Leadership is about going somewhere. Whether you are facing challenges as a result of changes in the economy, new opportunities because of advances in technology, or already have a good idea you want to implement, these five lessons can make the difference between a successful outcome and a false start. The good news is: you already learnt them in kindergarten. All you need to do is remember to use them.
1. The lesson of Alice and the Cheshire Cat: If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter what path you take.
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: … so long as I get somewhere.
The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.
“Where are you going? What is your vision?” These are the first questions to ask before you begin any initiative, whether it is planning a large change effort or just a simple project.
In organisations where people share a common vision, daily activities have meaning and people are able to make decisions based on where they want to be in the future.
When you focus on the path instead of where you’re going, you react only to the most pressing problems and are likely to end up “somewhere”.
2. The lesson of the Tortoise and the Hare: Sometimes you have to go slow in order to go fast.
Taking time to plan right in the beginning will speed up your implementation. When you’re excited to get going, it can be hard to take time out to bring everyone onboard. But there’s a price to pay if you don’t – having to redo work and wearing people out. It’s costly and demotivating.
Not only is it important to make sure everyone understands and agrees with the vision and goals, but also that they have identified the strategies and processes to achieve it.
There will always be a dynamic tension between the “just do it” crowd and those who want more time to think things through. These two groups need each other in order to take intelligent action. You don’t want to plan forever.
But taking the time in the beginning to charter the course and “Set Up Your Team for Success” will get you to the finish line faster.
3. The lesson of Stone Soup: You can’t make soup without the key ingredients. People are the key ingredient to business results.
Hungry strangers told the villagers they could make soup from stones. They boiled the water and added stones as the villagers watched curiously. The stranger said it would taste a bit better with some vegetables, and a villager brought some. The other stranger said it would be even better with a pinch of salt, and they were given some. In the end, the soup was delicious.
Too often companies identify their business strategies without considering whether the people are prepared to implement them or whether the culture is aligned. Business strategies are the water and stones. People are the carrots, onions and salt that make things work. You can’t implement your plans without people.
Strategies for people and the business must be part of the same plan – or your soup will consist of only stones.
4. Dorothy’s lesson in Oz: The journey is as important as the destination.
The lessons learnt in Dorothy’s journey through Oz were what allowed her to achieve her goal to return home.
Pay attention to the process. The process by which decisions are made influences the quality of the decisions as well as the likelihood of support and successful implementation.
You may have made the right decision, but if others involved don’t feel good about the means used to arrive at it, it may never be implemented.
If people feel their concerns are unheard or not valued, they are unlikely to fully support any decision, even when it’s a perfectly good solution.
The journey creates the opportunity for the necessary dialogue that results in common understanding, appreciation and commitment. It is important to pay attention to the process along the way.
5. The lesson of the Little Red Hen: Those who create it, support it.
No one helped her bake the cake, and in the end, she ate it alone.
This is the case for “involvement”. Unless you intend to eat your cake alone, you must actively seek involvement of others right from the beginning.
Through involvement, people develop deeper understanding and commitment. They need an opportunity to “muck around”. It rarely works to just announce what needs to be done and expect people to follow through.
Unless people really understand the “essence” of the initiative, they may make decisions that pull in the wrong direction. And even when they do understand, if they don’t believe it’s important, they will not act strongly and consistently in ways to support it.
It’s important for key stakeholders to be involved early on. Remember the adage: Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me, and then I will care.
*The stories I’ve used are from North America and Europe. If you know stories from other countries that illustrate these lessons, please share them.