Kirk McMillan: Leadership Vulnerability, Organizational Simplicity and Success (L.I.F.E)

Leadership Vulnerability, Organizational Simplicity and Success

By Kirk McMillan, Senior Consultant with Continuity Family Business Consulting

The only way to grow is to change. Yet, people tend to fear change. Overcoming fears and creating processes to lead change may be the most critical aspects for organizational survival and success. The speed at which an organization changes can mean the difference between gaining a new customer and going out of business.

The objective for leadership in the change process is to create an imaginative culture where change is embraced through a steady flow of ideas. Emile Chartier reminds us that, “Nothing is more dangerous than one idea when it is the only one you have.” Groupthink is an example of the danger of one idea in which leadership fails to create an environment where ideas are expressed. The Bay of Pigs, Pearl Harbor, and the Challenger crash are good reminders of the failure of organizations to embrace alternative ideas. Leadership vulnerability sets the stage for creating a safe environment. The capability of leaders to express their own fallibility breaks down the barriers to open communication. Leaders must make it explicitly known to everyone in the organization that anyone can say anything, anytime.

Only when leaders are leading with vulnerability, and open communication, is the organization ready to establish the processes that foster organizational change. Three processes for starting process are shared values, a simple and clear vision, and a focus on strengths.

Shared values establish the boundaries for decision making throughout the organization, from the CEO to the shop floor. When faced with a challenging situation, how will employees decide to act? Will they act in alignment with values or freeze-up? Leaders can enhance shared values by making shared values part of the daily conversation. Start each meeting by sharing the story of how someone made a difficult decision last week. Circulate videos of values in action. Establish rewards for value-based behavior. Through story sharing, employees will be more empowered to act in alignment with values when faced with a challenging situation.

A simple, clear vision states why do we do what we do. Is the purpose simple and clear? Do people remember it? Does it inspire imagination and creativity? Take Zappos’ lead. Zappos simply states, “Deliver WOW through service”.  Through simplicity, imaginations are inspired and energized. Beware: people and organizations will gravitate toward complexity, as Richard Branson reminds us. “Complexity is the enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple.” Keep in mind the words of Albert Einstein. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Simplicity is hard work but pays big dividends when done right.

Focus on strengths. Every person, as well as every organization has strengths and weaknesses. A strengths focused organization creates human capital that can’t be replicated by competitors. Acknowledge and be aware of weaknesses but focus on the strengths of people, processes, and products. A strength based focus leader will spend money on talent development. The weakness-based leader will focus on costing costs. When people are provided the resources to act in alignment with their strengths, organizational trust grows, and people are empowered to change.

Vulnerable leaders focused on simplicity will have the greatest opportunity to create organizations that embrace change. Organizations will adapt, grow and thrive amidst complexity built on simplicity of shared values, clear vision and a focus on strengths.

Kirk McMillan is a Senior Consultant with Continuity Family Business Consulting

with over 20 years leading family businesses to generational success. Kirk can be

reached at or (843) 819


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