What an inspiring event! The event in question was the Campaigning Summit Switzerland 2018, and I was there to share my experience on how leaders can campaign internally within their organisations to achieve business success. Every speaker was a woman presenting to a mixed audience of business people. This choice was by design, an opportunity to subtly campaign for women in leadership through representation.
Before I left for Zürich I recall a question someone asked me when the person read the communication on my chosen topic. He said ‘isn’t that just company politics’? My response was a categoric ‘no’. Internal company politics typically is about seeking out backers for individual professional gain.
Campaigning is about leadership. Leadership that engages, communicates, acts and empowers every member of the team to create their own, and by extension the company’s, success.
As I progressed through my career I learnt increasingly that unlike school, business success was not about me. That we could never be our greatest if it just depended on me.
Here’s what I shared on the 16th of March 2018…
‘Well, I know you have great plans but we have reached a plateau’ was one kind sentence I heard. Another one was ‘how are YOU going to move us forward’? I love it when people openly share their honest thoughts on important issues. Wouldn’t you rather know where you stand than guess? I know what I choose.
These well-meant words were shared when I was faced with the prospect of moving a business forward.
My interpretation of the messages was clear – I didn’t have a share of minds to move things forward. And here I was with the ambition to lead transformational change. Transformational change is not about what a leader tells people to do. It is the kind of change that happens when you win heads and hearts so that hands move to create change. It starts with transforming the mind. How do you transform a mind? Well, the way I know best is for the mind to choose transformation itself. As a leader my job is to guide the process by embodying what I espouse but the change is for people to make themselves.
The toughest part of the task is to agree on what the goal is. What is the company’s history? What do customers know it for? What do staff know it for? What are the things about the business that bring the staff to life? What does the future look like? What role should the business play in shaping the future? The process really is about identifying with each other as family, believing that better is possible and agreeing on what we will spend our resources on. This step took a few months, but it was time well spent. Alignment on a goal is extremely important. (Of course, I could not possibly detail the goals here, right?)
Once we agreed, our goals became the message we would communicate through campaigning. We designed a campaign that involved two-way real-time communication pathways. As I told the summit, this means town hall style meetings are not enough. It meant meeting people in intimate settings of small groups up and down the country. Some meetings were formal but some of the most precious moments of alignment were over informal dinner.
This opportunity to communicate is why I insist that leaders must be present as part of campaigning for business success. Go out there and be with the people where they work. Where they spend their time serving the business. Walk their walk so they will talk your talk. Listen to them as part of your campaign. Presence is how you connect with minds and hearts so that when you are gone hands will continue to move. Being present sometimes takes senior leaders out of their comfort zones. For me personally connecting at the frontline refreshes me. It reminds me of what we are truly there for. Boardrooms are nice places, but the real business is on the frontline. So take your campaign to the frontline.
Sometimes a campaign can be reduced to a ‘tour of duty’ and we know how that usually ends. In my experience a successful campaign is run over a long period with regular updates of progress against the goals and regular opportunities for feedback. Essentially, it was important to maintain the two-way communication. For me, this took the form of a monthly email accompanied by a video message. I had small weekly meet-ups. I also had a ‘happy hour’ when people could call me from where ever they were because I understood that people are not always comfortable with written feedback. Sometimes they just wanted to be sure that I heard them or wanted my feedback in real time. And for anyone who worried about ‘bothering’ me (as people always seem to believe that leaders are busy) an open happy hour gave them permission to call.
At the summit I recalled an email I received from one of our bright young people telling me how she had come to understand how possible it is to achieve more because her initial disbelief had been proven wrong.
Change is not about the CEO. Transformational change is about the entire organisation – the people, processes and systems – but most importantly the people.
As a leader I should embody and live the change I want to see. However, that change cannot all be about me. Making change about yourself as a leader creates an unsustainable situation. You won’t change the people that way, they only do as they are told if it is about you. I believe in change that outlives the leader’s tenure.
For me this meant making other leaders the faces of change. Ensuring that they too were vocal, visible and willing to embody the change we were campaigning for. It inevitably creates a reinforcing trickledown effect to keep the change on track.
Having the opportunity to share this at the summit reminded me of the great people I have had the chance to work with.
So, I write this for two reasons. Once again to say thank you to them all and to demonstrate as much as I can to other leaders that change is possible. Just make it about the people and let them drive it.
I am passionate that leadership occurs at all levels in an organisation. And I believe that companies are a great vehicle for creating the change that our country and continent need – The Bold New Normal way!