While walking down the hallways at Antioch University in Seattle a few weeks ago, I ran into this great illustration of a Guinean proverb on one of the walls. It read, “He who does not cultivate his field will die of hunger.” Wow, that proverb really resonated with me, and came back to mind as I was quickly listing my resolutions during the yearly countdown.
I often hear leaders talk about the need to establish a burning platform for change, a sense of urgency for stakeholders to rally around and make stuff happen. Unfortunately, a “burning platform” implicitly suggests that the organization is already in a reactive mode — playing catch-up instead of proactively anticipating the need for change.
In a moment of optimism, as we embark on an intriguing 2012, I chose to spin the Guinean proverb into a slightly more positive light: An organization that cultivates its field today will thrive tomorrow. What would that look like? Well, I think it starts with leaders:
– What if leaders made tough decisions to balance short-term revenue goals — often driven by Wall Street and the need to keep the lights on — and the long-term viability of their organization? Steve Jobs made many tough decisions over the years to turn things around at Apple, one of which was to completely rethink Apple’s product line (i.e. killing a bunch of Apple products) while expanding the Apple brand beyond personal computers. The iPod and the Apple store are two good examples of how Apple cultivated its field to thrive over time.
– What if leaders were patient enough to foster a culture of innovation and excellence? Take Pixar as an example. They have “only” released 12 films since 1995. The dedication to craft and excellence trumps short-term pressures as Pixar knows that quality is more important than quantity. The data speaks for itself as all 12 films have been global blockbusters.
– What if leaders were rewarded for investing in their people and growing the next generation of leaders? Large business consulting firms, such as McKinsey and Accenture, are well known for working their employees to death (long hours, lots of travel, etc.). What they may not be necessarily known for is their focus on growing a large pool of leaders that will help them grow and sustain their business over time. Partners at these firms are not only responsible for growing the business and generating revenue, but also for growing and retaining talent on their respective teams. These organizations recognize that their network of leaders — whether they stay with the organization or leave for leadership positions elsewhere — ultimately contribute to the sustainability of their business.
Here’s to 2012! A year of transition and hope. A year of aspirations and tough realities. A year to cultivate and to thrive. Happy New Year, fellow doers!
How will you cultivate your field in 2012?