Precedent Setting Perceptions

Here’s a phrase that you often hear from leaders: “We have to be careful about setting precedents.” Interestingly, these comments are nearly always directed at what the leader perceives as “negative” precedents. Most recently, I’ve heard this phrase several times as companies are discussing whether they’re going to allow employees to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Some leaders are concerned that if their employees work from home during the pandemic, they’ll want to work from home after things have stabilized. The leadership gap I want to highlight today is that we too often focus on what precedents we want to avoid setting and miss the opportunities to purposely create the precedents we want.

First, why are we so often focused on avoiding things (in this case precedents), rather than focusing on what we can create through new precedents? Perhaps, it’s our unfortunately natural tendency to play defense and not to lose. Imagine how different our outcomes would be if we focused more often on the many ways we can win and have more impact.

Think about it … how often do you hear conversations and suggestions regarding setting desired outcomes and precedents? When did we become so risk averse and avoidance focused as leaders? We’ve lost our way because leadership is about creating more than avoiding.

Second, instead of focusing on avoidance let’s shift to creating what we want and seeing precedents as the best way to move in our desired direction (rather than avoiding another direction). When the leadership team was considering allowing team members to work from home, did anyone pipe up and say any of the following:

“Imagine the impactful precedent we would set if we make decisions that keep our team members safe?”

“Wouldn’t it be great to create a precedent where our first priority is our team members?”

“Think of the ways we could get more team members engaged by setting the precedent of doing something different (i.e. working from home) than we’ve ever done before?”

Where is this voice of leadership? Is it being offered and shut down? Is it not being offered at all because someone doesn’t feel safe enough to offer it?

According to a 2010 IBM Global CEO Study, creativity is the most crucial trait for future success:

“[L]ess than half of global CEOs believe their enterprises are adequately prepared to handle a highly volatile, increasingly complex business environment. CEOs are confronted with massive shifts—new government regulations, changes in global economic power centers, accelerated industry transformation, growing volumes of data, rapidly evolving customer preferences—that, according to the study, can be overcome by instilling “creativity” throughout an organization.”

Hmmm … perhaps this includes not being prepared to lead through the coronavirus pandemic. And this creativity is needed in leadership to build trust, help navigate new challenges and to build resilient businesses.

Many businesses, their leaders and their cultures are NOT prepared to survive (let alone survive) the coronavirus pandemic, but all is not lost. There’s still time to shift your perspectives on precedents, to make different decisions and to have a different impact and outcome.

When it comes to leadership, it’s never too late to wake up, listen, shift and lead differently. Our current times are unprecedented times and they require unprecedented leadership. If you’re thinking, deciding and leading today the same way you did two weeks ago, then you’re likely failing your business, your team, your families and yourself.

What precedents will you create in the coming days and weeks – precedents that will make your business stronger, more resilient and more sustainable in the future? In what ways will you inspire and engage your team members by consciously implementing precedents that they want to be a part of? In what ways will you use new precedents to show your team that you’re worthy of their trust and followership?

It’s time to shift your precedent setting perceptions and embrace precedents as the path to positive change with your team, your organization and your leadership.

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