Leadership

Eschew Simple

We are faced with a world of complexity. We also have a craving for simple and easy. Our brains and our psyches would really prefer to avoid the messy realities of the world and the inherent difficulty of trying to solve persistent and intractable problems. When faced with a complex problem, we will very often substitute a much simpler answer and pretend that is true. This is where simple gets very complex indeed.



Embrace Complexity

Many of us find the complexity of the world difficult to manage. Particularly now, we want simple answers and easy solutions. We would like to take all the mess and awkwardness and shove it under a large enough carpet that it won’t see the light of day any time soon. That doesn’t work, sadly, and simple solutions expressed confidently aren’t a substitute for the messy, difficult work of muddling through and persevering. Embracing complexity requires work and effort; that starts with recognizing complexity for what it is.



Always Have A Why

“Why?” is undeniably a powerful question. But we often think about our why in grandiose, abstract terms. We tend to emphasize the philosophical rather than the practical. And yet, at its core, “Why?” is the most practical question that you can ask. And the one you always need to be prepared to answer. Don’t tell people what to do, or how to do it. Instead, get them excited about the why, the way it makes a difference, no matter how prosaic and simple the task at hand might be.



Don’t Force Closure Prematurely

As human beings, we are not wired to embrace uncertainty. We like clear answers, defined outcomes and a well-articulated path to get there. The challenge is that real life doesn’t work that way. Our most important projects and changes are often rife with uncertainty. And forcing the issue and making snap decisions often does more harm than good. If we want to navigate the unknown well, we need to know the thinking styles that will best get us there.



Calling Out The Undiscussables

One of the most interesting things we do in organizations is render topics and truth undiscussable. Through an intersection of power and our own complicity, we allow for a rearranging of the facts to align with someone else’s preferences. That can have consequences for us, for our careers, and for our ability to simply have a coherent and objective conversation. As prevalent as the elephants in the room might be, though, there are some relatively straightforward strategies to both name them, and invite them to leave.



Stay In Your Lane

The internet is an easy place to speak your mind, without consideration of the consequences of how it will be received. Escalation happens easily. Flame wars erupt without thought. It’s all too easy to hear something you don’t like, lash out, and admonish someone to “stay in their lane.” But is it right? Is it reasonable? Is it appropriate? And what you should do when you’re on the receiving end?



Pick Up The Damn Phone

Email is without question our most popular—and most misused—means of communicating in the workplace. While success depends upon interacting well with the broad, complicated and all-too-intricate tapestry of humanity, we like to pretend that writing and text is as short-cut to doing so efficiently. Whereas every time we get it wrong and course correct (and that’s usually pretty often) we discover we’ve actually taken the long-and-by-no-means scenic route.



There Are No Rules To Politics

We like rules. Rules make life easier. Knowing that there is a right and wrong answer means that we can figure out how to be successful under all circumstances. The only problem is that life doesn’t actually work that way, particularly when engaging in politics and managing in the face of complexity and uncertainty. That’s not to say that there aren’t strategies that can help, but those strategies inherently require adaptation, a willingness to be flexible, and acceptance that the only right answer in any given situation is, “It depends.”



You Can’t Make Me

It is a little astonishing how often people presume that change can be forced. In particular, there’s an assumption that all that’s required is for senior management to tell everyone what to do, and they’ll do it. You can try. I guarantee it won’t work; at least, it won’t work for long. Leadership has a role, but it’s not the one you think.



Who Do You Need To Be?

There are a lot of hard-wired presumptions about what constitutes good presentation. There are a lot of conflicts that get created when we feel pressured to “act different, speak different or be different.” Being a speaker is one of the roles that we play in life. We have a lot of other roles, as well. And in each role, we choose how to perform, whether we make our own choices or accept the scripts of others.