Underperformance

Too Much EgoI’m currently learning a new song. ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ was originally released by the Shirells in the early 1960’s and, over the years, various artists have covered this standard. The song has been officially added to the play list for Friday night crooning in the GAA club. I’m hoping to appeal to the feminine side of the local hurling team. What do you think of that as a strategy? It could even become the National Anthem for Consultants (we always seem a bit paranoid that clients will not ‘love us tomorrow’).

So Many Rejections: Of all the new songs attempted, around 10% stay as part of the repertoire. Why so few? Well there’s some stuff I can’t sing (e.g. anything by Queen). Some music is great but too hard to play e.g. Sultans of Swing. Dire Straights are well named (it’s exactly how you feel when you screw up a complex riff). Some stuff is ‘pop’; sounds good while it’s in the charts but doesn’t stand the test of time. And so on. Amateur players like me continually experiment with new material and throw out a high percentage of songs.

Process re-Engineering:  Alex McDonnell who works with Tandem Consulting is an expert in Business Process Re-engineering. Alex is more than normally smart and understands ‘systems’.  While I didn’t ask him about this specifically, I’m pretty sure that he would consider any process which delivers a 10% yield to be heavily underperforming. He’d probably give it some technical label, something along the lines of “Hey, that’s nuts”. But there’s a hidden benefit in my musical underperformance as follows.  It takes an estimated 10,000 hours to become expert at anything. Now, if you stuck with playing one song over and over for that amount of time you’d end up as the very best guitarist in the Psychiatric Hospital. In contrast, playing lots of material offers variety i.e. it’s an ‘easy’ way to practice and improve technique. So this process of discarding 90% of material, while outwardly wasteful, is actually quite effective. It has the appeal of ‘variety’ (anyone who learned to play piano as a kid and gave up because of being forced to practice ‘scales’ will identify with this). In learning music, progress is often quite invisible.

Leading People: Leadership works in quite a similar way. Executives are people who‘get their work done through others’. A central principle in Leadership is leveraging your time to enhance the productivity of others. Let’s say that you decide to indulge in a spot of ‘MBWA’ (Management by Wandering Around) and spend an entire morning walking the boards of a manufacturing plant or office facility. What will you have achieved? Outwardly, not too much. You will probably have talked about things like the resurgence of the Wexford Hurling Team or how a baby’s christening ceremony went at the weekend (”She didn’t like the Holy Water”). On face value this doesn’t seem like a good use of expensive executive time. It’s actually impossible to prove this moves the needle forward. Most likely, while you were ‘wandering around’, your in-box stayed open for business and received another 337 mails. So there’s a definite downside to going walk-about. So, does it make sense?

Hidden Benefits: The hidden benefits are as follows. If you tuned in, you’ll have picked up the ‘mood’ in the division visited. You may have identified specific problems that staff are facing, information about competitor products and so on. Even if nothing ‘concrete’ emerges from the visit, you demonstrated a genuine interest and respect for the people who work there and the work they do. The door of communication will be ajar – something which might be needed during a future crisis. Unless you are an Ogre and people really hate you, it’s likely that you will have released extra energy in that facility – even if this cannot be ‘clinically measured’.  You have been silently exercising your leadership muscle and driving productivity North.

Invisible Leadership: Despite the popular notion to the contrary, leadership is often invisible. Because of this it’s also inherently ‘unsatisfying’ to the leader – much less satisfying than doing something concrete. It’s about providing the conditions where others can be successful. In stark contrast to the ‘General Patton’ ideal of standing on a tank in a warzone addressing the troops with brilliant rhetoric, leadership is not about YOU. It’s about THEM.

In the words of Khalil Gibran, nothing grows in the shadow of an Oak Tree. Leaders who devour a constant Me-Me-Me diet, find it difficult to feed others. When you allow other members of the team to shine, you build something that will last. Think of leadership as the legacy you leave in the organisation when you’ve departed. Now, park that ego at the kerb when you arrive into work. Those who aspire to becoming a ‘Rock Star’ leader are often more interested in ego development rather than organization development. Don’t be that soldier.

 

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