A leader’s role is to define reality and then give hope.
— Napoleon Bonaparte
Some of the biggest challenges I have faced in my career are around providing leadership in times of ambiguity and adversity. What I have realized is that being a leader is truly about defining reality and then giving hope. Now, this isn't about making up a version of the truth. Far from it. It's about listening, comprehending with compassion, and seeking solid ground on which to unite those around you.
The process of defining reality takes patience, and understanding that each individual or group perceives the situation from their own motivations. As a leader, it is our job to reach out, and to listen first and foremost. To actively listen for the motivations, perceptions, and concerns of our colleagues, and to form a compassionate understanding. From this place of understanding and compassion, we can help to bring together disparate points of view, and align those around us.
When I began introducing service design to my organization, one of the first challenges I faced was that no one seemed to have a clear understanding of the organization as a whole, and how what we were doing fit in it. This diagram took three months to emerge after many long conversations and consensus building. But the minute I drew this diagram, suddenly everyone became aligned. Sometimes you have to just make it visible, and draw a picture to facilitate alignment.
This work is not easy, and it means staying committed to a more objective position, and being honest about your own motivations, intentions, and interests. As I have grown as a leader, I've discovered that self-management as a daily, constant practice is most important to keep perspective, and make space to listen to others.
The act of defining reality requires understanding the landscape of relationships in your organization, and navigating that landscape. This work takes a constant vigilance, helping others see and understand where we are now. But defining reality is not enough—you must also give hope.
When you help others see the realities of the now, it can often be daunting, frightening, and discouraging. Seeing the hard road ahead, particularly when it involves organizational change or transformation, can be demoralizing. This is why giving hope is so important. It's not just about painting an accurate picture of the current state, you have to also provide the vision, the path to get there, and the encouragement to inspire others to keep moving forward.
This work requires consistent, persistent, and "sticky" communications across many channels, to communicate the current state and paint a picture of the future—both the short term next steps, and the long-term vision. It is about boiling down the complexity into something simple, something inspiring, something that gives hope.
A powerful channel for communication is through organization-wide presentations at town halls and summits. In the above photo, I am sharing my vision for service design for my organization, evangelizing and hoping to inspire others to learn more, engage, and gain foundational understanding of core concepts. I regularly present, lead workshops, and engage teams in order to teach, enroll, and inspire.