In Greek mythology, the Sirens were temptresses, luring mariners to destruction on the rocks surrounding the islands on which they lived. They sang songs which the sailors just could not resist. In the early scenes in the Bible, Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, and Eve, succumbing to the temptation, was lured to the dark side, with catastrophic results.
A tempter or temptress does not lead individuals to good, but rather to give in to desire to break the rules. Such people are not just stories from our deep past or mythologies- they still exist in the business world. Those with bad intent are one story. They intentionally create mischief or worse, sabotage others in pursuit of a personal agenda. But perhaps worse, otherwise intelligent and well-intended leaders can unintentionally become tempters, leading to the demise of individuals or entire organizations.
In all of the above scenarios, breaking a rule would seem to be a low risk situation, with perhaps a high reward. Who could resist? Leaders who allow the above states to exist are creating temptation that many will fall prey to.
Workers who sense that they could be rewarded for non-compliant behavior are at the vanguard of the destruction of the organization. Once they start taking liberties and nothing happens to them, it causes others to either follow their lead or leave the organization in disgust. What do these behaviors look like? They fall into four broad categories:
Leaders need to look in the mirror and take responsibility for creating a tempting environment. They need to act to turn things around before it is too late. Creating order out of disorder is hard, but not impossible. They need to wake up, take a look around and get things back the way they need to be. Those that can’t comply with the movement back to sanity have to leave if the owner wants to save the organization. And if the owner cannot do it, he or she has to leave or the organization dies.
Quick fixes are not always the answer. Band aids can cover a sore without really doing much long term good, without healing the underlying infection. Covering a hole in the wall with a picture may hide a defect but does not fix it. On the other hand, some quick fixes serve a useful purpose. Putting a sheet of plywood over a broken window or glass door until it can be properly fixed keeps out the elements and provides a modicum of security.
The key is understanding what one is accomplishing with a quick fix. It cannot be confused with a more permanent solution. It must be recognized as an immediate action step providing temporary relief.
At 720thinking, we do a “deep dive” into organizations, enabling us to ferret out underlying causes of problems and locate the sources of organizational stress and turbulence. We can collaborate with ownership and management to effectuate long term solutions. But while that process is going on, there are always some immediate steps that can be taken by an owner or leader to make things better quickly. They are stop-gap steps and they may or may not be part of the overhaul, but they serve a strong purpose. If you are not doing them, here are a few actions you should take immediately:
There is no magic to this list. There are lots of actions one can take. Don’t just sit around waiting for a new strategic plan to be created or for some big outside event to happen. Use your time to learn more about your company and what will make it stronger. The above quick steps take little budget and minimal time, but can yield immediate benefit without conflicting with long-term plans.
Recently, I heard this comment on a talk show – “One does NOT wash a car rental.” The discussion went on to explain that a person doesn’t wash a rental because they don’t OWN the car. Pretty simple concept and oh so true.
With a car rental, we obey the rules, return the car without scratches and dents, fill the gas tank or pay for it, but we don’t wash the car or clean the interior, that’s the “real” owner’s job – the rental company.
Employees often take the same approach. The partially interested, partially engaged employee will be sure to follow the rules, work within the parameters of the job, stay within the confines of the budget, keep their nose clean and generally return the job at the end of the day to the owner without “washing.” Sure, they met requirements of the job, but did they take the time to examine, review, evaluate results and readjust plans for improvement the next time?
As much as leaders, executives and entrepreneurs want a team that takes pride and owns their responsibility, the reality is all too many leaders actually allow their employees to be renters, to just be mediocre. What if the leader found ways to build ownership?
First, let’s review some leadership behaviors that support “renting.”
· Fixing. A wise man once wrote – “People’s destiny is not really in your hands. In the final analysis, every man’s destiny is in his own hands.” Norman Vincent Peale. Leaders all too often what to “fix” people. The mistake in this approach is that people don’t need fixing. They need to be inspired. When, we try to help others overcome their flaws, their shortcomings, their inadequacies they often wait for us to give them the solution. This only enables them not to learn, to not grow, and to contribute only marginally. You tell us what company can afford to invest time in repairing others’ work.
· Let it slide. Richard Yates, author of Revolutionary Road, wrote, “It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.” Being easy going, giving and nurturing is NOT the role of the leader. Being a leader is tough. We have to step up to the plate and OWN our responsibilities. People may want to sit and be comfortable, but what they need is to have some adversity and challenges to overcome. Quality products and services don’t get made or delivered by average workers. When leaders overlook behaviors that support passing the buck, blaming , hiding under the radar, or just plain – not doing their job – they sabotage any hope for success.
· Seeking consensus. I love this quote by Margaret Thatcher – “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and no one objects.” There are many problems with always trying to build consensus. Problems such as wasting time, losing focus, or trying to be popular, not productive.If leaders want to build strong teams, they have to be willing to set the target and allow people to step up, act as team and get results. The more we attempt to coddle and cajole employees, partners and other stakeholders, the further we get from achieving truly extraordinary results.
· Telling People YOUR Vision. “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking” George Patton The average, mediocre team can spout off the “canned” vision statement. Leaders often mistake people’s ability to state the company’s vision statement for understanding, buy in and appreciation of the big picture. This generally is furthest from the truth. When people don’t have to think, they generally have not made an emotional connection to the lofty idea and ideals of the company. They do what they are told and nothing more.
