Leadership Follies: Yes You Are Unique, But Not That Different

Identical Triplets

Best practices and methodologies within organizations are useful and effective. It is not realistic to think that everything must be created or invented in an organization.

But, it’s important to leverage strengths and weaknesses of the organization to select and implement the practices that will have the greatest positive impact. Making sure to involve key individuals will increase the likelihood of success and reduce the chances of “practice rejection.”

The most common phrase I hear is “well, we are different”.  

I often hear this phrase when a solution is proposed, a recommendation is offered, or at the start of a project.

That phrase is like a mantra or excuse to:

  • Refuse to try a proven approach
  • Be unwilling to  adopt a suggested change that has shown to improve performance or
  • Believe that somehow market forces will not affect the company.

After implementing a big change within a company, the company’s typical reaction or response to the change is to:

  • Drift back to what is known
  • Focus on “what got them to the dance
  • Focus on what they thought made them successful

What if  the tactics that the company has always used to be successful are no longer effective? Worse yet, what if those tactics are the cause of the organization’s current state of malaise, or even to the verge of forced change?

The Horrible Truth

“The horrible truth is that at the core, most organizations are not really all that different.  

Yes, each company is unique just like people are. Within each company, you find diverse personalities.

These personalities portray specific characteristics that make people act a certain way in groups; enabling them bond well together or bond poorly together when then they face adversity. But, like people, companies at their core are not that different.

“This is why the best practices are in fact, best practices.”

They work well in many different situations. The problem is that when they are adopted, the adapter tries to do it exactly like it is written. This does not take into account the uniqueness.

The Shoe Has to Fit

Let me use this analogy to help you understand…

I’m about 5′ 1″ tall. For a man, this is considered short. I love to workout. One could say that it is a passion of mine. If I operated like some organizations, I would workout the way an NBA star would, changing none of the criteria; doing the workout exactly the same way.

The Shoe Has to Fit

In this situation, I would quickly realize that this workout does not “fit” for me, due to my height and body structure.

This would result in me getting angry. I would put all the blame on the workout, and potentially gain the mentality that “all workouts suck,” and that none of them work since none of them seem to work for me.

The problem with that statement is that it is not finished. The statement should be:

“None of them work for me, because I didn’t alter them to fit me and my uniqueness.”

This is what makes the glass slipper fit. As professionals in organizations, it is incumbent upon us to put our focus on learning about ourselves, our strengths, our weaknesses, etc.

“This attitude should be a minimum requirement.

Then we need to take the best practice, and modify it to accentuate the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses.

It could help us build “muscle” around the weaker parts.  

This coincides with what happened when I started to run. I built the muscles strong around my knees to reduce the chance of injury. Companies need to do the same with the human components of their organizations.

Increasing Organizational Effectiveness

Here are some tactics to increase organizational effectiveness:

  • Learn about yourself and your organization
  • Acknowledge what your organization excels at
  • Elaborate on what your organization does best 
  • Find out why your organization is best at what they excel at
  • Find out what you are exceptional at doing

Acknowledge your weakness.

Yes, I said weakness.  It’s not an opportunity, it’s a weakness. That is like saying my height is an opportunity. It does not acknowledge reality…

Employee and customer surveys, coupled with internal and external interviews, is a good way to acknowledge your weakness. The combination will give you insight to your strengths and weaknesses.

Take on new practices, programs, and initiatives that make sense and will positively impact your organization by doing these things:

  1. Using what you know about your organization by analyzing “best practices“.
  2. Eliminate those that are not a good fit, because they either don’t key in on your strengths or they don’t take into account your weaknesses.
  3. Be clear about why you need it. What is the problem you are trying to solve. No problem? Don’t make one up, a real one will come along soon enough.
  4. Once you have the reason and the practice
  5. Modify the practice to fit your uniqueness. Make sure that it is culture sensitive.
  6. Integrate the practice fully – embed it into performance structures, celebrate those that embrace it, and work hard to make it part of the “everyday” of your company.
  7. Throw it out if it doesn’t work! – If you have a practice that is not working, acknowledge it and stop doing it. Make it public that you are doing so, and that you are either replacing it or searching for a new one.

Get Buy In from Key Folks On the Practice

  • There are key people in the organization, both formal and informal leaders, that influence others. Bring them in early and often to develop and deploy the practice.
  • Let them alter the practice to fit the organization
  • Make sure to roll it out in a coordinated way utilizing these key leaders to train and communicate it

Words of Caution

  • Never say that you are adopting a practice because you read it in a book. It doesn’t make sense and it is insulting. Instead, discuss how the practice might work in the organization.
  • Don’t try to institute some new management practice without people in the field/front line providing input. Although this is a standard practice, it is not done with enough frequency.

“If it’s not working, don’t keep doing it.”

So, how are you doing at sizing up your organization? Are you dealing with reality when it comes to the true issues and problems that your people face? What can you do in the coming year to help reorganize your teams so that “the shoe fits” properly? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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Anil Saxena is a Senior Consultant and Business Partner with Coffman Organization
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | (888) 999-0940 x-730

Image Sources:  r-empire.com, quite-rightly.blogspot.com

One response to “Leadership Follies: Yes You Are Unique, But Not That Different

  1. Pingback: But that doesn’t apply to us… | The Search for Effective Leadership·

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