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I Know Kung Fu

Quoting "The Matrix," Neo is in a fight and needs help. It's just him in the fight, but his team is able to upload everything he needs to know to be an expert in kung fu. I've often thought it would be great if we had USB ports where we could just upload information and expertise we need, but don't yet have.

Okay, all the dystopian futuristic mind-control issues aside, it seems it would be super convenient to say, "I wish I knew more about chemistry," and instead of reading a website or earning an entire degree, a person could just check out the information and upload it to their brain. Until then, we'll have to keep on learning the old-fashioned way; bringing in new information relayed to us and making meaning from our experiences.

On paper, there is no rational reason to have any vehicular accidents or moving violations. Every state has an entire manual regarding the rules and expectations of driving. Every vehicle has an operator's manual (or similar). Every roadway has rules that are posted or stated in aforementioned manual. Why is it so many people get into collisions, get tickets, or have other mishaps? It doesn't seem to be a lack of available information, but falling short on execution.

Why do people fall short on execution when driving? Distraction. Distracted by an animal that runs by, an electronic billboard that has a great message that will show soon, flags all over that pick-up truck in the field of vision, dripping hamburger juice into one's lap, and the big one; mood. Driving as a concept is simple. Driving as an action is difficult. This is due to the focus of each driver and a little bit of outside influence. While drivers are responsible for their vehicle, one might not be blamed too much if a deer rams them at a traffic light.

Leadership isn't terribly different. There are SO MANY books on leadership out there. Even if we read half of them and accepted even half of the lessons contained in the pages, there would be more than ample information available for a leader to learn their style, understand others, and increase engagement of their teams. Yet, we have movies like "Bad Bosses" and it does not require the audience to engage in suspended disbelief to follow the story and have empathy for the characters. So, what gives?

Leadership is difficult because it deals with people, exclusively. When things go wrong with a team or an outcome, it can be very tempting to look at the team, the outside circumstances, the budget, the change orders, and everything to figure out what happened. Well, everything with the frequent exception of the leader. When the leader's role is finally examined, it appears things have gotten quite poor. A driver's skills and abilities are not critiqued until they affect someone else. Not that dissimilar.

If a leader has all of the information available but still is not as effective as they want to be, what can be done? Here are three actions a leader could take to start improvement immediately:

  1. introspection - a team usually behaves in a particular way as a result of leadership. If the team isn't engaged, how are they being engaged? If the leader yells at the team for their lack of commitment, it is unlikely they're going to be revved up to do great work.

  2. ask the team - if something is wrong, an appropriate question can get to a better outcome. Beware; like physical exercise, you might appreciate the result more than the journey. Honest feedback can be rough when things aren't going well. Honest feedback is impossible in a toxic culture unless the employee is working their last minute, and maybe not even then.

  3. ask an outsider - no one can see everything from their point of view. A trusted person from outside the organization can help. Asking someone inside the organization can be helpful, but the question will remain whether they are being honest or if parts of the conversation will show up on the leader's evaluation.

A leader might read every book, every article, and watch every YouTube video on the subject. But if they don't accept feedback from trusted sources, they will not be effective. Neo knew kung fu and was able to execute. He also knew he had to adjust every time he got hit. Leadership has NOTHING to do with physical altercations which makes it a little more difficult to understand feedback when it comes because it will be a lot more subtle than being thrown against a concrete pillar.

Leaders may know leadership, but how they hone their craft is critical.

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