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March 2015

When was the last time you were surprised? And was it a good thing? In leading your organization, you probably feel pretty good when your projections are accurate and your forecasts are as spot-on, if not better than Paul Dellegatto’s (an excellent meteorologist here in the Tampa Bay area) seven day forecast.

In working with a mega bank nearly 15 years ago, I noticed a new cultural leadership rule emerging. I was working with a highly successful results-oriented executive who drove and delivered impressive results on a monthly-quarterly-annual basis. This action-oriented, take-no-prisoners, passionate and highly engaged executive only needed a few coordinates and a liberal amount of freedom and he would reach the finish line better and faster than anybody else. He was a success.

But enter new executive leadership at the very top of the organization and new expectations were quickly experienced throughout the organization. The new game in town had a new golden rule which simply was: No surprises. No longer was “results-only” the main event. Now it was about answers, metrics and dependable data in addition to impressive results.

With executives leading and managing epidemic levels of speed, complexity and risk as never before, the No Surprises Rule is at its very least, adaptive. Who in their right mind would argue for the virtue in continuously allowing one surprise after another to buffet individual and organizational performance? Ridding the organization of surprises certainly reduces chaos.

But sometimes, extraordinary leadership demands that leaders lead toward both ends of the surprise continuum. Manage toward two poles at the same time. Does it seem a contradiction to ask your people to get a grasp on the business, managing for no surprises yet at the same time be excellent in surprise management? Today’s business environment is demanding a “both/and” in this arena. The dictate of modern organizational reality now says, “Achieve great results, know everything about your business and handle surprises with creative brilliance.”

A world devoid of surprises is a world where leadership is unnecessary. Why place a leader halfway down the assembly line? We need leaders not for the mundane but for the untamed. Leadership is needed at key turns, when random strikes without easy-to-follow instructions. When the created solution is your best way forward if not your only way forward.

Do you think leaders are comfortable leading creativity in their organizations?


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