Adopting “Best Practices” Is Not the Path to Innovative Leadership

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The road to leadership and management success is not an easy one, and there are many who fail. Those seeking success will be confronted with potholes, perilously winding roads, dead-ends, and bridges to nowhere. That’s bad enough, but when these obstacles are encountered, there are those who promise that there will be clear sailing ahead and the objective achieved if only those seeking success follow and implement accepted actions.

For the most part, however, these are false promises. The problem is that they encourage those seeking success in management to do what others do. But innovative leadership is about doing what others have not thought to do, not simply following the herd.

One of the most insidious of these false promises is a concept that has gained widespread acceptance and promotion. It is the theory of adopting the “best practices” of others. Unfortunately, the idea of identifying and then implementing “best practices” is nothing more than a scheme invented by management consultants to serve as a type of perpetual annuity of fees paid by those seeking the yellow brick road to management leadership. The concept is simple: if you copy the “best practices” used by successful people or organizations, then you will become successful as well. But, it is fool’s gold.

The consultants do not want you to know this, but the core of the best practices hypothesis is, in reality “copy to create.” The conventional “wisdom” of best practices is that a manager can be more effective at delivering a specific outcome by following a standard way of doing things that have been established by other organizations. The idea is that by adopting the processes, systems, checks and structure of other organizations, the desired objective can be achieved with fewer problems. What has allowed this notion to become so accepted is the alluring, but false promise that success can come faster and with less effort simply by following, copying and repeating the procedures that have worked for other leaders and organizations.

Unfortunately, the only ones to benefit from the wishful thinking that adapting “best practices” as a leadership or organizational philosophy are the consultants. Selling the proposed benefits of “best practices” allows the consultants to charge outrageous fees for offering prefabricated templates to standardize leadership and business process systems.

There are a number of fallacies in the temptations to adopt best practices. The first of which is that all leaders and organizations are the same and that they face similar challenges and opportunities. Of course, this is simply and patently untrue. What distinguishes truly outstanding leaders is their individuality. And what distinguishes truly successful organizations is their unique culture.

While there are fundamental principles such as open communication, consistency, trustworthiness, respect for followers and high ethics that are common among successful leaders, a closer look at their application of leadership will show that there are distinct differences in the style of these leaders. The reality is that there are no “best practices” of real leadership that can be easily quantified and copied.

It is even more foolhardy to think that the processes and procedures – let alone the culture – of one organization are easily transferable to another. As with individuals, organizations develop their own unique style and culture. There is no doubt that a leader should seek out and instill best practices within an organization, but those best practices must be designed to leverage the culture and resources of the organization they lead, not those of a competitor. Companies come in all shapes, sizes and stages of development; each has its own culture.

That’s not to suggest you don’t study the style of leadership of others or understand what it is your competition is doing, but you ought to do that to do better than the competitor, not to become the same. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but blatantly copying the way others operate is a type of “me-too” attitude that simply doesn’t work.

Best Practices and Innovation

There is an even greater risk that comes with falling prey to the fascination of a best practices philosophy. Adopting a “best practices” style of leadership or the processes of other organizations legitimizes sameness and mediocrity; it stifles innovation and encourages bureaucracy.

If you fall prey to the belief that the best way to achieve your organizational objectives is to adopt the best practices of other leaders or organizations, there is no reason to attempt to discover a better or more innovative way to achieve success. Moreover, what might be best practice 10 or 20 years ago may not be best practice today. Just ask Blockbuster Video or Circuit City. If you think the path to achieving success as a business leader rests with process and procedure lifted from others, then you are following—not leading. In reality, “best practices” encourages you to attempt to be successful by doing what the competition does. This is wrong. The way to beat the competition is by being better than the competition, not by doing what they do.

Create Your Own “Best Practices”

If you want to be successful, develop your own style and your own best practices. Don’t be fooled by the false promise that the easy, simple path to success is to study what others do and copy them. Yes, study what others do, not to do what they do, but to do what they do better.

“Best practices” is a wonderful idea and a philosophy. However, they should be the best practices that you develop in your leadership style and the practices that best fit the strength and culture of your organization. The best practices you can adopt are ones that others want to copy. Then you will win the gold and they will be the fools.

READ THIS ONLY IF YOU WANT TO MAKE HISTORY AS A BUSINESS LEADER

 

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Today times are different and making history as a business leader, calls for a distinctively different approach. The long-held dictum that if you do what is expected of you, you will do well, is no longer the sure path to history-making success as a leader.

We are not even 20 years into the 21st century and there have been more changes in business orthodoxy than occurred during the entire 20th century. The American economic system (if not the whole world) has been at war with itself. The world of accepted business mores and the time-honored requirements for making history as a business leader has been hit with the unannounced suddenness of a 9.2 earthquake. This tremor of transformation shook the traditional concepts of business and leadership to the core, and the resultant tsunami of change washed away all that had been customary and comfortable.

The game is different now; meaning that for individuals to make history as successful leaders in this environment, they are going to have to be different too. The conventional concepts of leadership skills are not going to be enough to make business history. The history making leaders of tomorrow will be those who employ new theories and altered skill-sets.

The business world is filled with thousands of well-intended, dedicated individuals working diligently to meet the standards and apply the accepted techniques of successful leadership. That is good, but it will not be enough to stand out and make history as a leader in these new times. If you want to be the one making history, you first have to come to grips with the understanding that it is no longer enough to simply follow the rules and lead like everyone else. Instead, history will be made by those willing to take a different approach than other hard-working individuals trying to achieve success.

Believe it or not, it is possible – and not all that difficult – to absorb what has been learned in the past regarding leadership requirements and then take it just one step further. Being willing to go the extra mile is what will distinguish the average leader from the exceptional one.

