Every day, leaders are confronted with big questions such as Who are we?, Where are we going?, and How are we going to get there? Their answers to these questions are very important. People count on them to make operational and strategic decisions.
Most leaders answer such big questions with what-we-need-to-do-next oriented answers. They focus on “go here” and “go there” answers. However, the best leaders do something different. They give purpose to the answers. They explain “why” more than “what.” As a result, the answer and the work have more meaning. The best leaders build understanding rather than simply awareness.
If you, as a leader, are seeking to create a coherent and comprehensive understanding in your organization, then do the following. First, remember that past strategic choices were made with the best information possible; they were seen as the “right choice” at the time.
Furthermore, everything we are doing today reflects past choices. Some of those past choices were good and some might have been poor, yet all of them were choices, typically based on the best information possible. Even choosing not to do something is a form of choice. Our challenge as leaders is to help people understand these past choices. This will give all involved perspective about what is happening now.
Second, we must remember that past strategic choices created both impact and precedence. Exceptional leaders are clear about these two elements and often explain them in greater depth to all the members of their team.
Third, current strategic choices are harder because leaders have to contend with more variables and more constituencies and stakeholders than ever before. Ram Charan, interviewed by Melinda Merino, for an article called “You Can’t Be a Wimp - Make the Tough Calls,” Harvard Business Review, November 2013, states that good decisions require “perceptual acuity,” namely the ability to see change coming, “qualitative judgement,” which allows leaders to formulate and select the right options, and “credibility” which helps them gain acceptance for decisions. Noel M. Tichy and Warren G. Bennis in their article called “Making Judgement Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership”, Harvard Business Review, October 2007, explain that most judgement calls arise in three domains - people, strategy and crisis. “Good judgement is grounded - in all three domains”, they explain, “and throughout the process - in four types of knowledge: self, social network, organizational, and contextual.”
Given the current strategic choices before most organizations, it is important to role model being an architect of meaning, namely one who builds awareness and then understanding of the significance, importance, and purpose of change. Realizing that people learn more from role modeling than communicating, my challenge to you this week is practice living the mission, vision and values rather than just speaking about them. Then, you will see what happens when you become an architect of meaning.