Leadership: Challenging the Process

A recent memo I distributed to my team that applies to all walks of life and leadership in general (semi-edited for this audience):

Over the last few months I have read and listened to numerous articles, books, and podcasts regarding change and leadership. A book titled The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, and some writings from Andy Stanley really stood out to me. They spoke about the need to challenge the status quo. The biggest item I took away from all of these readings is this: Progress is preceded by change, and change is preceded by challenge. Therefore, you must challenge the status quo for change and progress to occur.

Taking this all into consideration, it is important that I, and we, create an environment that provides the freedom to challenge the current process. I am one person and the way I interpret things and execute is limited. I thrive in surrounding myself with people, such as you, that have better ideas than I possess. We need to leverage these different ideas and opinions of the group to succeed. We must create opportunities for our subordinates to challenge the process. We will realize a healthy organization if we create these opportunities, and we will create these opportunities if we have a healthy organization.

Although I encourage challenge in our organization, there are, of course, some ground rules. First, you must understand the art of challenging. I am not asking us to challenge for challenge sake, nor am I asking us to generate an environment of public conflict. We must be savvy in the way we challenge. To steel a line from Andy Stanley: be a raving fan publicly and an honest critic privately. Unless your leader is inviting you to challenge publicly, stand by them in public settings. However, be sure to have those private, one-on-one, discussions and share your ideas and keep challenging. We must present a unified front, but continue an honest dialogue. The reality is that public loyalty creates private leverage.

We also must realize that everything that is currently in place was once considered a good idea. In fact, the process in place was probably once considered revolutionary and it solved a large problem. Before you begin challenging a process, you need to appreciate the fact that everything in place was put in place because it accomplished something important at the time. Do charge forward with your new idea, but also take a moment to a step back and appreciate the current state.

There are only a few sacred cows that cannot be challenged, but everything else is up for grabs. Our mission to create and maintain world class website and mobile products is core to our organization, as is the mission to create Great Hotels Guests Love. However, the approach and methods for achieving these goals are fair game and should be challenged.

We must be constant with our challenges. A system, but its definition, will resist change. I’m not seeking anarchy; systems are necessary in any organization. However, an environment must be created where challenges are invited. During your team meetings, informal conversations, and one-on-one discussions, be sure to create this environment. Together we can realize amazing progress, but we must change by challenge the status quo if we want to be world class, create an amazing work environment, and deliver on IHG’s vision to create Great Hotels Guests Love.

So start challenging! Together we are going to realize amazing progress.

– Keith

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