It's time to say goodbye to 'copy and paste' leadership

Lately the buzzword has been transformation.

By Silvia Forés

Empowerment, resilience, thinking outside the box and VUCA are still standing tall, but there is another word that I've heard many times and resonates deep within me: transformation. It is beautiful and the more it is repeated, the more it encourages me to think about a better future.

In connection with this topic and seen from a variety of viewpoints (organisational and cultural transformation, digital changes...), lately I have attended several talks and seminars at which we were rightly warned about the dangers of resting on our laurels: past achievements are no assurance of future success.

In a world that is moving so quickly, people and organisations have and will have to cope with high levels of uncertainty and future scenarios that can't be anticipated.

Businesses need leaders that are capable of challenging themselves

The experts tell us that managers need to develop new skills and reinvent themselves (another expression that had its moment of glory not long ago). Businesses need leaders that are capable of challenging themselves and learning continually in order to inspire employees and guide organisations to tackle future challenges.

I completely agree and would add that it is not a question of disowning the past but rather of not anchoring ourselves to it.

Only leaders who are able to balance the future with the past and envision something better, in other words, who can see traditional business models in perspective to devise new ones, will make a difference. But to do that you have to start cutting the dead weight, and I’m afraid that this is not exactly the case. Here are two examples.

Recently, a manager who was looking for a new professional challenge complained that he had planned a job interview in a visionary way, thinking about the value he could bring to help the company lead its future transformation processes. The person who interviewed him, however, only looked at his years of experience in each company, the projects he had implemented, his contacts and his knowledge of the sector.

Business office
Many companies are still somewhat risk-averse when hiring someone with a different profile (Photo: Ant Rozetsky/Unsplash)

And I wonder: Will we ever be able to get out of this vicious circle and look beyond what’s on a piece of paper to recognise people’s potential? Or have we forgotten about the person who gave us our first professional opportunity years ago? What did she like about us that day? 

That person probably looked beyond our education and training. She probably saw the sparkle in our eyes and backed us, confident that we would do well. She had no empirical certainty, no quantified data or evidence. She simply gave us a go. And this reminds me a bit of the current uncertainty in which we find ourselves.

It is not a question of underestimating experience but rather of broadening it, looking at the new skills that are required to lead the transformation I talked about above.

Unfortunately, many companies are still somewhat risk-averse when hiring someone with a different profile; they seem to be afraid to open their minds.

Executive at work
There are managers who are authentic experts in the art of "copy and paste" (Photo: You X Ventures/Unsplash)

Secondly, there are managers who are authentic experts in the art of "copy and paste." They quit an organisation where they successfully led a number of projects and intend to transform the new company they are joining by using – with just a bit of fine-tuning – the same approach that worked for them in the past while navigating the cultural hurdles they encounter along the way.

The worst thing about this approach is that there are some managers who no longer just say “This is how it’s always been done” but rather without any shame and with absolute pride say: “It’s like this because in my previous company we did it that way.”

I’m not saying that “copy and paste” is not feasible; it’s been pretty good for many managers. However, I now have serious doubts about it as a means of being successful.

We are living through times where if we don’t want businesses, like devices, to succumb to planned obsolescence, we will have to carefully think and rethink exactly who is going to pull the horse-drawn carriage of our businesses.

Sharpening the clinical eye and having an open mind when deciding on a key hiring will be more imperative than ever if we want to prevent the future of our businesses from falling into the “copy and paste” trap.

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