Big Ben

The recent news of Britain’s vote to exit (Brexit) from the European Union seems to have been a surprise to some. Yet, in any event such as this, there are lessons to be learned.

I recently read an article in the August 1st edition of Fortune magazine by Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of GE. He said,

“We are witnessing the failure of bureaucracies in large institutions. Unrest is caused by lack of leadership. People become afraid when there is no vision for growth. People become discouraged when their leaders don’t want to compete for the future. People become victims when leadership fails. The future will be created by leaders who see the world as it is and are willing to drive change. Change will also require simpler organizations and new business models that are leaner, faster and more decentralized.”

There are some real nuggets of wisdom to be harvested from Jeff Immelt’s comment –

  • “Unrest is caused by lack of leadership.” John Maxwell said that leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. When there is no influence, or the influence is unclear or contradictory to the vision of the broader organization, people get concerned.

How would you know if your team, department, division or organization is experiencing “unrest”? If employee turnover is higher than usual; if people seem unmotivated or no longer interested in going the extra mile without being told, you might be experiencing the signs of unrest.

  • “People become afraid when there is no vision for growth.” There is a well-known proverb that states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Groups of individuals need assurance their leader is improving their position or taking them to a better place, not simply maintaining the status quo. An expression I often use with clients is, “In the absence of information, people create some” meaning when the plan for moving forward is not clear, or people are without adequate information, they tend to make up information to fill the void. The obvious danger is the information they “create” is generally not even close to being accurate. Despite it not being accurate, they will tend to believe it anyway, and you’ll find you have to work twice as hard to dispel the imagined truth.

Have you provided a clear, compelling vision for the growth of your organization or department? You know the people understand it fully when they can not only repeat it, but also say it exactly as you would – complete with your hand gestures and vocal intonations.

  • “The future will be created by leaders who see the world as it is (and as it can be,) and are willing to drive change.” The world we live in is changing even as I write these words. Although there are values and principles that are timeless, and will never change, methods, techniques, tools, approaches, technology will and do change rapidly. If you or your organization do not wisely combine immutable principles with the correct tools and techniques to initiate and create change, others will and your company will become obsolete or forgotten.

As Peter Drucker has said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” What are you doing to create the future at your organization through your leadership?

What game-changing new initiatives or changes are you driving this year? If you don’t have a few you can talk about, you may be on the wrong side of change – change will be done to you, not by you.

  • “Change will also require simpler organizations and new business models that are leaner, faster and more decentralized.” For decades now, organizations have had to become leaner and faster just to survive, unless of course you are the Federal Government of the US. (Sorry, but someone had to say it!) GE, Johnson & Johnson, Ford Motor, Apple, Google (now Alphabet) do not resemble what they were even a few years ago. Likewise, smaller organizations, if they are to be successful, with sustained growth and profitability, cannot remain the same as they were a few years ago.

What are you doing to become leaner and faster? What are you doing to drive decision making down to the lowest, local level possible? What are you doing to help your team focus on the organization’s most important 3-4 goals or priorities that will really bring about greater profitability and future success?

This message is somewhat different than most I write and I trust some of these questions have given you pause to assess what you are doing as a leader. I encourage you to go back and look at these questions again; spend some intentional time thinking through them – you might be amazed at the insight that comes to you from this exercise.

Best regards,

PS, Please feel free to share this with others you believe will be interested. If you do, please let me know who they are so I may consider including them in future emails on leadership topics.