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Leading Organizations Today: Not for the Faint of Heart!


Wed Jan 16 2013


When you hear the word “transformation”, what comes to your mind? A worm, that turns into a beautiful butterfly? An ugly duckling, that turns into a beautiful swan?  The common denominators in both situations are the words “turn” and “beautiful”. Another common denominator is that each goes through a process, ultimately resulting in a transformation to something different.

For over 20 years I have worked with leaders to transform the performance of their organization - starting with the leaders. I recently took the time to evaluate what the leaders of those organizations did during times of great success, and what they did when they were not so successful. What I found was interesting.


In times of great success, leaders were primarily focused on the organizational needs…

In not so successful times, leaders were primarily focused on their own needs…

Not surprising to you either? I didn’t think so. 

But shouldn’t the leaders be capable of handling the ups and downs of business? Isn’t that part of being a leader?



Then why would the leaders primarily focus on self-preservation during not so successful times?

To answer that let’s take a look at human behavior. In 1943 in his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, psychologist Abraham Maslow describes the stages of growth in humans with 5 motivational levels - Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, and Self-actualization. The levels formed the infamous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which we still refer to today. The theory is that each level of need must be satisfied before we can move to the next. 

In 2010, a team of psychologists revised the hierarchy with 7 levels of human motivation to reflect how psychological processes radically change in response to evolutionarily fundamental motives. For example, Safety is replaced on the second level with “Self-protection” reflecting the need to protect ourselves and our families from today’s economic uncertainties.

What does all this mean? It means that no matter what level you are in an organization, you have the need for “self-protection” when you feel your job is not secure. Thus, leaders feel the same way as their team members if they are concerned for their jobs. And they react basically the same.

How can leaders today stay focused on helping their teams and their organizations during challenging times, even with harsh economic realities that may mean their own jobs are at risk? A foundation of success depends on a leader understanding:

  1. Servant Leadership – leading teams’ means serving them. If you struggle with the word “Servant”, assess why.  A leader understands the concept of Servant Leadership and that the team expects you to go first, BEFORE they follow you.

  2. Self-awareness – know your strengths and where they will best fit, and be very intentional about the environment you select for employment. Realize this may mean making different decisions than you made in the past about what you do.

  3. Change Leadership – understand how you feel about change, and prepare to embrace it, especially during organizational challenges. It is difficult to lead teams through the ups and downs of business change if you’re not good at handling it.

Leading organizations today is very different than in the past. As the economy continues to fluctuate we need leaders who are not faint of heart, and who possess the strength to primarily focus on helping their teams and their organizations.

We need leaders who understand that establishing a foundation of success will ultimately help them transform themselves, their teams, and their organizations, into something beautiful.

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