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Posted on Jan 25, 2019

Why Leaders Need To Honor What Is Sacred

Why Leaders Need To Honor What Is Sacred

Some leaders enjoy walking into a new role and proudly proclaiming they intend to barbecue anything that’s a sacred cow. It’s their way of initiating change. But doing it this way often destroys what is good as they seek to eliminate the bad. What often ends up happening is that good people leave, key vendors and partners stop going the extra mile, and meaningful aspects of a business (which took years to create) are annihilated.

Yes, there may be a time when things need to be “shaken up.” But even here, leaders need to always be aware of what is sacred – to the brand, the business, and the people. Note that the definition of sacredness aligns to support the importance of differentiation.

Sacredness means worthy of respect or dedication; devoted exclusively to single purpose; set apart.

Sacredness is a value that leaders shouldn’t ignore.

Always Act with Care

There is a reason that something is worthy of respect or dedication, or why a team of people continues to be devoted to single purpose. If something is sacred, leaders need to understand what it is and why it is set apart in the minds and hearts of employees, customers, and even shareholders.

Wise leaders never permit cavalier behavior. They always act with care. When they identify something that is sacred, they preserve it and constantly communicate why it is important – all the while driving necessary change throughout their organization, and beyond.

This is how well established brands preserve their history while adapting to changing environments. Examples include:

  • 3M preserving its history of innovation.
  • Coca-Cola preserving its legacy of being community-centric.
  • McDonald’s preserving its brand of making food fast.
  • Walmart preserving its promise of low prices.
  • VISA preserving its heritage of being accepted everywhere.

For these brands to continue their legacy, their leaders must always remember what is sacred.

Uncovering What is Sacred

How does a leader uncover what is sacred? Let’s revisit the components of this value.

  • Worthy of respect. What are the tangible and intangible elements that are most respected by everyone? Leaders must dig into the history behind these elements and understand the stories that surround them. They need to uncover the truth that defines the brand. [Hint: these are likely a few differentiation values]
  • Worthy of dedication. What is it that employees celebrate, either formally or informally? These may be products, processes, or people (over time). There may even be a company joke (or two) that surrounds it, which suggest that it’s important. If it’s always part of conversations, leaders need to carefully consider why.
  • Devoted exclusively to single purpose. Organizations often have one or more roles, or activities, or functions that if they disappeared an imperative legacy would be gone. Leaders need to understand who or what benefits by the activities or output of the organization, which may not be as obvious as one might think. It is important that leaders recognize these benefits and preserve them.
  • Set apart. There’s always a good reason something seems odd or out-of-place. Leaders need to be self-aware about the little things that might capture their attention. In such instances, they should explore why no one has addressed them before. More importantly, leaders need to uncover the story behind them and understand the impact upon the team.

Even if something seems no longer necessary or relevant to the current environment, consider WHEN it may have been necessary and relevant. It’s ok to adapt to a changing environment (and even necessary), but preserving the essence of WHY something used to matter honors the sacredness of it.

Leaders who honor what is sacred while at the same time driving positive change are appreciated by their team and those they serve. They also form part of the legacy that preserves brands and businesses into future generations.