Lead Us Not Into Chaos

The clash of ideas brings forth the spark of truth.
— Australian proverb.

Perhaps the greatest aspect a leader can provide is the definition of success. That’s real power!

Use something that resonates, and there’s no shortage of people you can motivate, or what you can get them to do. (Which, I hasten to add, is not always a good thing.) However, if you try something that doesn’t seem relevant or important, you’ll never go anywhere. That’s just the reality of motivation — we’ve come to recognise that it is not nearly as manipulative as it sounds. The mind is good at rejecting discordant impulses (and, if necessary, the people presenting them).

The Not-So-Subtle Tweak

Having proven ineffective at changing the definition of success, leaders may be tempted to change behaviour by changing the motivators. Anything which disrupts a value mid-stream is actually tinkering with everything. This doesn’t just risk the specific project, it puts the whole enterprise into jeopardy, including all the delicate trust connections it takes to develop effective collaboration.

When trust is assumed, it quickly evaporates.

We must apprehend the existing values, and actions tied into them. Course-correcting to return to mutually-agreed-on values is wise and, even if painful initially, will facilitate greater health after the fact. But trying to shift a value — even just the expression of a value — which is not shared, can spell impending doom.

People want to be led. But they want to be led in the direction they want to go. This is the tension of leadership: a leader is looked to for vision and direction, but at some point a leader has to work with what people want, not the leader’s own intuition. (Frustration comes through lack of clarity of what people want, either on the leader’s part, or the people’s part, or both.)

Leaders can use money or social capital to get people to do what they don’t want to do, but not for very long. But the more exposed those people are to options (e.g. through experience or education), the the less time they’ll tolerate a painful diversion.

What Do We Do About It?

Our lexicon is filled with buzzwords that don’t exactly connect with the ideals that inform them. That’s an important way that communication works — you can edit down from too much information, but you can’t extrapolate from too little.

Buzzwords are most often reduced too far to communicate reliably.

We all need to stop relying on truncated soundbites, and get ready to have the long-form conversation — if not with people, then at least in front of them. Get them to see the reasoning, and how it connects with theirs. Ignoring people’s expectations is a great way to fail them. Sometimes expectations need to be yielded to, and sometimes they need to be resisted. But they almost always need to be engaged.

Good leaders find the tools and the time to make that work. This isn’t guaranteed to fix anything. But it’s also not guaranteed to break it, like other strategies might!