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Why Great Tech Leaders Must Challenge The Status Quo

Meet The Author

Steve Taplin

One thing that distinguishes successful businesses from struggling businesses is managers’ and employees’ ability to challenge the status quo. To do so, though, companies must build an environment that encourages the workforce to challenge solutions and create a favorable atmosphere for managers and employees alike to propose meaningful insights.

Despite the benefits of employees and managers challenging the status quo, most organizations prefer a command-based approach in their daily operations, in my experience. This approach entails sending out explicit instructions to accomplish certain tasks in a specific manner without question. While this approach is highly effective in maintaining hierarchy in a software development firm, it fails to create sufficient room for innovation and creativity.

Some leaders resist challenging the status quo because they fear this action would mean they have to devote significant effort to improvements and development. Also, as Glenn Llopis explains in a Forbes article: “Leaders are often afraid of putting their reputation on the line when there is no support for taking a risk.” Influential leaders must embrace risk as the new normal because that is the only way to achieve real change.

In this article, I will analyze the importance of challenging the status quo for leaders in software development and offer a few insights into how one can effectively challenge the status quo.

A Certified “Nano-Manager:” The Case of Elon Musk

Among the well-known tech leaders of our time, Elon Musk is perhaps the most proactive, eccentric and strategic. Although I don’t always agree with Musk’s management strategies and public comments, he has defied all odds and built some of the world’s best companies with SpaceX and Tesla.

Musk believes that a business organization can only achieve rapid growth and success by pushing the workforce to achieve optimum production. His leadership philosophy has propelled SpaceX and Tesla into some of the world’s most profitable enterprises.

So how does Elon Musk encourage his workforce to challenge the status quo of his companies? Whenever Musk emails his managers with the instructions for the day-to-day operations of his two firms, he explicitly directs them to “explain why he’s wrong,” “ask for clarification” or “execute the directions.”

From this philosophy, it is clear that Musk strongly believes in the proficiencies and competencies of his workforce to the point that he is willing to embrace criticism and counter-arguments from his managers. He acknowledges that challenging his decisions plays a vital role in illuminating flaws in his strategies and motivating his workforce to take the initiative.

How And Why To Challenge the Status Quo

When challenging the status quo, leaders demonstrate three key behaviors: experimenting, taking risks, and searching for opportunities. In my experience, leaders open to this practice are more effective than those who remain close to new information or approaches.

Challenging the status quo presents leaders with new ways of viewing organizational problems. It motivates them to look for innovative strategies to improve the business continually. Given their understanding that risk-taking involves failures and mistakes, they must embrace the inevitable disappointments and perceive them as learning opportunities.

Because status quo-challenging leaders generally know the critical benefits of working under minimal supervision, they tend to give employees adequate time to evaluate their work, experiment with new models and, ultimately, follow the path that will yield the most favorable outcomes.

That said, challenging the status quo of an organization also requires some subtlety, as one has to strike a delicate balance between being a team player and disrupting the flow of business. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

1. Connect with your team. It is prudent to communicate with your workforce and understand their thoughts. By maintaining effective communication with your team, you will be able to experience diverse perspectives within your enterprise.

2. Embrace an open-minded approach. Ask your team the same questions you ask yourself in order to challenge concepts widely agreed upon in the organization. One benefit of being open-minded is obtaining insights about elements of the status quo that you weren’t even aware of in the first place.

3. Prepare for change. Before proposing and implementing changes, a leader should consider all possibilities and perspectives. Ensure that you have the right processes and people in place. This is particularly vital when it comes to handling the finances of your software development firm. Be sure that any reasonable doubt posed about your proposed model can be supported if something goes awry.

While most leaders fear taking risks based on the assumption that the lack of a support system might jeopardize their reputation, the benefits of challenging the status quo reflect the need for managers to develop and embrace a new mindset. This mindset should involve jumping out of your comfort zone and embracing a new way of seeing things—a new perspective that should be deeply ingrained in proactive and strategic thinking.

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