Confucius said, “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” Most of us get this on some level. We know that words have force, especially when it comes to extremes. They can inspire love and hate, action and surrender. But sometimes the words we think have their intended force lead to the exact opposite of what we intended – behaviors that we don't want to instill and enable in others in the workplace, marketplace, and life in general. Yet we are the ones enabling them! This is true even when it comes to ostensibly positive well-meaning words that leaders often unknowingly use irresponsibly – particularly when it comes to issues of change management and diversity and inclusion – and thus unknowingly creating tension.
Here are five words leaders should strive to stop using in 2017: change, connection, development, engagement, and success.
None of these words are negative. They just limit leaders from seeing opportunities and actually overpower one’s ability to be truly open-minded. These words promote silos and victimization rather than diversity of thought. They suppress a mindset that sees value in individuals and the ability to forge like-mindedness through our mosaic of differences rather than forge a melting pot of inauthentic and manufactured assimilation.
In my post-election blog, I noted that the result was ostensibly about change but asked, “Have the ideas really changed?” Not really. With some exceptions, what we usually have gotten is change back to what the other side has been selling for decades based on a longing for the way things were, a repackaging of old templates for success. Maybe that’s because change isn’t enough. What this election has made me realize is the same thing I have talked about in business for more than a decade: all of us want change. But few of us know how or want to evolve. Change and evolution require distinctly different mindsets. Change leads to substitution that slows progress down. Evolution leads to reinvention and growth.
Many companies have learned the individual defines the business in the marketplace but fail to do allow the individual the same power in the workplace. Companies say they want that same workplace connection but what they are often saying is, “You will connect to us.” This makes connection one-way street and merely puts people together in a room, bound by employment. As a result, most employees feel their individual goals are not respected let alone listened to and that their goals do not align with the company’s goals. What companies should want is that alignment which implies reciprocity.
Development usually means, “We are going to develop you into what we want you to be.” What leaders should be doing is maximizing the potential of their people to better serve themselves and the company and create opportunities for everyone. Encourage your people to use their own brainpower, cultural and social interactions to innovate and create. Maximizing potential gets away from development by using templates of the past like job descriptions and titles that in no way reflect what an employee solves for and thus can solve for the company.
The days of mere engagement are over. Engagement is not bad; it’s just not enough. It has become the equivalent of an “initiative” meaning something that starts and stops. Engagement doesn’t mean that you have to take ownership; it simply means you have to comply and be involved. Intimacy is what the workplace and marketplace craves. Leaders who lack that intimacy may be engaged but are ultimately disconnected, unable to quickly and nimbly deploy resources or people to seize and close the opportunity gaps.
Companies get stuck trying to replicate success when they should be striving to create significance through new opportunities and growth that leave a legacy. Many of us strive for the same things. We just want to get there in our own way. Problem is too many businesses fail to enable people to shape and influence the future of companies as individuals. Why can’t more companies understand this? Because even when the company is not defining those individuals, the sweet smell of success pushes us to keep sowing the same seeds over and over for gains in the present instead of thinking about future legacies.
That’s how we get stuck in substitution. Which brings us back to evolution.
Evolution leads to reinvention and growth. Evolution requires us to look at our own responsibility to grow and influence the advancement of something that is in the best interest of a healthier whole. Evolution means multiplying success for all.
To evolve, we need a new mindset. I call this mindset the innovation mentality, and our growth as businesses and human beings depends on it. Our strategies for success in 2017 when it comes to everything from change management, diversity and inclusion to brand management and consumer engagement must move people to the center of our growth strategies. Those strategies must become less about the business defining the individual and more about the individual defining the business. Our legacy demands that we turn the spotlight of accountability on ourselves to create a culture of significance for everyone.