How do companies expect to grow and compete – when their leaders are not vulnerable enough to evolve? Leaders are becoming more of what their peers and the work environment they serve want them to be, rather than what they seek to be themselves. At the same time, the workplace and the marketplace are demanding a new type of thinking in order to influence the evolution of the business. Leaders must enable their organizations to break free from traditional substitutional thinking to new thinking that is strategically focused on constant evolution with the end-game in mind.
The shift away from substitutional thinking requires leaders to be vulnerable; to admit and accept that the old ways of doing things just don’t apply as much anymore. In today’s fast-changing, rapid-paced, trust-demanding world of work, leaders must embrace diversity of thought and lead by example.
Recently I spoke with a group of Fortune 500 executives with a deep desire to refresh their corporate culture. They are in search of new ways to evolve their business both internally and externally. Much to my surprise, it was the directors and senior directors who embraced the following message:
That it is becoming less about the business defining the individual and much more about the individual defining the business. In order for the business to evolve, leaders must take greater ownership and accountability for evolving themselves.
After my keynote, these directors and senior directors approached me and, speaking for the group, one said: “Mr. Llopis, did you notice that the majority of the reactions and questions came from us – and not many VPs and EVPs? Our leadership is not ready to accept change in order for the business to evolve. It disappoints us that they are not willing to be vulnerable at a time when we must all have each other’s backs if we are to grow together as a team. We are deeply concerned.”
When leaders don’t have the courage to be vulnerable, and lead by example, they unknowingly disappoint those they lead – to the point they begin to lose their respect. They hide their insecurities behind their titles and tenure – in an attempt to play it safe.
Today’s leaders – regardless of hierarchy or rank - must be mature enough to evaluate their own performance and the consequences of their actions and inactions. Many leaders (especially at the top of the organization) are afraid to admit they have an identity crisis and thus are unknowingly creating tension. Their lack of leadership maturity puts people off balance – causing chaos and confusion along the way. Leaders who were successful in the 1990s and 2000s may be stuck on an approach, attitude and mindset no longer relevant for the 2010s.
This level of gamesmanship and politicking begins to weaken the organization – and top talent both in the middle and near the top begins to lose respect for their senior leaders. They begin to question their own long-term loyalty and career goals within the organization.
Today’s leaders must welcome change, and that means being more vulnerable and more willing to get their hands dirty. Their ability to sustain long-term relevancy demands it. Leaders must be more open-minded to touch the business just as much as they lead it. The minute they stop touching it is the minute they stop understanding the requirements for the business to evolve.
The days of engagement are over. Leaders who fear evolution do so because it requires them to be more accountable to and intimate with the business. Where engaging with the business is much like an initiative that comes and goes, being intimate requires you to sustain a level of connection that never ends.
My challenge to leaders: throw your titles out the door and learn to accept that being vulnerable is a responsibility of leadership. Be courageous enough to own the responsibility and to earn what the title truly represents. If you are not willing to embrace your vulnerability – as a responsibility – your leadership role will be short-lived and the lost respect hard to regain.
Sustainable success does not come by accident, it’s by design. Many leaders do not deserve to serve in a leadership capacity – because they let the marketplace pass them by. This type of leader lets their identity become too dependent upon what their business card says – and less about evolving in their ability to better lead and over deliver for the organization they serve.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this pattern too many times. I’ve challenged many leaders on their vulnerability by asking them the following question: What type of leader are you when your title and company logo disappear? Great leaders are not dependent upon them.
Perhaps this explains the leadership identity crisis that exists and why many organizations are not performing as well as they should be. They are not solving for the right things that are required for the evolution of the business and the unique needs of their employees and customers.
Leaders don’t have all of the answers. The reality is that they never did. But they do have to be vulnerable, and the reality is the great leaders always are. Powerful things happen when a leader is vulnerable. Transparency leads to trust, respect is earned and multiplied, the workplace becomes fun again, and the leader – once at risk of becoming extinct – starts to evolve, along with the organization they serve.