Leaders thrive in tension. But they can also be torn apart by poorly navigated tension. This is especially true when dealing with personal and organizational values. Zealots of the past age embrace the tried and true while visionary dreamers of amazing futures are guided by the new, the hip, and the “just imagine what we could be!”
So which values make it on the list? Or better yet – WHOSE values? Those of the senior leader? The team? The customer/target audience? When you start talking values – as I do with groups and leaders I coach – you get a lot of tension. It looks like this:
Preserve the Past ————-VALUES—————Embrace the Future
The tension created here is no small thing. Preservation of the past is not bad. There is “value” to what got you here. The people and leaders who shouldered the problems of the past should not be ignored as you shape the paradigms of the future. The energy that fuels the future must be unleashed without crushing the spirits of those who built the past.
Tension is good and necessary. Why?
Tension and leadership are partners. Without tension, there is no need for leadership. Navigating the “pull” of many good forces in many different directions is the challenge of every leader. Today, for example, I will have to manage the tension between some self-leadership issues (taking advantage of some personal growth opportunities) while still reaching out to others to serve them through my coaching and consulting. Both are necessary for me.
Personal and organizational values are tested and forged in such tension. So here are three questions to ask when shaping values, given to me by a mentor many years ago.
1) What to we want to Avoid? Those who wish to preserve the past love this question. It is the guiding motif behind their energy and commitment to “keep both feet firmly planted” in what they believe. Fear – sometimes legitimate fear — of losing hard-fought ground is behind this. Or people are worried that a core value will be lost in the future.
Example: A company wants to receive just-in-time data for decision-making. Sounds like a great value (“there should be no one standing in the information line!”).
But without a filter or a process for sifting through that information (guided by strategic values and frameworks) the leadership team may act impulsively: “well, the new data tell us that we should…” So leaders who embrace the value of timely information and data must wrestle with the value to maintain brand quality, vision clarity, and consistent implementation of strategy. Or else the group will shift and sway with every new piece of data that comes down the pike.
So what might these leaders want to avoid? Impulsive decision-making; the kind that comes from an effort to be hip or current, instead of being wise.
2) What do we want to Preserve? Example: A new effort is being designed to get everyone in a group or on a team, because of a timeless value — No One Stands Alone. If we hold to a long-term value like this in the face of needed change, do we appear to be stuck in the past? Be careful here. A long-held value does not imply a lack of creativity. It simply means a desire for continuity at the core level. Fresh strategic thinking can still embrace enduring values while adding new values that will guide the future.
It can be a win-win effort.
3) What do we want to Achieve? Those committed to taking the proverbial “next hill” love this question. The problem is they often leave those committed to #1 and #2 above lying wounded on the previous hill. Vision-casters are “next hill” people. We need them. But they will look over their shoulders and see no one following if they do not re-group, re-align, and re-invest in the development of staff and volunteers who fought the last battle.
Potential achievements must never eclipse past accomplishments. Reward and recognize as you renew and re-envision.
Final Thoughts: Obsession with the future at the expense of the past is leadership suicide (let’s watch how Apple handles this the next 12 months) and obsession with the past at the expense of the future is organizational suicide (go to school on the last decade and present decisions by HP!).
Granted, there are people who will never move ahead. But there are many who will, and they just need someone who values their contribution and challenges them to become a learning community with eyes to the future. Strong companies, schools, churches, boards, and agencies that have been around understand this.
They may lack the sizzle of a Groupon. But they won’t get fried either.
How are you navigating the “Values” tension with your team?