James Bond used to want his martini’s “shaken, not stirred,” and that was sexy. It’s less so when you are the one being shaken, which is the uncomfortable, optimal performance standard for effective senior leaders in top positions. Whether CEO, General, or Mayor, people of power need to be willing to be shaken up on a regular basis as part of sustainable innovation.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean looking good in a tux (although that’s been known to be helpful in a pinch.) It means discussing the “undiscussables.” According to Peter Bregman (Harvard Business Review), “talking about the thing that no one is talking about is an almost foolproof way to improve company performance.”
It’s almost a guarantee that what people aren’t talking about goes to the heart of the CEO’s biggest challenge — otherwise, it would be a regular part of the conversation! A leader unwilling to face those challenges stirs up trouble instead of solutions.
Solutions require a virtuoso dance with change, and as leaders move up the ladder, they need greater and greater skill.
I’m not talking about that roster of comforting skills known as “people skills,” or even “street smarts,” the default crisis management of James Bond adventurer leaders.
I’m talking about the skills that take leaders out of their comfort zones and into decisions and relationships that make a difference.
Steven Snyder (The Art of Leadership) writes: “The art of struggle, like sculpting, painting, and composing, is messy and imprecise. But it’s time to summon the courage to confront your own story, to reconstruct your leadership narrative, and to forge ahead. Out of your discomfort, you will begin to see a masterpiece taking shape.”
It really is about the story you’re living. My research shows that successful leaders need more than a clear personal story to be authentic, more than a cogent narrative to stir people to trust and follow you. Your leadership story is a lived process, a path to follow, and that’s the art of owning it.
If you’re only telling your story, it’s not working. You know it’s working when you can dance with discomfort and stay open to possibility even while discussing the so-called undiscussables. You know it’s working when it changes, and you change along with it.
James Bond liked his martinis shaken, not stirred, because he added vodka to the mix, a riskier blend. Stirred, these potent drinks can taste foul. But shaken, new flavors blend with the sharp edges of the ice, making something bracing and delicious. Like good leadership, it’s artful, sexy, messy and balanced on the knife edge of discovery and defeat.