The Work

10 Jun 2021 – The Work

Yesterday, I discussed a potential definition of leadership “Influencing people to do the work.” Although it is a little direct and a little short, I do think it covers the bases. Although I hope to amplify it to eventually encompass a more complete definition of “Mobilizing people to make progress and difficult challenges”. Because, as we know, leadership is really complex.

I was offered a simple example of a leadership challenge many of us have experienced…

“I clean and clean my house, and my spouse and kids don’t seem to care. I did an experiment where I stopped cleaning, but the only one that was really bothered was me.”

Our human instinct is to focus on the lazy spouse and kids; of perhaps the frustrated “cleaner.”

Heifetz reminds us that 90% or so of people really want to do have good intentions; so creating blame toward others might not be a great place to start. In the Air Force, we would say 80% of the issue is the process, not the people. Yet, we tend to spend 80% of our time blaming the people.”

That is not to discount the monumental psychological truth and resistance that makes human organizations difficult and unwieldy!

And, to top it off, we must recognize that there is a reason that a system is in the status quo, and its are stakeholders often have more to lose than to gain by the change. Change requires loss and pain, but I will discuss that later.

So, what is our work?

I think “the work” can be identified as the gap. The gap between where we are doing and what we aspire to be doing. This could be our espoused values versus our actual values. This could be how we are playing Tennis and how we wish we were playing Tennis (personal challenge). Thus, identifying the work requires acknowledging and understanding three things.

  • Where are we? – Do we know the truth or just our own perspective and bias. I have often experienced company authorities that have no idea in what is actually happening in their company. They think they know, but they do not. As a commander, I found that “leadership by walking around” and having difficult and “crucial” conversations with stakeholders provided insights to what we were actually doing. There are many other creative ways and recognized ways to understand our current position(ing).
  • What is our aspiration? – Is there an agreed-upon set of values, vision, or a mission statement generated by our board or CEO? Have all the stakeholders participated in the development, acknowledgment, and acceptance of this vision? Does the vision align with the current and future organizational environment? If any of these answers are no, then there may be a significant challenge in making progress toward this aspiration.
  • The Work – the work is the activities of change necessary to realign what we are doing with our agreed aspiration. Because of the enormous Resistance from any of us leaving the status quo or our comfort zone, this is incredibly difficult (and risky for the leader). Compounding the challenge is the environmental needs are also evolving, changing or adapting. The work is most successfully executed through a series of experiments and learning; and implemented through small micro-compounding steps.

Once the initial work is understood, taking action begins the activity of leadership.

Tomorrow – Types of Problems

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