What’s Your Core?

Posted: May 28, 2009 in Professional Development

“Change is good, but first know what should never change.”
   Jim Collins (Author of Built to Last and Good to Great)

“People cannot live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about, and what you value.”
           Steven Covey (Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

The interesting thing about these two quotes is that Collins is referring to organizational change whereas Covey is referring to personal change. In other words, core values, self-knowledge, and – in the case of organizations – common understanding are critical to success in navigating change. This is especially true in times of rapid change and uncertainty such as we are currently experiencing. We need a strong core in order to navigate the occasionally rough waters of change.

Here are some questions that every manager and executive should be able to answer in a timely and effective manner. On the personal/professional side:

• What are your key strengths and talents? As Peter Drucker pointed out many years ago, people only really improve on the basis of their strengths. A good way to find out what these may be is to ask some trusted advisors to give you an honest appraisal of where you excel and where you have tended to falter. Remember: knowledge is power.
• What are the things you want to do more of and what are the things you want to do less of? Life is too short to continue doing things we don’t enjoy or that aren’t truly productive and exploitive of our true strengths and talents.
• Is there something you’ve wanted to do lately, but have just not had the time to do it? It could be setting up a key client meeting, confronting a colleague with a major issue, talking over a major career move with your significant other, or simply seeing a show or reading a book you’ve been putting off. Pick one thing and see to it that you do it within the next two weeks.
• What can you contribute better than anyone else to your organization, your family, the community, society at large?
• What moves you to action more than anything else? What holds you back in tough (or not so tough) circumstances? Can you create more of what moves you and less of what holds you back? How?
• What are you passionate about right now; not yesterday, or tomorrow, or six years ago, but right now?

As an organizational or community leader:

  1. What is your organization’s mission and vision? Do you have a clearly articulated strategy that everyone can understand and instantiate? Too many organizations have vague statements that provide little or no guidance in setting priorities and implementing change. A major airport had the following vision statement: “To be the premier airport in North America.” Why is this important? How will you know you are the premier airport? What the heck does “premier” mean? Is it a way of avoiding saying “number one”?
  2. What does your organization stand for? What are its values? I’m not talking about espoused values, but instead its real values; those that people act upon. In the mid-80s, the Canadian Red Cross’ blood service became more about protecting turf and covering up mistakes than actually serving people in need of quality blood transfusions. We all know what happened: people literally got “bad blood.” Several died. The result? The government forced the creation of a new non-profit agency to handle blood services in Canada. The Canadian Forces went through gut-wrenching public scrutiny in the mid-90s, in part as a result of the murder of a young Somali man by two drunken soldiers. In the course of the public inquiry, questionable values and practices were uncovered. The espoused values of service and discipline were shown to be at serious odds with many actual values on the ground. This led to a period of massive and largely beneficial change. I suspect the RCMP is currently going through a similar value revolution, or at least trying to.
  3. When is the last time that you as a leader and agent of change have engaged and challenged your people to provide new solutions and innovative practices and initiatives? When did you last seek to stimulate them and provide a positive influence intellectually and emotionally? Are you living the espoused values of your organization? Are your personal values congruent with those of your organization?

Don’t try to do everything at once. Take one of the questions on the personal/professional side and examine your own thinking and actions in recent months, Do the same on the organizational side as a leader. The important thing is to be self-examining and to ask yourself questions that will lead you to be a better visionary and transformational leader.

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

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