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January - February 2008
Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence

Wisdom to lead minds:

"I often wish that I could rid the world of the tyranny of facts. What are facts but compromises?
A fact merely marks the point where we have agreed to let investigations cease. "

William Bliss Carman, Canadian poet

Are your ideas worth following?

Leadership is about seeing what needs changing, framing what that change should be, and winning support from others to make it happen.

Too many of today’s leaders in business, government and not-for-profit sectors seem afraid or unable to come up with ideas that go beyond the safe or incremental. Most public dialogue reflects self-serving statements that are often defensive, meaningless abstractions that keep to the safe ground of endless wiggle room, and opinions on this and that of little consequence. This is hardly the stuff of leadership, and the unled are acting accordingly; most people are both unmoved by their leaders and highly distrustful of their competence and motives.

There are many reasons why leaders have defaulted to this seemingly safe mode. One is that for at least 30 years it has been fashionable to see and discuss important matters in relative terms. Everything from crime to parenting to global poverty to religion to environment to business performance is arrayed across endless shades of grey. While this is appropriate in matters where essential nuances would be lost in black and white argument, many issues are clear and plain and need leaders who can make a stand.

Another reason is that many leaders are afraid to stand out too far from the pack. CEOs fear the conservatism of share markets with their lemming-like judgements and attention spans shorter than most corporate investment cycles. Political leaders fear fickle electorates whose enthusiasm for change falls far short of the time it takes for major policy shifts to mature and impact their communities.

Yet another is leaders’ fear of rejection if they ask for more than followers are able or willing to give. A major problem in business is that more than 85 percent of corporate strategic plans never get implemented; mostly attributed to the inability or unwillingness of teams and individuals to execute these strategies. One consequence that is perhaps even worse is that many leaders now dumb down their expectations and requests of their people and alliance partners. The result is a pre-occupation with small and easy things, and acceptance of incremental rather than breakthrough ideas and performance.

The new Australian Government is organising an Australia 2020 summit to generate nation-building ideas. Most participants will come from businesses, academic institutions, media outlets, politicians, and community and industry organisations. These would be admirable sources for participants if the goal is to establish consensus or to seek pathways to incremental growth. Unfortunately the performance of most in these groups shows they ignore more challenging thinking in favour of a groupthink that considers ideas within the bounds of their comfort zones. Most of today’s best ideas in sectors from business to the arts to social welfare came from outside these structures. And these innovations had to struggle hard against initial and severe rejection by people conditioned to the constraints perceived by members of these organisations.

They would do better to provoke a different kind of person to stand up and offer to participate. In business these will include entrepreneurs who daily challenge the norms of accepted business and deliver results not previously considered possible by corporate and association people. Similarly in other sectors the achievers leave footprints, and mostly they don’t lead to the associations or mainstream organisations.

The good news is that there are mainstream leaders who are prepared to think, act and lead on things that matter to them and specific followings. For two very different examples, look to Bill Gates on dealing with world poverty and inequity, and Dan Kennedy on growth and wealth creation for entrepreneurs. They and leaders like them are unafraid to swim against the tide of small thinking. They express unequivocal values and ask people to take a stand on issues that matter in their arena of thought and action.

These leaders know that people want bold leadership, they want leaders with visions larger than themselves and their own self-interest, they want leaders to help them connect the dots and point them to meaningful action, and they want to follow leaders who express passion.

If we aspire to lead on ideas that will create leadership impact, the first step is to challenge our minds to think at higher levels about the issues that matter to ourselves and those we want to lead. Start by asking radical questions – questions that on the surface look stupid because almost all our peers would see them as stupid. For example, everyone knew in the early 1960s that it would take much more than a decade to put a man on the moon – until John Kennedy asked a question and turned it into a goal that moved others to achieve it. In the same vein Winston Churchill reversed the prevailing belief that Germany would roll over England within months of the fall of France.

In the arena you aspire to lead, make a list of the things you and your peers take as unimpeachable truths? Then ask are they really true? How do you know that? Could the reverse or an alternative be true or truer? If so, how could this improve your world, industry, organisation, profession or any other arena?

It is often said that ideas are cheap. However, really good ideas are gems that carry the energy to enthuse and motivate others. These have traction and are essential to anyone who wants to be a leader in more than name and title.

More next month...

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Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email gkelly@kellystrategicinfluence.com.au or call +613 9678 9218 for more information

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© 2006 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
You are free to use material from the Leading Minds eZine in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear. The attribution should read: "By Geoff Kelly of Kelly Strategic Influence. Please visit Geoff's web site at www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au for additional articles and resources on earning support for your ideas and strategies." (Make sure the link is live if placed in an eZine or in a web site.)

 


 

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