JOURNAL ARTICLE | Harvard Business Review | 81 | April 2003
Tipping Point Leadership
How can you lead with your hands tied? How can you generate a leap in performance when everything seems to be, and in effect is, set up against you?Think limited resources, a demoralized staff, politics, and an organization wedded to the status quo. The answer rests in applying what we call Tipping Point Leadership. The theory of tipping points, which has its roots in epidemiology, hinges on the insight that in any organization, fundamental changes can happen quickly when the beliefs and energies of a critical mass of people create an epidemic movement toward an idea. Key to unlocking an epidemic movement is concentration, not diffusion.Tipping point leadership builds on the reality that in any organization there are factors that exercise a disproportionate influence on performance. Hence, contrary to conventional wisdom, meeting a massive challenge is not about putting forth an equally massive response where gains in performance are achieved by proportional investments in time and resources. Rather it is about conserving resources and cutting time by focusing on identifying and then leveraging the factors of disproportionate influence in an organization.The key questions Tipping Point Leaders should answer are: What factors or acts exercise a disproportionately positive influence on breaking the status quo, on getting the maximum bang out of each buck of resources, on motivating employees to aggressively move forward with change, and on knocking down political roadblocks that often trip up even the best strategies? By focusing on points of disproportionate influence, tipping point leaders are able to break the performance/cost tradeoff and topple the four hurdles that block a leap in performance fast and at low cost.The four hurdles are: the cognitive hurdle that blinds employees from seeing that radical change is necessary; the resource hurdle that is endemic in firms today; the motivational hurdle that discourages and demoralizes staff; and the political hurdle of internal and external resistance to change.