As I explained in a recent blogpost, there are no options for us: If we want to be credible transformational leaders, the guarantee that our people expect is to see us “put skin in the game” and suffer with them. And our suffering has one name: Spectacularly change something in our behaviour!
Fabio Celestini was elected 2016 football coach of the year in Switzerland, after a successful career as player (Swiss national squad player, captain of France’s mythical Olympique de Marseille). When he took over his new coaching assignment with Lugano in the Fall 2018, something started to change with that team: Fabio sees a football team like a Complex Adaptive Systems which should adapt in permanence to the reality of the game, instead of slavishly await for the coach’s instructions. With academics in Rome, he extracted three critical rules, inculcated them to his new team and let them enjoy the game. Playfulness, cohesion, fun and determination have taken over from fear and duty. When I asked him: “What did you change from what we were doing before in Lausanne?” his answer was simply: “Me! I changed myself!” And Fabio started to explain that he had come to the realization that what prevented our previous team to evolve, was in part due to his own behaviour, so he had decided to change it!
When I asked my wife to be, what I should do to reassure her that I was the right choice so that she could safely engage in a radically different life with me, her answer was: “If you are capable of changing these three behaviours, I will believe you!” Trust me, she is painfully right!
Go back to the early times of Mankind. Leaders were elected for their capacity to achieve extraordinary feats. In the Middle Age, kings and their vassals occasionally had to go into the arena to prove that they were ready to suffer in order to gain their subjects’ respect. All the initiation processes in tribes are about the young wannabee warriors to demonstrate their braveness in order to be credible.
Credibility is the key word: “People don’t believe what you say, they believe what you do!” once told me a Citibank executive during a flight. But today it isn’t a knight’s tournament that decides who the next C.E.O. will be. Business leaders rarely dress up like “Gladiator” to engage people into the next battle. Today they:
– Hire Bain, BCG or McKinsey
– Record a video clip and send it down the line
– Speak via podcast or webcast
– Send the Transformation’s Holy PowerPoint by e.mail
And… it doesn’t work. Our people want more. They expect us to “put skin in the game”, and demonstrate that we are ready to suffer with them, be part of the army, march, carry our own armour and weaponry. They expect to see us to sacrifice something dear… They want to see us spectacularly change our behaviour! I haven’t seen any ambitious transformation happen, if the organization’s significant leaders hadn’t publicly committed to and demonstrated an authentic, spectacular and impactful behavioural change.
But, as followers, to sit on our hands and complain that, as long as the leaders haven’t changed, we can’t change ourselves, isn’t leadership either! It is, at best, “victimship”. Followers should take a stand and position themselves! To wait for the President of my country to change his attitude and continue not to show civic sense is just a poor excuse. We are entitled to expect that our leaders prove their willingness to change. But if they don’t, we need to act. If the unfortunate passengers of the Costa Concordia (32 casualties) all had taken excuse from captain Schettino’s less than heroic behaviour to refuse to obey the orders as long as he wouldn’t get back on board, the number of casualties would have been worse. Strangely enough no one did that!
If “Leaders have the followers they deserve”, then “Followers also have the leaders that they deserve”. The challenges that our World is facing, are way too formidable and pressing to let us adopt a neutral, passive and victim’s attitude. The days have come when us, leaders, need to realize that transformations will not happen without a sincere personal change from our part and that, when we find ourselves in a position of followers, playing the victim isn’t acceptable anymore.
Enjoy your Leaders’ Journey!