How Leaders Reinvent Themselves
What do you as an entrepreneurial leader have in common with the applied physicist who now manages a company of over a thousand people, the novelist now running a human resources division, or the money manager who became a school teacher?
They all reinvented themselves, and sooner or later you will have to as well. Reinventing yourself isn’t just a token New Year’s gesture, it's something good leaders are always mindful of.
Unlike past generations that could rely on a consistent set of core skills and a clear career path, today we all must constantly revisit our skills, reinvestigate our aspirations, and reconstitute our careers. This is often difficult because we’re trapped in routine, avoid risk, and simply like being comfortable.
But we must reinvent ourselves because of the turbulence around us. Technological disruptions, shifting organizational structures, and unpredictable markets demand that we pivot and take unexpected directions.
The very core knowledge around us, the very organizations in which we work, the very markets that demand our attention, are changing at such a rapid pace that skills, insights, and observations that were true at one point are no longer true or at best, are no longer accurate.
Reinventing oneself requires focusing on what's around you and learning to capture the essence of an observation so it can be transfered to a new set of skills.
To reinvent yourself continually, you need to try the following:
You need to always be scanning the world around you to capture trends, styles, ideas, and movements. You can’t do this by sitting in your office chair. Break your routine and talk to people in all industries and walks of life. Visit places and attend events you normally wouldn’t.
Good leaders know their strong and weak suits. In order to reinvent yourself, you need to know what personal competencies you can use and which shortcomings might become liabilities. For every disruption in the market, there will always be room for your perspective. You must be aware of the value you possess and what needs improvement.
Careers and businesses begin with a handshake, but they succeed with traction and support. Lone Rangers only exist on TV. Build networks and learn from them.
A glut of material praises the notion of failure. But as Winston Churchill puts it: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Your reinvention will have its share of missteps, but that can’t be your prime deterrent. Be bold.
Reinvention doesn’t necessitate that you ape current attitudes. Reinvention often demands that you posture and prepare for what will happen in the future. Don’t adjust to trends--predict them as best you can.
All of this comes with a serious caveat: Don’t reinvent yourself ad nauseum, and don’t change because others demand it. Don’t acquiesce to every new thing--you must always rely on your core strengths.
SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies
Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.