The Implementation Challenge: Strategic Leadership

In 2008, three experts, H. Jorgensen, L. Owen, and A. Neus published a study called Making Change Work. They presented the concern of many CEOs regarding the successful completion of change efforts and projects and found  that the “disparity between expecting change and being able to manage it” does not “hinge primarily on technology- instead success depends largely on people.”

It’s objectively hard to  lead change today. Getting teams that are often not in the same physical location to execute according to plan, to get people to make adjustments where those are needed, in order to meet objectives and to keep teams invested and engaged, are all challenging and highly consuming. To lead changes, project managers need to have clear strategies and teams have to follow with excellent execution. It helps when leaders are strategic and teams understand the leader’s thinking so they can follow.

What does it take to be strategic?

Different experts will present you with different lists, but most would probably agree on the following:

  • Being able to anticipate, detect and respond to ambiguous signals
  • Think critically and question everything; challenge basic assumptions and search for root causes
  • Identify and interpret patterns
  • Make concise decisions
  • Understand the agendas and motivations of other people
  • Stay open to changing your efforts based on relevant feedback

Do the leaders in your organization have what it takes? What if they are missing one or more of the above? Do we honestly still believe that giving them some reading material or sending them off to a “strategic thinking” workshop will get them to adopt new abilities and become strategic leaders?

Ironically, the very component that is missing in bridging the disparity between expecting change and executing it is getting in the way of leaders developing the abilities to lead change. Both require people to change in order to achieve success and both omit the most important component: a system that will get people to change.

Do we really believe a leaders who isn’t making concise decisions will change without an acquisition system? Do we think giving that leader the formula others use will get him to change? How about leaders who jump to action or leaders who don’t think critically?

To get leaders to change we need to equip them with new thinking patterns AND with a system to integrate new thinking patterns.

Which system for integrating new thinking patterns has your organization provided its leaders with in the past? How do leaders in your organization go about acquiring abilities they are missing? Look closely at that, because if such a system is missing in developing leaders in your organization, it’s also missing when leaders are trying to get their teams to learn and improve.

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