Article: Can a Leopard change its spots, asks Arun Rao

Life @ Work

Can a Leopard change its spots, asks Arun Rao

Have you tested how effective your new initiatives are going to be
Can a Leopard change its spots, asks Arun Rao

There is great power in getting every employee engaged and actively involved in the business


The role of the leader is not just to set the strategic direction, but also to guide individuals about their part in the larger plan


Our work with different teams, cutting across different industries, puts us in an interesting situation. Often times, we get the opportunity to interact with team members, post the conducting of an engrossing workshop - around team building, leadership or innovation.

The fact that they have had a really memorable day with us, often makes people very comfortable and confident in trusting us. They share many a candid conversation, which they would perhaps think twice about, before sharing with their own colleagues or HR folk.

One such conversation veered towards the efficacy of new initiatives that the company was taking like conducting team building interventions & innovation related workshops.

The gist of the conversation was this: While people appreciated the experience within the workshop, they were not yet convinced about the intent of the leadership team driving it. i.e whether the leaders were really serious about all the things that came up and got discussed during the course of the workshop.

“Are they being too skeptical”, I wondered.

Afterall, the workshop was kicked off with the leader making a spirited pitch about how the team which once prided itself as “cheetahs”, now needed to think like “wolves”. The obvious point being the need for a change in attitude from being a lone-hunter to hunting in packs.

Even in the course of the workshop, many key issues bubbled up and got discussed, like:
• The need for the team to work towards one over-arching goal
• The role of communications within the team members
• Clarifying of role definitions and expectations within the team

A little digging though, got us face to face with the fount of where the skepticism was originating from.

1) The communication around being “one team” was not being made for the first time. The same thing was discussed in an earlier offsite. When people went back to their day to day jobs, it was life as usual. It was as if, everybody was struck with collective amnesia. What suffered though was the credibility of the leaders.

2) While the leaders spoke about everybody needing to work like “a pack of wolves”, the reality reflected in individual goal sheets was something else. Nowhere was there an aspect of team goaling. Further, a very few people were able to connect their goal sheets with the overall organization goal. Strategy follows structure & Goal sheets drive behavior – is a truth that can be ignored at much peril to the organization.

3) While the role of communications was much discussed, it really does not help if communication is perceived as something that flows from the top to the bottom of an organization. To make it a reality, there had to be outlets and resources available for every employee to voice his opinion & be heard. Even something as simple as an internal blog site would have helped. What was really needed was not as much “internal communications” as it was “organizational conversations”.

What then can leaders do to attack this skepticism? In our experience with all kinds of teams and leaders, we suggest a few that can help:

1) DWYSYWD (Do what you say you would do)
The biggest asset for a leader is his credibility. People will not believe the message if they don’t believe the messenger. Once an initiative or a strategic direction (like say – working like a pack of wolves) is announced in an offsite, it is the role of the leader to ensure that it remains alive in the collective consciousness of the organization. Strategy is very often the result of an intent that is shown day-in and day-out for a sustained period of time.

2) Servant Leadership
The role of the leader is not just to set the strategic direction, but also to guide individuals about their part in the larger plan. Its not enough to say, “our goal is to hit 2 billion this financial year”. Its important to speak in the language of saying, “We need to hit 2 billion this year. For that to happen, we need you to scale up from 4 million to 7 million. And the way for you to do this is as follows. This is what you need to do….. Let me know if you need any help from me”. It is called as “servant leadership” when a leader behaves more as a guide.

3) Enable organizational “conversations” to happen
There is great power in getting every employee engaged and actively involved in the business. A truly engaged employee not only brings himself to work, but also his initiative, his ideas and his passion. But this cannot happen if he feels his voice is not heard. It cannot also happen if he is always only “talked down” to. The role of the leader then is to think through and put processes or resources that encourage active organizational “conversations” to happen.

Yes, we conduct really engrossing workshops. However, we are humble enough to know that only that experience is not enough to truly transform people and teams. For that to happen, it’s the job of the leader to convince his constituents that the change they are seeing is there to stay – that the leopard can truly change its spots.

Arun Rao is the Co-founder and Director of Focus Adventure India

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