As in, what kind of godlike, super-mega-ultra-lightning babe do you think you are? Of course you will make mistakes, and regret making some of them.
… are utterly essential to progress. Of course it’s foolish to seek to make mistakes – but we must consistently seek situations and opportunities in which we’ll make them. It’s not enough to be theoretically open to new situations – we need to make sure that we regularly put ourselves in them. I’m not talking about taking outrageous risks and burning our bridges – that’s almost always foolish – but most of us are in far greater danger of wrapping ourselves in cotton wool… and suffocating.
Mistakes that you’ve already made are not repeated. It’s fine to regret making them (for a while), as much as it helps you to learn from them and move on.
It might be that what looks like an old mistake is actually a new, higher-level mistake. You might forget your password, then make a system to fix that problem… and then neglect to apply your own system. Different mistakes, same outcome. It helps to be clear about what kind of mistake you’ve made in order to know how to fix it.
Coming tomorrow: Mistakes of technique, mistakes of tactics and strategy, and mistakes of character.
Some types of work that leaders do:
Foundational and Directional Work
This is the vision and values stuff – identifying needs, thinking through the “why” of the project, articulating its importance and sharing the vision and values with those both inside and outside the organisation. This is the work that keeps you and your team and partners focused and on the right track. It’s also often generative work, in the sense that it generates possibilities for your organisation and others, and also generates work for your team. (This can be good or bad depending on the work and the team’s capacity, but long term you can’t live without it.)
Strategic and Managerial work
This is getting into your organisation’s mission – making strategic decisions (or working with others to make decisions) to do with the “what” of how the vision will be achieved, with finding people who can do the technical work (including managing others) and with managing them as they do it.
Management work is also generative in the sense that it turns vision into specific work and jobs to be done (i.e. it generates work), and because good management generates capacity for the organisation. It does this because people are more productive when they are clear about the work that they need to do and supported to do it, and also because good management allows more effective and integrated specialisation, either by type of task or by project.
Executive tactical and technical work
Unless your organisation is big are big or you have a large personal staff, it’s probable that you also have a technical contribution to make: as a consultant helping your team to set up systems, or as a specialist doing a specific part of the team’s work on the ground. This might be outward focused (delivering training and working on products or selling them) or inward focused (things like recruiting, completing accounts and managing inventory in support of your outward goals). This work is executive in the sense of getting things done and shutting down possibilities. Tactical tasks can be ticked off as “done”. It’s generative to the extent that the quality of the work enables more and better work by colleagues or creates a reputation that attracts new partners to the organisation.
Following on from yesterday’s post about supervision, here are some links to Seth Godin on responsibility:
“Use your best judgment.”
Bureaucracies have a very hard time saying this to their staff.
They create an endless series of scripts and rules, procedures that force people to not care. “I’m just doing my job,” which is the precise opposite of, “I see the problem and I’m going to fix it.”
As any organization hits a sufficient size, it will increase rules in order to decrease responsibility. Because they’ve gotten big enough that they no longer trust the people who work for them.
Is that a job you want?
Is that a company you want to hire?Seth Godin
A friend shared this great analogy* for how teams work at different project phases.
Early phase: Golfing Buddies (2-3 players)
In the early phase of a project you and a partner or two (if you have any!) do all the work. You do a lot of your work together with quite a lot of crossover, share tools, might carry each other’s golf bags. There’s camaraderie, little need for planning or job descriptions, and most things you face can be worked out informally as you go. You need to do the work of compensating for your weaknesses yourself.
Intermediate (small) phase: Basketball team (5+ players)
There are more players and each has a position and you start to benefit from specialisation but you interact a lot and in many ways are still basically interchangeable. Plans and strategy matter, but tactics are king. You’re fast and responsive.
Intermediate (large) phase: Rugby team** (15+ players)
The team is getting bigger. Everyone still plays together but there is definite specialisation and team members stop being able to cover each other’s positions. Communication and chains of command become increasingly important and plans become harder to change. Danger of silos and factions.
Mature (large) phase: American Football Team (40+ players***)
There is very deep specialisation and there are clear teams-within-the-team – whole sets of players can play in the same game but never play together. Planned plays and frequent stops for communication are the norm. Management and support structure becomes increasingly important – and expensive. Danger of suffocating bureaucracy.
*Results from Google (like this post on LeadStrategic) suggests that this analogy comes from Larry Osborne‘s Sticky Teams – Osborne also has ‘Track Star’ as a category for solo performers.
***I’ve been a bit fast and loose with the numbers on teams: basketball and rugby teams will have substitutes that take the number of players higher, and American football teams only field 11 players at a time, but have separate offensive, defensive and special teams that all play during different phases of the game.
The basic principle is that when you’re recruiting, you should be seeking to raise the average of your team, bringing in people who increase the level of energy, skill, and possibilities available – and who raise the bar in terms of commitment to your aims and values.
This is a helpful rule of thumb, but there are two problems with it:
- The more successful you are at raising your average, the harder it’s going to be to keep doing it.
- As you get better at what you do and grow as a team, it’s also going to get harder to find people who raise the average in what are presumably key areas.
So it’s inevitable that you’re going to lower some averages, some of the time, if you want your team to grow. It’s doubly inevitable if you’re seeking to build an organisation that increases the average, both internally (as individuals learn and grow and as the team works better together) and in the workforce (as people move on and take what they’ve learned to make a contribution elsewhere).
I think the answer is to make sure that you’re clear about which averages are non-negotiable, and which of the others are most important at a given time:
- Values and integrity
- Enthusiasm / energy
- Commitment to your vision
- Maturity – consideration and care for others
- Skill in a key area. This could be something you deliver, like training or a technical service you provide for your clients – or a support function like accounting or managing infrastructure.
- Readiness (and ability) to learn and grow
It’s worth being clear first about the non-negotiables of values and attitude (that is, character) – and the energy that you need a new team-member to bring to the team.
You also need to know which missing skills you’re seeking to add to your team from the outset, and whether you expect these to arrive fully formed (how will you tell?) or are going to help your new teammate acquire them (you need a training plan, and you need to make sure that you carry it out).
Beyond that, a lot depends on the stage of development of your team, and whether your priorities are growth into new areas (finding people to create possibilities and help you do things that you can’t already do), increasing capacity (adding people to help you do more of what you already do) or consolidation (adding people who will help you do what you already do better). It’s worth bearing in mind though, that the two types of growth create a need for consolidation, and consolidation creates the potential for growth.