Certainly not in the short term and maybe never.
We have taught people to “follow the leader” their whole life, be it a school teacher in our childhood years or a professor in our university years.
We have forced our students to follow text book rules and doctrine and taught them that compliance and conformity were the only way to succeed. Learn the material, score well on the exam and you win at least in the school.
In addition, there are too many “experts” and text book addicts in the mix who teach the art of leadership on the basis of how it was practiced in the past. What worked in previous environments is certainly instructive but it is no prescription for success in today’s world of uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos.
Little wonder then that we have created a cadre of leaders who all follow the same leadership doctrine and practice the same leadership methods.
They don’t standout in terms of bringing a relevant and unique perspective to the role; they all fit in to the crowd of unimaginative copycats.
Changing this culture in the short term is practically impossible. Huge momentum has been built up around the traditional leadership model and resistance to change it is high — people are too comfortable with it and have much invested in it.
They’re not suddenly about to adopt a new culture of leadership.
Related: The Truth About Successful Leaders
But even though we can’t immediately replace the old with the new, we can slowly begin the change process, because if we don’t, a new more relevant model of leadership will never see the light of day.
There are some meaningful actions we can take in schools and organizations NOW to begin to “grow” standout leaders; to take a member of the common leader herd and transform them into someone who will change the trend in leadership.
Reduce the amount of text book bullshit that is taught
Start teaching breakaway practices that will dispel the notion that compliance to accepted norms is necessary to be a great leader.
Current leadership curricula is way out of balance, with too much of the old practices being taught and not enough of the new principles being discussed.
My guidance to young professionals who I mentor is to focus on proven different new school leader practices such as contrarianism, serve don’t tell, cut the crap, outrageous demands can yield amazing results, preach imperfection and “let’s head west is a valid strategy” — concepts not found in current leadership dogma.
Start changing the criteria for appointing new leaders
Start selecting members from herd who provide a glimpse of being different than the commoners. As long as prospective leaders see that the rules of engagement require consistently demonstrating traditional practises, there will be little motivation to step away and try to be unique.
And talk about why they were selected; the attributes they possess that are unique and different from what were valued in the past. It’s important to make a big deal of the new people who are appointed to leadership positions. Others will see it and hopefully decide to adopt some of the behaviours of the new appointees.
Create a “contrarian” leadership development program
An intervention intended to shake people out of the norm; get them thinking about a different way of leading.
This program would rewrite the text books on the conventional art:
- serve from the bottom; don’t lead from the top
- execute first; plan second
- kill dumb rules
- forget about what customers need; discover their secrets
- would you take your product out for dinner?
And celebrate the graduates; make a big deal of what they’ve achieved and the importance to the future of the organization.
Fire the bottom 10% of the herd every year
It’s critically important to send the message that the “old leadership stuff” is no longer acceptable — and at the same time cull the herd of unwanted members.
It’s one thing to preach about the leadership values you want and hire new people in that image; it’s quite another to let your actions speak.
The message is stronger when you see colleagues exit the organization.
In addition, you have to force churn in the leadership ranks in order to make room for the new generation; natural attrition rarely is sufficient to make the changes needed in the timeframe required.
Create a buddy program
Connect a high potential “convert” with someone who is still practicing old methods. Use your success stories to fuel more conversions from old to new. One-on-ones are a great way to use the natural imprinting process to change the fabric of the leadership team.
Get each person who successfully moved to “the bright side” to select and work with another leader to teach and transform them.
Any cultural change takes time and baby steps to achieve, but it needs to begin now.
Perhaps one day organizations will possess creative and serving leaders who inspire imagination. And maybe — just maybe — the educational system will do their part in helping to prepare individuals to assume these critical roles.
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