November 1, 2011
Predictability is a thing of the past. From the corner office to the brightest minds in science and warfare, the world becomes less symmetrical by the day. And yet you needn't be swamped by the wave. Some among us share a common age-old commanders' postulate: attack, attack, attack! One-hundred-sixy years ago Lincoln searched for a decisive leader who didn't overanalyze the battlefield. In Ulysses Grant, he found a no-quarter leader who once when leading an infantry charge, found himself behind enemy lines. A junior officer called to Grant urging him to return to friendly ground for his safety. "Hell no," Grant replied. "Move up the troops!"
Good management is like a subway train ... it pauses only for a moment to take on passengers then rolls onward to a specific destination. Perhaps of all the concepts expressed in Jim Collins' book, "Good To Great," this one trumps the field: "Good is the enemy of great." Often when conducting a staff or corporate session,we toss that puzzle piece on the table as clouded expressions appear on the faces of our colleagues. On the surface, "good" should be acceptable. In academic terms it's a "B" grade. Why then is it the enemy of "great?" We explain that long ago we gave up depending on miracles to save the day or overtake a competitive antagonist. Instead we propose the concept that good becomes great when we start challenging our people to depend on a mass of small innovations which lie hidden in our own hallways and team members, leading in turn to stratospheric levels of performance. "Good enough" is never good enough.
"But Tim, we can't do that in our organization," some say. Perhaps not, but until you bring this mentality to your staff expressed in these terms, you'll never really know. Looking at it from another camera angle, constant change requires a dramatic increase in the capacity to accept disruption and capitalize on it while the Klingons across town are frozen in "but-what-if."
There are little revolutions going on around us all the time. Once, the American penchant for "giantism" ruled every boardroom and front office. Some radio companies have made it an Olympic sport. History will record the wins and losses of today's remaining media oligopolies, but for the main body of men and women who go to work every day in small, mobile, tactical teams, each of us leaves our own behavioral footprint; we're all subject to the principle of diminishing response to a daily routine. Inescapably without a new vision or stimulus from leadership, in micro-measure we all become a little less motivated, a little more lethargic, and a shade less energized. In truth, using a traditional model, only a small percentage of any organization are self-starters.
So, as a manager or department head, the pace you set, examples you show, and the communication of possibilities you transmit daily all combine for proactive management. Grant's "Hell no, move up the troops!" in historic rusticity exemplifies a very early model for "good to great." Test it, try it, just do it, in Nike-speak. Who if not you?