Leadership Sandwich

April 9th, 2014   •   no comments   

I just got off the phone from a trusted colleague who leads an established, $20M professional services company. “I feel like I’m in a pickle,” he started the call.

“Tell me about it,” I told him.

He described to me the two groups of people he’s been encountering over the past five years or so. The first type are what he termed “Millennial Types” who have really cool and innovative ideas to help make people’s lives more. . .  convenient. The problem with most of their ideas, he said to me, is that these ideas are either grandiose or can’t be monetized in a way to offer his company a financial return to justify pursuing them.

“They’re always looking at things ‘pie in the sky’,” he generalized. “They think it’s okay that this app or game will make money at some undetermined point in time, if they ever do.”

Nonetheless, he was complimentary that this group was innovative, thinking outside the box to solve age-old problems, and that they brought to the table this unbridled optimism about what was possible.

“What’s the other group?” I asked.

Lazy, pessimistic anchors who feel like it’s everybody else’s job to force feed them information and the solutions to their problems. “These people are hide-bound to their ‘this isn’t perfect’ perspective, totally incapable of seeing outside of themselves to understand that things go so much easier if they’re not seen as 100% perfect,” he went on, “but if they just put out a little bit of effort they’ll solve their own problem.”

He described to me a situation where he was in a sales meeting about a training solution that his company developed. One of the so-called “lazy anchors” kept throwing up excuses to why the training solution wouldn’t work because it was not perfectly engineered for their specific environment.

“There simply is no such thing as a perfect solution,” he said. “But what did they have before? Nothing but chaos and an unstructured, undisciplined approach to arriving at a poor result.”

“You’re not in a pickle,” I told him. “You are in a leadership sandwich, stuck dealing with two groups of people with wildly different perspectives and approaches to doing what they do.”

“What can I do?” he asked.

“Short-term retreat, long-term attack,” I told him.

Over the next 45 minutes we laid out a pathway to his happiness and we figured out that the foundation of his happiness is dealing with people who are interested in their own success and willing to take action to be successful — even if it means investigating all aspects of the available options and morphing (modifying) concepts to best meet the needs that exist. These people are courageous because they are willing to try new things, but they also challenge their — and others’ — assumptions of what they perceive to be true. The solution was focused on forgetting the people and customers who did nothing but put up roadblocks to their (and his) success. We came to the conclusion that some organizations behave like the “lazy, pessimistic anchors” and have an organization-wide culture that makes them difficult to work with and simply are not worth the stress and effort. “Go to success,” I recommended. “Successful people are led by successful, secure people and that attitude percolates through the entire operation. And, successful people are always looking for ways to gain that additional edge, that one percent, that separates them from their competitors.”

“If that’s the attack,” he asked, “what’s the retreat?”

“Make yourself sparse,” I responded bluntly. “No E-mail. No calls. Go on vacation. Play golf. Go fishing on your boat.”

There’s power in absence, I told him.

“Okay, so that takes care of the lazy anchors, but what about the overly-optimistic Millennials?”

He had me stumped. Then after thinking a minute, I offered him: “On your vacation, maybe you should learn how to develop an app or create a game!”

- CDS