The Changing Foundation of Leadership

  • Posted: 06-10-2020
  • By: Kevin Fitzpatrick

As business leaders, regardless of industry or function, we are responsible for ROI across the organization. We are all dealing with a scenario that had not been anticipated and for which most of us were unprepared. There is no script and no playbook for leading in this new world; we are experiencing a paradigm shift that no one has considered. The requirement to change is a new constant, and our response to this challenge is the new metric. Change, perhaps now more than ever before, is dynamic, full of motion and energy. However, our response cannot be limited to a singular metric, such as cutting costs. Instead, we must consider the interdependency across all systems to deliver sustained results. 

You may wish to consider this time as an opportunity to reassess the very foundation of leadership and adjust our approach to be more responsive. This foundation is not limited to business ROI, but now more than ever, trickles down - no, very directly flows - to every level and function within an organization. As we wrestle with the uneasy requirement to cut costs, even at a basic level, it’s important to connect with every aspect of work, systems, and our people to learn what can and will make the difference for the organization and our people.

So how can we grow and/or sustain the business in the face of rampant change with no playbook? While it is tempting to follow a pre-determined path focused on cutting costs, which may be required at some level, a failure to lead across the organization and engage in critical dialogues will net only short-term results and possible miscues at best.

Financial returns (ROI, EBIDTA, etc.) are critical; however, it is “how” we achieve results that is changing, perhaps permanently. A quick standard review may not give us the insight we need in the face of dynamic change, but rather we must look deeper to reevaluate what ROI really means moving forward. Leadership with flexibility and acceptance of broad accountability is critical to success when facing significant change.

Now is the time to connect with and look closely at every level of the organization, and to talk with employees or associates to really learn the “how” from their perspective. Engage them in the solution, help them help you to be better leaders, and together focus on the ‘why.'  Reducing expenses may be required; however, it is imperative that you ensure those reductions are the right response to the situation and not reactive. Otherwise, as leaders, you may not be able to gain and/or retain trust in your leadership.

In advance of these challenges, Simon Sinek, an author and motivational speaker, has talked about the “why” in practical terms as to the level of importance to culture and strong business results. Consider that wisdom as you move toward establishing a new, firm foundation of leadership from which to respond to this new paradigm and be prepared to adjust to meet the next challenge. Paradigms are shifting and so must our ability to respond in a dynamic way if we are to be effective leaders. Extend the opportunity within the organization to develop a strong operational foundation, talent inventory, and a culture committed to your joint success.

When we consider the bottom-line, cash is king and there are not a lot of concerns that revenue and a healthy P&L will not cure, at least in the short term. However, to build a strong foundation of sustained performance, consider looking deeply within the organization to tap into the key element that drives success or failure…people. Let’s face it, people are your greatest asset - and often your greatest expense and potential liability - and yet they represent an all too often untapped resource when faced with unforeseen challenges. Your employees or associates are critical to establishing or shoring up your foundation to succeed but they must view leadership positively to commit and deliver expectations.

An in-depth review should be done at every level, and across every system and function in your organization. Where there are people, there are ideas, novel approaches to “how and why,” innovation, and untapped potential. Of course, there will be cost involved, but there is also a stronger ROI available to you because you tapped into the baseline resources in your organization. You will likely be in the position to grow and sustain, and possibly even share the return going forward because you achieved it through a strong foundation of leadership and responsive talent.

The broader benefits follow the full spectrum of establishing BALANCE, not only vertically but horizontally. How? By never ignoring your people; by engendering trust and leadership; and by leveraging the interdependency for strong ROI and developing a coordinated answer for new challenges. To ensure critical connections that are genuine and sustained as a leader, you must be committed to the journey, even if it takes you to a destination you had not considered. This may require you to reevaluate your own foundation of performance and expectations for yourself, your people, and your business.

The exercise below is presented to help facilitate your thinking. Keep in mind that it is iterative and flexible. Once you have completed this to your satisfaction, complete a SWOT analysis to validate. This chart is designed to help you develop a template from which to engage your team, increase your leadership effectiveness, and arrive at a workable, measured approach.

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