Lately we've been working on projects with organizations facing significant change.
On one project, some of the leaders are having a hard time focusing beyond the immediate next steps. Roughly speaking, they tell us, "Just help us understand what we need to do next! This is critical to our success, because if we don't have a list of things to do, we can't make the progress we need to make!" And while a list may be very necessary at some point, it is completely insufficient to lead people through lasting change.
You and I have undoubtedly experienced people "going through the motions" - or perhaps we've even done it ourselves. Yes, we work our way through the list, yet we're not paying attention to the connections between items on the list (other than necessary dependencies) and certainly not concerning ourselves with the long-term impacts of what we're doing right now. In engineering it's called "plug and chug" - get the right formula, enter the data, crank out the answer.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
And sadly - sometimes - without investigation into new and better solutions, the rote, mindless generation of habitual answers and formulas can lead to disasters. Case in point: the Kansas City hotel walkway collapse.
Thankfully there's a good chance your organization doesn't have people who compartmentalize their roles and outcomes to the point where people are permanently injured or killed. Certainly the overwhelming majority of people have good intentions and results, even as they may get overly focused on the task at hand. Yet the story behind nearly every public disaster is a small chain of minor errors that compounded into something significantly greater.
The good news is that leadership, well applied, can use this natural compounding effect positively.
By asking questions and providing space to help people step back and get the "bigger picture", leaders can surface potential domino effects, both negative and positive. Leadership is about looking at the near-term and long-range impacts of decisions and actions. Leaders get the job done and ensure that the legacy of the team's work lasts for the foreseeable future.
Leaders willingly invest time up front to get clear about our collective outcome, how we'll measure results, what could get in the way of success, and how we'll course correct as needed. Leaders understand the need to have the list of tasks, and to continuously ensure the team is able to make those tasks work together to get to the ultimate desired result.
Successful change requires successful application of leadership.