Forbes - John Kotter's Change Leadership
During his Oscar presentation Sunday, Bill Murray slid in a clever tribute to Harold Ramis, who died last week. Remembering Ramis’ work – he wrote or starred in so many great comedies featuring endearing, unsavory underdogs – I remembered the infamous scene (below) from “Animal House” where Bluto tries to rally the troops, gives a rousing speech, runs out the door, and nobody follows. That, I realize, is one of our client’s biggest fears.
We help our clients evolve from managers in control of everything to leaders that inspire their people. Transitioning from an overseer – making sure that nothing fails, no balls are dropped, and no issues are left unresolved – to the leader who empowers and motivates can be daunting. As each make this switch, most clients have a moment of real insecurity, wondering, “What if, at the end of my motivational ‘rally cry,’ I run out the door – and nobody follows?”
These successful people are exceptional at managing, defending, rationalizing, justifying, controlling, documenting, supervising, budgeting, allocating – all the things that got them the job. We ask them to flex a new, different muscle. We ask them to lead, to set direction, to motivate others, and to create an environment where their people will step up to the challenge without being told what to do or how to do it.
Their fearful vision plays like the scene in “Animal House”: The team is demotivated, the group just got put on “double-secret probation” by Dean Wormer, they’re not showing results, they’re not winning. This is where Bluto (John Belushi) tries to rally the troops with an emotionally engaging and not-entirely-factually-accurate motivational speech, and it doesn’t work. In the end, Bluto’s approach doesn’t just fail, it’s embarrassing – well, it would have embarrassed anyone except Bluto.
But once our clients get over the fear of being Bluto – out front leading with nobody following – they realize that being inspirational is simply a matter of setting direction and communicating importance. Here’s how they do it:
STOP trying to manage:
- “How” to do it: directing, allocating, budgeting
- When it’s going to get done
- Who’s going to do it
START asking people:
- “Who wants to help make this happen?”
- “How would you do it?”
- “What are you willing to do to get it done today?”
This is how you shift toward motivating to generate impact. When someone raises their hand, give them permission, give them protection, encourage them. When those people come to you to ask for something – a little help, a resource, or a budget – give it to them. Whatever their plan is to get it done – let them.
As soon as two, three, or four people start taking those first steps – and you make their effort public and visible – you show others what success looks like. People won’t just start to follow you, you’ll see followers getting out in front of the leader – going in the direction you wanted them to go.
Ken Perlman is an engagement leader at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. Follow Kotter International on Twitter @KotterIntl, on Facebook, or on LinkedIn. Sign up for the Kotter International Newsletter.
What’s the difference between offering support and delivering an expectation? Sharing the vision and handing down direction? As Kathy Gersch illustrates, these not-so-subtle leadership choices can make all the difference between failure, and winning an Olympic medal.
Leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympic games, Vladislav Tretiak, the revered former Russian Olympic team goalie and current head of Russia’s Hockey federation, offered some words of advice, “The entire country will be looking at you… Don’t let Russia down, guys!” Playing the country’s national sport, the expectations for the team were high – they had a home-rink advantage and several of the game’s top players on their roster. Nobody at those games had more weighing on their shoulders.
“The pressure is enormous, and it’s growing every day,” Russian team captain Pavel Datsyuk said prior to the game, “Everyone is expecting only one thing from us. And we won’t have the right to make an error.”
As President Putin watched from the stands (adding even more pressure), the Russians placed high expectations on the team’s four big, expensive stars, namely Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Radulov, and Ilya Kovalchuk. The expectation was that the big names would lead the offense. While several attempts were made, goal after goal was blocked. Defensive players as a team did not match up to the talent of competing teams and Russia lost Olympic gold for the fourth consecutive time. In fact, they did not even make it into medal contention.
Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, dumbfounded, summed up the entire Russian perspective when he said, “I cannot explain this.”
From my perspective, the loss was not so difficult to explain. This is a classic set-up for failure, with some key decisions that ultimately lead to loss – like designing a team around just few major stars, and telling the team that failure is not an option. The lack of power balance and underlying threats kept them from ever coming together as a cohesive team. On the other hand, the Finnish team had nothing to lose. “We were not supposed to win. They had all the pressure,” Teemu Selanne, voted the Olympic hockey tournament MVP, and at 43 the oldest player in the men’s tournament, told reporters. The Finnish team left their egos behind, worked together and came away with the surprise bronze medal.
Even more so than the Finns, the recent Super Bowl victors – the Seattle Seahawks – are a stark contrast to the Russian hockey team. This “star-less” team of “Misfits” played better than the favored Bronco team led by the NFL MVP. Most of the team was drafted in late rounds, and the coach had been pushed out of the NFL in the past. The team was riddled with injuries and several practice team players had been pulled up. Even the fans were underestimated. In pre-game practice, Broncos coach John Fox actually turned down the simulated crowd noise because he thought it wouldn’t be an issue on neutral ground.
