Great Leaders Simplify Complexity

– Posted in: Change Strategies Creativity Innovation Leadership Coaching

Innovate to Simplify a Winning Strategy

There’s been a quiet revolution happening in corporate America and many still have not accepted the invitation to the party. Every year the world becomes more complex and new technologies arrive that make certain tasks easier at the cost of hidden complexity. No one enjoys struggling with complexity. With too many outdated processes and too much to do as technology moves you more and more into doing other things, you need to focus on what matters most.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

Every leader wants simplicity in your organization. If so, start embracing complexity first. Some have called complexity the silent killer of growth. Take a look at your own company and see for yourself what holds your employees back from the work you hired them to do. How many emails do they receive and respond to or how many scheduled and unscheduled meetings are they required to attend.

Some people overcomplicate even the simplest tasks. These self-imposed ways of trying to get things done need to be looked at for change. Maybe you feel comfortable adding extra to an already complicated system that no one else is able to get anything done.

“The simpler we can make things, the more understanding and beliefs our teams will have which will help improve their efficiency and effectiveness which generate better results.”

-Gordon Tredgold

The impact of simplicity has a lot to do with complacency and complexity. How much and how long you stay still doing the same things to get the same results is what needs to be noticed before you see what is working and not working. You often get bogged down in what is happening. Things that have worked for you in the past may no longer be enough to solve what you need to get done now.

Simplification is a Key Ingredient for Your Success

“To complicate is easy. To simplify is difficult.” – Bruno Munari

How many times have your executives told you or have heard this from others that you need to “Simplify” in order to get things done. So much gets tangled with unnecessary things that it takes some thinking time to untangle what you have for simplifying what you need.

When you engage in simplicity, you have to begin to think about what really matters. One of the greatest compliments you can ever receive is that you have “the ability to simplify complexity”. It is rare to hear anyone to say that to others.

An easy starting point for simplification is to get rid of stupid rules and low-value activities, time-wasters that exist in abundance in most organizations. If you can shed a few tasks, you will create focus and time allowed to work on opportunities.

Take an Outside-in Perspective

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” – General Colin Powell

One thing we all want is simplicity.  Great leaders take complex strategies and simplify them down into key messages and action items that everyone can follow. Simplicity is fast becoming the competitive advantage of our time.

Leaders need to take an outside perspective to see how simplification can drive the need to add value to your organization- internally and externally. Reassess your organization’s processes, meetings and employees to see if they are up to the challenge. Eliminate or modify how complexity is inefficient and ineffective that stops your employees from getting things accomplished better than they have been.

The Butterfly Effect

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The butterfly effect describes the small change in one part of a system can have a significant impact to other parts of a system elsewhere. Leaders need to possibly adopt this within your own company.

Complexity requires a different kind of leadership. In order to create new ways of leading, we first need to let go of some of our old beliefs about what makes a good leader.

“Simplicity. Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.” – Leo Babauta

Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

Prioritize what’s really important and what’s not. One of the keys to simplification is to figure out what’s really important (and what’s not), and continually reassess the priority list as new things are added. Take the shortest path from here to there. Once it’s clear that you are working on the right things, root out the extra steps in core processes. Where are the extraneous loops, redundancies, and opportunities to make our processes as lean as possible?

Stop Being So Nice

One of the patterns that causes or exacerbates complexity is the tendency to not speak up about poor practices. This is particularly true when people hesitate to challenge more senior people who unintentionally cause complexity through poor meeting management, unclear assignments, unnecessary emails, over-analysis, or other bad managerial habits. To counter this, use constructive feedback.

“You get a competitive edge by doing something every day your competition don’t or won’t!

-Billy Cox

Great leaders live to eliminate or simplify the complex, while average leaders allow themselves and those they lead to be consumed by it. Complexity stifles innovation, slows development, gates progress, and adversely impacts culture. Complexity is expensive, inefficient, and ineffective. …great leaders understand opportunity and profits are extracted from complexity through simplification, not by adding to the complexity.”

Many of our organizations are way more complex than they need to be. In his blog on startup businesses, David Cummings wrote, “Great leaders take complex strategies and simplify them down into key messages and action items that everyone can follow.”

Complexity doesn’t automatically resolve itself. Some organizations endeavor re-design from time to time, but the work is typically limited in scope and stays inside functional boundaries. Results are more assured when the initial work is well planned and executed with precision.

What else? What are your thoughts on great leaders being able to simplify complexity?

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