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Preserve Your Leadership Edge—Reinvent Yourself

Reinvent – to recast something into a different form – to make anew.

Too often (and unfortunately) leaders who have attained their desired executive or senior level positions tend to subtly drift into auto-pilot mode where the status quo becomes their “new normal.” This behavior is not only detrimental to the leader, but it can cause organizational havoc.

First, we’ll take a look at leader implications. A leader who becomes complacent is setting himself/herself up for eventual failure. In today’s fast-paced, anything-is-possible, stay-ontop-of-your-game business environment, organizations and teams can be unsuspectingly yet quickly swallowed up through acquisitions. Those leaders who are “just plodding along” can easily find themselves in the line of fire as cost reduction targets. Why would an organization want to invest money in a relatively unknown entity that is playing it safe, e.g., flying below the radar screen? High performing organizations want and demand “the best and the brightest” – the innovators, the go-getters, the calculated risk-takers, the rainmakers, the solution deliverers. If not driven by an acquisition, your organization may be contemplating a competitive-driven headcount reduction. Those leaders whose talents are a dime-a-dozen and attain their performance targets but are not adding tangible, discernable, incremental value beyond their immediate scope of responsibilities could find themselves in the unemployment line. As organizations selectively shrink, they first jettison those leaders who have failed to expand their capabilities and who remain restrictive in their thinking. In their new state of “do more with even less,” these companies want proven leaders who bring a spirit of entrepreneurship, a heavy dose of enthusiasm, a passion for ingenuity, and a “we will take this hill together” mentality. These leaders must swiftly determine new and better ways to further optimize their resources while simultaneously, and very calculatingly, increasing market share and strengthening the customer experience. Last but not least, if you happen to be a “just biding your time” leader and your peers are high performers, they will weed you out.

Now let’s take a look at organizational implications, of which there are several. An organization can only perform as well as its weakest links. If a company is laden with complacent leaders, eventually, the company will experience a downturn. If the leadership shortfalls continue to be ignored, company profits will plummet. Then there are the high performers who work within those companies. There is nothing worse than being idea-blocked and/or promotion-blocked by a lackluster leader who is just taking up space. Talk about a morale-killer. Some high performers will “wait it out”, hoping the leader moves on or is eliminated, while others “get out” because they cannot tolerate status quo thinking and actions. The promotion blocked scenario may play out in two different flavors – where the leader: 1) hangs on tight to his or her leadership role, thereby blocking highly qualified up-and-comers; and 2) won’t invest any time or energy into exploring other organizational opportunities or advocating for the qualified up-and-comers.

So how does one go about reinventing himself/herself? While everyone’s journey is unique, the following is one approach that can be pursued with minimal risk if you’re dipping your toe into the “reinvention pool” for the first time or if it has been a while since you last reinvented yourself:

  • Determine what you’re most passionate about, then proactively seek out opportunities within your organization where an unmet need aligns with an area of passion. Develop and present a business case where you would be the logical candidate-of-choice to pursue “X” and the organizational costs and benefits of “X” would be “Y.” This could take the form of a stretch assignment or expanding your existing role, or completely redefining your role altogether. To avoid a recipe for disaster, the following two conditions apply – your passion must closely align with:

    1. One or more of your top proven strengths. Avoid leveraging a passion in an area where you have (or others have) uncovered a glaring capability deficit.

    2. A fact-substantiated organizational gap. Look for other unmet needs if a solid business case does not exist.

  • Identify and seek out ways to close your capability gaps. “An old dog can’t learn new tricks” is a convenient myth. Learning and practicing new behaviors and then mastering them is a choice, regardless of one’s age. You can either choose to embrace a positive attitude, become disciplined, do the work required, and hold yourself accountable to your commitments – or not. It’s that simple.

  • Poke your head up outside of your current organization to see what the rest of the world is doing. Oftentimes leaders allow themselves to live and operate within a bubble, which can become very restrictive and, ultimately, suffocate the human spirit, squelch a person’s sense of exploration and adventure and starve creativity. Learn what your competitors are doing within your industry. Learn how other industries operate. Think about how you can take global best practices, improve upon them, then “right-size,” sell and leverage them within your organization.

  • Engage and advocate for your employees. Encourage all of your employees to challenge the way you and your organization think and operate. Actively listen to your employees. Show them that they are genuinely valued and that their input, opinions, and recommendations matter. Partner closely with them to create viable business cases and then take action in the form of tactics, Proof of Concepts, Prototypes, Pilots, or wide-scale initiatives. Celebrate and advertise their successes! Professionally develop and help them as they seek opportunities within your organization to contribute at a broader and deeper level, either by being promoted or following their own passions as described in the first bulleted section.

We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, our employees, our organizations, and our communities to reinvent ourselves often and with intention.

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