Growing Our Own Emerging Leaders

Emerging Butterfly

Growing Our Own Emerging Leaders

As we begin to emerge from our COVID-19 quarantine cocoons, consider how we will grow from our experiences. Will we think and act differently from our pre-pandemic selves? Charles Darwin would be intrigued by how we lead in these unprecedented times of change, fear and uncertainty.

In deciding if we should step up as leaders and take the bull by the horns or if we should step back and wait things out, we need to recognize that stepping back is a normal human reaction to change and can serve to protect us from harm, as an adaptive response. Some believe that resisting change is the smartest thing for them to do…in part, because it’s the easiest thing to do. At some point in our careers, many of us have watched others “lying low, waiting for the current fad to blow over”, especially if management had a history of embracing and then quickly discarding the various ideas of the month. But COVID-19 presents very different challenges in comparison with your last boss or CEO.

In my own consulting experiences, I have found that some people view change as the often “forced-upon us” process of saying good-bye to the devil we know and greeting the perceived devil we don’t know. It is the uncomfortable process of leaving the familiar, even if it’s not perfect, and going to the unfamiliar, which we usually anticipate will be worse.

The irony of change is that the vast majority of things that we fear might happen never do. In fact, according to some statistics, around 93% of the things we fear might happen with a change, never do. And, if we focus on the negative and sit around catastrophizing about the terrible things that might happen, these fears can paralyze us and keep us from acting in more productive ways – like the deer in the headlights who could have moved out of the way.

Author William Bridges advised that there are critical differences between change and transformation. Change is what is going on externally around us. Only after we have accepted and internalized these changes and then altered our established ways of thinking and behaving over time have we really transformed ourselves. Also, whereas we might think about change as being quick and superficial much like changing our clothes, transformation is more pervasive and enduring in our lives. As leaders, what we’re seeking to promote are real widespread transformations.

The past “normal” is no longer relevant, and while there are lessons to be learned from the past, we cannot afford to be preoccupied with it. As the saying goes, we can’t drive forward most effectively while constantly looking in the rearview mirror, and this applies to our post COVID-19 lives and careers. As leaders, what can we learn from these extraordinary circumstances, and how can we transform ourselves and our organizations to become even stronger than ever before?

Coincidentally, during the pandemic, I read a book written by E. David Spong and Debbie Collard titled The Making of a World Class Organization. David is a two-time Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Recipient CEO, and he also participated in The Synergy Organization’s national Baldrige CEO leadership best practices research study. This study yielded cost-effective and scientifically validated predictive analytics about how to select the best leaders, before they are promoted or hired.

One of the strategies David employed in dramatically turning around two separate divisions within McDonnell Douglas Corporation was seeking input and then buy-in from his leadership team members regarding their “Operating Principles.” They developed a list of 15 principles to serve as their code of conduct, and David had them printed on small cards that could be worn with their ID Badges. I believe that these 15 apply to leadership universally, regardless of industry, and would be highly effective for leaders dealing with everyday challenges, not just those presented by COVID-19.  They are:

          • We insist on integrity first and foremost
          • We tell it like it is
          • We communicate openly and candidly in all our dealings
          • We respect, honor, and trust one another
          • We work toward consensus
          • Disagreement is healthy and encouraged, but once a decision is made, we proactively support it
          • We have one conversation at a time
          • Our silence is consent
          • We focus on issues and ideas rather than titles or personalities
          • We actively listen and question to understand
          • We do not attack the messenger
          • We identify clear objectives and expectations for our meetings
          • We start on time, observe time limits, and end on time
          • We praise in public, we coach in private
          • We have a bias for velocity

Have Fun…Enjoy the Journey and each other    

There is no singular manual nor GPS we can use to navigate such previously uncharted waters.  But by recognizing that we will either grow or die, what we can do is pull together in times of crisis and get the best from everyone. The above Operating Principles can help us to take control of our own destiny. But, how do we transform others? One great way to start is by taking a careful look at our existing and emerging leaders.

During this crisis, we have had several conversations with our healthcare client partners around the country who have become increasingly aware of their own vulnerabilities; these extend well beyond PPE. As pragmatic realists, they have learned that crises bring out the best and worst in everyone, and they cannot afford to keep poor performers aboard. Here is just a sampling of powerful questions they are using right now to distinguish the best from the rest and who they need to keep on their buses:

1- Which of their team members step up, focus on the real priorities and do whatever is necessary (often without first asking for permission)?
2- Who willingly accepts responsibilities, doesn’t make excuses and doesn’t blame others?
3- Who brings you problems and who provides you with viable solutions they are ready to implement (or already have)?
4- Who demonstrates the courage to speak up and actively challenges others in appropriate ways to make the right decisions for the organization?
5- Who supports your weighted decisions once these are made?
6- Who inspires and educates others around them to do their best and holds others accountable for excellent performance?

The good news is that our best leaders are self-aware and understand that they are not great at everything; they are open to depending on others with complementary skills and talents to help them make the right decisions, including how they select, develop, promote, and retain their leadership team members. They also recognize the value of taking an objective, closer look at their own senior team members whom they rely upon the most to safeguard both their organizations and their own careers. Great leaders understand that they must surround themselves with only the most talented and committed people, and often ask us to help them to make difficult decisions because the harsh reality is that not everyone should be relied upon to be a key contributor.

More specifically, over the last 30+ years, healthcare executives have sought our proven expertise and experience with helping them to make difficult, evidence-based decisions about how they can transform the performance of their organizations most efficiently and cost-effectively. Recognizing that the quality of our lives and organizations hinges on the quality of the decisions we make, don’t subject your organization and your own career to needless risks that are predictable, preventable and expensive for everyone involved. Check out out  to learn more about how our proven Evidence-Based Organizational Redesign Assessments and other solutions have helped other progressive leaders to achieve their goals. You might even find some creative approaches that you can use to make Darwin proud.

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then”.
– Alice, Alice in Wonderland