The last of The Core Four Actions seems simple but it is a complex leadership activity. As it states, “What you provide, activates and energizes.” The first verb, “provide”, focuses on what we supply or make available to those who report to us. To understand what leaders make available, we first need to understand the concepts of “activate” and “energize.”
The word “activate” means to “to set up or formally institute (as in a military unit) with the necessary personnel and equipment.” I like to think of this in the context of making sure you have the right people with the right information and the right equipment working on the right problems at the right time. Think Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their book, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Simon & Schuster, 1999, where they explain the importance of matching talent with opportunity.
The word “energize” means “to put forth energy” or “to make energetic, vigorous, or active.” When we dig deeper into this concept, an important clue to it’s meaning is found in the definition of “vigorous” which means “to make strong.” When something is energized, it is made stronger and often with this increased strength comes an intensity of feeling and commitment.
So when implementing the fourth of the The Core Four Actions, many leaders think about creating SMART goals, realistic timelines, planned short term wins, functional and cohesive teams, empowered people, and continued talent development. Everyone of these is mission critical to short and long term success but they only deal with the surface. When leading through complexity, there needs to be more.
First, with complexity and change comes confusion. Therefore, successful leaders create clarity about what is our competitive advantage. They recognize that customers choose us for a reason. They delve deeply into this reason and make sure all know it and remember it when days are full and busy.
Second, with complexity and change comes overload. Therefore, they help people prioritize work and clarify who is responsible for what and by when it needs to get done. The combination of these two factors limits confusion and reinforces the focus on factors that make a difference.
Third, with complexity and change comes the potential for arrogance and hysteria. Some people tend to down play the difficulties and think it is no big deal while others go nuts and blow everything out of proportion. Therefore, leaders provide opportunities for in-depth strategic dialogue where they do not shy away from constructive ideological debates and conflict. This level of communication strengthens the organization and helps it to avoid the “hubris born of success”, a term from Jim Collin’s book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009.
Finally, with complexity and change comes sloppiness. Working outside their comfort zone, some people do not always get everything done or done well. Poor leaders let this slip by and do not take notice. Exceptional leaders provide a structure so that all are held accountable for their behaviors and actions. This is very important because it does not let a precedent get set which could end up becoming a cultural norm.
When we as leaders embrace the fourth of The Core Four Actions, namely “what you provide, activates and energizes”, we position the organization for sustainability in the midst of complexity and change. When planning for change, reflect on what you provide different groups of people and the organization as a whole. Does it activate and energize? This week make sure that it does!