The old adage of “sticking to your guns” is one that many perceive as a characteristic that aligns with steadfast leadership. There are certain circumstances where this style of leadership should prevail, however in more general terms, and across industries, fields, and disciplines, it tends to be a misunderstood weakness.
I was recently reading an article in Bloomberg Businessweek by David J. Lynch on how the Ivey League, and more specifically Harvard, has added to Mitt Romney’s success in the presidential leadership race. One line in the publication, a quote by Mitch Kurz, read; “shifting positions on issues to adapt to new conditions derives from the unsentimental brand of analysis he learned at [Harvard Business School]“.
What struck me so deeply about this sentence was the context it was placed in: politics. The political world is fraught with people “sticking to their guns”, through thick and thin, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The term “flip-flopping” on issues in politics is synonymous with the “kiss of death”. I found that it was unusual that others were praising Mitt’s ability to adapt to the conditions as it were.
Success and Leadership
I understand that in the political world, which is fueled by partisanship, the idea of adapting to new conditions isn’t always an alluring path. I also understand the different contexts we are talking about here: business vs. politics. However, I believe regardless of industry, adaptation to highly malleable conditions is the sign of true leadership, success, and ultimately growth (as an individual, company, and industry).
The Stand Off
This topic reminds of a story that many of us have probably experienced. With the rise of social media and the digital revolution there is a stand-off occurring before our eyes.
On one side the revolutionaries who have embraced social media beyond mere use. It’s an ingrained part of their daily routine. Interactions have been redefined with the rise in digital resources to a point where everything, digital and real, are intertwined and connected.
Social media for these individuals is applauded daily for its ability to garner success in various industries. It’s the context in which these people operate – personally and professionally. It’s the new ecosystem that gives meaning to different parts of their life, where interactions are shaped and re-shaped almost instantaneously.
On the other side are the traditionalists, those who are staunch believers and advocates of preserving conventional business strategies. They are the ones who make decisions based on principles found in business doctrine – quantifiable, systematic, analytical, and detailed analysis of the world around them.
Social media in their eyes is often ignored because of its inability to produce ROI that is measurable and sustainable. Whether their perception of the digital space is accurate or not, they vehemently work to preserve the foundations that they were brought up on.
The Two Thought Camps
The departure between the two camps is found between the traditional thinkers and those who have embraced the conditions they found themselves in. This isn’t to say that those who align themselves with the traditionalist camp are wrong – it is often difficult to break that style of thinking, but it does highlight the difference between those who stick to their conventional principles, regardless of external changes, and those who have witnessed the alterations social media has brought and exploited them.
There is a fallacious view of “sticking to your guns”. It tends to have several repercussions that will reshape how you view the world around you. Analysis and detail are things that every decision should be grounded in. However, being able to adjust to conditions around your company, brand, or person is something that speaks to your integrity, intelligence, and sustainability.
Being “bull-headed”, “sticking to your guns”, or having “tunnel vision” are all synonyms in the business environment. These unfortunate elements can have some devastating effects on every aspect of your brand.
1. Missing an Opportunity: Being so narrowly focused on a specific objective because it is what you think is correct can lead to a significant loss of growth and advancement.
For example, social media has offered a considerably valuable tool in the business world. For many traditionalists, social media isn’t relevant or an investable strategy. Now, picture all the proven benefits that a company would miss out on if they were to ignore social media because it simply isn’t quantifiable or analogous with traditional strategies.
2. Alienating Others: A company or organization is made up of a group that is astonishingly diverse – diverse in every meaning of the word. Decision makers in most cases are few – many are seasoned veterans who populate the traditionalist thinking.
Those who find themselves on the more modernist side tend to be younger professionals who seek to innovate, create and contribute to the industry in new ways. We all understand how hierarchy works. When views held at the top are not shared on the way down it has the ability to alienate those seeking to make a name for themselves by standing out.
3. Stifling Creation: In an extension of number two there is a chance that, since “new” strategies such as social media or the like are perceived as irrelevant at the top, innovation and creativity are not by-products that are seen as important.
Many of us seek to be creative because we want to advance, but what happens when advancement or praise is not synonymous with the way you think? It cripples productivity and innovation.
Within an industry the conditions that we operate in are constantly changing. I would be remiss if I didn’t state that some traditional strategies or principles are very much vital elements of any business today. However, there is a difference between using what works and sticking to a plan that does not reflect the environment that you are submersed in.
Conditions change. Success is dependent on your ability to adjust and react to those elements that now dictate how you proceed. Change or adjustment is not a weakness. Changing your view or stance on a topic, issue, or strategy is not a sign of incompetence.
Adaptation is a precursor to sustainability in the business world.
When you are presented with a barrier, a hurdle, or you are facing failure because a predetermined strategy is not working, don’t remain ignorant to change.
Remember, adapting to new information and conditions allows you to stay on trend, aligned with market behaviour, and continually advancing.