“They hired me because I’m bold. They are afraid of me because I’m bold.”

A recent conversation with an amazing heath care leader started with that quote. It encapsulated what I’ve heard recently in a collection of BOLD interviews. And it brought back a theme I’ve heard over the past several years with many BOLD leaders.

Organizations wanting to change are not the same thing as organizations willing to change.

Talk is easy. Doing is hard. It’s why the “D” in BOLD is about doing. There is a whole section in BOLD, the book, about doing.

It is sadly not uncommon for well-intended organizations to believe their own talk; recruit and hire for BOLD leadership; and then when the discomfort of what they’ve unleashed happens, they retreat, inhibit, limit, or expel the very resource they recruited to help drive meaningful change. Along the way, BOLD leaders, being the optimists that they are, get enticed by the opportunity and the rhetoric, missing the real evidence that change efforts will be supported before they sign up.

In one of my recent interviews, you have someone featured and celebrated on arrival. This person uprooted herself and her family and moved to take on this role. Then she arrived at work and started doing what BOLD leaders do – she started to make waves. As another leader I interviewed long ago said, “BOLD leaders create stress.” They must if they are to accomplish any meaningful change. And in this case, I’m not even talking big waves or lava flows destroying everything in their path. I’m talking important, chosen by the organization priorities, challenging and exciting change, but relatively minor in today’s world of healthcare upheaval. So, this organization found that rare BOLD leader, but then constrained her – limited what she could do, turned on her, and, in the end, labeled her the “problem.”

Several of the people I’ve interviewed recently describe a cycle of roadblocks and rejection, pretty much from the start. When an organization lacks the will to change, support evaporates. If there was initial sponsorship, it dissipates. Organizational blocking and tackling from the team at the top never materialize. One client organization I worked with years ago called this phenomenon the “mid-level veto.” For years, this amorphous power brought change initiatives to an unceremonious close. Once identified, it took a concerted effort on the part of leadership and a few BOLD leaders to eventually break that veto block on change. It took doing and leaders across the organization standing firm to support the BOLD initiatives.

Yes, it helps to hire a great BOLD person to drive the change, but you also need to support them, to stand with them against what inevitably will come: cultural and organizational resistance.

Our Aveus definition of a BOLD leader is: someone who thinks and acts beyond the existing organizational limits, is imaginative, and is willing to take risks to get rewarding results. Through our research, we have confirmed that this type of leader is rare.

Why do organizations limit their own change efforts and those of the BOLD leaders in their midst? Probably many reasons but from the organizational side – too often the desire doesn’t match the fortitude needed to define and actively pursue the hard work to change. The organization doesn’t appreciate the requirements and remove barriers and knock down resistance at every turn. They let current culture, hierarchy, politics, and practices stall and derail any work that threatens the internal power organization.

The pain of this situation is compounded by an individual, so clear about or passionate about the opportunity, they miss key signals in the romancing, hiring process. And/or they don’t investigate the organization sufficiently to know whether the words match what they will experience and whether the support they need will be in place.

When this happens, everybody loses.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

Here is just one opposite example of BOLD released. This vignette is taken from an interview a few years ago and appeared in the book BOLD. It summarizes the kinds of support, clarity of assignments, resources, and leeway (forgiveness, latitude) BOLD leaders need to learn their way into the right transformative ideas and to stand them up successfully for the organizations they serve.

“He cleared the path and that has made a tremendous difference.”

In this situation, an internal leader was tapped to stand up a new concept – to innovate, first a new product company, and along the way to set the framework for a portfolio of innovations to follow.

She described an organization where tolerance for failure was limited and patience around innovation a constant challenge. And yet she needed people across the company to collaborate. She mentioned the negative chatter about her new venture in the hallways from people who saw her activities draining resources from other activities her colleagues thought were more in keeping with the company they knew and loved and wanted to protect (from these radical ideas!)

Her boss understood this, and he created the shield for her work, so she and her team had the freedom to try things, fail, learn, adjust and refine their efforts. They worked their way to success. Her boss also understood the concerns and culture of the organization and was able to provide comfort to those that were concerned about – afraid of –this BOLD activity.

He didn’t drive the transformation himself. What he did was pick the right talent, brokering negotiations between the legacy business and the new venture. He acted as a safety net with peers who felt threatened and served as the main cheerleader for the work of this innovation team – a team charged with creating new paths to take this company successfully into the future.

In reflecting on her experience and ultimate success, the BOLD leader said she could not have been as effective or moved as quickly without her boss/ally. This BOLD leader’s boss said he knew that he, personally, wasn’t the one capable of, or in a position to lead, this work. But he understood and selected the kind of leader he needed (BOLD) and played the most important role he could play in both preparing the organization and supporting this leader and her team. That is the biggest lesson here!

The difference between any BOLD Constrained situation and a BOLD Released situation can be summed up in one simple word: support.

Not all new ideas or activities are worth support, investment and organizational disruption. But many are. If, as a leadership team, you decide the organization must transform to successfully evolve, then you must also identify the kind of BOLD leadership you need and provide unwavering support to bring that exciting future to life.

Let me leave you with a set of questions:

  • If you find yourself in a “constraining organization” where ideas and promising concepts come to die, what role can you play in changing that situation?
  • If you find yourself in a “releasing organization” where ideas are supported, what role can you play in getting the most out of your transformative activities so that they drive the most positive results?