Are You a Progress-Making Leader?

Effective leaders preserveorder amid change and change amid order. Why? To move their organizationsforward in an environment that?s overflowing with hidden risks, uncertaintiesand possibilities.

Existingplatforms?or ways of doing things?provide the order. New platforms induce thechange. Platforms, such as established business practices or an operatingsystem, are a set of closely bundled practices, activities or decisions thatprovide a springboard for action.

Scholarshave consistently found that an organization?s ability to exploit currentplatforms tends to undermine its ability to explore new platforms, and viceversa. Progress-making leaders have the ability to do both and, more important,know when to shift course.

WhenOprah Winfrey announced that she was ending her TV show, many devoted fans weredistraught. But that decision represents the spirit of a progress maker. Why?Progress makers know when a particular platform, such as The Oprah WinfreyShow, has run its course and when it?s time to devote energy to otherendeavors, such as The Oprah Winfrey Network.

Twospecific abilities set progress-making leaders apart from others.

1.A Focused Flexibility Mind-set

KingSolomon admonished us to ?Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, andbe wise.? Are we to pay attention to the ant?s work ethic? Definitely. Are weto emulate the management structure of the anthill? Perhaps.

Butthe wise king might have been asking us to look at something even deeper. Antshave a remarkable ability to quickly forget old pathways and switch roles asthe needs of the colony change. In other words, ants practice ?focusedflexibility?: They focus on present needs while maintaining the flexibility tomeet future ones.

Maintainingboth focus and flexibility tests the progress-making abilities of even the mostskilled leaders. It means celebrating present success but not being overlyinfluenced by the victory. It means quickly inspiring others to shift focuswith little loss in productivity.

Italso means teaching employees to partially forget the old ways of doing things,while maintaining those memories in case they are needed in the future. Leadersare more likely to lament ?knowledge loss? than they are to praise purposefulforgetting. Yet, that is exactly what is necessary to maintain progress.

Leaderswho champion focused flexibility create a mind-set about the dangers of toomuch exploring and too much refining. They teach others how to lean in theright direction at the proper time. And they possess the intellectual,emotional and motivational agility to adroitly shift between refining existingplatforms and exploring new ones.

2.Effective Communications

Whenwe asked leaders about the effectiveness of their communication systems, manyresponded by proudly listing the communication technologies used in theirorganization. They tweet, blog, have video conferences and so on. It?sthrilling and impressive?and often irrelevant.

Inessence, these leaders believe that more technology equals enhancedcommunication effectiveness. Maybe. Maybe not.

Effectivecommunication does not boil down to securing the next great technology. In thearea of decision making, for example, we discovered that leaders can double thelikelihood of employee support if they robustly communicate their decisionsusing a protocol that addresses these seven key questions:

?              What is the decision?

?              How was the decision made?

?              Why was the decision made?

?              What were the rejected alternativesto the announced decision?

?              How does the decision fit into themission or vision?

?              How does the decision affect theorganization?

?              How does the decision affectemployees?


Thisprotocol promotes deeper understanding by transparently revealing the factorsconsidered during the decision-making process. The protocol underscores theimportance of striking the right balance between the organization?s and theemployees? interests.

Employeesalways listen with ears tuned to two channels: WIFM (What?s in it for me?) andWIFO (What?s in it for the organization?). Leaders often make the mistake ofbroadcasting only on the WIFO channel.

Inshort, progress-making leaders have thick skin and sensitive ears. Thick skinproves useful as leaders cope with the inevitable criticism when refining anexisting platform or shifting to a new one. Sensitive ears help progress-makingleaders detect when to preserve order and when to champion change.


PhillipG. Clampitt and Robert J. DeKoch are the authors of Transforming Leaders intoProgress Makers: Leadership for the 21st Century (Sage Publications, 2010).Clampitt is the Hendrickson Professor of Business at the University ofWisconsin?Green Bay. DeKoch is president and chief operating officer of The BoldtCo.