Winning and being on top is a great place to be personally and organizationally. There’s nothing like setting challenging goals, working hard to achieve them and then enjoying the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing you and your team have won.
Yet this place is one of the most dangerous places to be. We’re at our most vulnerable because winning and being on top is a very slippery and deceptive place.
It’s slippery because no organization, team, or person wins all the time, nor sit on top forever (trust me I know this because I’m a Michigan football fan). This means we can never plan on or expect our lofty perch to last forever. There’s always a fall, a stumble or loss along the way.
And this is exactly why being on top is so deceptive. The longer we’re on top the more it feels like it will last forever, that our organization is somehow immune to whatever causes others to lose or fail. We even begin to feel that we’ve earned the right to be in this place regardless of what we do going forward. We may even admit intellectually that this can’t last forever. Yet too often we never allow this intellectual ascent to descend into our heart and our emotional being. The result is we never truly change our behavior or our direction until we find ourselves no longer on top.
So what can we do to protect ourselves and our organizations when we’re winning or sitting on top?
Play and Lead as if we’re behind.
We need to work as if the wolves are nipping at our heals, the barbarians are at the gate, that impending doom is sitting at our door. We can do this by always setting new goals, tougher standards, and expecting more from ourselves and our teams. If necessary, as leaders, we may need to find or create a crisis that reminds everyone that we’re much more vulnerable than we feel.
Or sometimes it’s as simple as giving all the naturally pessimistic people on our team a voice and really listening to that voice. When we’re on top we lose our sense of urgency about change. Our job as leaders is to create that urgency again, in ourselves and in others. And finally we can never allow ourselves and our teams to make decisions from the perspective of being at the top. The only perspective in which we should make decisions is in the light of being behind.
Finally, whatever we do, we cannot allow ourselves and our team to trust that feeling we have when we’re on top. Instead always, always we need to feel, play and lead as if we’re behind.
As Denise and I walked through a building on the Yard, we saw the words, “Excellence without Arrogance“, predominately displayed. As many of you know our third child, Mitch, entered the United States Naval Academy this summer as a freshman, or as they’re known as – Plebes, and where the campus is referred to as the Yard. When I read this maxim, six weeks into Mitch’s Plebe summer (basic training), I knew immediately it wasn’t just a pithy saying that someone painted on the wall but was a value that my son, as well as the other 1200 Plebes, learned during their training.
How do I know this?
First, the people affiliated with the USNA that Denise and I met, be it Naval and Marine officers, upperclassmen, facility and support staff, all demonstrated this incredible balance of excellence and humility. They were both gracious, friendly and helpful as well as they oozed with professionalism, commitment and excellence.
Secondly, when we were with Mitch that weekend, we saw change in him. He was no longer the same person we dropped off on Induction day. His sister, Christina, describe it best when she said “Mitch seems more confident and less arrogant.” An interesting play on words but an accurate description of this important Navy value, Excellence without Arrogance, becoming a reality in a future officer.
So here’s what we, as leaders, need to grapple with – a value of an organization or individual is not core just because it’s written on a wall, a card or in a website. It can only be core if it is so deeply embedded that it oozes out in such a visible and tangible way that others outside the organization can see, experience and name the value without ever reading the website.
Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in an era, to think that what was standard “back then” must still be standard today. We think this because we believe really smart people had it all figured out back then (translation – it’s not possible someone today could actually be smarter than we were yesterday, thus it’s impossible anyone today could figure out a better or different way).
My toes, in particular my left big toe, paid the price for such shoddy (and arrogant) thinking.
This is how it happened. A couple of months before our trip my son, MD, and I were reviewing our equipment list. He mentioned having found a good deal on trekking poles, implying I might want to buy some as well. I told him, with serious conviction, “I’ve never hiked with trekking poles before. I’ve always used just a simple walking stick and it has worked pretty well”.
Now honestly, I was also thinking to myself “the only people I’ve ever remember using trekking poles were old people and wimps. And since I’m not old nor a wimp I sure as heck wasn’t going to be using them.” (I was also having doubts about my son’s manhood).
