Leadership When the Heat’s On
Danny Cox covers a lot of ground in Leadership When the Heat’s On. I found that a lot of his paragraphs could easily have been expanded into full chapters. I suspect there is something for just about everyone here. There were three particular insights of which I made note that I thought were worth particular attention.
First was this: “Many people are much more familiar with mediocrity than they are with success, and therefore lack the drive to pursue goals. Fear of success is natural if you have little experience with it.” I’ve become increasingly aware of how common it is for people to fear success. Mediocrity is comfortable and safe—to pursue success forces us to stretch and grow, something many of us don’t like to do. We have often never been challenged to do it, and our fear of failure can kick in at a whole new level.
I’ve also seen that some are afraid of success because of the increased expectations that follow. Once you are successful at a particular task, people expect that excellence, which creates a new level of pressure. Some people will sabotage themselves so as not to succeed—and then fail at a higher level. As leaders, we need to be able to walk people through those fears and help them step into a higher level of success.
The second thing that struck me was: “To mentally prepare for problem solving, you must first commit yourself fully to solving the problem. This means making a strong commitment to yourself and your organization that the problem you’re presently facing will not come back for lack of a sound solution.” Reading that made me wonder how often it happens that we really commit to fully solving a problem. Often we settle for putting band-aids on the problem—making it look better, or not be as bad, but not really solving it at a fundamental level. Of course, when we do that, the problem always comes back because it was never really dealt with in the first place. Being an effective leader means really addressing problems until they are resolved. That means we will likely keep pressing long after those around us are ready to move on, and they can even get annoyed with us for not letting it go.
The third thing was a good reminder: “The people in your organization need to feel they will receive sufficient notice before any significant change is made. In other words, your organization should discuss and think through new ideas before implementing them. People don’t develop a sense of confidence when they get blindsided with something they weren’t expecting. Even if the new idea is a good one, springing it on unsuspecting people will produce uncertainty, an atmosphere in which they tend to proceed cautiously and tentatively.”
As leaders, we have often spent many hours thinking about an issue or planning a new initiative. By the time we start talking about it, or are ready to move on it, it’s old news, but it isn’t old news for the people around us. We need to be careful to walk them through the idea and the implementation so they don’t feel blindsided. If they do, we will never have their full commitment or their best efforts at making it happen. Their confidence will be undercut, and they will act tentatively. On the other hand, people who know what is happening, and why, will give their best efforts and greatly increase the odds of success.
So what were your take-aways? And what have you learned about leading when the heat is on?