I have more than 20 years of professional experience, 16 with the public service. Over those years I have had the privilege of working with some people with superb talent and excellent leadership skills. At the same time, I have marveled at many others, and their abilities to find reasons not to succeed. Whether in the private or the public sector, one of the critical traits of an authentic leader is the ability to find a way through the obstacles to success and deliver on a vision.
Over and over again, I have watched as skilled people stood paralyzed unable to make decisions, unable to move files forward, all because of an unwavering belief that success was not possible. Leaders not only make success possible, but they make it possible for those they lead to believe as well. In many cases the obstacles to success, as perceived by many, are nothing more than urban myths.
Let me give you a few leadership examples:
- This is the public sector, private sector strategies don’t work here.
- We’ve tried that-it didn’t work.
- Leadership will never support that course of action.
- The team will never buy in
I’m quite sure all of these statements have been made over and over again in a variety of situations throughout the years. I’m also quite certain that none of them would come as a surprise to anyone reading them. While that may be true, they also stand as warnings to what I refer to as “the tyranny of urban myths.”
They are simple to battle and simple to confront, and the course of action most appropriate is a single word- WHY?
Why wouldn’t private sector strategies work in a public sector environment? Why wouldn’t Leadership support a new and visionary course of action if presented properly? Why won’t the team buy-in?
Certainly there are times when these statements have validity and are based in fact, but my experience has been that nine times out of 10, they exist as an insurmountable obstacle solely because nobody asked why! True leaders ask those questions, and true leaders dismiss urban myths.
Exercising Leadership to bring success
What is good leadership and the characteristics of good leadership? – What we are challenging here is the status quo, and calling for thought leadership. Leadership that isn’t willing to succumb to the tyranny of urban myth. Thought leaders are required to be bold and make clear decisions based on fact. But we need to be clear, agreement that urban myths hold too much sway only gets you halfway. We need decisive action to counteract them and to move to our appointed goals.
A number of years ago I took over a new team which had encountered a lot of difficulty in successfully reaching its targets. What they had been asked to do was transformational for the organization with a dramatic shift in the service paradigm. I arrived with fresh enthusiasm, what I thought to be new ideas, and a desire to succeed, only to be met with an unequivocal “we tried that it doesn’t work.” Sadly I bought in.
A month later as I sat with my boss explaining why it wouldn’t be possible to achieve the goals that I had previously accepted so enthusiastically as possible – I received a two word response – why not? I explained again quite simply how many of these ideas had been tried and failed and proven unworkable. Same response-why not?
I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I fell prey to the wiles of urban myth.
Authentic leaders, with the required key leadership skills, need to be as bold as ever in their challenge of urban myth, and in doing so, will undoubtedly see success. But then again, that’s all been tried before and it doesn’t work-really?