Lifestyle Business

Keeping an eye on corporate virtues

COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio - The Philippine Star

In a resort town in India called Goa, cows are considered sacred. These revered animals wander at will through the city streets, bedecked with all sorts of trinkets, charms and threads of flowers created by admiring worshippers. The never-ending lines of meandering cows create trouble for vehicle drivers struggling to weave their way through Goa’s busy streets.

From a western perspective, sacred cows are likened to venerated individuals or ideas that people never question, which can get in the way of progress or stall the smooth stream of creative juices. Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits that Masquerade as Virtues by executive leadership coach Jake Breeden exposes seven sacred, “idea cows”: balance, excellence, creativity, fairness, passion, preparedness and collaboration. All are ostensibly virtues, but can harm your life if you overindulge. By and large these essential virtues bring authentic value and provide an ethical compass. But, as with Goa’s cows, they can, in some instances, turn into vices that can produce inadvertent harmful effects: unproductive time, aggravation, mediocrity and emotional fatigue.

Goa’s sacred cows are easily noticeable, so it’s convenient enough to avoid them. Similarly, sacred virtues are easy to spot, and as a progressive adult, you should learn to work around them as well. “The trick is to take a hard look at previously unquestioned virtues and your personal beliefs, keep the good, and sidestep the unintended bad effects,” Breeden shares.

• Boldness is better than blandness. Most people want to achieve a superior work-life balance, but too much equilibrium can result in compromise, ordinariness and blandness. “Bland balance” can obstruct your ability to make the hard decisions that strong leadership demands. Thus, you are instead urged to adopt the reverse — a “bold balance” stance, which will enable you to make these brave choices: adopt a new management mantra; make a decision and move on; do one thing at a time, be practical in all your work activities and don’t cling to half-finished, old ideas; be decisive but stay ready to accept new data and change your thinking accordingly; build a portfolio of options; start a “to stop-doing list”; and embrace the paradox that says, “You are the best leader when your team functions well without you.”

• Excellence is the currency of success. It should always be your end goal, but not your process goal, or the route you will take to achieve your final destination. Breeden declared, “Insisting on excellence in every step is counterproductive. People who constantly demand excellence often lose track of their overall goals. They worry too much and exhaust themselves during the development process, which seldom leads to excellent work. When it comes to process — good enough is good enough.”

To ensure that your measured excellence counts, implement these action points: Lower the stakes and keep your focus on the work at hand, not the payoffs involved; ask “dumb questions,” believing that seemingly stupid questions often lead to novel solutions; embrace the “hacker mentality” that tells you that “instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works”; accept the mess of progress recognizing that “if you build a polished prototype, others will see flaws. If you build a rough prototype, they will see potential”; start a meaningful journey with a meaningless map, accepting the idea that “any good plan needs a useful starting point, but not a rigid path”; and play around and have great fun experimenting.

• Distinguish between “useful creativity” and “narcissistic creativity.”  The former is altering an established idea in some realistic method, and the latter is exhibiting your creativity shamelessly to no functional or constructive end. To attain useful creativity, you must understand the source of your creativity. Is it pride, pressure or boredom? If it’s a reaction to any of these forces, set it aside. Implement these measures: save your creativity, and deliver something new that your group really needs; re-channel your creative energy by looking for quick fixes and simple solutions; repurpose on purpose by adapting existing solutions; make a remix, just like how Picasso combined conventional portraiture and African tribal art to develop “cubism”; create analogies since drawing parallels can help people understand new ideas and concepts better; select the right box before you try to “think outside of it”; curate your ideas, and pick from your list if you need something later.

• Parents teach kids fairness, and people spontaneously demand fair treatment. “Fairness in process is not fairness in outcome. Everyone should get the same opportunity to succeed, but you should never insist that everyone reach the same outcome,” Breeden avers. “Some managers want everybody on their team to get the same results. This sends the wrong signal to underperformers and frustrates overachievers.” 

Follow these rules if you want to learn how to aim for “process fairness”: Knowing that “every team member needs what you need, break the golden rule. Not everyone needs to be led as you would like to be led. Trust your staff. Ritz-Carlton hotels, for example, tell their employees exactly how to address guests, while Four Seasons hotels leave it up to their employees. Guests prefer the Four Seasons way. Discriminate courageously by treating your top people differently than the also-rans; think about your entire enterprise; check on others and watch your back as you check on your own behavior.

• Avoid burnout and misbehavior as you race down your success path. Harmonious passion is a commitment that impels a person to become a better professional, while obsessive passion is too much perseverance that leads to destructive emotions in the face of project delays or work setbacks. What to do? Aspire for harmony and avoid obsession, which can flame you out. And to achieve harmony you can do these: Find your splinter of glass. It will explain your obsessive passion. Lead from behind. As Nelson Mandela said, “Put others in front, and take the front line only when there is danger.” Stop proving yourself right. Don’t justify yourself or your thinking to others; start proving yourself wrong. You aren’t infallible. Be objective about yourself and what you believe. Be your most severe critic; rely on good friends to tell you when you need to take a break. Depend on the same friends to protect you from your more troublesome urges. Look outside yourself, keep yourself healthy, and focus on others.

• The best preparation and best work occur when work and preparation combine forces. Backstage preparation is when someone spends too much time getting ready for a public performance, while onstage preparation is, “learning as you’re doing.” For sturdier groundwork, you should troubleshoot your preparation style, but avoid over-preparation for unimportant items. Learn by doing; hold simulations to prepare you for real-life situations; make sure you’re building the right “it” before you build “it” right; practice with intensity. Only perfect practice makes perfect, and use “crowd-sourced learning.”

• Move from automatic collaboration to accountable teamwork. Collaboration per se is good, but an overdose of it can be a waste of time and can create negative management attitudes. Putting everyone together all the time means that the instinct to collaborate trumps the need for partnership, and it becomes unclear as to who or what can really contribute to results. Managers can feel blocked when making decisions because you need the “buy-in” of so many people.  Breeden writes, “There is no greater danger to productivity than a standing committee meeting — a team for the sake of a team, a meeting for the sake of a meeting. Hold everyone accountable, including yourself, and set aside the time and space you need to get things done.”

Accountable collaborations demand these executions: Make teams temporary by being reluctant to assemble teams, and if there are teams already in place, break them up when a project finishes. Let underperformers sink or swim, which requires ruthlessness about accountability. Stay aligned with the bigger picture, where all teams serve the larger corporate mission. Own your results, and do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. Focus on your work and ignore distractions, and unplug or stop seeking validation by turning off all communication devices.

As you become completely aware and increasingly mindful of the negative aspects of your company’s most treasured and watertight virtues, there’s a need to renew your spirit, be more realistic and enjoy more success. The goal is to stay true to yourself while avoiding the ways your unexamined beliefs and automatic behaviors can boomerang. “The more you advocate virtues without questioning them,” Breeden emphasizes, “the harder it gets to see when they’ve become sacred cows.”

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