Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leadership as a disruptive force, leadership as a voice of calmness and stability in the face of change

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 22, 2012

• Leadership is a disruptive force. And leaders, and particularly in times of challenge and external uncertainty, are voices of disruptive change within their organizations as they respond to that.

This is easy to overlook and certainly for businesses and operations that are functioning primarily in a business as usual mode. But this is an essential part of being a leader.

• Effective leaders bring their organization through change with a clearly articulated vision of where the organization can and should go.
• Effective leaders instill a sense of confidence in the people they work with, that this can happen smoothly and safely; change, and particularly change into the new, untried and unknown can be scary and certainly for employees who see that as creating risk for them and their careers.

I have written a number of times in this blog about leadership, and in separate postings and posting series that can be found in many of my directory pages. I frequently note that leadership is about managing and owning strategy and vision, and about communicating these organizing principles. Strategy means more than just staying the course and business as usual. Strategy means change too, and its smooth accommodation and transition.

We have globally been going through a great deal of change and in essentially every country and economy and in every industry. Few businesses and few members of the workforce have remained untouched by this, and few members of the public in general have either.

Effective leaders respond to this by envisioning and sharing the changes and even disruptive changes into New, that would help keep their business working smoothly, and as effective competitors in their markets.

That observation primarily focuses inward within the organization that a manager or executive would help lead. Leadership faces outward too, and effective leaders have to find that path forward through change and yes, a need for disruptive change in such a way as to reassure the public too. This means customers and end-users of their products and services. This means supply chain partners and distributors. For publically traded companies this means market analysts and shareholders. This means reaching out and conveying a sense of reliability and stability in the midst of change, to a wide range of constituencies and both within and outside of the organization itself.

And there are tradeoffs and conflicts of interest and perspective that have to be accounted for in all of this. So, considering here a publically traded company and its leadership as a working example:

• Market analysts tend to look for stability and strength on a very short timeframe, primarily focusing on the current fiscal quarter, and at most looking to the immediate next. This shapes their understanding of change within the organization and their level of willingness to accept or not, the destruction and breaking down of old, in building for new that truly disruptive change must bring. I do not claim that they all do this, but market analysts can literally favor companies that maintain short term stability as they walk into a dead-end path towards obsolescence, missing out on opportunities to take disruptive risk and build for the longer term future. Then they can say that company is in trouble when it has in effect hit the wall at the end of its cul-de-sac. And shareholders and stock owners frequently listen to the market analysts, buying and selling and collectively setting the market valuation of the business on the basis of a vision that can at times be quite skewed.
• Managers and certainly senior managers and executives within that company have to look to the short term but their primary focus should be longer term. So they, when working effectively, take a very different approach to short term loss and setbacks, and particularly when these result from going through the changes needed to build for longer term strength.
• Yes, I acknowledge that some market analysts take a longer term perspective and some business executives take a decidedly short term and blinders-hobbled perspective. Those market analysts show longer term insight and wisdom and those senior executives generally fail and certainly long term and when faced with the challenges of change, as effective leaders. But the basic dichotomy I pose here does in general ring true.

I invoke two perhaps contradictory drives in this posting and for a reason. I have seen would-be leaders who can and do jump into change and even very disruptive change with all the breaking down of the old that this entails – and without creating a basis of stability and assurance for the people they would lead in doing this. And they can and do find themselves at most grudgingly followed, and they lose more than they gain from their charging forward – and so do the organizations they are responsible for. I have, on the other hand and with equally compelling long-term cost, seen would-be leaders who simply focus on the here and now like the more short-sighted of the market analysts who I wrote of above. And they convey a sense of stability and continuity in the here and now but they never quite envision or prepare for the changes that would be needed for long term viability let along strength. And their organizations become that tiny increment less relevant every single day until their hit that wall and fail.

So I write here if what for many is the most difficult challenge faced as a leader – finding the right balance between change and continuity, and effectively communicating this balance as an ongoing process of change buffered by and supported by assurance and stability.

I have decided to post this note in Business Strategy and Operations – 2. You can also find related postings in its preceding directory page at Business Strategy and Operations and also at HR and Personnel and in my two Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development pages ( Page 1 and Page 2.)

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