Traditionally, success came from doing the right things that were required to be done. Individuals seeking leadership roles were admonished to follow the rules, be ethical, do what others have done and go along to get along. That has always been the formula for success. However, to distinguish oneself as a leader who will make their own brand of history, it will require taking actions that are not required to be done. It is a different philosophy of leadership that embodies the notion that leaders should do more than is required to be done and instead focus on what should and can be done.

As just one example of what could be many, consider that everyone accepts that it is the right thing to treat employees fairly. Employees should be paid fair wages, provided with good working conditions and know clearly what is expected of them. This approach was fine for the last century, but if a leader wants to make history in this century they should do more. It’s not required by the old ways of doing things, but if employees are treated with respect for the talent they have and are rewarded for the value they add to the effort, they will be encouraged to do more and help the leader achieve success. It is not tradition, but if employees are empowered by allowing them to influence decisions and make a difference, they will take ownership, not only of their jobs, but will be motivated to help the leader make history.

It seems too simple to make a real difference, but this leadership attitude of doing more than is required to be done is what it will take in today’s changed environment to empower a leader to make history. And just remember: If you’re not making history, you are history.

Trump Wants To Lose!

EPA/DANNY LAWSON

EPA/DANNY LAWSON

There is no doubt that Trump is going to lose the election and lose badly. Trump’s campaign is in disarray and his staff has had more turnover than a pancake restaurant. As a result, Trump may suffer the worst Republican electoral defeat since Barry Goldwater was decimated by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 election. This means that Hilary Clinton, for all her faults, failures, fabrications and feigned populism, will become the next president of the United States; and the status quo will win again. The person who seems least concerned about this outcome of the election is Donald Trump, because he clearly does not want to win the presidency. In Trump’s mind, come what may in the election, he is already the big winner. The only way he loses is if he has to serve as president.

When Trump announced his candidacy it was apparent that his action was another masterful marketing ploy, not to actually win the nomination, but rather to generate publicity for the Trump brand. Not a single political pundit took either his campaign or his chances of winning the nomination seriously. Even Trump put his chances of winning the nomination at “less than 10 percent.” But a confluence of circumstances came together to produce the highly unlikely result of a Trump Republican nomination. No one was more surprised by this result than Donald Trump.

Trump’s nomination was really more about media than politics. After all, Trump’s political history is more in sync with the Democrats than the Republicans. From a media perspective, the other 16 Republican candidates were, for the most part, aligned along the narrow channel of base Republican philosophies that made it difficult to discern one candidate’s positions from another. In addition, none of them had the personality or flair to stand up and stand out from the crowd. This was a problem for the media because to drive ratings they needed a story to tell and a controversy to report on. Donald Trump fit the bill perfectly and the media jumped at the opportunity to make him the story.

During the primary elections Trump received, mostly fawning, wall-to-wall free media coverage worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The Trump media coverage was like a tsunami that washed away the 16 other Republican candidates; none of whom had the media charisma to stand toe-to-toe with Trump. (To be fair, in the same search for ratings, the media latched on to Bernie Sanders in a way that allowed him to be competitive with the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, all the way to the very end of the campaign.)

For Trump Winning is Losing

If you want to be charitable, you could argue that Trump is trailing badly in the campaign because – being a novice to elective politics – he does not know what it takes to win a presidential campaign. It is as if Trump presented the renderings for constructing a grand golf resort and then upon receiving approval to build it, he fails to hire the contractors, sub-contractors and workers who will actually construct the resort. Trump would never do that in his real estate development business, but since he received the nomination, that is exactly the approach he has taken toward winning the presidency.  

When you take into account an electorate that is deeply frustrated and distrustful of the status quo and combine that with the fact that the Democratic nominee is the poster-child of the status quo and that she has the lowest “likeability and trust” ratings in presidential election history, the election should be a cakewalk. But when you look at the way Trump is conducting the campaign, you have to wonder if he really does want to win.

Instead of focusing on the need for change and making the campaign about Clinton and her obvious liabilities, Trump has wasted time on extraneous issues and has overacted to every personal attack. This has allowed the Democrats to hide the weaknesses and the ethical controversies of Clinton’s past; enabling the Democrats to deflect the focus of the campaign away from needed change and on to Trump. This is a losing formula for Trump, but he has only himself and his thin-skinned outsized ego to blame for allowing this to happen.

Why Would Trump Want the Job?

Politicians like Hillary Clinton spend a lifetime chasing the Holy Grail of politics, the presidency. For the ambitious professional politician, every waking moment, thought and action is focused on the goal of becoming president. That attitude is shown in the fact that virtually every person previously elected president had a long history of involvement in government and politics.

Trump is different. Trump has spent his life seeking deals, pining for publicity (chasing women) and making money. For Trump, running for president was not the culmination of a lifelong political pursuit, but an ego trip and an opportunity to further the Trump “brand.” Actually winning the nomination was not part of Trump’s plan and now that he has it, he is doing his best to make sure things go no further.

Besides, why would Trump even want the job? Trump is a 70 year old wealthy white guy who has the freedom to live his life as he wants. What does he have to gain by giving all that up for the life-consuming, high pressure 24/7 stress of being president? Why would he want to give up his freedom to do and say what he wants, for the confinement of the Oval Office? It is one thing for a life-long politician who lives for nothing else to give up everything to be president, but for Trump, while being president may be the ultimate ego trip, he has apparently decided that even that is not enough to give up everything else.        

The truth is that Trump has won all he wants to win. Trump actually wins more by losing. Without the burden, pressures and limitations of being president, Trump will be free to make his deals, leverage his brand, play golf, make even more money and still and have a major influence in public policy. Nothing could be better or more fitting for Trump. And that is why we see Trump acting as if he does not want to win the election, because he doesn’t want to win.