Have you noticed that you cannot MAKE yourself go to sleep? You can create conditions which are more favorable for sleeping (including closing your eyes) but you cannot make yourself fall asleep.
As a leader you’re often in the situation of indirectly creating a desired result by creating conditions more favorable to that result. This might include hiring certain skills, managing priorities, communication of a renewed vision for the organization, feedback on performance relative to goals, creating incentives, and knocking down barriers for people.
The larger the organization, the larger leadership accountability and the less the leader acts on directly. You’re increasingly working through others. You’re also increasingly going to have to focus on creating conditions that allow others to execute and operate the vision of the organization.
The most powerful leadership lubricant is trust. Trust is perhaps the most important element of leadership that exclusively occurs as a secondary effect. You cannot directly manipulate the quantity and/or quality of someone’s trust; your words and actions (or inactions) affect how people perceive you, and that affects their trust level. Think about trust as a measure of your credibility that you can use as “currency” to help people move forward through difficult changes.
One lesson from system dynamics: The existing system is perfectly designed to generate the results you’re getting. If you want a different result, you need to change the system. In organizations, the “system” is a complex intermix of people + process + technology + operating model. Sustained changes require some levels of adjustments in most parts of the overall system, though there are leverage points you should identify and exploit. Beware: the existing system has significant resistance power, and therefore it will likely take considerable energy to make big changes.
80/20 analysis suggests that 4% (or 1-in-25) of the elements in your system generate 64% of the outcome. Find these, experiment with adjustments, and measure. Repeat. I can’t tell you what they are because you know your organization better than I do. Just be aware that the 1-in-25 may not be the obvious candidates.
Small changes will have large impacts if managed correctly. Consider how the trim tab works to make the rudders of large ships work more efficiently. Peter Senge’s description is excellent:
Buckminster Fuller had a wonderful illustration of leverage that also served as his metaphor for the principle of leverage—the “trim tab.” A trim tab is a small “rudder on the rudder” of a ship. It is only a fraction the size of the rudder. Its function is to make it easier to turn the rudder, which, then, makes it easier to turn the ship. The larger the ship, the more important is the trim tab because a large volume of water flowing around the rudder can make it difficult to turn.
But what makes the trim tab such a marvelous metaphor for leverage is not just its effectiveness, but its nonobviousness. If you knew absolutely nothing about hydrodynamics and you saw a large oil tanker plowing through the high seas, where would you push if you wanted the tanker to turn left? You would probably go to the bow and try to push it to the left. Do you have any idea how much force it requires to turn an oil tanker going fifteen knots by pushing on its bow? The leverage lies in going to the stern and pushing the tail end of the tanker to the right, in order to turn the front to the left. This, of course, is the job of the rudder. But in what direction does the rudder turn in order to get the ship’s stern to turn to the right? Why, to the left, of course.
You see, ships turn because their rear end is “sucked around.” The rudder, by being turned into the oncoming water, compresses the water flow and creates a pressure differential. The pressure differential pulls the stern in the opposite direction as the rudder is turned. This is exactly the same way that an airplane flies: the air- plane’s wing creates a pressure differential and the airplane is “sucked” upward.
The trim tab—this very small device that has an enormous effect on the huge ship—does the same for the rudder. When it is turned to one side or the other, it compresses the water flowing around the rudder and creates a small pressure differential that “sucks the rudder” in the desired direction. But, if you want the rudder to turn to the left, what direction do you turn the trim the right, naturally.
The entire system—the ship, the rudder, and the trim tab—is marvelously engineered through the principle of leverage. Yet, its functioning is totally nonobvious if you do not understand the force of hydrodynamics. So, too, are the high-leverage changes in human systems nonobvious until we understand the forces at play in those systems.
(The Fifth Discipline, excerpted from p. 64-65 – this is a MUST-read book for leaders.)
The recipe for organization change is straightforward. Think about how to create conditions favorable to the result(s) you seek for your organization, rather than working directly on everything yourself. Find your 1-in-25. Exploit “trim tabs” which give you leverage on large-energy situations. Invest the “trust” that people have in your leadership. Look forward to the story you’re going to be able to tell one day about how you led the transformation of your organization!