culture change, leadership, organisational culture

Know, go, show: your way

Let’s talk about one of the most well-known leadership quotes out there. You’ve probably heard it. The heading doesn’t say it, but I bet you thought it from the demand to “know, go, show”! Here’s how to break that famous insight down to use in your everyday life.

“A leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”

John C. Maxwell

It’s catchy, no? There’s a reason why it’s so commonly repeated in organisations across the world when they’re looking to deliver change.

Earlier this month, for International Women’s Day, we challenged the #ChoosetoChallenge hashtag because it asked the people most affected by bias or structural inequality to work harder, rather than the people with the most power to make change. It also doesn’t do much towards setting direction towards an end goal. Sometimes it can be only too easy to identify things that are wrong and seemingly impossible to figure out how to fix them.

Let’s break Maxwell’s maxim down to see how we might be more active in challenging the status quo and making our work-lives, and workplaces, better.

Know the way

This is about clarity. Your clarity. Before you can go or show, you need to know.

An understanding of how things need to be to work better is an essential foundation for making change. This knowledge might be from formal training or informal learning. You might be bringing insights from your lived experience to shape a diversity and inclusion initiative, or learning from a course you did at your old organisation. What’s important is that you’re able to combine it with your deep knowledge of your organisation: its culture, its people, its mission. Because, to “know the way”, you need to have both a vision and a map.

That’s clarity, rather than just knowledge. 

Go the way

This is about action. Your action.

It may feel like you’ve greater power to take action if you’re in a formal leadership role, but that’s not always the case. In fact, people with less responsibility for formal leadership can have a greater opportunity to “go the way” because they don’t have to justify it to anyone and everyone affected before they can act. 

Think about your vision and map. What’s the first step for you? Maybe it’s something straightforward. Supporting that diversity initiative by talking positively about it in the office and persuading others to also get involved, for example. Or maybe it’s something more personal. If your vision were achieved, what work would you do, and how? Say you want to change your organisation’s meeting culture (and who doesn’t want to do that, wherever they work?!). What would meetings look like after the change is complete? Can you just start running meetings that way?

Show the way

This is about service, and helping other people to achieve their own clarity.

You’ve got a map, so perhaps this sounds like showing it to everyone and persuading them to follow it. And, when we’re talking about formal processes, that might be true. But, more likely, we’re talking about changing culture here, and everyone will be able to contribute differently to that goal. Behaving more inclusively probably looks different for a white male fifty-something in a C-suite position than for a black female twenty-something in an entry-level position. You’re all heading to the same vision/destination—an inclusive workplace—but you’re going to have to get there differently. 

To show the way, then, whether you’re a formal leader or an informal one, servant leadership can help you. Servant leaders puts the team’s development and welfare first and helps people perform as highly as possible. Now that you’ve taken your own first steps, what can you do to help others do the same? You’ve been trying to lead by example. Now’s the time to talk openly about how you’ve taken that action and why so that other people can be inspired to take their first steps.

Hopefully this has helped you think of ways that you might know, go, show the way in your organisation!