One of the responsibilities of a leader is to:
A. Comfort the afflicted
B. Afflict the comfortable
C. Both A and B above
D. None of the above
Based upon the wisdom below, I'd suggest the correct answer is C.
"In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong."
--John Kenneth Galbraith (in the Guardian, London, July 28, 1989)
Consider the following: Most of us like it in our comfort zone. That's why it bears that name. Unfortunately we are not in charge of the world. In the world, when one thing is different, it's change. When everything is different, it's chaos. I'd suggest our world and our industry today are near chaos.
Our industry is based upon the alignment of people, processes and products. In recent years, we have chosen to--or competition has demanded that we--"commoditize" what we offer. Technology has created processes to support this commoditization (think BOP and an extended soft market).
Now, we are cannibalizing ourselves by the advancements we have made.
Most in our business protect themselves from the change that is tomorrow by wrapping up in the security blanket of relationships. This is the safe-harbor delusion we've claimed for decades.
Unfortunately, if you study the demographics of our world, you'll discover that we are no longer a clearly defined population, organized to transition these relationships from father to sons and daughters based upon the time needs and preferences of those in charge.
Today, our workplace and the marketplace we serve are very different. Four generations are in transition. A rainbow of colors, ethnicities, genders and cultures are shaping who we are and what we do--not the other way around. We're not "our Daddy's Oldsmobile."
To make matters more chaotic, parents used to teach children how to "shop" in the market. Now, our children are running the markets and teaching us how to shop in them.
Other signs of change include the Internet and the virtual market it created that ensures that everything we do can be done by someone else better--"fast, hot, and cheap or even free." All of us have access to all the information needed and unlimited options for where and how we buy.
We've seen dictators that controlled wealth, power and the machines of war turned out by peaceful protestors on the street in many parts of the Arab world. Might is no longer right.
Who is right? For a possible answer, read this quote from the best-selling author Daniel Pink, in his book "A Whole New Mind":
"The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind--computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, M.B.A.s who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind--creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people--artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers--will now reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys."
If you will accept the aforementioned paradigm shift in our world, you'll agree that leadership is necessary and that new leaders must comfort those afflicted with all this change--but more importantly, must afflict those "comfortably, contently and even happily wrong."
Here's my best guess on tomorrow. You can't get there from here. It is not possible to bring the folks who are your organization (where they are and as they are), the products you offer, the prices you charge, and the processes you use in this delivery to where they need to be.
Tomorrow's leader must venture into the future. They must determine what will be required to play in that arena and then come back and disassemble what exists, discard what no longer provides value, engage and incentivize those that can be part of the future, and build what does not yet exist. Don't try to drag the status quo into tomorrow.
I don't have the answers, but these are questions to ask:
Who will be your customers tomorrow? What will be their wants and needs? What price will they willingly pay? How will you deliver this profitably? How can technology be leveraged to eliminate all unnecessary processes, costs and friction? Who is ready, willing and able to get this done? Who can change? Who can't? How do you transition each? How can innovation be integrated into all systems and be made to permeate your new culture?
MICHAEL G. MANES is owner of Square One Consulting, a New Iberia, La.- based consulting business focusing on planning, sales and operations, and change management and architecture. He has over 37 years of insurance industry experience, including serving as an instructor of risk and insurance at Louisiana State University.
April 5, 2011
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