4 Ways Servant Leaders Combat Corporate Inertia
Gravity is a powerful force of nature. The center of gravity is the point at which all of the weight of an object appears to be concentrated. Similar to leadership, it has a lot to do with the balance of forces. Leadership is a powerful force when focused in the right places with the proper touch. Leaders have enormous influence on the center of gravity of their organizations: Where is it today? Where should it be? The best leaders realize it should be in the field with consumers, customers, and their troops who serve them.
The Leader’s Challenge
In many organizations, important decisions are made in conference rooms that do not include seats at the table for the most important people: consumers and customers. Sure, sometimes consumer research is cited to support an opinion, or comments from the field sales force are added to the discussion through a third party. But the focus of most of these conference-room conversations is too often inward. Because of this, objectivity can be sacrificed, and this typically leads to execution that falls short of expectations.
Most leaders talk about superior customer service and delighting consumers, but when you look deep into their organizations, you see behaviors misaligned with their words. People come to work every morning to the same job with mounting distractions, and it’s easy to lose sight of what is best for the end-user. Over time it becomes easier and easier for workers to bias analyses, decisions, and behavior to self-interest and their comfort zone instead of the needs of the marketplace.
Research suggests that alignment of goals and priorities is well below 50% in most organizations. Of course, it is leadership’s job to align individual, organizational, customer, and consumer interests as much as possible—even if complete alignment may never be fully achieved. The best leaders recognize this reality, and they work tirelessly to close the alignment gap by focusing their entire organization on the people who determine their long-term fate.
A leader can shift an organization’s center of gravity by championing consumers and customers throughout the day. It’s not easy because daily corporate demands steal time and energy toward managing stakeholders, handling urgent organizational fire drills, performing administrative duties, reviewing financial performance and projections, and so on. But there is a cause and effect relationship here. Without the former, all of the latter will ultimately suffer.
Combatting Corporate Inertia
So how do servant leaders shift the center of gravity externally? They get out of the executive suite and walk the talk:
1. They champion the people who purchase and use their products and services. True leaders understand and appreciate their role in preventing corporate inertia from stealing too much energy inwardly toward lower value work. You see, that’s what servant leaders do. They bring out the best in others by highlighting success models to be emulated. They tap into our innate desire to make a difference, and they instill a belief that teamwork, courage, hustle, and resourcefulness can overcome many shortcomings if we know our consumers and customers better than anyone else.
2. They help their workforce see and feel why their work matters. These leaders frequently ask the penetrating questions that remind their people how important consumers and customers are to their future survival and prosperity. Further, they begin every town hall or company-wide meeting with compelling stories about how their organization has served their consumers and customers. They realize that most of their people don’t experience these stories enough and how much they need the inspiration these stories provide. So, they bring the external world inside their company’s walls and show their people the value their organization adds to society. Increasingly people want to do work that is meaningful.
3. They visit the front lines regularly to learn from those producing and selling their wares, and they make sure these people know they have the support of their leadership. They also take the time to immerse their team occasionally in the world of the consumers and customers of their products and services. While it doesn’t have to be formal cultural anthropology, the best leaders go beyond data to actually experience their products and services WITH end users in their world, real-time and elbow-to-elbow. This makes the leader and their team better decision makers when they are back inside the walls of their company.
4. They work tirelessly to ensure objectivity because they are self-aware enough to know that their keen desire to win can be misinterpreted as intolerance of bad news. So, they proactively attack filters that others have erected to protect them from the brutal facts by establishing fact-based scorecards to ensure objective assessment of performance. They also make sure their organization is mining social media and using new digital tools to glean real-time insights and consumer feedback that will help them improve performance. These leaders send a powerful message when they salute those who have the courage and initiative to come forward with bad news and a plan for smart course correction. This encourages everyone to seek opportunities to improve performance rather than hide screw-ups.
The best leaders realize that the day-to-day demands of running a business, or any type of organization, create powerful forces that can focus too much energy inward. They recognize their important role in balancing these forces to ensure that the center of gravity of their organization is in the field with consumers and customers. As the leader, they resist the pull of the executive suite and corner office and they set the tone by being the ultimate champion of the people who purchase and use their products and services. Rather than fostering an unhealthy culture that misses learning opportunities because inertia has drawn too much attention internally, the end result of this more externally focused leadership posture is a more vibrant culture of collaboration, innovation, and accountability that fuels sustained growth.
In my next post I’ll explain why when focusing externally, not all consumers and customers are equally important. I’ll share guidance and tools to help you focus your organization strategically on prime prospects with marketing that resonates and persuades, and selling that fuels profitable growth.