I recently came across a quote from Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United Football Club, and it really struck a chord with me. It made me reflect on a few conversations that I’ve had recently with friends and other leaders who are navigating their teams through difficult times. Talking about leadership in the tougher moments, Sir Alex says, “The experience of defeat, or more particularly the manner in which a leader reacts to it, is an essential part of what makes a winner.”
What an incredibly powerful and prescient statement for these times. “The manner in which a leader reacts,” or simply acts, and displays those characteristics of resilience to take a negative situation and use it to fuel positivity. It got me thinking a lot about the nature of leadership, and in particular, the attributes it takes to be a modern leader. It also made me realize that if you simply substitute the word ‘leader’ in that quote for ‘person,’ then maybe we can start looking within our own organizations for that next group of leaders who are displaying such qualities right now.
The general definition of leadership is “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.” Today, fast-paced change has turned the way we operate businesses upside down. As a result, we looked to executive teams to find solutions and lead the way. And this response is entirely understandable. It’s a foundation on which our world was built—we look to our leaders for guidance and assurance.
Traditionally, leadership is assumed to a small group of only those with a specific job title, and it is expected that they will create the next incredible idea. But why is that? This is an interesting concept to consider. If we look back at that original definition, we’ll notice that nowhere in that description is a person designated in charge or as a leader with a specific role.
So, if you think about it, problem-solving isn’t necessarily something reserved just for “leadership” teams. In fact, that mindset itself may be hindering us from seeing leaders outside higher levels of management. Leadership should come from every level of the organization. Which is why I think it’s time we reimagine what leadership really means.
Redefining the Meaning of Leadership
So let’s revisit that definition once more. Leadership is an “action of leading a group of people.” Read that again—it’s an action. That’s something anyone can do. You just have to be willing to step up and drive the initiative for change.
I’m a firm believer that people move organizations. They make the real change that leads to greatness. Yes, you can buy tools, solutions, and software—they are extremely helpful—but technology only enables change. It gives you the insights and data you need to be informed; however, it doesn’t take the actions that transform processes, plans, and policies.
In the COVID-19 crisis, many companies are finding new leaders in unexpected places, well down the org chart. Some young middle managers are defying the problems and frustrations of this difficult period to achieve far more than others.
McKinsey & Co reports that the businesses that have seen the most successful pivots and recovery throughout this year’s ups and downs are those with employees who go above and beyond their role expectations. They lead the way to produce positive change in the company—regardless of their level of management.
Change can start at any level. You just need to be passionate and fearlessly step up to the plate. This applies to every single person in the business:
- Individual contributors: do your research, look for realistic solutions, and use your managers to enact positive influence.
- Managers: listen to your employees, actively understand their challenges, and encourage them to brainstorm, innovate, and be empowered to speak up.
- Leaders: enable your teams to gain access to the digital resources and tools that help drive change and establish a workplace that is open to ideas from everyone.
It All Comes Down to Mindset
Anyone can take on leadership initiatives within an organization. Leadership is not a title. It’s an action, or rather, a skill that any person can develop, but it requires a flexible, open mindset. You need to be willing to disrupt yourself. That means you must continuously be looking for new opportunities to grow and always wanting to improve.
How did you respond when the world halted and turned upside down? How are you responding to it today? How can you shake up what you’re doing and do it better? Or even consider this: if someone came into your role today, what would they do that you aren’t currently doing? How would they improve your organization?
The problem is that disruption comes in, and we don’t embrace it. Instead, our default response is to resist and fight to retain control. That puts us at a disadvantage. We must acknowledge it, flip our point of view to look for opportunities in it, and make changes to address it. Often, disruption is an excellent opportunity to pause, rethink, and redefine how we approach everything in our businesses, including people, technology, and processes.
I like to compete, and I strive for myself and my team–whether in business or sport—to be number one. Getting to number one though isn’t the hardest part; it’s staying there. The trick is to always think and act like you’re number two. Never get complacent or think that you can’t be beaten. That mindset keeps you hungry and searching for the next brilliant idea to pounce on. It’s this perspective that empowers companies to thrive in times of uncertainty. You have to be willing to adopt new ideas and consider different strategies. There is always another (and potentially better) way to do things.
For sales organizations, the next era is here. We’re smack in the middle of a digital sales transformation. And it’s the perfect opportunity to invite leaders across your entire company to step up and completely transform the way your company moves forward.
Let’s get a move on!