I opened the top cabinet of my desk recently to search for an old notebook. As I did so, a Davy Crockett coonskin cap fell out. Why in the world would I have a coonskin cap in my office, you ask? Great question!
In 2003 I joined a newly created organization at Coca-Cola. At one of our very first team meetings, the leader (Jim) gave each of us a Davy Crockett-style coonskin cap and stated, "We are pioneers!" I thought this was interesting ... well, sort of. But it was different, and hey, it was my first coonskin cap!
At the time, I had a small idea of what his pioneer reference meant, as our group was a newly created organization. New teams were being formed, employees were being migrated from a larger corporate entity, and different routines were being established. If you read the formal definition of pioneer, it includes starting something new, treading new paths, and pursuing new, undiscovered territories. It wasn't until 3-4 years later that I fully understood the pioneering concept laid out by that leader. He framed up a vision that included all of us serving as pioneers in creating, establishing, and building this new organization.
Our group was originally chartered with funding for three years. Our business priorities were centered on a limited set of national projects that, once completed, were to signal the end of our organization and a transition into new roles within the business. That didn't happen. Today, the organization is growing. It continues to receive project requests and has engaged in strategic initiatives that were not even considered in scope when originally conceived. The organization continues to grow and adds strategic value many years after its founding.
Even more interesting is that the original culture was one typical of a new organization being formed with bits and pieces of other organizations. It was comprised of new hires and leadership with varied backgrounds, interests, and beliefs. Today the culture is unique, and centers on core tenets such as trust, engagement, investment in employees, communication, passion, delivery excellence, and, of course, fun! In looking back, not every plan worked out. But those closed doors eventually lead to positive organizational change and enabled resources to begin work on other new initiatives.
Pioneers are also bold. They require thick skin - solid armor to protect them against the jealous arrows and lazy left hooks from arrogant, silver-tongued, and self-proclaimed organizational leaders. Boldness quickly fleshes out insecurity, lack of self-confidence, and laziness in others within an organization. After all, if one person is going to be bold and raise the bar, others must follow or risk being left behind, or left out altogether. There is a way to be bold without being brash. Boldness is a trait that is often suppressed and often criticized. And yet it is a trait that, if cultivated properly, yields extraordinary leadership results.
Being organizational pioneers is not easy and requires significant commitment to a vision that is often not clear to others. It requires the establishment of routines, setting and prioritizing expectations, delivering results, and often making bold decisions quickly to move the organization along the path of development and growth. It also requires finding the right people to cut a new path through uncharted territory.
BRINGING IT TO LIFE ◙◙ Pioneers Expect To Take Risks: A number of my friends are true entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses. This required incredible flexibility, creativity, and risk. Most of them are heading toward a successful future. All worked for large corporations before deciding to make the jump to do their own thing. Becoming a pioneer is never easy. It does not come without compromise. Pioneers first weigh the risks and rewards, and then take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities. How would you rate your tolerance for risk? ◙◙ Pioneers Seek The Undiscovered: What is certainly true of any start-up or new organization is that the future is truly undiscovered territory. Your path will be different by default. While others may have tread a similar path with many lessons learned, the people, processes, technology, and outside influences will be completely different for you. The fuel that drives momentum is the passion that seeks the undiscovered. Recognizing that there will be boulders (roadblocks), sinkholes (surprises/changes) and plenty of bad weather (naysayers, non-supporters, doubters, detractors) along the trek will help you prepare to survive the journey. Does this sound like an environment meant for you? ◙◙ Pioneers Are Impatient With Status Quo: Pioneers are impatient with mediocrity. They avoid those that seek the obligatory 9 to 5 job; those who operate with an entitlement mentality, and, instead, seek to surround themselves with individuals willing to put in the extra effort to achieve extraordinary - who believe in and are excited about the vision. Pioneers explore uncharted territories and love finding solutions to problems unsolved by others. Pioneers seek out and conquer big challenges.
Read more in "Be Extraordinary!" - check it out at Amazon.com or on your favorite e-reader.