To meet the challenge of nonstop disruption, leaders must think differently

To meet the challenge of nonstop disruption, leaders must think differently

This was originally published on the Holmes Report.

Think back a decade. Think back to the world of travel before Airbnb, transportation before Uber, office space before WeWork, entertainment before Netflix streaming, communication before the iPhone, and Amazon before Kindle, Instant Video, Echo, Zappos, Whole Foods, S3, Fire, and Alexa. Think about what the last decade has proven possible – and the industries that have been revolutionized – and then imagine what’s to come in the years ahead.

This is why—according to a 2016 KPMG global survey of 1,600+ executives—96 percent of companies are currently in the midst of some type of transformation.

Whether you’re in corporate communication, finance, HR, sales, marketing or IT, the magnitude and velocity of disruption necessitate fundamental changes in how we view our responsibilities, develop competencies and approach our work. For communicators, this takes shape in numerous ways, including how we coach, train, and portray leaders. Author and founder of the Berkana Institute Margaret Wheatley pinpoints a mindset shift communicators must facilitate to expedite change: helping leaders go from “Hero” to “Host.”

Earlier this summer, Gagen MacDonald had the opportunity to survey attendees of The Conference Board’s Change & Transformation conference, an event that attracted a mix of communicators, change management professionals, organizational learning & development specialists, digital experts, and a variety of executives. One theme resounded in our survey results: participants saw change fatigue as not only their organization’s greatest current obstacle to transformation, but the challenge they most anticipated confronting over the next five years. To stay ahead of disruption, our companies must not only be brilliant, innovative, and able to execute fast, but also possess the capacity to continue to reinvent themselves on a perpetual basis. Without the right type of leadership, yielding this sort of productive, sustainable organizational energy is impossible.

While no function “owns” leadership (as is true for the majority of a company’s most critical assets), corporate communication plays a critical and often overlooked role in how an organization’s leadership operates. In particular, here are two ways as a communicator you can help leaders shift from hero to host.

First, we can be intentional and strategic in changing our organization’s belief about leadership by portraying and modeling leadership behaviors that align with today’s needs.

We’ve all seen the trope of the “leader as hero” told on countless occasions throughout our lives. Whether it’s a movie in which a coach hatches a brilliant plan to win the big game or a corporate event where an executive wins a coveted award made possible by working longer hours than everyone else, society continually reinforces that leaders have all the answers.

However, in today’s economy, as we try to build organizations capable of perpetual transformation, we don’t need heroes. We need hosts. The era in which a few super-humans chart the path for the many has ended. To remain ahead of the curve, our companies require leaders whose instinct is not to hoard information, but bring diverse perspectives and talents together to gather insights collectively, explore the unknown, and find innovative ways to bring value to customers.

Today, research makes it increasingly clear what attributes are common to successful “conveners.” These qualities include:

  • Connecting the outside world to people inside the company
  • Linking diverse people, ideas and resources that wouldn’t normally collide to address common challenges
  • Assigning clear decision rights and responsibilities to help accelerate decision making
  • Using internal networking skills and organizational knowledge to facilitate the cross-discipline connections required to cultivate, protect and drive business, reputation and social outcomes in their organizations

Like in any other facet of life, employees model the behaviors they see celebrated and rewarded around them. As communicators, we often talk about a shifting leadership paradigm, but when the rubber meets the road, we are guilty of perpetuating the same old leadership stereotype.

We shape leadership in our companies through the stories we tell and the counsel we provide every day, which is why we must stay conscientious of the qualities we highlight and celebrate. If we cast our leaders as heroes and position our transformations as resting solely in their hands, we will breed cultures of disengagement. However, if we portray them as conveners whose roles are to facilitate the talent of others, we will not only inspire people to bring their skills forward, but we will cultivate future leaders in this new mold.

Second, we as leaders need to embody the change we seek.

For years, chatter at communications professional associations has centered on how we can elevate ourselves as leaders within our companies, and go from a task orientation to serving as true strategic advisers. To do this, communicators also need to shift from a hero mindset to a host mindset.

Despite our pledge to move away from a task orientation, too often corporate communicators represent our value as our ability to work long hours, meet impossible deadlines and get things done fast.

However, if we embrace a bigger role in which we anticipate needs and challenges, and use our unique network of organizational relationships to convene partners to drive innovation, we can truly realize our potential.

Imagine we are on a treadmill whose belt is spinning faster all the time. We are running harder and harder to keep up—longer hours, earlier mornings, later nights—but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We’re no further ahead, but we’re certainly feeling more tired than before.

To break this dynamic, we need to let go of what we’ve done, and try something different—even if it means we’ll no longer be the hero.

Learn more about how you can go from defense to offense, from your heels to your toes, and to rally large, complex groups of people around a common effort, in Gagen MacDonald’s The Three Things that Change Everything™ eBook.