Recently there was a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal about Jeffery Immelt’s “Success Theater” at General Electric (GE). The point was that GE is now in trouble due in part to their former leader’s whitewashing the facts. At a time when the company was dealing with serious risks, Immelt instead communicated that “All is Well.” Big mistake. As a result, the entire organization and its Board of Directors is being restructured.

How does this happen? When leaders are either too confident and think they can cover up errors in judgment, or lack confidence and try to avoid an inquisition.

What is the impact? Successful leadership requires, among other things, that you build relationships of trust with your employees, including your board of directors. Otherwise you come off as a manager who lacks integrity. Who wants to follow someone like this?

How does this impact transformations you have underway? If you are trying to move your organization through a large-scale transformation, you will face enormous issues aligning your leadership team. Furthermore, you will struggle enrolling your employees to help you galvanize the transformation.

What you can do starting today.

  1. Ask yourself, “Am I fully transparent with my team about the state of our organization and current risks and exposures?” If the answer is no, then take steps today to improve.
    1. Solicit feedback about current operational challenges, and ideas to address them.
    2. Encourage open debate in your team meetings. When someone says something that doesn’t resonate with the rest of the team, acknowledge it. Ask the speaker to provide more information.
    3. If a team member contributes less during meetings, draw them out. Seek their input. Integrate their comments into the dialog.
  2. Communicate the truth broadly.
    1. Don’t sugar coat, but also don’t cry wolf. Be pragmatic about the situation.
    2. Communicate appropriately. Not everyone in the organization needs to hear everything. There are levels of propriety that must be observed. Be sure you know what these are and agree to them as a leadership team, particularly if this is new to you.
    3. As for feedback across the entire organization. There’s no better way to drive a message, particularly a transformational one, than by enrolling your employees to help.
  3. Be clear with your purpose and state outcomes in tangible terms to which employees can relate.
    1. Ditch the vision and mission statements. Talk about purpose. Relate expected outcomes. This is what matters. Too many mission statements end up as wallpaper.
    2. Be sure your team is aligned accordingly. As them to articulate – in your team meetings – what the outcomes mean in each of their functions.
    3. Be resilient when challenges come your way and persist through roadblocks and obstacles. Few things promote your employee’s dedication as much as your own, visible dedication.

Can you avoid a meltdown like GE? Absolutely. Just don’t become to comfortable with your leadership and take the points above under thoughtful consideration.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

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