Even before the unprecedented disruption brought about by COVID, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the frustration of leaders wanting to make organizational changes as they repeatedly fell short of the results they were looking for. Each story is unique, but often one can find the underlying assumption that dooms most, if not all, change initiatives: leaders think they need to instigate change within their organizations but they neglect to set the example for others by changing too. Few leaders embody the change their organizations desperately need.

The professions: solution or problem?

Nowhere is this assumption more evident than in the professions — medicine, science, law, engineering, and architecture among them. A complicating factor here is another assumption that the culture of one’s profession is so strong that, eventually and inevitably, the power of the culture will bend everyone who’s a part of it to its established way of being. Problems arise when considering generational transition, present everywhere as Baby Boomers begin to contemplate exiting the stage while still occupying leadership roles that often shape the future of the organization – the intangible as well as the tangible.

Difficult but necessary conversations

There’s a delicate, but necessary, conversation with these leaders that’s required. A conversation that invites them to shift from being the shapers of the project (believing that what has worked for them in the past will also work for their successors) to a stewardship role by holding space for their successors to shape what they will need, even if it looks different (and it will). This process is not for the faint of heart.

Embodying the change we want for our organizations, especially in the professions, requires more than a shift of leadership stance. It requires a shift of mindset: how the world is and where our place is in it.

All of us, through our education and careers, build a mental model of the world – our best attempt to create a framework that explains, connects, and predicts the events around us. Many of us confuse this model with the world as it is and further, assume that most of our colleagues carry similar models. Data on the diversity of generational, disciplinary, and cultural perspectives demonstrate that’s simply not the case. 

All of us are smarter than any one of us

When we accept the premise that no one, regardless of accomplishments, possesses a sufficiently complete model of the world, we open ourselves and our organizations to shared conversations defined by a multiplicity of overlapping perspectives and experiences. A noteworthy and significant byproduct of these conversations is organic alignment through insights that are likely beyond the reach of any single individual. With this new realization, leaders entrusted with the futures of their organization are given new ways to lead. Some may also find that not having to know everything frees them to contemplate questions of identity, purpose, and direction more deeply, while leading with an open mind and the right questions that will successfully move organizations forward in an uncertain future.

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