The Variable of One

How would you lead if you couldn’t change the variables? Your team, your circumstances, the market — all locked and out of your control.

How would you create change if you couldn’t use your authority? How would you move people forward if you couldn’t pull them along?

The old school way of leading has been crumbling for years — and no shot across the bow has been louder than that of the ushering in of millions of Millennial workers who demand a new of working. This isn’t another “millennial myth busting” post. Frankly my dear, I think what millennials are demanding of the work place is what we have all wanted all along anyway.

As I’ve traveled the country speaking and consulting on culture + collaboration at work, I pretty frequently see that managers think the answer is out there somewhere else. They feel if they only had something someone else had that they could nail it. Want better service? Hire nicer people. Need more innovation? Hire more creative folks. Want better managers? Poach away from other brands.

None of this really works — at least not if the context (culture) at work doesn’t change too. Service issues are related to the conditions at work — not nicer people. Even nice people in a toxic environment quickly lose their luster. Creative hires in an environment that doesn’t allow for exploration, discovery, and failure quickly begin turning out the same stuff that existed before them or frantically refreshing Indeed.com looking for a new gig.

It’s also not because you need to slap some values on the wall and call it culture. When I work with a new team on culture design, we spend a lot of time taking about the things they wish were true about their team but aren’t yet. All too often we want to fix what’s wrong by putting new words in the employee handbook that solve the issues — but culture and values happen through action, not syntax and wordsmithing. Don’t get me wrong — you need to document these things too. It’s just that writing it down does not count as done.

So I go back to how I opened — what if you couldn’t change any of those variables? You had to keep your current team and make it work. The culture in you organization is what it is today and you have to deal with that. You had to deal with the given circumstances — sales issues, product issues, reputation issues. We already know that you cant change the marketplace with a wish either. So when all of that can’t change, what is the variable you can alter?

The place I start all “cultural revolutions” is with individuals themselves. There is no stronger play when working on shifting your organization than to begin acting differently as a leader. I believe most organizations (and groups within them) are reflections of the leaders. The way they communicate, innovate, solve problems, serve — all show up somewhere in the DNA of the people at the top of the chain.

So my call to action for you — start with yourself. Where can you be more creative? How can you inspire service? What is your response when something goes wrong? What negative behaviors are you letting slide in yourself and the leadership team at your organization? What do you expect of your team — and how are you showing that for them?