In January of 1990, I started my own consulting business; I left a stable and secure job with a large public sector organization to begin the life of an entrepreneur. I was so full of optimism and excitement that I didn’t even realize that I had started a business during an economic downturn. Interestingly, it turned out to be an advantage.
Most of my initial projects came through one-on-one work with individual executives and leaders. They were trying to navigate their careers through the turbulent and uncertain economy that was the hallmark of the early 1990’s. I was their career and leadership advisor.
Many of these clients also asked me to come into their organizations to work with their teams, much of which focused on equipping leaders with the skills to effectively manage change at a personal, team and organizational level.
As I reflect back on that time, it is fascinating how much the word "change" was part of the lexicon of the day. And yet, when I compare that time to today, the change everyone was concerned with back then was a walk in the park compared to what we are all facing at this given time.
Today, it’s not merely about change, but much more about coping with a fundamental transformation that is affecting all organizations, employees and society as a whole.
It seems everyone is trying to deal with a complex array of external challenges such as the proliferation of all things digital, the automation of jobs, the shifting nature of the meaning of work, competitive threats, shifting employee values and unrelenting regulatory pressures. Taken collectively, these are all creating conditions of considerable volatility.
How are companies and their people responding?
Well, everyone seems to be trying to transform themselves and it appears that speed and agility are critical to success. In fact, while fear takes hold of many organizations as they stumble to figure out how to move ahead, some have already positioned themselves for success.
Take the example of Cisco Systems. In a McKinsey interview from last year, John Chambers, Executive Chairman and former CEO of the company, eloquently explained that companies will need to reinvent themselves so they can be fully digital in five years. And here’s the kicker – he believes most will fail. In fact, Chambers asserts that many of the companies we know today will simply cease to exist in a meaningful way in the next decade.
Why the high failure rate? According to Chambers, the digital age will require much different leadership capabilities centered around the ability to work more horizontally rather than in silos. Sensing this change in leadership culture, Cisco has already begun its transformation by promoting and developing leaders who are seen as better able to step up to a new set of expectations.
Cisco’s transformation has been very disruptive. Chambers said there has been a 40% turnover among Cisco’s top leaders over the last few years. He was not cavalier in relating this data point: “That’s not something I’m terribly proud of, but it’s something that we had to do so that we disrupt as opposed to be disrupted.”
This is a pattern I see with many of my clients. Like Cisco, these organizations understand that if you need to transform a company, you must first transform its leaders. Your leaders must be at the forefront of transformation but they need to acquire new mindsets, new capabilities and be deeply committed to lead in very different ways.
Now, the reality is that some of your leaders will make it and many won’t. I believe this is where things become very personal for all of us in leadership roles.
Are you going to be a leader at the forefront of the transformation happening in your company and industry? Or will you be among those who will be disrupted?
To me, this is a critical issue we all need to think about as we enter 2017.
By now, I’m sure a lot of you have made your personal resolutions for the year. You will eat better, sleep more, take cold showers, meditate and do all the other stuff everyone is telling you to do. These are certainly important. But along the way, you need to be doing things that will help you be a better and more accountable leader this year.
To help you get clear on your leadership commitments for 2017, I’m pleased to share with you a complimentary digital workbook that my team has built. It is intended to accompany my book, The Leadership Contract.
In it you will find several reflective questions, each aligned to the chapters in my book. There is also a self-assessment tool to help you gauge your current level of leadership accountability. From there, you will have the foundation to make some meaningful personal commitments.
I hope you download a copy of the digital workbook and find the time to work through it.
On a personal note, I want to wish each of you a productive and prosperous year. For me, the message for this year is simple and clear: transform or be transformed.
My first leadership gut check question for 2017 asks: are you ready to transform your leadership?