In the last post, we explored how cultivating Dissatisfaction with established processes and protocols could unlock traditional thinking and create the sort of mindset required for transformative change. Remember, increasing Dissatisfaction was one factor in overcoming Resistance within an organization (D x V x F x CL > R) for change to occur. Today we’ll focus on the role of Creative Leadership.
“Leadership is action not a position.”
In the same manner that a controlled burn is used to rid a forest of dead leaves and debris, and return valuable nutrients to the soil, cultivating dissatisfaction and encouraging creative problem solving is a great way to prepare the groundwork for transformative change. But without leadership to channel the potentially powerful forces unleashed, companies run the dual risk of the energy dissipating or much worse, burning uncontrolled. All organizations, particularly those seeking to undergo dramatic change, need leaders who can inspire others by communicating their vision of the future and motivate and encourage followers to keep pushing forward.
In the last post, we explored how the rate of change is accelerating – and how companies no longer have the luxury of expecting daily operations to fall into easy predictable patterns, periodically interrupted by carefully planned and executed bursts of change. As globalization trends, technological advancements, changing regulations and geopolitical uncertainty require a different approach to management. In fact, to thrive in today’s market, requires leadership in addition to management.
People often equate management with leadership, but in reality, they are quite different. Though they often go hand in hand, management is more about directing the work and ensuring the day-to-day activities are completed as they should be. Leadership, on the other hand, is about setting a vision, motivating others to understand and believe in your vision and to work with you on achieving your goals.
Leadership theory has evolved to meet the complexity of today’s demands, away from traditional theories of leadership of a unidirectional, top-down influencing process to a more shared, collective, and collaborative leadership practice, based on dynamic processes between leaders and followers and distributed throughout the organization rather than the actions of a few individuals at the top. Creative leadership values independence and innovation from everyone on your team and encourages all employees to present their ideas in meetings and help you think through various challenges. It can tap into the “good” dissatisfaction we cultivated last time around and take advantages of the solutions it created. And, because creative leadership is both empowering and decentralized, it is much easier to disseminate new ideas, new beliefs and new ways of thinking until reaching a point in the change management process where the momentum of change becomes a powerful, enabling force of its own, a tipping point, if you will.
Merriam-Webster defines the term “tipping point” as “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place”. Imagine a boulder, poised at the top of a steep hill and how, once it begins rolling, it continues to pick up speed. Given that one of the biggest complaints about digital transformation projects is that the promised changes don’t materialize – or they don’t last, “significant and often unstoppable effect or change” is exactly what we’re looking for.
Sound too good to be true? Let’s look at arguably the most successful tipping point leader, Bill Bratton. In 1994, William Bratton took over as police commissioner in New York City at a time when crime had been increasing for three straight decades to the point that the city was referred to, not as the “Big Apple”, but as the “Rotten Apple”. And yet, in less than two years, Bill Bratton turned New York into the safest large city in the nation. Felony crime fell 39%; the murder rate fell 50%; and theft fell 35%. In two years – and without a budget increase. Public confidence in the NYPD soared, as did job satisfaction on the force. Nor was this Bratton’s first success – or his last. He’d achieved similar results in Boston prior to coming to New York City and continued his success in Los Angeles, serving an unprecedented three terms as police chief.
How was he able to consistently achieve such dramatic success? He overcame the four primary hurdles that leaders face:
- Cognitive: Understanding and agreeing on the need to change.
- Resources: Limited resources to achieve the desired change.
- Political: Sideline powerful vested interests that will resist the impending change.
- Motivational: Encouraging everyone within the organization to make the necessary change.
And he did so in creatively. Rather than relying simply on numbers to tell illustrate the need for change, he ensured that his employees experienced the need for change. Transit officers were required to ride the subway to work, putting them face to face with aggressive beggars, gangs of kids jumping turnstiles and jostling people on the platforms, and homeless people laying on benches. Rather than sending memos or bulletins that he knew officers had neither the time nor inclination to read, the communicated via video messages played at role calls.
By singling out key influencers—people inside or outside the organization with disproportionate power due to their connections, their ability to persuade, or their ability to block access to resources, and getting them on board, Bratton was able to both amplify his ability to motivate and minimize the impact of naysayers. Influencers act like pins in bowling – with the right touch, not only do they fall, but they impact others as well.
Finally, rather than requesting a big budget increase, Bratton found creative ways to reallocate existing resources, by looking for new ways to improve existing processes. In one example, he was able to reduce the time it took to process arrests from 16 hours to 1, simply by using portable arrest centers in high crime areas. In another, he engineered a “barter” between two different police divisions: extra unmarked police cars for unused office space. Both benefited – at zero additional cost.
By making unarguable calls for change, concentrating resources on what really matters, mobilizing the commitment of the organization’s key players, and silencing the most vocal naysayers, Bill Bratton was able to affect rapid, transformational change on schedule and under budget. And he did it multiple times. It can be done.
Do you have a vision of what you want to achieve in your organization, your division, your team? (Remember, leadership is not about the role we hold in an organization, rather it is about the action we choose to take. It can happen anywhere!) Share the vision. Inspire others. Be creative and find a way.