I read a quote the other day that was at once funny and thought provoking. It went like this: "Dead people don't know they are dead - its the same for fools." It got me thinking about a principle that has been around for a long time based on a statement by Socrates that the "unexamined life is not worth living." In a nutshell the idea is that we need to be assessing our lives with respect to what we want to accomplish, what we want to leave as a legacy and how we impact the world around us. I believe that the same holds true for leadership.
The good news is that if you are a leader and have wondered about your leadership you are already far and away ahead of the the pack. I want to take the next few blogs to examine Wisdom in Leadership. There are reams of literature around knowledgeable leadership but wisdom is the effective application of that knowledge. What sorts of things make for wise leadership?
I have often joked that leadership would be great if it wasn't for the people! The reality is (in case you didn't get the joke, lol!) is that leadership is almost all about the people. Winston Churchill once said "if you think you are a leader, turn around. If no one is following you your just out taking a walk." Let's take a look at perhaps the first principle of wise leadership - how do you keep the good going?
The majority of people start a job wanting to do good work. It is hard to find anyone who purposes to come to work wanting to do poorly. (Two percent was the last number I heard.) Yet in spite of that reality people figure out what the minimum standard is and they make sure their performance does not fall below that line. Why is that and why do we settle for minimum? In a word, leadership.
There are tons of analogies in business around this idea but for this discussion let's just look at a couple. The first is the 10-80-10 idea. That is that in any given company 10% are outstanding performers, 80% are doing a good job and 10% are under performing. The other analogy that seems to resonate with leaders is that you spend 90% of your time dealing with 10% of your staff - the under performers. In each case the focus is around that 10% under performing group. What we don't stop and think about is that 80-90% who are doing either a good or great job!
So here is the first piece of leadership wisdom. Good leaders know what good work looks like and they will train themselves to look for that with their team and recognize it. It may be easier to find those under performers but it takes work to know what you want from your team, look for it and let them know it when it happens. If you have children you know we can slip into that negative pattern so easily and which of us has not had this statement directed at us by our children at some point - "Is there anything in my life that I have done right?" We find it easy to spot the issues but much harder to look for the good behavior we want.
Bottom line is you can spend 90% of your time dealing with that under performing 10% or spend it recognizing and driving performance in that 90% who are doing a good job and who should be recognized. So while most leaders know that the "squeaky wheel gets the grease" wise leadership knows how to keep the "wheel greased" long before it gets squeaky. That is one way to keep the good going.