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Leadership Choices: Tradition Versus Innovation ~ A Delicate Balance

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Khadija White-Thomas
August 28, 2023

In a world where tradition and innovation collide, leaders find themselves at a crossroads, torn between upholding time-honored traditions or embracing the swift pace of new trends. As leaders, we confront the daunting task of reconciling tradition with the allure of uncharted territory, navigating a delicate balance between honoring a legacy and venturing into new realms of possibilities. Let us picture this all so common scenario.

A seasoned leader, perhaps at the helm of a well-established organization, grappling with the enduring question of whether to break away from the familiar path and embark on a journey of change. This leader stands at the precipice of a decision that could shape the future of the organization, weighing the merits of preserving cherished customs against the potential for groundbreaking progress.

As the leader sits in their office, gazing through the window, thoughts of how to infuse novel technology and trends within the organization fills their mind. Anticipating the questions that would arise: “Why disrupt our well-established methods?” “How can we be certain this fresh approach will succeed?” There would be whispers too—the watercooler murmurs about being “too hasty” and already having “enough on our plates.”

The leader recognizes that addressing these concerns was crucial for those hesitant about adopting new trends. It was essential to articulate why the changes were beneficial, how they would improve efficiency and the consequences of sticking to outdated practices. The task at hand was clear: communicate a persuasive vision. Emphasize the point and recount instances where the organization would reap the rewards of cutting-edge trends and demonstrate how replacing some traditions with innovations will provide the better service, efficiency and effectiveness—with all three peacefully coexisting.

Pausing to observe the current workforce and business culture, the leader notices that while some eagerly embrace innovation, others cling to traditional ways—resistant to change. Given today’s rapid pace of technological advancements, such behavior was not surprising, as many people grow comfortable with routines and are reluctant to abandon them for uncharted territory.

Indeed, leadership entails navigating the intricate relationship between time-honored traditions and dynamic innovation, a choice rarely accompanied by a simple resolution. By examining the positive and negative aspects of these critical points, we can understand their impact on organizational dynamics and make informed decisions about their relevance and suitability.

In the ten steps below, the discussion provides multifaceted actions that leaders must carefully evaluate for determining the effectiveness of traditions and practices versus innovative objectives to ensure the continued success and growth of the organization.

  • • Establish and clarify the organizational mission, vision, and strategic approach.
  • • Thoroughly, yet critically, assess the long-standing tradition and associated practices. •
  • Carefully take the time to understand the organization’s cultural norms and traditional practices to fully ensure that the transition from these systems and services will continue to be in alignment with the overall innovative intentions.
  • Recognize that the organization’s culture will directly influence employee motivation, productivity and commitment to the new approach of innovation.
  • Consider that tradition and practices may provide some employees with a sense of belonging and stability, so constantly evaluate these customs to gain an understanding of the underlying perspectives.
  • Reveal whether the impact of long-standing traditions and practices are creating a sense of stability or a barrier to organizational success.
  • Encourage as much open communication and open-forum discussions about the traditions and practices, and what the transition to the innovation will provide by gathering feedback on how certain practices will promote or hinder productivity, inclusivity and adaptability.
  • Design focus groups that will continually provide open dialogue to discover opportunities for change that will continue to align with the organization’s innovation objectives.
  • Educate everyone in all areas of innovation and encourage creativity that will lead to alternate solutions.
  • Continue to seek knowledge by pulling in other subject matter experts on best practices from industry experts and other organizations within similar sectors to identify areas where further adjustments can be made.
  • Lastly, regenerate knowledge within the organization and continue to foster a learning environment that embraces change by promoting a growth mindset within all departments and teams that make up the organization.

In conclusion, encouraging creativity and innovation may lead to alternative solutions that are more effective than archaic practices. Effective leadership means not only leading with vision and strategy but also ensuring that traditional practices align with progressive goals. Through this approach, leaders seek to alleviate concerns and foster creative thinking within the organization. Examining the implications of these traditions on leadership effectiveness allows organizations to reassess long-standing customs, adapt where necessary and create a culture that supports evolving and innovative expectations while preserving cherished values of efficiency and effectiveness.

Author: Dr. Khadijia White-Thomas works in the federal courts as an executive leader. She is also the Founder and CEO of Decree Consulting & Publishing, LLC, focusing on organizational change, and providing business coaching, strategy, and leadership consulting services. Contact Dr. Khadijia at www.decreeconsult.com.

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