Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta, GA with approximately 23,000 people, said, “When you stop challenging the process you stop leading, and you’ve begun managing .” Managing is not bad and people. Please don’t get me wrong here. We need managers. We need people to oversee the administration of various programs or processes. However, if you have been gifted to lead, then you have no business managing. And if you have been gifted as a manager, then you have no business leading. Too often people aspire to places beyond their ability. Too often companies promote simply because that person was good at their job. Just because someone is good at their job, it doesn’t mean that they are ready for the next level. They may think so, and I surely have. But in reality, if they move up, they will eventually move out either from self-selection or termination. I’ve always coached people, players, and even myself: Know your abilities. This means knowing what you can do, what you can’t do, and what you sort-of can do. Beyond knowing your abilities, you need to know the situation, and based on that situation, knowing your abilities, what can you do or what can you sort-of do?
Leading always means challenging the process. It is part of the Leadership Challenge and The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. It never settles. It pushes and pushes and pushes some more. Continuous improvement requires challenging the process. It’s essential to any sort of improvement.
Usually challenging the process comes quite easy at the beginning of any adventure. However, what do you do when you have everything where you want it to be, when you have arrived!? What do you do when you have your ducks in a row and everything seems to be working like a fine-tuned machine? Most of us switch from leading to managing. We stop challenging the process. We have arrived!
Instead, we must force ourselves to be open to change. We must allow our ideas to be challenged. But why is this so hard? Because most of us confuse someone challenging the process as a challenge of authority. Why? Because when someone challenges the process, they are challenging my idea. I feel challenged personally. And when we feel challenged we begin seeing those rising leaders as arrogant and rebellious. However, at one point, we were just that. And it is arrogant to not listen to them. It is a disservice to them and your organization. We must realize that every time someone challenges the process, someone is challenged, and that may include us. At one point someone came up with that process. Someone put their heart and soul into the creation of that process. It is someone’s baby. At some time, the process that was created was considered a good or decent idea. It was revolutionary and probably went through a battle or two to win the day. And, the better someone thinks the idea is the more they will feel challenged.
Have you ever found a process that you thought was ridiculous? Have you ever heard someone say, “Well that was a dumb idea,” or “Who came up with that?” I have been guilty of saying those phrases countless times, not thinking that the person who came up with the idea may be in the room or the next office. Have you seen those ideas and think, “How could this have ever been thought of as a good idea? What problem did this solve?” Hind-sight is 20-20 or even better. Whenever we are looking at a what we think is a “broken process,” at some point, and maybe even now, it wasn’t broken (my rebelliousness wants to say “so broken” or “as broken”). And it may not even be broke! And it definitely isn’t to other people, especially the “owner.” Instead, all we are doing is trying to improve the process. Make it more efficient. Make it better, simpler, or whatever. It’s not that it isn’t good, it’s just not great! And as leaders, we are looking to make things great!
So what do we do? Well, there are two extreme responses: Shutdown or Rebel. Obviously both eventually lead down a road of death and destruction. If we shutdown, we become irrelevant and die as leaders. If we rebel, then well, we have chosen our fate, and it is only a matter of time before we are moved out. Instead, we must walk the balance between the tensions. We must challenge the process but we also must come across as respectful and humble. So how do we do that?
Well a few things. If we are the boss, then:
- Continue to challenge the process yourself.
- Reinvent yourself.
- Encourage your workgroup, the leaders under you, to challenge your processes.
- Train them on how to properly challenge a process.
- Reproduce yourself in them in this manner.
- Engage in healthy debate not allowing yourself to be angry.
If we are not the boss, then:
- Learn how to challenge the process & challenge everything.
- Bounce your ideas off your colleagues and/or those in your discipline (through Twitter, Social Networks, Conferences, etc) depending on the security of the information.
- Come up with a strategy to educate the right people.
- Execute the strategy expecting resistance.
- Utilize the 5 principles of adoption found in Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rogers. They are (links to Kevin Jones’ Blog regarding Social Learning organizational adoption):
So are you challenging the process? Are you still leading? Have you given up? Are you rebelling? Where are you in this regard in your leadership? What would you add to this? Start by challenging this blog. What would you improve?