…Lick it once and you will suck forever.”
“Average”, “Par”, “Mediocre”, “Safe”, etc. There are many words we use to describe the middle-of-the-road thinking and actions. We see it in the traditional bell curve as well as the “Diffusion of Innovation” curve that Simon Sinek speaks about in his now famous TED Talk on “Starting with Why”. Being a successful 21st Century Leader means getting out ahead of the middle-of-the-road thinking by not even considering it in the first place. As Brian Wilson, philosophical music leader of the Beach Boys says in the title quote, once you are satisfied with ordinary, it is hard to be and do special things!
The challenge, then, is how do leaders avoid licking the lollipop of mediocrity? How do they eschew the comfort of ordinary and lead others to a new compelling special place. How does a leader overcome the inertia of the status quo to keep their organizations ahead of change to avoid being victims of change? In my experience, there are three key components to effective leadership that helps them stay ahead of the curve:
- A Sense of Purpose is the key component for a successful 21st Century Leader to embrace. In a constantly changing business (for profit, non-profit, large or small) a meaningful purpose is rarely about staying under the radar or middle of the pack. Sense of Purpose is about stepping to the front and communicating a compelling purpose with conviction to all affected stakeholders. It is the compelling purpose that emboldens the entire business organization to reach new levels of effectiveness because they believe in the purpose more so than being given a directive to complete specific tasks.
- An Attitude of Adaptability is what brings the compelling purpose to life as something unique and different for the greater good. In my own business, I am still driven by asking and answering two of my favorite questions to keep me out of the middle-of-the-road thinking. The two questions are variations of “What if…?” and “Why not…?” and the answers they generate help promote an Attitude of Adaptability. Because an attitude takes time to mold, it is through repetition that an effective leader develops an attitude that truly makes change a constant in their leadership and associated culture.
- Embracing Risk is a key benefit of a strong attitude of adaptability. Leading from the front and not going along with the masses is risky. Change, progress and compelling results all typically occur at the outer edge of one’s comfort zone. Effective leaders are comfortable with being uncomfortable because they understand and embrace change as a means to fulfill their purpose. The more leaders are able to embrace change on a regular basis, the more confortable they become in adapting to the dynamic world around them. At some point, what looks risky to a manager resistant to change looks routine to a leader who is comfortable with change!
The lollipop of mediocrity looks tasty, sweet and tempting to eat. Just ask those who try resisting county fair or carnival food (can you say elephant ears!). I also believe those who fall in the middle of the road are looking to follow those leaders of all ages and potential willing to step to the front of the line, ahead of the pack and outside their comfort zone to lead them.
Will they be looking for you out there?