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Wet Fingered Leadership - March 2005

In his book God's Politics, Jim Wallis offers this tip for anyone wishing to identify a member of Congress on the streets of Washington, DC:

    "They're the ones . . . who walk around town with their fingers held high in the air, having just licked them and put them up to see which way the wind is blowing."
Far too many politicians, Wallis writes, come to Washington with plans to affect REAL change, only to discover that it's impossible to make a difference without public support and that wetting your finger is the only way to measure that support.

Now - take a look at the decision process in your own company.

How often are choices made in your organization that simply maintain or enhance the status quo? Is there a chapter in your most recent growth plan that should be titled "Same Stuff - Only Bigger"? Congress is a mess, but it doesn't hold exclusive rights to the practice of wet-fingered leadership.

Wallis is absolutely correct when he writes that substantive change - real change - occurs only when someone stops following the wind and takes steps to "change the wind."

In the political arena, this means helping the public see things from a new perspective. Martin Luther King, Jr was a master at this. Dr. King didn't tell the nation it NEEDED to change, he showed us WHY. King explained the need (sometimes with real life examples) and we began to see the benefit of going in a new direction. Once the wind started to change - politicians jumped on the bandwagon.

Changing the wind in your company will mean seeking solutions that aren't "Same Stuff - Only Bigger."
  • If you're an airline - you change the wind by scrapping the hub-based model and flying direct between cities that are close to the most popular destinations.
  • Changing the wind for a large hospital with extreme over-crowding might mean looking for opportunities to spin off some services to satellite clinics instead of building a bigger facility in the same place.
  • The owner of a neighborhood retail shop can change the wind by not trying to compete for low prices (with Wal-Mart) and by offering a better selection, more knowledgeable clerks and a warm-inviting atmosphere.

List a few examples of "wet-fingered" decisions that have been made in your industry or organization.

Pick one or two and discuss how outcomes might have been different if those involved had "changed the wind" instead.

Answer this question - When is it OK to use the wet-finger approach?

Let me know how it goes,

Jim Seybert

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