One of most profound and difficult aspects of leadership is instilling in individuals deeply held, and yet generally shared principles to motivate a common purpose. Leading by influencing one's sense of identity and purpose is both powerful and mysterious. Like deep blue sea, it is also a source of energy and diversity. In this first of twelve articles exploring spectrum of leadership influence, I address question: what exactly is deep blue leadership?
The Story Part 1: The Conundrum When Lynn, long time leader of a growing organization, drove into office parking lot at 7:41am, something didn't seem right. He had arrived home late night before after an extended overseas trip. He was still experiencing jet lag but parking lot seemed empty to him when compared to six months earlier. He remembered feeling that things were going well then, that everyone seemed motivated, excited and happy. They came in early and stayed late. They were genuinely happy to be back each morning and cheerful when greeting co-workers. The pace of action was quick and efficient. Now, in contrast, people seemed to be dragging. They were just doing their jobs. Morale, it seems, had sagged. As he parked and walked, he made a mental note: "Our leadership activity needs a shot in arm," he thought.
Analysis and Perspective In his leadership role, Lynn was appropriately, if informally, monitoring a leading indicator of performance when he noted waning level of engagement by organization's members. He appropriately hypothesized that this decline was related to a reduced "velocity" of leadership across organization, amount of time spent on leadership activities. Because reduced engagement and intrinsic motivation are expected outcomes of a decline in a specific type of leadership influence, called deep blue leadership influence, he realized that he needed to initiate programs to reenergize this type of leadership in organization.
Lynn's experience and training had taught him that three steps were required: first gather information about current situation and diagnose issues; second, initiate specific leadership activities designed to shore-up deeply held, social identity of team members with respect to his organization, sense of purpose that provides intrinsic motivation; and third, institutionalize change by integrating these initiatives into organization's culture.
Lynn realized this would not be easy. His leadership teams must find ways to influence members' deeply held sense of identity, toward an organizationally appropriate collective purpose. This sense of purpose, identity and vision would provide intrinsic motivation to increase engagement, quicken everyone's pace and fill parking lot.
Case Study Examples Many organizations face periods where weariness or ennui sets in, where motivation drops. Up and down cycles naturally occur in individuals, even Lynn was dragging that morning, but when reduced motivation occurs broadly across organization, leadership intervention is required. Otherwise, culture itself may change permanently.
When Lucent Technologies was preparing to spin-out from AT&T, employees felt discarded. Their identities were injured, their motivation low. Although CEO Henry Schacht didn't have a name for it at time, he knew that deep blue leadership influence was needed.
He began with an intense data gathering effort and a thoughtful assessment and diagnosis of situation. This was followed by an organization wide identity creating effort that used as many people as practical to develop a shared vision for IPO "road show". Over and over he and his team communicated essence of their collective experience using theme "the opportunity of a lifetime." They were careful to hone their vision statement in a cascading effort that energized organization.
In a matter of a few months, Lucent employees went from being crushed to being enthusiastic leaders in their own right. Their motivation soared and pushed organization to a successful IPO and years of strong growth1.
* * * When Steve Jobs returned to Apple after many years, he found a demoralized team and a shattered identity. Apple had lost desktop wars. Collective identity was shattered. There was no vision to motivate people.
Like Schacht, Jobs also recognized need for deep blue leadership. At Apple, deep blue influence was signaled through an advertising program, "think different." This was aimed as much at employees, Jobs says, as customers. The idea was to reawaken strong identity and purpose that had made Apple a successful innovator in past. Apple needed to recapture its identity and its vision: to build most innovative product possible. To do this, people had to "think different," not just building "the same old, same old".