I should have realized the first day I was in deep trouble when I was both one of the oldest hikers and the only one without trekking poles.
You see the developers of the AT must have liked to hike up and down mountains because we walked up and down mountains multiple times a day. We rarely walked on flat ground; it was always up or down. As a result I quickly began to experience toe jam (toe jam is where your toes are constantly being jammed into the front of your shoes when going downhill) resulting in swollen toes and later, as I experienced, losing your toe nails.
By the painful third day it finally dawned on me why everyone was using trekking poles. Trekking poles break your downward steps. They take the pressure off your feet (and knees) helping to avoid toe jam among other injuries. Suddenly I saw all these young hikers, including my son, not as wimps but as smart and pragmatic, and I, in turn, was the aching, old fool.
So what’s the AT leadership lesson in all of this? Never assume that what worked yesterday is still the best option today. Be humble enough to believe that people are as smart today (or smarter) than we were yesterday. As a result it’s highly likely that methods have improved or new technology has been developed today that solves the problems we experienced yesterday (like toe jam). If we can embrace this reality about yesterday and today, our toes will be happier, and we’ll be better leaders.
when doing a benchmarking visit of another camp I asked one of their senior people “do you ever visit other camps?” I was hoping to return the favor and offer him the opportunity to come to SpringHill so we could share with him what we’re doing. His answer was shockingly honest – “why would I want to do that?” You see this leader believed that he and his camp had already arrived. And when you’ve arrived why would you be interested in learning anything more?
In this series of posts about the seven attitudes and behaviors that can cause you to lose your job the fifth attitude “believing you’ve already arrived” can be the slowest way out. Slow because this attitude in and of itself typically isn’t enough to cause someone to lose their job especially if they are performing to expected levels.
But the problem is, over the long run, a person who believes they’ve already arrived will stop learning and growing. And learning and growing is essential because the world continues to change. As a result a person who quits learning, and loses what I call professional curiosity, will soon fall behind and will ultimately not be able to perform as expected.
The worst part of this attitude is that it can spread in an organization. And once it spreads, an organization can become complacent and be at risk of becoming irrelevant. As a matter of fact, unless this attitude changes, it’s only a matter of time before the leader and the organization finds itself in dire straits.
So, if you want to keep your job and continue to making a difference in the world, never allow yourself to believe you’ve arrived. Continue to be professionally curious, it will serve you and your team well today and into the future.43.928283-85.286682
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is the fifth of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The opposite of this habit is simply not listening to others. And not listening to others is the third of seven behaviors that often causes a person to lose their job at organizations like SpringHill.
Not listening to others, like the other 6 behaviors that lead to people losing their jobs, is rooted in arrogance or its sister self-righteousness. Because when a person believes they know more than anyone else they conclude there’s nothing to learn from others.
Now not listening to others usually takes on one of two different forms.
The first is when a person does all the talking (because if you know everything there is to know then you assume everyone else will want to hear what you have to say). Doing all the talking and assuming that others want to know what you think is the epitome of self-centeredness and the opposite of being other-focused.
The second form of not listening is simply not asking questions or taking the initiative to seek out what others know or have to say. Real listening, listening that actively seeks to understand another person requires asking good and meaningful questions. Asking questions also keeps us humble and from slipping out of reality and into self-delusion.
Think about it, have you ever had a conversation or a relationship with someone where they did all the talking or never asked your thoughts or sought to get to know you? For me the message is the other person doesn’t believe I have anything of value to contribute. Or even worst, I begin to wonder if I have any value personally in their eyes. Either way, not listening to others slowly but surely erodes a relationship, and wearing out a relationship will always lead to wearing out one’s welcome in an organization.43.928283-85.286682
Arrogance, or its sister self-righteousness, almost always leads to the misuse of power and authority (see my last post). Then typically what I call “playing politics” quickly follows behind any misuse of power and authority. And, at SpringHill, playing politics is one of the seven attitudes and behaviors that will ultimately cause someone to lose their job.
