The bankrupt leader

Aug 18, 2011

This week we’re looking at the impact of this:

How it's going to be

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(You can read more about where this graph comes from in the earlier posts in this series, here, here and here.)

This changed scenario – from a slow recovery in 2011 to an even slower one extending into 2014 or so, means that even for those leaders who still have the energy left for the fight, many face what might be termed ‘leadership bankruptcy’ – the flesh is willing, but the strategic tank is empty.

Many leaders I work with are simply out of ideas as to how to motivate and lead their teams (maybe even themselves) through yet another three-and-a-half years of difficult times. If you’re in that situation, here are five suggestions:

1. Change your perspective

The secret to thinking your way out of any cul-de-sac is the art of re-framing – finding a way to look at things (very) differently.

If you’ve been doggedly leading your business through the tough times of the last three and a half years, it’s not surprising that your leadership synapses might become little arthritic and inflexible – it would be unusual if they didn’t.

To break those now-hard-wired-but-sterile paths of creative thinking in your brain, shift your perspective to introduce new concepts, new ideas, fresh energies: grab a few weeks on the front line of your business (have someone else watch the reins up top – your business won’t die in two weeks) and see what emerges when viewing your business from another perch.

If you can swing it, consider swapping leadership roles with a colleague from outside your business (or your division, department, project, group or team) – go run their business for a couple of weeks and have them run yours. There’s no more powerful bang on the head (or the creative part of it anyway) than having to do essentially the same thing – leadership – with a different deck of cards.

2. Ask inside

Politicians have made risible the idea of a ‘listening tour’ – for them, that’s usually code for ‘campaigning’ – but for you, it’s an important tool.

Stop thinking for a week. If possible, stop deciding, too. Instead, talk to everyone in the business that you can get hold of, and ask them one question: “What am I not doing that I should, or could be?” Let the conversation flow from there.

And remember – you’re not conducting a poll or handing over the reins of leadership. There’s no inherent commitment that you’re going to do any or all of what people suggest – but it will recharge your batteries and your bank of creative ideas.

3. Get a coach

Even if it’s for a limited period, get a fresh pair of eyes on what you’re doing.

I’m not including this suggestion to hawk my own coaching – there are a lot of other options out there – but if you’re feeling tired and out of ideas, having good counsel is a crucially important step in renewing your leadership vision.

4. Zero-base your thinking

Creative bankruptcy is heavily tied to legacy thinking – an over-investment in the sunk costs of past initiatives. Imagine you’ve been fired, and re-hired with a blank slate to change the business in any way you want – what would you do?

5. Find the do-ers, not the talkers

We all need role models – all the more so when we’re out of good, new ideas.

Sadly one downside of the firehose of communications we all now face daily, is that we forget that the most effective work is usually being done by successful leaders working quietly, away from the limelight.

The role model you need right now is most likely not active in social media, or appearing regularly on radio and TV, or featured in magazines and newspaper profiles. It’s someone you know, or have heard about, who is simply getting it done – running their business, and making a success of it.

Give them a call. Buy a ‘plane ticket. Invest a day. It’ll recharge your leadership like nothing else.

Next up: The alienated leader.