WORDS MATTER! This is a phrase that I have used increasingly over the past three decades that I have been involved in leadership coaching, strategic consulting or as an operating executive running a business. This has been especially true the past few years!   We all experience the excessive hyperbole, disingenuous social media banter and all too frequent occasions of “fake news” that permeates many segments in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) worlds.  Whether in the workplace, home-place, church-place, government-place, sports-place or just about any place, we are finding it harder to communicate meaning, understanding or intention with so many filters, conscious and unconscious biases and other variables confounding the landscape.  I have to admit that I sometimes find myself caught up in the trap of predisposition when listening to some of the TV “news” pundits.   It is impacting all aspects of our lives.

This dynamic is making the leadership challenge doubly hard for those leaders who are genuinely trying to transform and inspire their organizations to compete ‘better and faster‘ in this VUCA World.  We are living in an age filled with cynicism where it seems everywhere we turn we find people challenging the veracity and integrity of people and situations at every turn.  Clearly, this is happening most often in our polarized political dramatics that dominate the airwaves – but it’s been creeping beyond.  My point is that our organizations are populated with folks who bringing some of that baggage with them to work everyday . . . which raises the bar for authentic leadership behavior that can be believable and even inspire loyalty, discretionary effort and commitment.

The very best organizations … those who will gain advantage and win in this VUCA war, are getting very clear about their cultures, values and belief systems along with the corresponding leadership and team behaviors that embody their DNA.  They are rebooting their enterprise ‘reasons-for-being’ to enable fresh reinvigoration of their strategic purpose and engagement. Most of these organizations are adaptive and agile with a REAL focus on people first as their critical success factor.  If your organization is in process or considering such an effort, you should know that it is imperative that you prosecute each key word in messaging your belief system and priorities. Is what you intended to mean or evoke in your message actually what is being received by team members down the line?  How about those layers of leaders between the board room and the ground floor – is everyone on board and congruent?  

The new generations in the workforce are looking for genuine meaning and purpose in their work and workplace.  How you articulate and reinforce the heart and soul messages of your organization is increasingly essential in attracting and retaining the right talent.  It doesn’t have to be overly complex … in fact, it’s better if not.  But your ‘core company words’ should have anchors of meaning and teeth to get traction.  Words matter.  

That really isn’t the hardest part yet.  The implications of each of these words must be considered and understood.  Is it clear how we expect our leaders and teams to behave differently than before? Research from McKinsey & Company and others has shown that 70% of corporate change or culture initiatives fail or get de-railed and one of the biggest reasons is the substantial disconnect that sometimes exists between the corporate “rhetoric” and the corporate reality … especially with disconnects with leadership mindsets and behavior. The words and the music don’t match up … i.e. we must walk the talk and especially with senior leaders.

This is not easy in any size organization but it is especially challenging in large, geographically dispersed or global organizations with thousands of leaders spread across hundreds of locations.  How do you get such a cadre of leaders to all understand, embrace and enact new operating principles and language?  The challenge is even greater for the many organizations that operate in a franchise model where you don’t have full “direct” control your franchise entities or leadership behavior.

For me, it comes down to ensuring compelling alignment in a SUCCESS MODEL that applies to everyone and engages mind, heart and passion.  Even going way back to Aristotle’s time in 384 B.C., he talked about the three dimensions or modes of persuasion i.e. the keys in trying to convince people of your argument or to adopt new ways of behaving or believing by appealing to their values, emotions or logic. 

I believe successful organizational change and senior leadership effectiveness bring all three dimensions together as they articulate and activate the organization’s way forward.  There is some similarity to Aristotle’s framework in the way that Simon Sinek outlined what he calls The Golden Circle … 

  • Why … the values and belief ethos in mindsets, words and by their personal leadership behavior 
  • How … the logic system or operating principles and priorities that bring FOCUS to the organization behaviors
  • What … the passion for the impact and involvement the organization brings to the lives of all stakeholders

Leaders must pay attention to their words and correspondingly their actions.  Those who are able to build and reinforce concepts, words and actions that align the why, how and whats of their organizations – will have a runway for success and a framework to shape future leaders in form and substance.  Those leaders who understand and operate in this way … THINK, SPEAK and ACT differently than the average leader.  They transform and they inspire success.

I look forward to your feedback, ideas and discussion.

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Tom O'Shea, CMC

Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) - these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive to navigate VUCA and deliver future success.

Tom brings a unique blend of strategic, operational and organizational expertise that is rare and valuable.  With perceptive insight, proven strategies and impactful coaching skills, he helps clients at the enterprise, team and individual leader levels exceed even their own expectations.

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