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?