Thought Leader or Meme Repeater

Recent events in Australia’s political arena and the carefully crafted speech of the new Prime Minister got me thinking about the similarities in challenges that are presented to a new government and to those of business leaders. In his speech, Malcolm Turnbull spoke of “digital disruption” being Australia’s friend; the need for agility, innovation and creativity in creating a vision of the future; the power of collaborative leadership in making high value decisions; and about the importance of explaining the “why” and “how” of meeting the challenges of tomorrow so that everyone comes on the journey with their leadership. These are all very powerful memes in current, cutting edge management thinking.

Dream Big, Set Goals, Take Action chalk drawing

Another striking similarity can be seen in the media commentary that followed, with many outlining the reasons why change to current policy and approach wasn’t possible. Business leaders trying to shape new directions are often faced with entrenched views of how businesses should operate and be managed –how things are always done versus what’s possible, a myopic focus on results rather than the means to deliver those results, constant attention on what’s going wrong in favour of making things go right and the ever-present expectation of blame.

There is a fundamental difference in those that simply repeat the thinking that will shape the future and those that turn the thinking into true thought leadership that yields action and real results. That difference is the implementation of quality projects. I’m not talking about the projects that ARE the business but those that are ON the business.

Most of the managers that I work with readily acknowledge the problems that occur consistently across the industry. They agree on the ineffectual and sometimes detrimental practices that are entrenched in traditional approaches and express a strong desire to move beyond these entrenched views to achieve consistently better results. Many agree with the thinking I propose around what a different approach to the capital project business might look like. Yet most of them struggle to see a clear path to implementing change. The immediacy of crisis management, reporting obligations and micro-managing results is too consuming to allow the daunting task of leading change to find clear air.

The key to moving beyond acknowledgement and into action is PROJECTIFYING improvement – turning a vision for the business into quality projects. There are a number of key elements to implementing quality projects on your business:

  • Set clear objectives. Projects that do not have clear, specific objectives are aimless and doomed to be consumed by urgent, emerging issues. The best statement of objectives should define desired outcomes or hypotheses to be tested as well as timeframes for getting to a result.
  • Develop a plan. Go about the project in a structured manner so that there is a clear methodology and defined measures for assessing whether the project has successfully met its objectives. Define constraints, controls and scope as a project with too many moving parts rarely provides clear results.
  • Create an accountability framework. Assign people to the project with defined roles and expectations, but also make those people outline what they will commit to achieving – what they will be accountable for. Ensure the team has the capacity to meet their commitment – don’t expect people with full-time jobs to contribute their best efforts to a project they don’t have time for. Reassign some of their duties or re-organise your day-to-day team to give them the greatest opportunity to succeed – this should be the leader’s accountability.
  • Get on with it. Plan the project and give it appropriate structure, but do it in a way that you seize the initial start-up momentum and get into action. You can perfect and refine the project once it is up and running.
  • Lead it. Don’t simply kick-off an initiative then sit back and wait for the report on results – stay in touch with your project, show a real interest in its progress. A leader’s commitment and perseverance in seeing a project through to completion will be reflected in the commitment of the team.
  • Don’t fear failure. Fear of failure often stops us from committing to the project 100 percent as we create a safe fall-back against recriminations should it not be successful. At times, the perceived risks stop us from even starting. Quality business projects carry with them a high interaction between risk and reward, and it’s only by embracing the risk that we are positioned to reap the rewards. Some of our projects will fail, but even these failures bring us closer to understanding what will work.

Thought leadership is about translating clever thinking (be it yours or those around you) into action and it’s that action that produces results. The most powerful action that you can take as a leader is creating quality projects. So don’t simply be a meme repeater, be a thought leader that is projectifying their business.

Questions for consideration:

  • Do you have a vision for your business or project that you’re struggling to translates into meaningful results?
  • Have you created initiatives that stall and fade away?
  • Do you have traditional practices or an entrenched culture that you’re struggling to replace with a new approach to business?

I would love to know your thoughts and experiences. Please share them in the comments area below.

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