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‘Can’t Do’ Attitude

Last night I saw the New Zealand premiere of the film ‘Moneyball’ courtesy of friends at NZ Baseball. It’s not a sport I know a lot about but that was fine as it was less about the game itself and more about leadership in the game. I won’t spoil the plot for you (it’s got Brad Pitt in, so you will want to see it) but it got me thinking about the challenges leaders face when they are trying to turn around the way an organisation thinks.

In the film, the lead character came up against ‘We can’t do it that way’, ‘We’ve always done it this way’, ‘We’ve been doing this a long time and we know better’ and ‘It’s not the way we do things in this game’. He faced these rejections of the new approach, the change in strategy and the philosophy of how the business operated, wherever he turned.

It strikes me that this is the challenge that leaders face every day when they are trying to change the way their organisation operates. In fact, many of you will have heard words like this in your career. And some of you will have said words just like this I am sure.

How you respond to this challenge is largely what makes you a leader. It’s your role to keep the organisation moving forward, to introduce new concepts, to promote new approaches and drive new strategies. That’s why you are a leader. But the test of your leadership is how you do it.

You can resort to positional power (‘Im the boss so it’s changing’) and there are times when you have to do that, but as an ongoing tactic it’s got a limited shelf life. We all know that motivation through coercion does not work.

You can ‘restructure’ the business to move out the people who disagree with you. We’ve all seen this and for some managers it’s almost a first response, but again we all really know that it does not truly engage the organisation in the new approach, as everyone knows that you’ve done what you’ve done.

You can lead by example, but need to take care because for many this often ends up with the leader doing it all themselves and then you aren’t really leading are you?

What struck me in the film was that main character realised that he had to do something different (and no I’m not going to ruin the plot). By ‘do something different’ I mean that he realised that he had to look at his approach and his modus operandi and change those. Of course he had to make hard decisions for the business to ensure the strategy was being applied, and along the way he had to fire someone (but not for disagreeing, for being abusive). However one of the biggest impacts was in changing how he approached his role and his interaction with the business and its people. His shift in style meant that he was able to deal with the ‘can’t do’ attitudes and get right to the hearts and minds of the people and their understanding of the strategy.

Most leaders see the need to change things, structures, systems, processes and often other people. Few realise the benefit in looking at themselves, their style and approach. Some don’t see that they need to change. Some don’t want to take the risk in changing. Some don’t think they can change (and have a ‘can’t do’ attitude about themselves)

However that’s where leadership really starts: looking at yourself and asking ‘for me to truly lead this organisation, what do I need to change about me?’


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