Todd Dewett | April 26, 2019
We need more brave leaders. Ones who take risks and target difficult, sometimes taboo goals. They dare to address the tough issues. They can be honest to the point of making others uncomfortable. Great leaders don’t make decisions in an effort to preserve their jobs. They seek to improve things – to make an impact. They are innovators.
I don’t want to encourage chaos, but let’s be honest. Organizations are by necessity bureaucratic. Little bits of intelligent chaos are required. Innovators are disruptors who prod the bureaucracy into bending or changing on occasion. Sadly, there are very few willing to play this role. Instead, people choose to feed the sacred cows all around us and act like they are beautiful.
The most likely explanation is fear of disapproval. It is ingrained in us from an early age. Following the rules as a child leads to adherence to correct process and procedure as an adult in professional life. To deviate is dangerous. We say we love innovation, we want it, it’s sexy and necessary. The business press gushes over industry mavericks. Reality, however, is much different. In practice, we hate mavericks and love committees.
Sacred cows are everywhere. It’s not hard to identify them at work. We follow a rule or engage a behavior even though it isn’t clear at all that it’s value-added. It could be a process that is clearly not working. It could be a team member who is causing terrible problems, yet nobody says anything. It could be a refusal to innovate in the face of products that are stale. It could be a policy requiring a college degree even though a degree does not prove fitness for most jobs.
It could be any significant performance-related obstacle, nuisance, or absurdity. It’s big. It’s painful. Everyone knows it. No one does anything about it. There are of course many possible reasons: behavioral inertia, reverence for the fact that it’s always been this way, a small powerful group has a vested interest, the top person created the issue, a belief that change is a pain in the butt, fear of failure, etc.
We have no shortage of sacred cows. What we need is more BBQ.
I sometimes think organizational life is designed to slowly kill bravery. As bravery declines, the capacity to dream is diminished. Stop caring about the system so much. Build your capacity to dream. When you’re ready to truly test your leadership ability, start making some BBQ. Stand on top of the cow and scream! Otherwise, I say with respect, you’re not really a leader. You’re just an administrator.