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Leading for Tomorrow: Why You Need a Playbook, Not a Cookbook

“How do I lead my team with confidence when everything is constantly changing?”

Leaders today face greater uncertainty and disruption than ever before. To adapt to this rapidly changing pace, and to reset their thinking and approaches, I advise leaders to make a critical paradigm shift:

Understand that leading today requires a “Playbook,” not a “cookbook.”

Many people have been leading with what I refer to as “cookbooks.” Cookbooks consist of recipes: step-by-step instructions of what ingredients you need in which amounts, and how to put them together. In a similar fashion, organizations have built detailed methodologies and processes, replete with templates, that seek to remove the risk of misalignment or failure to complete the work. Their end game: Delegate with the assurance it will be done “correctly.” Goals and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are their dashboards to validate that alignment.

I challenge clients that there is a better way to work.

Leading effectively for tomorrow requires your team to create a Playbook that you fill with PowerPlays™ that your team can apply when needed.

For most organizations I help, they and their people are working hard. Yet the processes, procedures, and templates have become their “safe zone.” If they are using the correct approach or form, they assume they must be leading the project/team in the right direction. Frequently, they express fears about being unable to keep up with change; they worry their leaders aren’t “strategic-minded” enough.

The cookbook has met its limits. This sets the stage for a potential pitfall that I refer to as: Action Does Not Equal Progress.

What should we do instead? Leading effectively for tomorrow requires your team to create a Playbook that you fill with PowerPlays™ (strategies/techniques) that your team can apply when needed. As an analogy, consider how a football team use plays.

Football teams do not design a game plan with a full set of plays for an entire game. Instead, they have a book of plays. Based on their initial game plan, they leverage these plays in response to what they see as the game unfolds. The plays are small sequences that players have practiced repeatedly. They have become rhythmic and reliable amongst the team (people know what to expect). They are driven by a singular purpose (to win), with sub-intents (defense prevents points, offense scores points). Throughout the game, the team assesses, adapts, and adjusts their plays.

These may range from basic techniques for communicating, identifying the root cause, and conducting meetings, to more complex ones for establishing purpose and culture and making decisions. These plays are practiced so that they become consistent with the team, like muscle memory.

Just like a good coach, the leader then shifts his/her focus toward helping the team members to understand when they should apply a particular play based on “reading” the situation. Some plays will be used often; essentially, they become your “base process,”; while others may be applied only occasionally.

To help you get started, check out the PowerPlays™ section on my website. You can also download my free guide for leaders, which breaks down how you can use three of my top recommended plays.