…asks the helpful critic.
Why has this project lost its mojo?
Why aren’t we wowing our customers?
Why do we keep missing our deadlines?
Why hasn’t the tough decision been taken?
Why aren’t we getting to the heart of the issue?
Good to raise the question. Much better, though, to realize that every single one of these questions offers an opportunity for leadership with a big and small “L.”
Leadership is not about authority or seniority or permission. It is about stepping up, taking the risk that others won’t, taking a point of view, putting yourself on the line. It’s about saying the things you wish someone else (your boss, your colleague, the young new member of your team) would say. It’s about grabbing the agenda, or ending the meeting early, or even walking with a new sense of purpose. It’s about changing something in your own behavior in a way that shifts the structures and the attitudes of everyone around you.
We know you’re smart enough to ask the tough questions. What we need more of is the courage to lead.
I’ve just gotten back in to playing the board game Monopoly (now with my kids). The game is truly no worse for the wear 30 years since I last played every chance I could – including early in the morning, alone, before anyone else in the house woke up.
I had forgotten that Monopoly was made by an out-of-work game-maker and inventor, Charles Darrow, trying to scrape by during the Great Depression. And I’d never known that the first few hundred copies of the game sold by word of mouth after late-night games at Darrow’s kitchen table; or that Parker Brothers rejected the game, telling Darrow that it had “52 fundamental errors” (nice job, experts); or that the history of who really invented the game is hotly disputed.
Here’s a picture of the earliest complete version of the game, handmade by Darrow on oilcloth, and recently sold at auction for $146,500 (HT: The History Blog).
They’re not, actually.* For most days when no one is paying attention they’re usually right.
The thing is, we only pay attention when the stakes are high (“BIG STORM COMING!!” or when we’re planning for a vacation) and then when the forecast is wrong we remember that, hang on to it, and share stories about that day we prepped for the storm, canceled a meeting, stayed home from work…and the storm didn’t come.
Sure, sensationalist weathermen competing for viewer eyeballs play into this, so it’s fun to have them be the scapegoats. But that’s not the point. The point is that people may talk louder about your failures than they do about your successes; or, worse, the naysayers speak up first and loudest, just when you’re getting going. That’s the risk in showing up every day and putting yourself out there.
Don’t let the fact that the critics talk – sometimes loudly – become an excuse for you not to show up in the first place.
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*NOTE: here’s the chart (original analysis here) on the accuracy of weather forecasts. If forecasts were 100% accurate, the solid blue line would lie directly on top of the dashed line. Pretty accurate, actually.