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The non-transferables

I am more convinced than ever that leadership and culture are not transferable.

Leaders, according to Marty Linsky (Harvard Kennedy School) do not exist. He refutes the existence of a noun, “leader” and promotes the use of “lead” as a verb, instead. So, there are no leadership positions, only authority positions. To lead is to initiate and will always carry risk.

If someone has tasted success at one organisation, that is by means a guarantee of success at another. Lessons learned at one company are not immediately transferable, just like direct translations from one language to the next cause hilarity, not understanding. According to Prof. Jeffrey Pfeffer from Stanford University, one of the three biggest mistakes we can make is “casual benchmarking.” Randomly adopting ideologies or the “book of the month” – and circulating these amongst the executive team – is ineffective, at best. It will not create a culture of urgency, or sustain competitive advantage. “Leaders” today often assume that they know what to do, rather than taking time to learn the new context and its unique challenges, assets and opportunities. Context determines which knowledge and timing will be appropriate.

With this in mind, let me list a few reasons why “transfer” is not wise.

Firstly, trust is never a given, but rather is earned by conduct and reputation. Relationships, too, cannot be imposed. Creativity and innovation, too, are volunteered, as is support – and becoming a brand ambassador. Technology also plays a role, with social media affecting the customer experience and employee expectations.

How, then, did we think we could impose our values or “lessons learned” without due diligence?

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