Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why Are Some People Reluctant To Do What Works?

Why Are Some People Reluctant To Do What Works?
By Colonel Donald J. Myers USMC (Ret)

Throughout the years, I have always been amazed to watch some organizations continue to run against brick walls when examples of success are evident in the area. I recall talking to the head of a department in a public high school in Baltimore. That particular school had a terrible reputation, but this particular leader had no problems in his arena. I asked him if any of the other department heads ever asked him why his department did not have the same difficulties that they had. He had been in this school for years and no other department head ever asked him his secret. This is not unique, but rather the norm. I suppose it reflects the, "Not invented here" mentality.

When Tom Peters was the rage among management gurus, he was paid tens of thousands of dollars to lecture groups who desired to improve their management skills. He was a fantastic lecturer and writer and added humor in his presentations. He told people things that they already knew, and had no intention of changing and they ate it up. He paced the stage as he told riotous stories of stupid things that occurred in business. I suspect that many of those in the audience had done the same stupid things, but they failed to appreciate he was talking about many of them.

There is one big exception to organizations copying what works from other like organizations and that is sport teams. Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys introduced numerous new tactics while he led the Cowboys and the other teams rapidly adopted them because they worked. Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina did the same in basketball. In sports, if a coach does not win in a respectable period of time, he is replaced. Unfortunately in many other type of organizations that does not occur as rapidly if at all.

I believe that far too many people think that it is a sign of weakness to ask for advice or copy from a successful person or organization. Most leaders will state that they always seek advice or seek input from within their organizations. I think that they do say that and honestly believe that they do it, but if one talks to their subordinates the story is different. Since they are the boss, they can falsely believe that they should know everything and if they need to ask for advice, it is a sign of weakness.

Another reason for failing to do what works is that in many cases it means that the leader must trust his subordinates and delegate authority to them so that they have the power to do their jobs. That is scary for some leaders. In the military, we call it mission type orders. Subordinates are given objectives and the means to achieve them without the leader constantly interfering or over supervising. Micro management is the death knell for many organizations and it usually results in rapid personnel turnover and low morale before ultimately ending in bankruptcy.

Governments are probably the worst in doing what is right and the bigger they are the worse it becomes. The major problem there is that the money that politicians spend is not theirs and therefore they are not nearly as careful with it. Programs that work also reduce power for the government and its leaders. A flat tax or fair tax will bring in more money to the treasury, but significant power will be lost for those members in the various finance committees. Don't expect that to happen in the near future.


Editor’s Note: Col. Myers is the author of the excellent book, Leadership Defined

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