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Who is rowing this boat??

I’m not the first person who has scratched my head in complete bewilderment when there are too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen and asked, “Who’s on first?”, “Who is rowing this boat?” or “Who the heck is the decision maker?!”

Where does the buck stop at your place of business, at the organizations you volunteer with, at your children’s school or right at home? At the end of the day, each of us relies on the person leading the pack, the one in charge, to get us across the finish line. And, I don’t just mean in terms of immediate gratification for completing one project.

I, for one, want to know who is playing the long game with me. I seek out those with a bigger vision than me, those that can see how all the parts fit and what it will take to keep the machinery running, even if one piece breaks. Whether I’m an employee who wants to feel secure and confident in my management team, a risk-adverse investor or a consumer who wants to rely confidently on the product and services promised to me, I’m one of those who “go to the top” when things aren’t as they should be.

So, from a leader’s perspective, what does management of a sustained business look like in today’s world, living in a transparent fishbowl? Across the board, they will tell you that the most critical success factor is the ability to respond flexibly to change and to engage in dialogue and partnerships with many different types of stakeholders. And, to focus on making sure that the business is around for many years to come, not just this quarter.

This starts by articulating a clear vision and mission for the company, detailing the business strategy of how the company will arrive at its destination and ensuring that everyone knows the values and boundaries within which the company will operate to get there. The management of a company needs to set an example in how sustainability principles are followed, to model behavior and “walk the talk.”

Leaders are most successful when they create business objectives and solve problems with the collective wisdom and support of their stakeholders, both internal and external. When I wrote the book “Solutionaries – You are the Answer”, I created my own definition for the word Solutionary.

  • A disruptive innovator who creates transformational impact

  • A critical thinker who treats the root cause, not just the symptoms

  • A leader supporting a culture of innovation

  • A visionary who challenges conventional wisdom for a better way

Other descriptors for these progressive thinkers in our new world of business include “collective leaders,” “adaptive leaders” and the well-known, “system leaders.”

These leaders create space for the group intelligence of their stakeholders to come up with long term solutions rather than driving their own predetermined change agenda. They focus on creating conditions that can produce change, eventually causing change to be self-sustaining.

So how does this happen? Those invested in the process, or those that are faced with the problems, come together to thoughtfully and honestly discuss the source of the problem and contemplate a long-term fix. Without focusing on an immediate solution or the bottom line, there is no agenda other than a better way. Creating new conditions requires space and planning with a view toward a sustained resolution. It is not easy work.

With luck, this type of leadership trickles down the ranks as it is not easily maintained with just one thought leader to light the path. The traits that I see often in these forward-thinking guides include:

  • Empathy with the ability to see reality through the eyes of people very different from themselves.

  • Commitment to the health of the whole ecosystem and a clear understanding of the value exchange/creation between the stakeholders.

  • Belief that unsolvable problems are opportunities for innovation.

  • Generosity of information, giving everyone a macro view of the entire system for joint development and the co-creation of solutions.

  • Expectation that growth and education will be encouraged without retribution.

  • Ability to face difficult truths about present reality and build an inspiring vision for the future.

What we see is that ineffective leaders force change, but system leaders understand that we are part of the systems we seek to change. Their hope is to offer gateways for changing behavior by changing conditions. They are not focused on what they don’t want but rather what they do want as influencers and active participants of a larger community and world. Who is rowing the boat? We all are!

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