Why Correcting Stakeholders Can Make Things Worse

Mistakes vs. Patterns

Too often we correct or admonish people when we shouldn’t, and plenty of times we let things slide when we should jump right in. Here’s a very simple principle for figuring out when to get involved.

When someone does something we consider close-but-no-cigar, not close, or downright goofy, we usually do one of two things, depending on our own tolerance for confrontation.

1) We jump right in – and either a) walk them gently through the right way, b) blow them up with quick anger, or c) something in between. or

2) We ignore it.

In most cases, the surprisingly right thing to do is #2 – ignore it.

The simple question we forgot to ask ourselves before we jumped in can be one of the most valuable leadership questions we never ask:

“Was this a mistake or a pattern?”

A Mistake
A mistake is something we do once and learn from, so we don’t do it again. The only way we all got to where we could recognize other people’s mistakes is because we made them first.

A Pattern
A pattern is a habit of doing the same lackluster, lame or outrageously stupid thing regularly. We do these things over and over because we’re not learning from them. Every leader has good patterns and bad patterns. And so does every Stakeholder who works in our company.

Know the Difference
Most managers never ask which is which, they just jump in so they can show they “add value” (which is partly why they are managers, not leaders). Great leaders will always ask the question first, “Is this a mistake or a pattern”?

And honestly, if it’s a mistake, does it really help for me to jump in, either gently or angrily, and tell you all about it?

Jump in when…
The ONLY time we should jump in is:
1) if it is blatantly obvious that the person will never be able to figure it out themselves, and wants to, or
2) It is clearly a pattern and they can’t or won’t deal with it.

Patterns of doing things less then great or just plain wrong always need our attention. But mistakes almost always need to be ignored. If you hired right, your Stakeholders want to do great work. And one of the best ways for them to get there is the same way you did, by learning from their mistakes. Beating them up or fawning over them and “coaching” them every time they do something less than great simply makes them feel like children.

Never Ignore The Patterns
Ignore the mistakes until they become patterns. But never ignore the patterns – they will sink the Stakeholder, if not your business.

Managers correct everybody for everything. Leaders take the time to figure out if they are dealing with a one-off mistake or a pattern, and then they help people with the patterns and ignore the mistakes.

Stop managing and be a Leader – ignore the mistakes and address the patterns.

Leaders are reactive, not proactive.

Number of Buns Sold…

The objective of every business owner should be to do as little managing and as much leading as possible. We think good leaders should be highly proactive. In some ways that shows they aren’t really leaders, but managers. What’s the difference?

Leading vs. Managing
In short, managers are proactive, and great leaders are, in some very important ways, reactive.

Managers take the responsibility to go out on the shop floor with a clipboard and watch what everyone is doing, count the productivity cycles, carefully measure the waste, write it all on the clipboard, transfer it to a highly detailed spreadsheet, analyze it all, and come up with ways to improve the whole process.

That’s great management, but questionable leadership.

Number of Buns Sold
A leader does it quite differently. The founder of Wendy’s hamburgers, Dave Thomas, didn’t do any of that. Instead he was given one number every day to react to – number of buns sold. From the one number he could tell how many hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, french fries, Frosties, and soft drinks had been sold that day, and what the profits per bun were. Dave Thomas did not go looking for any of this – it all came and found him, and all he had to do was react to it.

I’m sure Dave Thomas was very involved in setting up the systems and metrics that would get him his bun number every day. But from then on all he had to do was react. The responsibility for all the clip board stuff and for getting him the report was all on someone else’s plate. That allowed Dave to focus on the strategic parts of his business.

Great leaders set up environments where all the important things come and find them. Managers put themselves right in the middle of the process.

If you are a business owner you need to figure out how to stop managing and start leading, and you need to start doing it as early in your business as you can. That’s going to be hard for the control freaks, or those who find their self-worth in being indispensable, or those who have trained their clients to think they have to work directly with the owner, or – etc.

Distributive Management
Think of work as laser beams. A leader’s job is to carry a mirror and deflect as many of those beams to someone else as possible. To do this, it’s not as simple as just assigning it to the next guy. It might take a lot of proactive work to set up the process, system, or report to make sure that the information will come find you going forward.

Successful business owners learn to lead as quickly as possible, and are constantly figuring out how they can get others to do the things they are doing. They are extremely proactive in figuring out how to get the business to come find them, instead of having to go get involved.

Business owners who stay on the treadmill are heavily involved in every detail, think that being responsible is having the company revolve around them, and they take being endlessly “proactive” as a badge of honor.

What is your “number of buns sold”, and how do you set up your business to feed those few important things to you? When you figure out how to stop managing and start leading you’ll have a better business and a lot more time to focus on the strategic development of your business. And that will make running a business a lot more fun.

Be very proactive in setting up a business to which you can be highly reactive. That’s the difference between a manager and a leader.

Thought leaders, aren’t.

Thinking isn’t results.

Why would anyone want to be known as a “thought leader” – for thinking? Thinkers are rarely leaders, so why do we use that term to identify people we believe are leading? There is a better term.

I’m not against thinking, I’m against elevating it to the highest status and the object of our affection. It’s not the lead actor – it has a supporting role in getting results.

Thinking is really important in the process of doing. As I’m moving forward, if I’m not thinking about all the feedback I’m getting I will just run into brick wall after brick wall. But the objective of thinking should be to create a result – to transform something.

So it makes no sense to me to call people “thought leaders” as if they are actually creating change. To call someone a “thought leader” is to focus on the process instead of the result.

Why do we celebrate thinking over results? I believe it’s because cognition, or thinking, has gained an inappropriately high status in our culture. The academics have taught us to assume that thinking is the result, not just one step in the process of getting a result.

Is this just semantics? No – there is a significant difference.

A thought leader is someone who has an idea. A results leader is someone who has changed something.

Thought leaders are educational. Results leaders are transformational.

Results leaders make history. Thought leaders write about them later.

We don’t think our way to a new way of acting. We act our way to a new way of thinking.

It is the act of acting that changes us, not the act of thinking. Nobody learns to ride a bike by reading books.

Einstein also believed we have given cognition too much credit. He said “rational thought” is the “servant of intuition”, but that we have “created a society that worships the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Cognition is simply one of the servants of getting results, and as such we should be focused on the higher value of results, not on thinking.

Many people we identify as “thought leaders” are really “results leaders”. We need to give them their just recognition and relegate thinking back to it’s appropriate role as a SERVANT of the result, not the object of our affection.

Let’s celebrate and promote “results leaders”. Thinking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

What do you “think”?