There are two primary reasons why organizations get stuck. They sink into inertia because of their clunky tendencies—often with multiple business models, competing goals, and conflicting priorities. There is so much going on that these organizations have a difficult time setting a path and moving forward in a coherent, organized fashion. Or they become stuck because of their narrow vision, limited scope, and a belief that yesterday’s business models are well suited to meet tomorrow’s challenges.
The leadership challenge for pragmatic leaders is to transform organizations with clunky or myopic tendencies into truly thriving organizations that meet their potential. Pragmatic leaders have the capacity to engage in robust discovery and focused delivery.
Robust discovery is to uncover the great ideas that are percolating in the organization and beyond. Pragmatic leaders have to be explorers. They have to be aware of their environment and look for signals. They have to have to confidence to seek out partners—both internal and external to the organization—to engage in deeper exploration. Pragmatic leaders have to be innovators. They have to lead the ideation process and support the decision to follow one idea to prototype.
Focused delivery is to campaign for support for the idea and to sustain momentum. Once an idea has been fleshed out, it is time to share it with others in the organizations. Often, the default reaction is resistance. Pragmatic leaders anticipate the reactions that others may have, and try to develop arguments and justifications for their idea. Pragmatic leaders understand that they cannot drop the ball. Once an idea is off the ground, it cannot be forgotten or passed off to other parties. Pragmatic leaders have a vested interest in the development of their ideas, and are determined to see them to fruition.
In the final analysis, pragmatic leadership is about execution. Pragmatic leaders understand that the difference between failed or failing organizations and thriving organizations is the ability of leaders to move ideas, overcome resistance, and create lasting change. To do this, they need to develop the micro-skills of discovery and delivery not only to move agendas and create change—but also to make sure that their organization doesn’t get stuck.
Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University’s ILR School
and the co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group. He is the author of Transforming the Clunky Organization: Pragmatic Leadership Skills to Break Inertia (2018) and The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough (2016), both published by Cornell University Press. Bacharach trains high-potential leaders in the skills of political competence and agenda moving. More information about his writing is available at: samuelbacharach.com.