Care just enough

How many times in life have you put off doing something because of the perceived consequences, only to find out when you did take the action, that it wasn’t so bad after all?

It’s a tricky thing about leadership – the multiple demands on emotion and energy that can make sometimes even the most straight forward of decision, feel just a little bit too hard. And as outsiders we look on and think, “that’s obvious, why aren’t they doing something about it?”

This situation is amplified when it involves decisions that materially impact other human beings. Whether it is a promotion, a restructure, a performance issues or a reward challenge. We can look at this situation with our own lens and see our own version of perfect clarity, but we will never see the situation from the leader’s perspective.

As a partner or advisor to that leader, our job is to seek to understand, to help, to support, to maintain forward movement and prevent emotions from getting us stuck or avoiding the challenge. Most people understand on a rationale level the things that need doing and the decisions that need taking, but they get complicated by the feelings, emotions and fears.

As a leader, our job is to care enough, but not too much. We shouldn’t eschew all reference to the personal or the human, we should recognise that part of what allows a leader to truly own that title is their ability to feel. At the same time, we need to recognise when we’re allowing “emotion” (and I use this term in a more scientific, rather than literary sense) to prevent us from acting in line with our beliefs.

Where people are involved, there will always be difficult decisions to be made and there will always be outcomes that are less desirable than others. There simply is no other way, regardless of the rhetoric that is sometimes easy to believe. And leaders and their advisors, being human beings too, will bring their own emotional frameworks, relationships and history to any given situation.

Caring at work is really important. We just shouldn’t let it get in the way.

I am legend

Here’s a question;

When you leave your organisation, will you leave it better or worse than you found it?

It’s a pretty pivotal test for all of us, even more so if you are a senior leader or a CEO.

Have you extracted more value to your organisation than you’ve added? Is it better for having had your presence? Will it be after you’ve gone?

The simple fact is that we are all caretakers. Our job is to leave our organisation in at least the same state as we found it and our focus and intention should be to leave it even better.

It isn’t easy. Our financial markets, our economic model compel us to extract value and to return it to shareholders. Our leaders are rewarded for it, in this imperfect model.

Even in not for profit organisations, the public and third sector. It is very easy for egos and personal agendas to cloud the perspective of leadership teams.

It doesn’t matter what circumstances our business is under, our thoughts should always be beyond our own safety and security, our own comfort, our own personal gain.

Our reward should not be in personal adulation, false empires or the trappings of power.

Our reward should be knowing we’ve left a sustainable legacy.

We should not put off the decisions, hide from the challenges or avoid the truths of today, but face them head on to create the hope for tomorrow.

When we leave our organisations, we should leave them ready for the next generation to build and grow. We should leave them fit, healthy and ready.

Judgment is not when we are in situ, but when we are not.

So when you’re facing a tough decision, a change, a need to repurpose, rethink and realign. Ask yourself not whether this suits the needs of now, but whether it has to be done for tomorrow.

The first possible answer

Do you think there is one single truth? How about one single answer? A definitive version of right?

Our explanation of our existence and the decisions that we make is defined by our retrospective analysis. Our psychology such that we create a narrative that supports our past conclusions. Only sometimes do we reflect and say, “what if?” and then when we feel external factors have left us short-changed.

Ironically at the same time we base our current thinking and decisions on our past. The past that we have rewritten to justify the decisions that we’ve made, becomes the foundation for our future direction. It’s a perfect circle of deception.

The product of this is that we tend to stop at the first possible answer. Our organisations are run by people that rely on this, which is why we struggle with genuine diversity of ideas and look for consensus. When we tend to have shared history, shared retro-perspective, we form more of the same conclusions. It makes things…..quicker.

But what is the probability that the first possible answer, is always the right one? Or even the best one?

Learning to ask the “what if” before rather than after, learning to listen to different views, learning to understand that our perspective is based on our rewriting of the past and that the more that we surround ourselves with people with similar pasts, the more we are likely to reinforce our single perspective. Could any of this help us make better decisions?

In science we talk about the null hypothesis. When we reject it without disproving its basis, we invalidate our research. Yet in business, we call it being commercial and agile, strong leadership.

Trying asking “what if” now and not after and see whether that moves you past your first possible answer. You might be surprised by the results.

We like it nice and hard

The hard appeals to us, the hard is commercial. The hard is sure and certain. The hard is the thing that we yearn for. As humans we long to be hard, to be formed, to be clear, to be resolute in our existence. The hard makes sense, it makes it easy, it makes us believe and belong.

And anything that stands in the way of this is unhelpful, it is counter productive, subversive nonsense. That needs to be put in its rightful place.

The soft is for the uncommitted, the inconclusive and the indecisive, the soft is for the softies, the losers and the weaklings, the almost rans and the wannabes. The soft is what makes us vulnerable.

Giving people choice is soft.
Telling them what to do is hard.

Giving people responsibility is soft.
Taking control is hard.

Considering the views of others is soft.
Being decisive is hard.

Looking after the wellbeing is soft.
Measurement of output is hard.

We know what we need and what we want, we know what we value and where we excel. We understand what makes us tick. What’s soft is hard, what is hard is soft.

The rest is just a choice.