What qualifies as playing politics?
- Creating division by building alliances against others within the organization
- Endorsing one thing to one team followed by endorsing something different to another
- Telling people what they want to hear instead of what needs to be said
- Treating those with more power and authority better than those who have less
- Working to advance personal agendas while appearing to advance the organization’s
- Building and maintaining relationships primarily for the purpose of what can be gained from the relationship
The list could go on but you get the idea.
What all these behaviors have in common is the lack of transparency, duplicity and questionable motives that can so easily become a part of a person’s pattern of work. You see, when people misuse power and authority there becomes an overriding need to hold onto and obtain more of it. When this happens people become vulnerable to the temptation to play politics as a way to accomplish this goal.
In my experience, playing politics can become so ingrained into a person’s work style they may not even know they’re doing it. When this happens playing politics can become a cancer that infiltrates, not just a person’s career, but an entire organization’s work culture. This cancer causes breakdowns in communication, trust, efficiency (people spend more time dealing with politics than doing real work), and leads to ineffectiveness. I’m convinced that it’s impossible for an organization to become world-class if the cancer of playing politics takes hold.
This is why, we at SpringHill, have so little tolerance for those who play politics. It simply gets in the way of us accomplishing our mission and vision.43.928283-85.286682
Forgive my blogging holiday but I took a needed break from writing. But now it’s time to return to the series “What Could Cause Me to Lose My Job?” In my last post we examined the root cause of the seven attitudes and behaviors that lead to so many job failures – arrogance and its sister self-righteousness (arrogance disguised as humility). Over the next several posts we’ll look at each of these seven attitudes and behaviors in more detail.
The first behavior that grows from arrogance and self-righteousness is the misuse of power and authority. It begins with the attitude that “I deserve something more than I’m receiving as part of my job agreement”. This attitude leads to taking advantage of our positions for personal and financial benefits, perks or simply better working conditions than what’s offered to others.
Most of the time people with these attitudes express it in subtle ways, whether there’s a certain parking spot, nicer hotel rooms than the rest of the team, longer lunches, or in the way they treat and expect to be treated by those “under them”. But the message is clear – “I deserve this, it’s owed to me”.
Yet these subtle behaviors normally don’t get a person fired (unless it’s something blatant like major theft from the organization). What does cause a person to lose their job is the erode their influence and credibility consequences of their misuse of power and authority. People begin to doubt their motives, mistrust what they say and simply grow tired of working with and for them.
Finally, it’s important to remember that both power and authority are not inherently evil. They are gifts from God-given to us as leaders to advance His plans and His Kingdom. So we should embrace power and authority but only doing so through exercising extreme caution of their ability to corrupt, in a posture of humility and for the purpose of making a positive difference in the lives of others and in the world.43.928283-85.286682
In my previous post I shared the seven behaviors that cause job failure for people in organizations such as SpringHill. But before we dive into these seven behaviors we need to understand their root cause – arrogance and its disguise – self-righteousness.
Arrogance, by definition, is thinking of oneself more highly than merited, it’s an exaggerated view of one’s self and their contributions to an organization. Arrogance often leads to aggressive, self-centered and ultimately destructive behavior. As a result we know an arrogant person when we meet one. There is just an air about them. And, though we may respect what such a person accomplishes, we rarely like their odor.
Self-righteousness, on the other hand, is arrogance disguised as humility. And because humility is just a ruse, it never truly bottles up the arrogance inside. Yet self-righteous people can be remarkable at managing their behavior and speech to appear humble, leaving us unsure about odor we smell. But in the end managed behavior always has cracks, cracks that leak the person’s arrogance. And arrogance has an odor all its own, making it easy to distinguish from true humility and righteousness’ fragrance.
And what is this odor? It’s the seven behaviors arrogant and self-righteous people to often display and which ultimately leads to their job failure. And it’s these seven behaviors we’ll look at over the next few posts.43.928283-85.286682