Leaders Make Clumsy Attempts to do the Right Thing

Clumsy attempts at self improvement are better than smooth successes at nailing the status quo.

A good, and immediate, example is feedback.

We know (really, proven scientifically and anecdotally time and time again) that this is how to engage employees:

Provide frequent, specific, behavior-based feedback that is more often positive than negative.

I’ve never met anyone who launched a serious, sincere argument against that truism.

And yet, most leaders don’t do it. Time gets in the way.

Another obstacle: The belief that people should never be praised for doing, “what they’re supposed to be doing anyway.” (The illusion is that feedback is praise. It’s not.)

The most frequent obstacle, it seems? Discomfort.

If I know it helps to say things like, “Bill, you always do a great job stapling the cover pages to the TPS reports. Thanks, keep it up”, then why don’t I?

Because it’s not a habit.

If I know it is actually non-threatening and relationship-building to say things casually like, “Say, Bill, it really helps the folks in accounting keep things straight when you staple the cover pages to the TPS reports – will you please make sure to do it each time?” then why don’t I?

Because it’s not a habit.

Make it a habit, right? Easier said than done.

Because, the first time, it might come out like:

“Bill – um, hey – Bill. Yeah, I was meaning to say, ah, that those people up in accounting really like the cover pages stapled to the reports – the TPS reports. And you do it like, all the time. And it’s super helpful, even though it seems like a little thing. So um, keep doin’ it, okay?”

It feels clumsy, and may make you feel entirely uncomfortable.

Too bad. Leaders need to push their comfort zones to do uncomfortable things.

And, Bill appreciates it. Because what would you normally say? Nothing, and Bill doesn’t know how he’s doing. Because you never tell him. Because it’s not a habit yet.

An amazing thing is this – At one point in time, Michael Jordan was a lousy ball player. At first, Miles Davis had lousy trumpet-playing skills. At one point, you couldn’t read.

Clumsy attempts are needed before good things – then great things – happen.

Make them. That’s what leaders do.

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