A visionary leader does not seek mere balance between its organization’s ideological core and progress; they seek to be both highly ideological and highly progressive at the same time, all the time. ~Jim Collins
I’ve thought about this quote from Collins frequently over the past several weeks. What it means to be “both highly ideological and highly progressive at the same time, all the time.” In short, Collins describes this concept as “preserve the core and stimulate progress.” I hear people talk about what their organization has learned from COVID. Then I hear them describe intentions that sound like they plan to return to pre-COVID structures, processes, and expectations.
Do you really know your core?
This causes me to wonder, do we really know our core? And, do we have our core—our ideology—confused with our means—how we enable and reinforce our core?
Here’s more explanation from Collins. “The core ideology enables progress by providing a base of continuity around which a visionary organization can evolve, experiment, and change. By being clear about what is core, an organization can more easily seek variation and movement in all that is not core.”
A core ideology answers why, not what or maybe even not how you do what you do. Ideology is your belief, your creed, your philosophy, not what you do. If an organization is not crystal clear about its core, emerging out of 2020 processes, structures, services, products, etc. may not only be challenging, but could put the existence of the organization at risk.
Is your core really clear?
The past year has brought sweeping change that has enveloped all organizations. Thinking about the past year, a few questions can help determine if your core ideology is truly clear.
- Has your core ideology become even more clear? If so, can you articulate how?
- Is it clear how your core ideology will drive organization decisions in the coming year?
- Can you point to situations over the past 12 months where your core ideology did, in fact, cause your organization to make specific choices about what you would, or would not, do?
- Are leaders throughout your organization leaning on your core ideology to make decisions in their areas of responsibility?
Do your key leaders have a shared understanding of your core ideology? No, I’m not asking if everyone can quote your mission, vision, and values verbatim. I’m asking if they understand your ideology in a way that provides a base of continuity across the organization that drives decision making.
I see some organizations coming out of 2020 hibernation stronger, energized, and motivated. Then, I also see organizations limping along, hanging on by a thread, and hoping for a miracle. I recognize there are many factors contributing to an organization’s success. But the organizations I see thriving are those whose core ideology is crystal clear to everyone in the organization. As Collins said, when the core is clear, organizations can “seek variation and movement in all that is not the core.” They can adapt and change because their core ideology is clear.
Preserve the core and stimulate progress, at the same time, all the time. That’s leading with bold grace.