It is always easy to fall into the trap of status quo. Some leaders disagree, they say they always add value; incrementally. But would incremental value changes results? Hardly. Simply because you just do ‘work around’ on those boundaries. Just by putting slightly extra effort, adjusting here and there, tweaking this and that, viola! But to make real change and get your people change you need to push boundaries. I learn a little bit on pushing boundaries last weekend.
It was a simple event. I found one of my tyres almost flat. Duhh..So I quickly drive to the nearest workshop and asked the mechanic to change both rear tyres (yeah, both of them already so thin!). They moved the front tyres to rear and installed the new ones in front. Within 45 minutes I restored my confidence for long distance driving and speeding. The following was my conversation with the mechanic:
Me: Do you have anything else to do?
Mechanic: No, all ready and you can pay now.
Me: Are you sure?
I paid, left the workshop and did one big round and came back.
Me: I think my steering leaning towards left. A little bit. It was ok before this.
Mechanic: Cannot be. Normally it’s ok.
Mechanic straight away went jack-up the car and removed both tires and put them in a machine to ‘fix’. Emm..Nobody (yes, nobody) look at the steering wheel. They spent another 30 minutes fixing both tyres. Looking for areas to improve and they hit the rim, this and that. I pretended not to see anything and sit with a sour face.
They installed back the tyres and this time one of mechanics went inside the car to check the steering wheel alignment with the tyres. “Ok.” So I drove and make another big round and winding down my window and showed thumbs up and peace. J They stopped me and said, “We have not been doing this for long time because nobody ever complains after each job we did. I felt great to know I did a better job this time.”
Truthfully, there was nothing wrong with my steering wheel. It has always been like that since I first bought the car. What I did was pushing the mechanics boundaries that there is always room for improvement if only you pay greater attention to things. And it looks like they managed to ‘carve’ that extra time to do it. And they actually feel greater about their work because I can see it on their face and with what was conveyed to me. So what is the learning for leaders?
Leaders need to push boundaries. Do not receive first cut just like that. Give it back to them so they think harder and deeper. These are smart people so don’t insult their intelligence. Let me explain a little bit more with these few simple rules:
1. Challenge the first cut –> although we shouldn’t always think ‘people are bad so hold them tight’, there is always tendency to give minimum outputs. The reasoning is a logical one, when there is no pressure why looking for one e.g. putting extra hours. Therefore, as leaders we need to challenge the initial output to test whether it has been carefully thought through. When you challenge, be sure a modest one. Avoid self-referential past glories of yours get in the way!
2. Be objective –> don’t beat around the bush, just tell to their face. Leaders can say things like this, “I know not many of you don’t want to confront me, but for today I challenge you to question me on this particular project/job.” When you invite disagreement, be objective.
3. Let them speak –> once you have invited disagreement, let them do the talking. Some leaders rambled on and on. Listen more, talk less. When they speak leaders need to take note to clarify or conclude later on. Don’t pretend to listen with oohhs and ahhss. They are not dumb. Write down seriously on your ring-binded notepad (not on loose paper!).
4. Just listen –> to emphasize more on listening here, leaders not to be judgmental of what was said. Yes, some of them are over critical of you and inviting some chuckles from behind. But that doesn’t mean leaders cannot speak at all. Leaders are encouraged to ask question to seek greater understanding of the issue. Suppress your negative feeling and resist the temptation to be the KIA (know-it-all), c’mon you are leaders!
5. Its job time –> when things have been clarified, give them a break for them to get on with the job. Give time for them to tinker with the ideas or corrective measures. Stop harassing or giving the impression that “I am watching you” feeling. Let them be productive and spend the time they need to perform.
6. Decision can wait –> sometimes to push boundaries leaders can wait for the decision to come back. Especially when you are dealing with creative bunch or specialists, these are people with knowledge and many are experts in their own area. They know and they will come back to you with solutions. If you cant get a decision, don’t impose one.
Remember, the job is to push boundaries, not ‘work-around’ status quo.
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