve the needs of others! We leaders have the opportunity to make a living by realizing our higher selves and bringing out the higher selves of those around us. We must not squander that gift.
Born and raised in Singapore, Mohan Nair is adjunct professor of business with the Kellogg School of Management, Nair teaches executive courses in supply-chain management and cost and performance management. In addition to ”Strategic Business Transformation” he is also author of “Activity-Based Information Systems: An Executive’s Guide to Implementation” and “Essentials of Balanced Scorecard“.