In 2010, I saw a picture of a city worker that was responsible for painting white fog lines along the side of a rural picturesque tree laden country road. In this picture, a tree had fallen down and the top branch was clearly in the path of where the worker needed to paint his white stripe. Rather than move the tree, the worker decided to just paint clumsily around and over the tree, clearly derelict in his responsibility to take ownership of the effort and just move the tree before continuing to do the job he was there to do.
He was in the business of painting lines, not moving trees.
Since that time, I have used that example to illustrate similar activities that I see in business. This observation is particularly acute in organizations that have embarked in deep and systemic transformation initiatives whilst trying to completely reimagine and reinvigorate how their company is doing business in the digital world we live in today.
Often people in organizations are really proficient and are rewarded for how well they are able to paint lines, and they have done so for years. As a result of this reinforcement, they paint these lines extremely well!
They paint them around strategy decisions. They paint them around organizational design elements. They paint them around budget and operating plans. They paint them around M&A and alliance decisions. They paint them around hiring talent and putting people into key roles. They paint them around delivery services and capabilities.
In the extreme, they can even paint them around their customers.
Our world has completely changed and evolved in the first 15 years of the new millennium. This transformation touches every element of how we do business, how we think about our brands, and how we show up in ways that excite and engage our customers. This evolution impacts how we innovate and partner in business, and, most importantly, how we find, retain, and authentically inspire the people that choose to work with us to achieve greatness and transform industry. This is more than just classifying the evolution as analog vs. digital or traditional vs. modern. These words are not significant enough to identify the magnitude of the mindset shift needed to realize this change, any more than would describing the work of inspired genius in the Sistine chapel as simply a “good painting.”
A new landscape requires greater efforts to achieve greater results. This impacts both your personal and professional life. Just drawing lines is not going to cut it.
This society and market transformation is fundamental, at the very deepest core level of what it means to be a corporate employee and leader in the 21 century. It is as much about heart and mind as it is about hands. It is not a spectator sport of anyone in a company; everyone has to lead and contribute in their own way if they hope to succeed in this new global system.
As a leader, you must be deliberate in the world and have passion for what you are doing and asking others to do. Your leadership should be transparent, engaging, and real.
People will know if you are not.
You must be comfortable with leading down a path of ambiguity on one side, partnered with certainty on the other, each tempting you for proximity. You need to be a continual knowledge seeker from both internal and external sources, and embrace the reality that you will not have all the answers, but should be very good at asking questions. This intellectual humility will be critical. Be confident in participating in creative and ideation sessions in your company! Stay grounded and translate those operationally and through exceptional outcomes.
Whether you are a leader of a company, a team, or of self, you need to fundamentally transform yourself as much as you wish others to be transformed. You need to be molded in your ways of thinking and understanding business as much as you wish to mold others. You need to care about the work you do every day, not just comply with, running and operating your role to the fullest in the company.
You have to get into the business of moving trees and not just drawing lines.
This transformational force of industry ultimately embraces those leaders and companies that are willing and able to change.
And for those that cannot, it will hopelessly drag, not to relevancy, but to obsolescence.
Stephen Gillett https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephengillett/pt