Quick Take: Outcomes and Butterflies

The Blue Morpho butterfly has the most vibrant blue color seen anywhere in nature. And yet, it contains no blue pigment. Blue pigment is how most things (natural or not) look blue.

99.9% of the time1 when you want blue, you’d use a blue pigment. That’s the way it is done most of the time, and it is natural to assume that if you want something to be blue, pigments might be the best/only way to do it.

But if you’re getting the outcomes you want, why do you care what process is used?

This is is a good example of the types of outcomes you can get as a leader when you focus on ‘what’ you want rather than ‘how’ your team does the work.

Focus on the outcome. Focus on ‘what’ you want. And be supportive and enthusiastic when you get ‘what’ you want, even if it isn’t done ‘how’ you expected it would be.

  1. It is a well known fact that 67% of statistics are made up on the spot. ↩︎

Treating the Symptoms

Imagine you’ve lived in your home for a while. Over time you’ve noticed a few things need maintenance and repair.

One time you notice that your dining table isn’t level. It isn’t off by much, but if you set a marble on the table, it slowly and reliably rolls off.

You think, “no big deal” and you put a little bit of cardboard under a leg to level the table.

Some time goes by and later you notice in that same room there is a small crack in the paint on one wall. It isn’t huge, but it is noticeable.

You think, “no big deal” and you patch the crack and touch up the paint.

Some time goes by and later you notice in the same room that one of the doors sticks when you try to open it. The door still works fine, but the sticking is annoying.

You think, “no big deal” and you shim the door hinges and sand one corner of the door, and everything is fixed.

Some time goes by and later you notice that in a different room, a new room, the table isn’t level, there is a small crack in the wall and the door sticks.

What do you do?

Continue reading “Treating the Symptoms”

What vs How

As a leader, when you want something done, is it better to focus on the problem or the solution?

The problem can be thought of as ‘what’ needs to change. The ‘what’ can be a problem to solve, an opportunity to address, or a desired future state you’d like to see created.

The solution can be thought of as ‘how’ your team will address the problem. The ‘how’ is the approach, direction, or path that will lead to the changes you’d like to see.

So which should you care about more?  The ‘what’ or the ‘how’?

Continue reading “What vs How”

Quick Take – Servant Leadership

Servant leaders will never get the credit they deserve.

Servant leaders work to get the job done, as all leaders do, and they work to support and grow the capacity and capability of their team.

If servant leaders are effective, their teams become stronger, more resilient, and they feel that their success is due to their own effort and hard work.

There is a quote that I haven’t been able to accurately source that sums this up very well. It is attributed to Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching. Translations vary1 but the core of it is this:

The worst leader is one who is feared. The good leader is one who is celebrated. The greatest leader works so that when success occurs, the people will say, ‘We did it all by ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

Whether the quote is accurately translated or interpreted, its core message is that the highest form of leadership is centered on those who are led.

When someone acts as a true servant leader, the individuals being led feel that their successes are due to themselves, rather than the leader.

Servant leaders will never get the credit they deserve. And this is an inescapable truth of servant leadership.

If you are a successful servant leader, then by definition you will not get the credit, the team will. This can be difficult to accept in cultures that prize individual achievement and believe that the leader, rather than the team creates the success.

Therefore, the irony is that if you are not getting the recognition you feel you deserve as a servant leader, that can be evidence of your effectiveness.

And even if the powers-that-be don’t fully recognize your contribution, know that there are other servant leaders out there who see it clearly and appreciate it.

Servant leaders, thank you for what you do.

  1. An example. Many variations on the quote. Another variation. Another example, showing chapter 17 as the source. . ↩︎