Rather than fixing, letting it slide, seeking consensus and telling your vision, leaders can build ownership in many ways. For 720thinkers one of the outstanding actions to promotes ownership is to inspire people. Again, I would like to share another quote by Dr. Peale – “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”
The strongest leaders engage their employees by helping them to discover their motivations and belief in their own capabilities. As a results, individual motivators will help align goals and actions with a vision that is so compelling, so addictive that they wouldn’t think of returning their job at the end of the day with a thorough cleaning because they own their job.
Promoting ownership is one of the leader’s primary roles. Are you the leader that promotes employees “renting” and not owning their jobs? If so, now is the time to consider the ways that you can lead people to own not just rent their job.
It has been said that “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Put another way, if you only have one tool in your kit, you are going to approach every problem the same way, approach every issue through the bias of that single tool.
To be successful in the professional world of for profit companies and non-profit organizations, leaders must feel comfortable with multiple approaches. They must have an array of tools at their command. It is easy to picture the basic tools that a carpenter might take to work-saws, planes, levels, hammers, chisels, screw drivers, drills, nail guns, etc. But it is not so easy to visualize the tools that a leader needs to have at hand to address situations that could arise in an average day.
Let’s try to construct a basic tool kit for organizational leaders. The leaders using a basic tool kit are carrying the bare minimum. They will be allowed to upgrade to the more advanced tools once they prove they can handle the starter kit. The rules of golf limit the number of clubs (tools) a player can carry in her bag to thirteen. The rules of business have no such limit. So…where to begin? Here are the absolute necessities, The Basic Seven:
Some people come to work with many more tools such as vision, negotiation skills, conflict resolution skills, salesmanship, innovation, charisma, great intelligence, gravitas, wisdom. Over time, all leadership teams should have all of them. They may take a little more time and experience to develop in many people.
Leadership gurus differ on which tools to use. Some say use the ones that are your strongest. Always play to your strengths. Others say to find your weaknesses and develop them into strengths. Leadership tool belts are not “one size fits all.” Just remember that leaders lead people- people who have needs, desires, fears and anxieties; people under pressures of which leaders are not aware They have to get the most out of those people they can in a way that they feel well utilized, well appreciated and proud of the work they and their organization are doing.
Knowing what tools leaders need is the first step. Developing them is the second step. Utilizing them well is the third. As one moves higher within an organization, more tools need to be added to handle different and more complex situations. A great leader can never have too many tools at her disposal.
With the weather we have been having on the east coast over the last few weeks, it is easy to define almost everyone’s comfort zone- being in air conditioning with a cold beverage close at hand. When we leave the easy chair behind and get to work, be it from a virtual location such as a home office or at company headquarters, the phrase “comfort zone” takes on a different meaning.
In his 2009 book “From Comfort Zone to Performance Management”, Alasdair White defines the comfort zone as a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk. Obviously, each person’s comfort zone is different. Accountants and bookkeepers find comfort in numbers, whereas others may find it in working with their hands or utilizing their writing or artistic skills.
Based on the definition above, a comfort zone sounds like a pretty good place to be. There is no high level of anxiety leading to stress and beyond, and there is fertile ground for good performance. In Gallup’s Q12 methodology, Q3 is “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” For many, that sounds like the comfort zone. But what about these quotes?
· Engaging in activities devoid of difficulty, lounging in risk-free zones, is life without great meaning.
Jon M. Huntsman Sr., Winners Never Cheat: Even in Difficult Times
· If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.
· We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.
· One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.
· A man grows most tired while standing still. ~ Chinese Proverb
So, a comfort zone is a good place but it may not be the best place. Or think of it as a launch point or home base from which one can venture in measured steps to explore new territory. Individuals and organizations that strive for excellence cannot stay long in a comfort zone. They must be constantly stretching themselves, seeking positive change and improvement to keep them ahead of the competition and thus remain sustainable.
Some have it in their DNA. Their makeup calls for them to be reaching and expanding their skill set- that state of growth is their comfort zone. A person’s, and for that matter, an organization’s personality can be described by their idea of their comfort zones. It is a type of mental conditioning that causes one to create and operate within mental boundaries that tend to create a false sense of security.
If a company believes that by continuing to manufacture one product or one product line without expanding or improving, they are sticking to what they know and what they do best, they are failing to observe their marketplace and what is happening around them. And they are failing to avail themselves of the talent that might enable them to stretch in a variety of directions.
If a technician believes that he can sustain his career by relying on skills he developed many years ago, without learning new technologies or techniques, he is fooling himself. By staying in his comfort zone he is almost guaranteeing his obsolescence at some point.
Like inertia, a person or organization that has established a comfort zone, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. To step outside their comfort zone, they must cultivate new and different behaviors, develop a different mindset and then focus on the positive rewards for change.
“Change or die.” We’ve all heard that before. It is a title of at least a couple of books. In today’s fast-paced world, change is a necessity and it is a constant. Everyone and every organization needs to be primed for it. Change doesn’t mean racing away from comfort zones, but it does mean taking studied, measured steps in new directions to achieve growth, fulfillment, success and survival. After every few steps there may be a new comfort zone that will be better than the last. A career may involve a whole series of comfort zones. Comparing the first to the last will bring about a realization that growth was good and necessary and a positive for the organization and the individuals that moved forward. Those that couldn’t or wouldn’t step out, by necessity fell off the train a number of stops back.
Enjoy your comfort zone- just don’t stay there too long-don’t even unpack. There is something more just around the corner.