Burn the Ships at the Beach

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The Monday MOVE Idea

Each Monday until the launch of my upcoming book MOVE, I’ll be sharing an important idea from the book. This week:

Burn the Ships at the Beach

Leading Transformation is Hard

One of my more challenging leadership assignments was to lead a transformation in a software development organization for how we developed products. It was a process improvement initiative.

As we got into it, people would tell me, “You are being stupid, you are killing our business, we’re going to lose our top people over this”, and I’d say, “I understand your frustration, but this is what we are doing, and I am committed to it. I promise you in the long run it will be good for the business, as we discussed at the beginning.”

I would go to my boss and say, this is really hard, everybody hates this, and they argue with me every day. And he would say to me, “Patty, you have to burn the ships at the beach”.

There is no turning back

He taught me that you have to make it very clear at the beginning of a difficult journey that there is no turning back

If you go back, there is nothing there for you. You can’t get back. The only way through is forward – Even though forward may appear threatening.

And he taught me that the way you “burn the ships at the beach” is to be completely consistent in your message and your decisions.

Don’t undermine yourself

There were so many times it was tempting to cave in to the pressure and go back to the old way. It takes Valor (V=Valor in my MOVE model) to not undermine your forward progress by making inconsistent decisions about it.

In the end the change we were driving worked. (The whole story is in the book)

Everything was better.

We began to deliver on time, the quality was higher, the product was more competitive, the customers were happier and the morale of the team skyrocketed — Because we finished our transformation and it paid off.

But it’s can be really hard as a leader along they way through the long Middle (M=Middle) when people are discouraged. You need to have the Valor to stick to it.

**The brief historical reference: 1519 AD, during the Spanish conquest of Mexico Hernán Cortés, the Spanish commander, scuttled his ships, so that his men would have to conquer or die, no matter how hard the mission became and how much they might have wanted to turn back. There was no turning back because the ships were gone. Forward was the only choice.


I’m really excited to share examples of moving from Situation Discussions to Outcome Discussions and all the tools I put in my upcoming book MOVE to help you get your team to execute your strategy more decisively — including building your own confidence and courage as a leader.

MOVE will be available in February, but you can download a free preview now or pre-order your copy now.
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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

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