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Agility of Leadership In Transition

This fall the Chinese Communist Party will convene its 18th National Party Congress to announce a fresh generation of leaders. Xi Jinping, who has arrived in Washington DC last Monday, is likely to replace Hu Jintao and become the next President of China.

Regional delegates will descend on Beijing and participate in the congress by voting in a closed ballot for the next round of leaders. Xi’s ascendency is a near certainty because departing party leaders chose their successors before they leave office. Then the congress’s secret vote legitimizes the back-door deals.

This year China’s leadership shake up is more important than ever since 25 of the CCP’s top leaders are bowing out and retiring. That means more than half of the CCP’s top members are departing. China’s policy will soon be dictated by a new group of leaders that Washington has little knowledge of.

Once Xi takes office he’ll be facing a host of complex problems and have to confront them with a new group of party leaders. From a leadership point of view, Xi has his work cut out for him.

Transitioning into a leadership role isn’t a science, nor is it all guess-work. But first and foremost Xi needs to make sure he justifies his initiatives so he can move agendas forward without creating too much infighting within an untried government.

If a leader, making a transition into a new role, can justify what they are going to do then their job is made easier. I believe there are four basic ways a leader can justify their initiatives. They are as follows:

Mimicking scenario: This argument, employed by teenagers around the world, justifies an initiative because, “everybody is doing it.” If a leader can confidently inform their team that they need to push an agenda forward or else lag behind the competition—people will be forced to buy-in or come up with a better idea. However, there’s always room for cynics to ask, “Why do we have to jump off the bridge as well?”

Regulation scenario: Or, in different words, “they told us to do it.” If wielded correctly, a leader can argue that they are only acting in a certain way because of orders from up-high. For Xi, this is a likely recourse. He might be able to easily purse his policies by explaining that they are necessary to keep certain military or business institutions happy.

Standards Scenario: Here a leader can take the high ground and stare his resistors in the eye and state, “the people expect it of us.” It’s an argument that stands on slippery ground. Dissenters might ask why certain expectations matter—especially if long hours and extra money are required to carry out the initiative.

Rational Scenario: With confidence a leader can justify his or her initiative by saying, “look at the numbers—this needs to get done.” But the problem is there are always different sets of numbers. By employing the rational scenario a leader may get caught in a cyclical debate that sabotages forward movement.

Most leaders, without realizing it, have probably used all four of these strategies at one time or another to push their initiatives. It helps to look at them from a bird’s eye view and decide which strategy is appropriate for which situations.

China’s leadership transformation will be interesting to watch in the coming months for a variety of reasons—but from a leadership stand point it’ll be exciting to see how Xi and his new comrades justify their new ideas.

They will doubtless use all of these four scenarios to justify their actions—but they will have to be careful about how they do so. Within each justification there is room for someone to raise their hand and start, “Yes, but…”



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