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?

Blind Spots Sabotage Culture Change

By Mary Lippitt | March 27, 2012 change management


As anyone who has ever driven a car knows, blind spots are potentially lethal. This holds true in leading business organizations as well on the road, so it’s time we worked to eliminate them from one of the most critical business tasks of our age: culture change.

The danger of blind spots helps explain the continued popularity of Kaplan and Norton’s book The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action.That influential book, after all, addressed the value of having multiple measures or perspectives. Incomplete scorecards resulted in ignored aspects or blind spots.

Now, culture change initiatives must adopt this practice. To date, culture change initiatives generally concentrate on values, mission, personal interaction, and morale. All of these are important, but together they represent an incomplete picture. These blind spots help explain the poor rate of success – in the 11-30% range – among such initiatives.

To address those blind spots, I propose that the culture change scorecard needs to incorporate three additional factors:

Power Distance

Efforts to empower employees typically fail because words and actions send different messages. Power remains a valued commodity when seen from a narrow perspective connected to monarchs and monopolists. While the concept of power is emerging, power symbols remain in the workplace, from the offices to organizational charts. Extreme compensation gaps, for example, convey a power-related message that is louder than any tag line or mission statement ever could be. Such signals – and there are many – help reinforce cultures that tend to be more hierarchical and less flexible, even amid well-meaning culture-change programs striving for flatter organizations.

Risk Orientation

An organization’s risk orientation is also a critical culture change factor. The definition of an “acceptable” level of risk varies not only across industries, but across organizations. Managers may give lip service to innovation, but this will not resonate if there are high penalties for failure. What gets rewarded will get done and what gets punished or discounted will be avoided. This is not to suggest that a higher risk orientation is always desirable. However, there does need to be an alignment between management’s call for greater innovation – which often requires taking intelligent risks – and the culture that must reinforce management’s message.

Time Horizon

Culture change requires a combination of short-term and long-term thinking, but some organizations focus on one direction at the expense of the other, making change management effort difficult or even futile. In firms that focus on the short-term, quarterly goals may be chased at the expense of making investments in the future, and this can harm the ability to the react effectively to future developments. R&D, for example, can be cut back in the short-term but over the long-term, this can be disastrous for the company that needs to keep ahead of the competition. Likewise, too much focus on a desired future state can lead to cash flow issues that jeopardize the whole organization.

By incorporating these three factors into a change management model and adding new benchmarks to measure power distance, risk orientation and time horizon, we will have the peripheral sight as well as the hindsight and foresight needed to help drive culture change.

Wouldn’t it be great to have enough power to move the world?

By Mary Lippitt | July 22, 2011Power Levers

Archimedes was on the right track when he said many years ago, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Selecting the right lever for the situation is something a successful leader does, if not by second nature, by learning. There are many different power levers – some too unwieldy and some too weak. Finding the right one for the situation requires analysis.

Just like a ships’ captain must continually verify the ships course, it is essential that a leader stop and review the situation to make sure the lever and associated actions they are using are the most effective. No one wants blowback from being overpowering or ineffectiveness by using too little. This is a pull-use of the power lever, where the leader pulls their employees to action instead of pushing them into action.

When specific decisions need to be made quickly, the authority lever that flows from position power or the power to command is appropriate. However, when creative thinking or a high level of commitment is needed, relationship power or systems power yields better results.

Since we learn power levers from others, many of us overlook valuable options. The goal of Leadership Power Levers, is to identify the type of power that will provide the greatest success in any given situation. Misuse of a lever can shatter reputations, sour relationships and cause trust to evaporate. Take the time to identify which lever is appropriate given your context. Then you will have the opportunity to move, if not the world, at least your organization.

Wondering which power levers you are using? Please contact us for a free Leadership Power Levers analysis and find out what your options are for enhancing your power!

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.

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?

Motivational Power: Who Wants to be a Donkey?!

By Mary Lippitt | April 12, 2011Motivation Leadership

It’s time to update the carrot and stick approach. A cartoon of a donkey hitched to a wagon with a stick in front of it with a carrot enticing the donkey highlights the problem of trying to influence action without thinking about ramifications.

For centuries, dangling the carrot in front of the hardworking donkey or threatening the animal with the stick were two types of motivational power leaders used. Just as technology has advanced, we must expand this narrow view. Encouraging our leaders to rise to the challenges of new workforce expectations, requirements, and levels of competition requires more than a carrot or a stick.

Employee motivation, be it positive or negative, is a direct result of the appropriate use of power by a leader. Power is a bit of a dirty word that inspires a love-hate relationship. On one hand, it is connected to strength, forward motion and inspiration. On the other, it is often connected to despots, tyrants and evil bosses. The love, or carrot, of power reflects the ability to motivate others to achieve goals. The negative, or stick, stems from the forceful use of power over others that yields distorted behavior, corrupted decision making, or reduced initiative. Bearing both of these associations in mind, the use of power accomplishes goals and stirs engagement among employees.

While it is convenient to only have to evaluate two options: punish or reward, motivating both people and animals is much more complicated. The assumption is that we are just a “dumb” means to accomplish a goal diminishes us to the single task of cart hauling.

The fast reaction to the carrot or stick overshadows more sustainable options. Everyone may welcome a bonus but after a month, what is the power of the monetary incentive? Feeling like your contributions led to successful goal achievement, a sense that people trust and respect your experience, or the recognition that your insights made a critical difference in gaining support offers long lasting benefits.

How have you reacted when a “stick” strategy is evident? What motivates you? What type of motivational power have you used to bring out the best in others?