Leadership Four One One: Dead Horses

In his classic song, The Gambler, Kenny Rogers wrote “You have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, no when to run.” Truthfully, I am not much of a gambler. I prefer spending money as opposed to losing it on a wager. Nevertheless, gambler or not, there seems to be great wisdom in these words.

Have you ever been in a situation in which the evidence indicates you need to move on, nevertheless you continue to plow ahead as if somehow you are going to get a different result? Ever found yourself stubbornly leading your team down the road only to learn that everyone knew you should have stopped a long time ago?

Don’t feel like you are alone. Anyone who has led for any period of time has at some point found themselves at this crossroad; wondering whether they continue on or change direction. Whether the issue is an underperforming team member, or a pet project that is draining resources, making the decision to “fold ‘em” and “walk away” is often the most difficult, yet best decision you will ever make.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”

                                                                                                                                                                                 Peter Drucker

As a leader, I pride myself in managing to outcomes. I set a very high standard for myself, as well as those on my team. In my experience, when the target is realistic, and what’s required plays to their strengths, people tend to rise to the challenge they are given.

There are, however, times when they don’t rise to the occasion; times when it is crystal clear that they are not in the right seat on the bus…or worse, they are on the wrong bus! During these times, I preach the same message to every leader, “Take swift action!”

A True Confession

I once had someone on my team who had underperformed for more than a year. Every time they failed to meet an agreed upon outcome, I devised a new excuse for the shortcoming and implemented a new strategy. I sent him to training, introduced him to a new way to organize his work, had him complete a 360, and even had a respected manager serve as his coach. I did everything I could think of; never once considering he was on the wrong bus.

      “If the solution you applied doesn’t get you the results you really want, you may be addressing the wrong problem”                                                                                                                                                                              Crucial Conversations

One day a high performing member of my team confronted me. With complete confidence she stated, “You would never let me get away with that level of performance.”

Wow! Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. And she was absolutely right. As hard as it was to hear, her words served as a wakeup call; providing the necessary clarity to apply the right solution.

So here’s the Four One One…

Executing change often requires both wisdom and courage; wisdom to listen to the people around you and courage to take action. Applying the discipline to resist our natural inclination to press ahead is rarely easy, but the positive impact on your team will be worth it.

For Your Enjoyment

The November 2000 issue of the Austin, Texas ASTD Newsletter contained an excerpt titled, “Dead Horses.” Over the years it has served as a reminder of the many times the wrong solution has been applied to the problem. I have included it for your enjoyment.

Dead Horses

Dakota Sioux tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, in managing any business we often try other strategies with dead horses, including the following:

  1. Buying a stronger whip.
  2. Changing riders.
  3. Saying things like “This is the way we always have ridden this horse.”
  4. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
  5. Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
  6. Increasing the standard to ride dead horses.
  7. Appointing a team to revive the dead horse.
  8. Creating a training session to increase our riding ability.
  9. Comparing the state of dead horses in today’s environment.
  10. Change the requirements declaring that ‘This horse is not dead.”
  11. Hire contractors to ride the dead horse.
  12. Harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed.
  13. Declaring that “No horse is too dead to beat.”
  14. Providing additional funding to increase the horse’s performance.
  15. Do a case study to see if contractors can ride it cheaper.
  16. Purchase a product to make dead horses run faster.
  17. Declare the horse is “better, faster and cheaper” dead.
  18. Form a quality circle to find uses for dead horses.
  19. Revisit the performance requirements for horses.
  20. Say this horse was procured with cost as an independent variable.
  21. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.

(Source Unknown)

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2 thoughts on “Leadership Four One One: Dead Horses

  1. I agree that there comes a time when tough decisions need to be made and implemented. Before we “take swift action”, however, I believe we have an obligation to ensure we have done everything we can to help the staff be successful -whether it be their current role or one better suited to their strengths. If action is taken too soon, too often, you run the risk of creating a culture where staff feel disposable which I think is far more detrimental to the team/organization. People are the greatest asset of any organization. If staff feel like the leaders do not support, value, and respect them, the organization is not meeting basic needs and will lose good people. Every leader that is dedicated to helping staff succeed has looked back and thought that they should have taken action sooner one time or another. I personally prefer to error on this side – because we most certainly will error. Every decision has a human impact and how we, as leaders, treat others has a far greater impact on the overall success of the organization than we realize.

    “People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps. ” -Mary Kay Ash

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