Generally speaking, it seems that most of the posts we see on business or personal growth fall into two categories; therapeutic, or instructional.
The therapeutic works on the basis that we’re somehow not good enough, that we’re flawed, failing and need help.
The instructional works on the basis that we’re insufficiently trained; that we need to be taught, by those who are better than us.
Both have their place, up to a point, but only if we believe the purpose of our life is to fulfil others requirements of us.
If, on the other hand the purpose of our lives is to use the unique gifts we have been given, the unique perspectives we hold, the intent we have for our lives to use them to leave the world a better place than we find it, then they don’t.
Our lives have an expiration date. Between now and then, we have a choice to make.
We’ve been brought up to be able to prove our answers. QED.
As leaders and managers, we have proven models, case studies, market research. We have cultures that do not look kindly on being wrong.
And yet; the chances of being wrong are increasing by the day, and if we limit ourselves to actions where we can demonstrate proof, we find ourselves right smack bang in the mediocre middle, with all those others who have proof.
We have forgotten how to trust our intuition, to read the landscape for clues, not proof, to trust that our own unique understanding has a place.
If we do the work to develop mastery of our subject, answers will appear in those liminal spaces – those areas between the things we know or can prove. This is where advantage, and sometimes genius lies.
Technology is really good at the known stuff, but not yet at the emergent, at the level of insight or inspiration. In other words, the stuff of humanity.
I like Annie Duke’s book, Thinking in Bets. There is no 100% proof on anything really worth doing or exploring – it’s all a bet. And sometimes we will be wrong.
But when we’re right, despite the odds, that’s when we know the joy of being human.
When we replace a part in a machine, we discard the old one. It no longer belongs in the system. The machine doesn’t miss it.
We have allowed ourselves to carry this analogy across into our organisations. We restructure, “rightsize”, merge, sell……whatever.
We allow ourselves to assume that what’s behind us is over, and that the logic of the new structure will propel us forward.
When things were slower, less VUCA, we were largely able to get away with that (even though the signals were there. 70% of change initiatives fail, as do a similar (or greater) proportion of acquisitions)
Now it’s an issue we cannot ignore. Every person who leaves an organisation, for whatever reason, leaves a “ghost”.
People leave their imprint on organisations long after they have left for whatever reason – including death.
We replace them, but the way they worked and the relationships they had leave a deep imprint. It is clear that new people who move into roles, at whatever level, who do not pay attention to how their predecessors operated are in for an uphill struggle.
People who “fail” and get replaced fail for a whole range of reasons from capability to politics. Functional incompetence is rare, meaning that it is far more likely they fell victim to the vicissitudes of the system and the “blame game” – which will still be there awaiting the new, naive and probably unwitting arrival.
It is said that Nikita Khruschev left two letters for his successor Leonid Brezhnev, each to be opened when a significant problem occurred. The first said “blame everything on me”. The second said “write two letters”.
The implications are massive. Treating organisations as machines, and people as replaceable no longer works. The organisations don’t have the ability to survive this sort of approach for any length of time.
Getting rid of people who are inconvenient not incompetent results in them finding work somewhere else, and letting every one know in an age of ubiquitous connection. Meanwhile, the organisation they leave behind doesn’t really change much. People notice. The “ghost” of those who leave remain, whispering “told you so” to those remain, and the glue that keeps the organisation together weakens.
Organisations need talent far more than talent needs a specific organisation. Talent has more options than organisations.
Good leadership recognises this.
Recognising those who have left is the foundation upon which change is built.