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Breaking News! 50 Year Old CEO Found Sleeping in Crib!

By Mary Lippitt | May 31, 2011Organizational change, change management

I bet a few thoughts popped into your head when you read the title of this post.

  • What?!
  • Ridiculous!
  • Who in their right mind?
  • Err…how big was the crib?
  • Wait, I thought Charlie Sheen was in his 40’s?

A 50-year-old CEO sleeping in a crib is as ridiculous as a leader who insists there is no reason to change from the tried and true.

Organizations, like people, have a life cycle. Too often, leaders fail to correctly identify where they are in their organization life cycle and fail to make the adjustments necessary to accommodate changing circumstances, technology, competition and customer requirements; instead, clinging to one concept of leadership, a concept that no longer works.

In so many areas of life, consistency is considered a benefit or virtue. Not so when you’re talking about leading today’s organization. The demands of a baby, much like the demands of a new business, necessitate a constant devotion and involvement to keep pace with changing requirements. Whether a parent adequately adjusts to the teenage years or a leader flexes to meet changing customer expectations, agility counts.  If an organization’s leader stays mired in tradition or a parent gets stuck in one parenting stage, the opportunity for evolutionary change is lost.  The only option left then is radical shifts.

Entrepreneurs are famous for being too “hands on” and end up resisting the natural growth of their firm. They miss the need for professionalism as part of the organization life cycle. Leaders of mature organizations make a similar mistake by refusing to see the need to reinvent their firm, product line or processes. Holding on too tightly to the past is a recipe for failure, much as trying to hold on to a college student can invite turmoil.

Change is often easier to identify in a child than in an organization. The child’s need for new clothes or their changing interests and preferred technology are obvious. Organizational change may not be as clear as the rising marks on a door frame or wall, but change is ongoing and leaders must identify it and adapt.

The impact of the recession has created a fixation with cost cutting, waste reducing, and redundancy hunting. While these methods likely paid-off for many firms, sticking to them over the long term is ill advised. Companies and leaders who have the ability to recognize the change in their organizations have the ability to lead that change and stay ahead of the curve.  Adopting a firefighting mode in a crisis mode appears heroic.  It isn’t, and it invites disaster.

Leaders need to recognize their organization life cycle and help guide the organization through the natural changes.  Shifting may be the antithesis of consistency, but it is the bedfellow of excellence.  Make sure your leaders do not dig in their heels and fail to see how cycles impact them, much like the toddler who is in the “no” phase.

What signals have you used to successfully identify where your organization is in its life cycle?