Monday, September 21, 2009

A Responsible Leader Must Remember their Impact on the System

Everything counts.

It is challenging to be human. We can’t easily, let alone always, align our thoughts and actions with our ideals. I have great empathy for this ongoing challenge in execution at the most intimate level. Nonetheless, the ever-changing interdependent relations that may find us at the centre of a system rely on our ability to line things up—structural integrity, if you will.

Nothing I will ever say or write will be new or beyond what the audience already knows. But that does not diminish the value of expressing it again or presenting it in a way that reinforces what we already know so that we may more easily remember. Many great sages point out that to remember to remember is the hardest thing. Yet, the most important.

As leaders, we must remember to remember that we are inextricably connected to the systems we lead. At the highest level, exceptional leaders connect their thoughts, words and actions to what matters most — often expressed as values, purpose and vision — so that systems, structures and process are imbued with meaning and function. Alignment.

This, of course, is a discipline. But first things first. The leader must be aware of this relationship. When they sneeze, the system catches cold. Everything counts.

Of course, some leaders are content to have “most things” count, while inadvertently lowering the bar on other things. These leaders usually end up being "OK" at Vision Integration, but end up somewhere below the 50-percentile mark.

The work of Vision Integration Mastery, however, does not cater to that crowd.

Most of us have worked for bosses who look the other way on certain issues, thereby clogging the arteries of organizational culture. Subordinates, highly dependent of the boss’s payroll signature every two weeks, smile awkwardly and return to work, carrying with them a diluted version of the values and vision that once provided motivation, inspiration and direction. The organization’s DNA becomes altered and propagated in its new, distilled, form.

The same employee may then be responsible for hiring new recruits, project management or quality control. The bar has been lowered, and over time, the values and vision are nowhere to be found other than posters and company websites.

Everything counts. And everyone is looking!

Leaders are in a fishbowl. When a leader compromises the cultural integrity of the system, everyone knows it. For example, if “Respect” is a corporate value and the leader publicly humiliates and employee, “Respect” is no longer a corporate value. It is simply a matter of cause and effect -- physics. It is just the way it is.

All of this is not to bemoan or frighten leaders. Rather this serves to remind leaders of their impact on the systems that enable the values and vision they have pledged to uphold. These systems require endless investments of time, energy, emotion, intillect and money to maintain; consequently, ignorance can be very expensive, on many levels, not just financial.

So take a minute, pause and reflect on the system you are impacting. Where can you make some first-step modifications to bring your thoughts, words and actions into greater alignment with the values and vision you espouse? Where can you begin to make structural improvements to your own awareness, discipline and courage so that your “house”—be it your company, your team or your own life—has more structural integrity to it? Don’t be overwhelmed by the task at-hand. Simply start somewhere. Anywhere. Everything counts.

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