Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is Introspection For The Weak?

Driven, focused, assertive, high-energy - I often see these & similar traits listed in job postings for middle and upper management positions. And certainly, it's hard to argue against a company that wishes to employ leaders who can actually lead. But it also seems to me that there may be another side to that coin. If all of your leaders are gung-ho generals ready to charge up San Juan Hill and carry all of their troops with them, is there anyone in your organization willing to stop and consider whether a frontal assault is the best strategy - let alone whether what's on the other side of that hill is even desirable? Shouldn't an organization also have a few folks that are occasionally willing to look inward and question their own judgment? Or is introspection only for the weak?

In my experience, corporate senior executives are never wrong. They might have been misled by subordinates, or given insufficient information, or even taken a calculated risk that was predicted to be the correct path - but they are never simply wrong. Now, don't misunderstand me, their superiors in the corporate food chain might think they were wrong - and that is usually followed by a company-wide email announcing that another executive "has left to pursue other opportunities". And that (of course) simply teaches the rest of the executive team to never be wrong.

The first rule of sales is "Always be selling" - and I think the predominance of Sales & Marketing executives being elevated to the top spots in corporations has led to a breed of senior executive that is incapable of introspection. They are always selling - their ideas, their strategies, their tactical plans. Anyone who has been in a budget planning meeting with an executive knows it is a pure sales pitch - you are trying to convince that executive to buy your plan. The senior executive probably has no idea whether your plan will work or is even feasible - but they know a good pitch when they hear it, and if you aren't supremely confident, you will be roasted alive.

OK, so the pitch was good and you get your budget - now you MUST deliver. The executive approved your plan, so your plan must be good - to think otherwise would mean the unthinkable - that the executive was wrong. That can't be right. So, the only alternative is that your plan is fine, and YOU are wrong - you simply need to buck-up and git 'r done.

So what have we done? We've created an organization where no one is ever wrong and failure is not an option. I call Bull Crap. Such an organization doesn't exist. Stuff happens and no amount of planning sessions, executive reviews, service level agreements or consultants will create the mythical zero-defect organization. You have two options: 1) Pretend you live in the magical kingdom of Never Wrong and start lopping heads whenever you are disappointed by your underlings, or 2) Be willing to admit that EVERYONE needs to be willing to set aside their narcissistic, ego-driven sales mask and recognize when it's time to take a step back. If your subordinate is willing to risk your wrath by questioning the plan - then encourage that level of introspection. If ALL of your subordinates are willing to do the same, then you can listen to a raised concern and be confident that the rest of your team will give you their honest opinions and either confirm the issue or have reasons why you still move forward. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with employees that simply feed your ego, you really can't trust any of them - and you will blissfully charge forward to your doom.

Is introspection for the weak? I say no - I think introspection requires MORE courage, MORE focus on the end goals and MORE commitment to success.

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