There’s nothing more refreshing than a new or re-energized leader, be it an association executive or the CEO of a company. Whatever created that energy—an election, a new hire, or a new mandate from the board—the place feels alive, ready to tackle new opportunities, primed for reinvention. Whatever the impetus is for that reinvention or evolution, it is an exciting time.
However, judging by the association and corporate leaders I work with, the headwinds these re-energized or newly-hired leaders face give little room for optimism.
Economists are projecting flat growth in 2017 for most industries, certainly in the domestic U.S. economy. During the interview or strategic planning process, the new leader has talked about any number of great ideas or laid out dramatic changes they want to introduce. Then they get introduced to what my friend and former client Craig Lemasters calls “the oncologists” within the organization.
Enter “the oncologists”
The eager, excited new leader soon faces massive headwinds from “the oncologists.” These individuals are never called “the oncologists” of course: In corporate environments, they hold titles like Chief Compliance Officer, Chief Risk Officer, or General Counsel. In associations, they are the tenured industry stalwarts on the volunteer board or the stagnant association staff. These people have been doing things the same way for 100 years. They would prefer to do tomorrow what they did yesterday. We call them “the oncologists” because their sole mission is “kill the cancer,” without understanding that what they see as cancer is a new idea, a new perspective, a new vision, a product or service innovation.
Brute force isn’t an effective response
The new leader has been charged with driving growth, but soon finds him- or herself in an environment averse to financial or reputational risk (which are often linked). Now the leader faces a risk avoidance mindset that simply cannot deliver the desired customer/member or revenue growth. And yet the board or stakeholders are still clamoring for results.
Some leaders genuinely believe brute force is the answer. I say, try telling that to my 12-year-old son playing lacrosse against high school sophomores who outweigh his dad. Brute force isn’t going to win that game—or remove the headwinds that blow from the direction of “the oncologists” bent on maintaining the status quo.
What's Needed: A Strategic Relationship Plan
New or re-energized leaders need a gentler approach to dealing with resistance. That starts with breaking down the biggest change initiatives into what can be accomplished in the short, medium, and long term.
Choose to focus on short-term goals where resistance is minimal. Where have you earned relationship capital that you can leverage to gain some early wins? This requires identifying where you have the most relational support. Within the organization, what is your professional net worth? Where are your relationship assets and liabilities? Map out your strategic relationships within and external to the firm, and commit to a game plan for each individual. Work to move the detractors to neutral or move them out. Influence your neutral relationships to become positive, by appealing to their logical self-interest. Turn your positives into advocates if not outright evangelists, and assign them to lead key initiatives.
Don’t expect this to be a one-to-many effort; it is unequivocally one-to-one. It will require time invested in frank conversations. Given that no individual leader is scalable, this is time well spent to engage others in the change initiative you hope to execute.
Strategic relationships are the most effective way to fight the headwinds so prevalent when leaders with a vision of change meet “the oncologists” who want to kill that cancer to protect yesterday’s status quo. Growth in the 2017 economy requires change, not steady on. Work your Strategic Relationship Plan to elevate your portfolio of supporting relationships and move “the oncologists” out of your way.
- Whenever you feel the fresh energy to tackle the world, look around for “the oncologists”—and don’t underestimate the headwinds they can generate.
- Urgently focus on your lowest hanging fruit, in order to achieve some early wins that will help you shift the organization’s momentum toward your change initiative.
- Systematically aim to elevate your portfolio of relationships, to expand your influence.
David Nour has spent the past two decades advising executives on building business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® - the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Hilton, ThyssenKrupp, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations. David Nour is a strategic relationship keynote speaker, consultant, and advisor that helps these companies drive profitable growth through unique returns on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possess, large and small, public and private. He is the author of nine books translated into eight languages, including the best-selling Relationship Economics - Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger), Return on Impact (ASAE), and the 2017 forthcoming CO-CREATE (St. Martin’s Press), an essential guide showing C-level leaders how to optimize relationships, create market gravity, and greatly increase revenue. Contact David Nour to learn more, subscribe to the Blog, sign up for the Rendezvous Newsletter or request his speaking schedule availability for your organization’s next event.