For so much of my career, I have rallied against the glass offices, the people who made crazy decisions and asked more and more of those below. I was angry about the slow rate of innovation and the lack of experimentation. I said “If I were in charge, I’d do it differently.”
Well, now we (yes, you and I) are in a position that is sort of “The Man.” We are supposed to be in places where we can make real change in the way our organizations work.
But goodness, this is much harder and slower than I thought it’d be.
I am writing this listening to bullfrogs in upstate New York, where I’m attending the Images of Voices and Hope annual summit. It’s an interesting gathering where some of this has been discussed. MIT’s Peter Senge gave this very dense and thought provoking talk about systems thinking. The term already might have made me think of a dense textbook, but the explanation applies so very well to leadership.
Many Middles are comfortable with innovation and fast change, but it is the systems around is that can slow us down, sometimes rightly so. Pushing against the “but that’s the way it always has been” argument is second nature to us. I tend to get frustrated with this argument and just move on to find people who “get it.” But what if we stopped and asked “Why is it that way?” Getting people to understand why they believe a system is working can open doors to getting them to support a new way of thinking.
OK, so that might help with the harder part of the problem, but slower?
I had brunch with a friend last week and was lamenting at how little I feel like I’ve accomplished of late. I’m used to pushing dozens of tweets a day and editing stories on the fly. But what I do now is much, much slower. She reminded me that culture change is slow. Coming up with and implementing a new initiative (which to me felt like not so much work) was a pretty large accomplishment. I was looking at the wrong scale.
Senge also talked about “Incremental shifts of habit” in his talk. It is true. The scale of productivity when you go from producer to manager, regardless of industry, has to change in your own mind. One new initiative needs to be equal to 14 reports/stories/tasks, not one. It’s my own mental scale that needs to change. I must start by changing that before I can incrementally change others. This is my real-time evolution and growth from Edition 12, where I talked about unglamourous work.
Now that we’re here, now that we’re “The Man,” we should remember the things we rallied against, the systems that need changing, but also have empathy in how our organizations got here and adjust our scales of how we see ourselves and our work. We cannot be the little man looking up at the big hill any more. We’ve made it to the first peak. Look back, look around, look at how far we’ve come and how much closer we are to the top. Then we can lead the hike toward where we want things to be.