Ever since my first day as a management consultant, I have been telling clients what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Disney chairman Bob Iger said it well: “The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo”.
The world around us is changing quicker than any of us could ever have imagined. Falling on old paradigms and institutional platitudes will not open doors to new ways of thinking. I believe that every day offers an opportunity to drive change. This challenger mentality fuels me.
As an advisor and partner for more than 25 years to corporations in every industry, in nearly every country, facing any number of business issues, each day I have the chance to challenge clients’ thinking. Whether I am working to help improve the effectiveness of their leadership team or to find their next chief executive officer, I always strive to venture off the tried-and-true path, to bend the way people think, pushing them toward an unconventional approach. Why? Because I have seen firsthand how challenging the status quo can lead to remarkable results.
Challengers ignite creativity. They are not afraid to color outside the lines. They ask uncomfortable questions of themselves, their colleagues, and their clients, because they realize curiosity leads to stronger results, better products and more successful outcomes. As Henry Ford taught us, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Challengers inspire and excite others to devise the most compelling ideas, to reevaluate how they do things, oftentimes quite simply by trying something new.
Pump the Breaks on Turnover
As we all try to navigate the Great Resignation, challengers are trying different approaches to create a dedicated people strategy that continuously evolves and keeps employees engaged, motivated and focused. CEOs of many US retailers closed stores this past Thanksgiving, encouraging employees to spend time with their families instead of being at work. Spanx CEO Sara Blakely surprised her employees with first-class plane tickets anywhere in the world and $10,000. Amazon will kick off 2022 paying college tuition fees upfront for most of its 750,000 hourly employees. These are big decisions that push the envelope and put employees first.
Unearth the Real Business Issues
Challengers dig to get to the core issues that hide many layers below the surface. I have seen on a number of occasions how a company’s success can mask underlying problems. A challenger embraces the opportunity to look deeper. Clients hire us to solve one business issue, but in looking further, we find there are other things going on contributing to the problem. Japanese inventor and industrialist Sakichi Toyoda famously developed “The Five Whys Technique,” which simply involves asking “Why?” five times. This basic concept was used to trace the root cause of problems within the manufacturing process of Toyota Motors and ultimately revolutionized automobile manufacturing. Immersing ourselves fully into our clients’ businesses and rolling up our sleeves to look into underlying issues often reveals a host of contributory factors that must be addressed before tackling that central question.
Sit on the Obstacles Instead of Going Around Them
The best leaders do not simply move past an obstacle, they spend time on it, find meaning in it, and use it to their advantage. Challenges are not limitations, they are change drivers. Look at James Dyson, who developed more than 5,000 failed prototypes over 15 years in his attempt to build a better vacuum cleaner. Each obstacle and every failure brought him one step closer to success, and to the $9.4 billion he is worth today.
Improve your Reputation
A challenger mindset needs to start deep within. Taking a different point of view and defending it with passion by connecting to purpose and assessing whether the right behaviors and values are manifesting is critical. Our research shows that clients want to do business with and employees want to work for companies with a clear purpose, where leaders take a stand and match what they say they will do with meaningful, measurable and consistent actions. The willingness to make disruptive decisions and the courage and resilience to stay the course in the face of setbacks and pressure produces the power to lead with conviction and drive reputational value on the journey to change.
A challenger mindset does not have to be innate; it can most certainly be a learned virtue. Change your mindset, take risks, ask the difficult questions, and always come armed with solutions. It is never too late to start.