Have you ever been on a team with people who play the part of the victim? Do you know someone who quickly blames others for failures or takes on a toxic attitude? When results aren’t going as expected, have you chosen to start editorializing on events rather than being an active participant? Strong leaders inspire their teams to rise above these impulses. They refuse to give in. They provide a model of resilience within the organization. And they navigate through the ebbs and flows of today’s quickly changing world without leaving the arena.

As leaders, we try to meet challenges and help our organizations overcome obstacles. During the past year, I have had the privilege of working with just such inspiring leadership at the Cape Girardeau, Mo., Procter & Gamble (P&G) plant. Founded in 1965 at the edge of the Mississippi River, this plant employs seasoned leaders who continue to teach me the meaning of endurance, fighting over many years to adapt to change and win against their competitors. They have chosen to focus on the voices that move the organization forward, and they have a passion for disciplined execution and making courageous and often tough decisions. Their pride, resilience, and passion are evident throughout the organization and have passed through generations.

It’s clear to me that the Cape plant has earned its place as one of P&G’s best manufacturing facilities through this contagious leadership lesson: We take personal ownership and feel accountable for results. We pull our teams through tough times and propel them toward a vision of how things should be. As the current business environment continues to experience disruptive change and creates the need for organizations to adapt, our leaders stay steady at the helm throughout the storm.

During a recent P&G Baby Care supply chain summit, the production supply teams were shown a glimpse of the future digital marketplace. The audience was captivated not only by the narrative and knowledge of Dan O’Connor, president and CEO of RetailNet Group (RNG), but by the complexity of the current digital marketplace and the overwhelming speed of change heading in our direction. The next presentations from senior P&G executives took our teams on a journey through global market performance reviews, and they explained in great detail the volatility and uncertainty we faced. In short, we encountered the tough reality and the imminent need to lead our organizations through a time of unprecedented change.

We were introduced to an excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s timeless 1910 “Citizenship in a Republic” speech. We were reminded to engage and push on, to overcome and lead our own teams, to refuse to give in:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

It was a timely reminder and a wake-up call for me to carefully and meticulously focus on strategic actions that enable the organization to win. Here are just a few of them.

Fireproof instead of firefight. I learned this the hard way when I worked in an accounting department for P&G back in 2005. At the time, the organization was almost entirely dedicated to fixing errors, and we had terrible morale and leadership issues. Clark Sandquist, at the time a P&G associate director, stepped in; he quickly chose to address only the most important outages. He then helped the organization invest the time to anticipate changes, understand the root causes of losses, and create a robust action plan to drive change. Clark’s simple concept to fireproof our organization was transformational, and it completely turned morale around.

Full employee engagement. It’s critical to be transparent with employees, sharing the challenges ahead along with an inspiring vision and a call to action. Leaders must enable the organization to engage in finding solutions and have the right sense of urgency. Depending on the size of your company, engaging each individual employee might be difficult, but direct managers can engage employees one on one. Seek to partner with key organizational leaders who can help drive the right tone from the top. I have also seen amazing results from reverse mentoring teams in driving change that’s embraced by the organization.

Strategic operational excellence. Once a plan is in place, setting clear priorities and strategic choices will help employees deliver on critical measures. Cluttering the organization with in-process metrics will fill workdays with reviews and action plans that will feel like micromanagement. That said, have a relentless passion to drive personal accountability and results.

Protect critical processes. Identify those processes that can jeopardize the success of the change—critical tasks that can’t be missed. You need to minimize the change that impacts these processes and strengthen controls around them.

I keep the Cape plant in mind as a reminder of our responsibility to be protagonists in the narrative, to lead our organizations into the future. It isn’t enough to listen to those voices that propel the organization forward. We must become them. As leaders, we should resist the temptation to surrender our accountability. It’s critical to engage our teams to move out of the stands and into the arena.


The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/programs_events/ima_leadership_academy.

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