So how did these underdogs win? Simple. Every person in blue and green was ready to do whatever it took to win that game. Why? The Seahawks were able to tap the resources available and unleash everyone toward achieving their goal. Russell Wilson turned his father’s words, “Why not us?” into a rallying cry that left everyone on the team feeling invited, included, and encouraged to participate however they could. Consider this: Linebacker Malcolm Smith, a guy not even invited to the NFL combine, saw an opportunity to run the ball back for a touchdown – a move that won him the MVP award. In the stands, the fans got credit for the first points of the game when the Broncos sent the first snap into the end zone for a safety because the center could not hear over all the crowd noise.
Their win was definitely not a solo effort. As Carroll said, “Any one of those guys could have been our MVP,” because each player at that game, and every fan in the stands was willing and looking for ways to earn that victory. This is the kind of leadership that can overcome any obstacle, no matter how high, by working together and unleashing talent at every level.
When the stakes are this high, there’s too much to lose by NOT using every resource to its fullest. Why put it all on the shoulders of just a few, as the Russians did, when the entire team is willing and eager to invest more in winning than you could imagine? Why provoke with threats, when the opportunity to win is far more motivating?
Some management sensibilities suggest you dedicate a few experts to the cause and make it clear that failure is not an option. Following the tenets of leadership, a great coach knows that everyone needs to be invited to help the cause – and that the cause you choose must be one people will rally around. With an opportunity as beautiful as an Olympic gold medal, and with so much national pride to draw on, the loss was a terrible missed opportunity.
At Kotter International, Kathy Gersch helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. Follow us on @KotterIntl, Facebook, or Linkedin. Sign up for the Kotter International Newsletter.
Cameron Welter, one of the youngest members of our team, has a fresh perspective. Here he shares how the history of sailing technology and the advancements that have been made today, reframed for him what can be considered ‘impossible.’
As a millennial, I’ve grown up amidst incredible technological change and innovation. That being said, if you had told me about the iPhone 5S 10 years ago, I would have told you “that’s impossible!” (In 2004, the coolest feature on my flip phone was a mirror on the outside of it.) And that’s just one example of how quickly the world is changing. In my short life, a number of things I deemed “impossible” have actually happened. Now, I see the power others harness when they refuse to use this word.
If you haven’t seen the ORACLE Team USA’s “Fun on Foils” video before, you will only need to watch the first 30 seconds to understand what I’m talking about.
The boats used during the 2013 America’s Cup are like nothing I have ever seen – at least outside of a George Lucas movie. As this new generation of boats gets up to speed (using a sail that mimics an airplane wing no less), the boat lifts off the water on a set of stilt-like apparatuses called hydrofoils and accelerates to speeds near 50 MPH.
For those of you unfamiliar, the America’s Cup is a yacht race that originated in 1851, pitting Great Britain’s Royal Yacht Squadron against the New York Yacht Club. Since then, it’s evolved into the yachting community’s equivalent of the World Cup, attracting the world’s most prestigious yacht clubs, the finest sailors and designers, and the business elite like Sir Thomas Lipton and even Oracle CEO Larry Ellison for funding and team management.
Each America’s Cup involves very carefully defined parameters for the boats used, parameters that change each competition as newer technologies become available. This year, teams reportedly spent upwards of $50 million researching, designing, and building their crafts, a model called the AC-72. The result? Speed. Lots of speed. Almost impossibly, these boats can move more than twice as fast as the speed of the wind propelling them.
Even more incredibly, the top speed of the AC-72 is about twice as fast as the boats used in the 2010 contest, which in turn was significantly faster than previous vessels. In fact, if you were to map out the top speeds of the different boat models used since the very first race in 1851, you would see that the top speeds are increasing at an exponential rate.
But what does all this mean for you? It means everything. In the face of increasing competition in nearly every industry and market, there are some incredibly important lessons we can learn about what it takes to win today:
- If you think something is an insurmountable barrier – it probably isn’t. You just haven’t found the right solution to the problem. In 1851, you probably would have been laughed at if you suggested a boat could move twice as fast as the speed of wind. In 2014, not only is it possible, it’s what is required to win.
- What wins today is not good enough for tomorrow in this constantly accelerating world. If you aren’t willing to adapt, you will be left in the dust. If you aren’t constantly looking to better yourself, your company, and your product with the latest technology, you will lose to someone who will, making you the next Blockbuster or Polaroid.
- Impossible is outdated. Gone are the days when we can be content with the status quo. Companies are born and die each day. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos dreams of delivering your packages with drones in less than 30 minutes; Elon Musk wants you to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than an hour. Impossible? They don’t think so.
As for the AC-72? By the time the next America’s Cup rolls around, there will probably be a new innovation that makes this boat utterly obsolete. These days, anyone who claims we have maxed out our potential in anything, from boat speeds to mass transit to product delivery, will be on the wrong side of history. These are very exciting times to be alive – anything is possible.
Cameron Welter works at Kotter International (www.kotterinternational.com), helping leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. Follow Kotter International on Twitter @KotterIntl, on Facebook, or on LinkedIn. Sign up for the Kotter International Newsletter.