Sunday, February 17, 2013

Leadership Hazard: New Wine in Old Wineskins


When stepping into a new leadership role, this Biblical concept is an exceptionally powerful lesson to all leaders, not just the religious leaders among us.

The analogy is very direct: there is a risk to putting fresh wine that is still fermenting into an old wineskin.  Ultimately, the old wineskin will not be able to hold the new wine, and it will burst.

Here's the corollary:  Quite often, leaders will take ideas they have seen used with success elsewhere and attempt to use that idea in a new setting.  But as the proverb warns, those ideas may burst ...

Sometimes the idea is called a  "Best Practice" (a blog entry unto itself for another time.) 

Leaders who have been successful in one setting attempt to apply the same leadership style, metrics, organizational structure and team dynamics they have used in the past and assume they will attain the same level of success.  I have observed it many times over forty years. 

Why do some leaders follow their old ways and expect success?  Here are a few thoughts for your consideration:

  1. Ego Blindness - They are certain of future success based on a previous accomplishment.
  2. Uncertainty - They're unsure what to do in their new circumstance, so they default to a former success.
  3. Undisciplined thinking - Perhaps they believe one size fits all.
  4. Vicarious Modeling - When leaders see one of their methods being used by someone else in the same corporation, they may mistakenly believe their old method will work for them in their new setting.

Yet every scenario, every setting, every circumstance, every leadership arena we face has it's own special form of organ rejection, it's own set of risks, and it's own weird set of organizational allergies to our craft.

A few thoughts:

  1. A structured, time-tested approach is always a good starting point, but not the end point.
  2. Nothing will replace good old-fashioned vigilance and common sense when stepping into a new leadership role, irrespective of past successes.
  3. We are energized as leaders when we take on a new role and try different approaches that fit a new circumstance.
  4. People know if we're including their thinking process and input as we work with them in a new setting, or if we're just 'checking a box'.  (Very damaging to our reputations as leaders).  In OD parlance, we call that "the illusion of participation." 
Ancient wisdom is always worth considering, and as leaders, this particular caution is as salient as the day it was spoken. 





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