This is the second in a series focused on the characteristics that, in combination, allow rare BOLD leaders to accomplish what others struggle to do: drive innovation and transformative change. In other words – they move their organizations forward beyond whatever exists today into exciting opportunities. They do this effectively, bringing others with them, achieving meaningful results. I’ve included personal reflections about some of my own change experiences and what I’ve learned along the way.
The first time I was tapped to lead a large change initiative, I was just 30, working for a regional banking company in a division that was non-performing due to a prolonged recession and the operating inefficiencies that creep in over time. My boss and thereafter long-time mentor saw something in me that I’m not even sure I saw in myself.
He asked me to lead a team to design “the bank of the future.” We had to accomplish a number of things, including turning around the financial performance with whatever design we developed and put in place! We called the project “Operation Fast Start” because we had to make decisions, progress, and achieve results without a lot of time. This project affected dozens of locations in six states and about 2,500 people.
One day I was asked to provide an update to the corporate executive team – all men and all at least two decades older than I. We were in the board room, and it was dark with the projector providing the only real light. As I explained what we were about to do, I could hear snickers from around the table. They didn’t believe that what I was presenting would work and they were laughing at me!
I was at first confused. Embarrassed. I wanted to run out of the room. And then something kicked in. I got hot – mad hot — and I got motivated. Something my mom always told me lit up that day. She would say, “I just have to say ‘no’ and then I know you’re going to find a way to do it.” I didn’t argue with the executives. I didn’t acknowledge their rudeness. I didn’t let them see me cry. I thanked them for the time and walked out of the room thinking “Laugh if you want!” My boss was waiting – worried. I just said, “Watch me. We can do this.” And we did. The project in 18 months was such a success I was nominated for a companywide award – and surprise, surprise, these same cynical guys with no imagination and even less courage to change, who had laughed at me, now wanted me to take on another big change assignment.
I didn’t have position power. I didn’t have unlimited resources. I didn’t have carte blanche. But, I did have a boss who believed in me. I did have a team that was willing to share our vision and make the right things happen. And, I had confidence. I don’t know from where – but I have always had it. My mother knew it. My boss knew it. And suddenly, I knew it was my greatest asset in fighting the politics, trappings and entanglements of an organization afraid to change.
The BOLD leaders I’ve met, through this process of studying why some leaders drive transformative change when others can’t, always have their own stories like mine.
They all have experienced the crucible moments when their confidence is tested. They persevered and became stronger, more effective. All have the innate confidence in themselves that – no matter the challenge – they can figure out new answers. Their confidence is infectious and allows them to enroll and bring others with them. They can drive really difficult and rewarding, successful change. And every time they do it, their confidence grows for the next challenge they pursue. Some do, but many don’t, have position power – they have something greater: a deep well of personal confidence.
Questions for your consideration:
Who are the people in your organization that get stronger when challenged? Are they working on your most critical change initiatives? If not, why not?
Do you have an organizational culture that supports or obstructs BOLD leadership? If your organization obstructs, what can you do to start shifting that culture today?