A New Path to Leadership Effectiveness

Working the System Instead of Fighting It

Changing the “Quick Fix” Leadership Mindset

By Mary Lippitt | August 6, 2012Organizational Development


In a complex world, speedy solutions rarely work. Unintended consequences, time lags, and interconnected systems whirled with risk and ramifications sidetrack easy solutions. There are no quick fixes and that leadership mindset needs to change.

Ralph Kilmann’s 1991 book, Beyond the Quick Fix: Managing Five Tracks to Organizational Success remains valid today–leaders need a new mindset that goes beyond simple response toward sustainable resolutions. In a rush to action, symptoms divert attention from root causes. Are today’s problems, issues, or opportunities really simple? Leaders should not be being playing the equivalent of speed tic-tac-toe where getting to any win first is the goal.

Acting is critical but it must be the right action at the right time in the right way for the right results. A quick overview, a readymade response or reverting to “what we have always done” cannot substitute for careful analysis, critical thinking, creative solutions, and integrated planning.

Dr. Paul Nutt in his 2002 book, Why Decisions Fail,reported that 80% of decisions are made without considering an alternative. While it is understandable that past success is alluring, the financial advisors caution that past success is not a guarantee of future success also holds true in other fields. Leaders do not need speed as much as they need accuracy and sustainability.

This means that the leader’s role as the person with “all” the answers must change. Instead of thinking that leadership equates to the fount of all knowledge, a leader’s real role is to ask penetrating questions. It is discovery, innovative and systems thinking, not the “tried and true,” that deliver lasting results.

The next time a binary choice is offered, recognize it as trap. Few situations in life have only two options. And many have learned to present one reasonable proposal paired with one that is unworkable. The apparent easy choice leads into the uncharted school of hard knocks territory.

Instead, allocate time to examining assumptions, identifying multiple options, and considering both the possible and improbable before making the decision. Speed is not the answer on the highway or in organizations. Remember it was the tortoise and not the hare that won the race. Take the time and involve the right resource to get it right the first time.

Is it time to change your leadership mindset?

Effective Leaders Know When to Hold and When to Fold

By Mary Lippitt | June 7, 2011effective Leaders

If leaders keep on doing what they have always done, they will get the same results, which is a recipe for disaster. Both leaders and poker players need to know “when to hold and when to fold.” Effective leaders need to decipher the internal and external environment and adjust plans to actual reality and opportunities.

US Airways’ Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s success in dealing with total engine power loss with a clear decision to land in the Hudson River stemmed from his ability to prioritize goals. In his biography, Sully talks about “goal sacrificing” having to select which goal is the most critical to act on. He accepted the loss of a multi-million dollar plane to save lives. He was able to make that decision only because he was clear about his priorities and the situation.

How effective are your leaders in dealing with change or handling unanticipated problems? Are your leaders prepared to make mid-course adjustments or do they keep on trucking with their plan on a pre-determined route no matter what is happening around them?

Concentrating on results, or leading with the “end in mind,” is one of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.He stresses the importance of starting with the “end in mind.” But what happens when the start, middle or end changes? Staying the course or achieving what is no longer desirable should not be seen as an accomplishment. In fact, it can threaten an organization’s survival. Leaders who know how to keep their “eye on today’s key prize” based on current circumstances are those who succeed.

A solid understanding of the six business priorities helps leaders adjust to critical priorities and avoid being blindsided by “unanticipated” events. It is not just in hindsight that financial executives should have recognized that giving 90 to 95% mortgages was too risky. Experts were warning about a real estate bubble, and yet leaders continued to make mortgages. One bank executive summarized his decision making process by saying that “I know this thing will blow up, but as long as the music is playing, I have to dance.”

As Peter Drucker observed, “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” Can your leaders deliver the right results are at the right time in the right way and at the right cost? We cannot expect leaders to control events, but we can expect them to act wisely.

Effective leadership requires not only personal awareness and skills, but also business insight and judgment. Captain Sully knew how to prioritize his goals. He did not try to save the plane, and he did not try to make it to an alternative airport. He understood his resources, his situation, his team, and his key goal, resulting in a lifesaving landing. Are you doing all you can to help your leaders understand the critical goals and what it will take to achieve them? It should be your critical priority right now.