How the Most Effective Leaders Achieve Success

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To evolve, you must share. To deploy any kind of change management strategy, you must be vulnerable. As such, leaders must be more vulnerable for their organizations to evolve. The workplace and the marketplace are demanding a new type of thinking in order to grow and compete. It’s a shift away from traditional substitutional thinking that requires leaders to accept that the old ways of doing things don’t apply anymore.

I’ve spoken with many Fortune 500 executives in search of new ways to evolve their business – as they awaken to the understanding that it’s becoming less about the business defining the individual and much more about the individual defining the business. For their businesses to evolve, these leaders are taking greater ownership and accountability for evolving themselves.

Yet, they struggle with the idea of being vulnerable – which has traditionally been equated with weakness. Yes, opening up and being vulnerable may expose you to the risk of being hurt – but you’ll also experience greater success and significance than you could’ve imagined, far outdistancing any hurt that might come with it.

Unfortunately, many are stuck in a mindset that prohibits vulnerability. Those given room to make mistakes, on the other hand, learn to course correct and recover from them. These learning experiences teach you the upside of being vulnerable as the best way to lead.

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You might ask: in today’s business climate, doesn’t the speed of change make it more difficult for people to fail?

On the contrary, we need to be encouraging more of it, despite obstacles like the speed of change and zero defect mentality – and perhaps even because of them. Because things are changing so fast, no one can control or possibly know everything that’s going on around them. More than ever, you’ve got to trust your team to anticipate the unexpected and manage change. It’s an interesting cycle: the probability that people will make the right decisions in the future goes up if you allow space for them to make – and recover/learn from – the inevitable wrong decisions along the way.

How practical is it though, to encourage vulnerability and allow mistakes to be made, when companies are in such rigid execution mode all the time?

That is the dilemma that many organizations face today. Realistically, you have to think longer term and plan for the what-ifs and the contingencies. But you also have to find the right balance and not overthink it, because at the same time you have to operate fast to keep up with all of the changes and execute as flawlessly as possible to keep ahead of the competition.

Let me share part of a survey that my organization conducted. We asked people what was more important to them as a leader to most effectively serve the workplace and the marketplace: success or significance. Sixty-one percent said success; only thirty-nine percent said significance.

As someone who strives to drive significance, I would have hoped for different results – and that more leaders would see their role that way too. People work for success, but they do their best work when they think it has significance. Like a good coach, the ultimate job of a leader should be to help others achieve things they dare not dream; to create opportunities for them to grow and challenge themselves and be better than they thought possible – to be significant.

What I surmised from this data point is that people do what they are supposed to do – to be successful – but they don’t go above and beyond it – to be significant. In a business climate that clearly demands courageous leadership, why do we stay in our comfort zone and not have the courage to do what it takes to be more significant? Why do we succumb to the trap of short-term vs. long-term thinking?

True, if you don’t make your numbers and have a certain level of success first, you may not survive long enough to have the opportunity to drive significance in the workplace. So strike a balance, show that you can hit your short-term numbers, and embrace the innovation mentality to ultimately achieve your long-term vision and goals.