Perhaps I’m just a rebel at heart, but it always grates on me a bit when I hear another leader comment, “we don’t have a choice, we have to do it this way, . . .” The question that immediately goes through my mind is why? Why does it “have to be” that way? Regardless of pressure from peers or others to conform, do you realize that every time you lean on “have to” you give away your power? . . . Your power to make things different or better . . . Your power to challenge your people to find a way to go over, around or through some real or imagined barrier . . . Your power to truly create a future that is different from the present . . .
Yes, “have to” is safer. No one will blame you for following the rules . . . after all, they are the “rules” . . . that is, until someone else challenges them and writes new rules. I absolutely love a visual of this concept shared by Ben Sherwood, Producer and Co-Chair of Disney Media Networks, at the 2019 Global Leadership Summit — you need to be a farmer with a pitchfork. He said, the best swordsman is not afraid of another swordsman because they know the rules, the principles of a swordfight . . . but a farmer with a pitchfork scares them because he or she doesn’t follow some established set of rules. The statistics Sherwood shared about this concept were compelling. When conventional tactics are used (i.e. following the rules) the stronger power wins 71.5% of the time. However, when one side uses an unconventional approach, the unconventional player prevails 63.6% of the time!
Be a farmer with a pitchfork! How many times have you seen an “industry leader” replaced by an outlier organization that approached a challenge in a totally different way? In many cases, the industry leader didn’t see it coming because they were focused on the rules — what they “had to” follow. Or, perhaps they were focusing on refining the way that “everyone” addresses a particular challenge and so didn’t expect someone to implement a new strategy.
I’m not suggesting that you should challenge every rule that someone imposes on you. I am suggesting, however, that as the leader it is your job to decide how your organization is going to accomplish its’ mission. Maybe it is by the path that someone else establishes for you, or maybe it is by looking at the situation differently and re-writing the rules. Maybe you need to identify your goal, look at the tools available to you — be they swords or pitchforks — and then don’t let someone whose job is not to lead your organization to decide what you have to do.
That’s your job. Is it time to re-write the rules?