My focus today is on organizations that are dying, that seem lost causes and that honestly seem to be a waste of time for their leaders. From the point of view of the different theories of group coaching and personal success, it seems as if the organization has lost its will to live, its excitement, and its direction yet leadership has done all it can do, or imagine, to save the organization, and becomes desperate to find a way to revive it.
In some cases, a new leader is brought in to no avail, much like the individual who buys a new car because of tardiness getting to work. In other cases, an investor might buy the organization and take it apart for the elements and people that seem to be productive. In other cases, the Board might just give up the pretense of keeping the organization alive, especially when only one member of that board is the one still working to keep things going.
In truth, my experience is that reviving an organization is an act of courage. The mere idea of throwing out the old ways of doing things that evidently killed the organization and possibly abandoning investments in money , time, and emotional commitments that were not able to give the desired results often makes matters worse because members and leaders fall into a rut of routine actions that prove they are doing the best. It takes courage to think of whether or not you are doing the best, and it takes even more courage to take corrective action when you conclude you are doing badly.
It all starts and ends with the dream, vision and purpose the organization was born to fulfill. If the dream is one that motivates others, the organization is born, and if the leadership, vision and purpose are aligned with the dream, the organization will grow. But when changes in the environment, membership or leadership push the organization if a different direction, the organization can suffer and deteriorate, much as the healthy athlete turned office worker faces the danger of losing muscle mass, becoming overweight and becoming ill over time.
It is common for members to blame leadership for these problems, but this is short sighted: the organization needs everyone’s participation for the dream to become a reality. The focus needs to be on the future, and it is a rare individual that can lead the transformation from a lost cause to a Phoenix without the active support and participation of the organization’s members. In fact, this can actually generate resentment among those members that don’t want or are afraid of any changes in the status quo. “Change Management” is a specialty that must be addressed during the transformation.
So, without laying blame to anyone, what is needed for such a transformation?
First, just as in personal development for individuals who want to reach success, old paradigms and limiting beliefs must be cleared out to allow the dream, the vision and the purpose to take their rightful place in the future of the organization. The organization must go through the cleansing fire of change to burn off what doesn’t help and leave only that which works and which is its essence much as if a new owner were taking it over and cleaning our all the dross and nonworking parts and people.
This means a “lean and mean leadership team” is needed, to do what needs to be done in the present conditions and environment, quickly and effectively, learning from mistakes and taking chances for success. Internal politics might require some flexibility with what are often called sacred cows, but even the sacred cows must understand that radical change is needed and the “lean mean” leadership needs to be able to face off with these sacred cows successfully.
Why “lean”? To stay focused on the dream and a single strategy for success.
Why “mean”? Because even though compassion has its place and is necessary for team building, the Phoenix must rise out of the ashes of what did not and does not work. Many individual stakeholders in the organization will need to face tough decisions and clear options from leaders if the transformation is to be effective.
Internal politics in mature organizations is common, and is often part of the problem that is destroying the organization. Many individuals look for short term gains that are contrary to the vision and purpose and anathema to the dream, but they often use impeccable logic to justify their intent. I really don’t know if they are right or wrong, but in many cases such “principled divergent views” have broken organizations apart and led to the demise of the original dream. The Phoenix might be one part of the old organization, but it takes courage look beyond the confrontation and work solely on using the vision and purpose for determining the future.
Another key element is to bring in new members who can identify with the dream, vision and mission and can support the series of trials to find new ways to meet the organization’s goals. These new members can also become leaders in their own right and their own niches, as the organization transforms itself. And, during this process the lean mean leadership team must also care for the old timers, the core believers in the dream that gave rise to the old-new Phoenix.
One of the advantages of a Lean Mean Leadership Team is that it is small and must delegate in new leaders some of the activities that will be undertaken, especially those that are totally new to the group. And they can do it without creating positions for people that don’t do any work.
In my work on Volunteering, I always remind people that volunteers do only what they want to do, and many organizations forget that members are usually paying for the right to participate, and to get them to do more the leaders need to offer those paying members the opportunity to do more of what they want to do. In effect, anyone who leads a membership organization is there to serve the membership, which strengthens internal cohesion and recruitment efforts.
And lastly, I want to remind the organization members and leaders that if you continue doing what you did before, you will surely get the same results that you have been getting. The transformation of an organization is not just a change in leadership accompanied by a press release: tangible actions and reaffirmations of the dream, the vision and purpose are needed to rekindle the fire, the enthusiasm of members for their organization and its activities.
Having worked on restoring and transforming more than one lost cause, I know it is possible even though sometimes the internal politics are so very vile that the Phoenix dies as it is being born. This is a real danger if existing leaders have reasons to desire to keep things as they were, but I still believe it is still worth making the effort if you believe in the dream and the future, if you are willing to face off against the self-destructive forces. For this reason I hope all of you have benefited from these brief statements and remind you that my services are available if you want to undertake one of the greatest challenges a leader can ever have.
Manny Perez, Jan 14, 2018