My very first blog post, January 2012 was entitled: “Being Right Isn’t Enough”. The JLP had just lost the general elections to the PNP. I spoke about what I deemed to be the JLP’s failure to engage the electorate, the electorate choosing instead to respond positively to declarations of love and validation from Mama P, and the promise of great things ahead in the form of JEEP. In that blog post, I opined:
“The space to make decisions after thorough analysis simply does not exist in Jamaica’s context of poverty, and the JLP ignored, to their downfall, the Jamaican psyche. Thus, they did not frame their communications appropriately. They did not work the communities effectively. Instead of being focused only on what was “right” in terms of managing the economy, they should have placed equal focus on getting buy-in from the Jamaicans who put them there to serve.”
The tension between being right and being effective…
I started thinking about this last evening after a conversation with a friend of mine. We were going on and on about a favourite topic of ours: “good” leadership and the lack thereof…
“You’re Lucky that I’m Bright!”
About a decade ago, I was a newcomer to the management team of Organisation X. I had come to them by way of an acquisition, and to further complexify things, we were once fierce rivals in the space that we operated in. I also happened to be young and female, a minority in the demographic of the management team at the time. So we started our relationship with a thin veneer of civility overlaying layers of tension. One management meeting in particular stands out in my mind.
The then sales manager, reporting on a project we were working on, was waxing eloquent about how he had “properly schooled me as to how things should have been done” and that he had taken the time to “show me the nitty gritty of things.” I simply lost it. I turned my full body towards him, raised my voice and cut him off mid-sentence: “You did what? All of you in here are lucky that I am bright!”. I am lucky that the general manager didn’t fire me then and there. Yes, I had been handling my portfolio efficiently and yes, I had been contributing positively to the good fortunes of my new employers. And yes, perhaps I am bright, whatever that means. But my outburst did absolutely nothing to help the relationship among us managers.
Tensions spilled out of our little circle and staff knew that management was divided. My boss hauled me to the CEO, I resented him, he resented me and the next few years were stormy. I continued to be right in a lot of instances going forward, but I know I was not as effective as I could have been. We wasted a lot of time tiptoeing around each other, being suspicious and guarding ourselves. I sometimes think about how much more we could have accomplished had I focused more on building good, professional relationships that would have facilitated more productive brainstorming, problem solving and strategy formation.
Do you have the right support?
Eventually I was promoted out of that particular organisation to a senior position within that group of companies. By this time, I had mended fences with my former colleagues in Organisation X, and to this day, I remain good friends with them even though I have since left that group of companies.
Let’s go back to that promotion, though. The group of companies had problems. They had spent resources that they scarcely had to contract a world renown management consultancy company. Let’s refer to them as “M”. I am chuckling now as I remember my audacity so many years ago. M had recommended a course of action aimed at lifting the group out of the slump that it was in. In my new position, I was expected to implement M’s recommendations. There was a problem though: I disagreed with M. Ha! I didn’t just disagree though, I had a plan of my own that I was sure was the way to proceed. So I told them I wouldn’t accept the position unless I had the latitude to implement my own plan.
To their credit, I was given permission. I was sure I was right. I even had the backing of SOME members of the executive management team of which I was now a part. Here’s where I went wrong: I spent hours and hours and consulted experts and more experts and formulated what I think of to this day as The Right Plan. I found and allocated resources, including having some of the best human capital at my disposal. BUT I didn’t get my boss fully on board. He was skeptical (I suspect that he was under tremendous pressure from his board, and he didn’t have a single original thought as to how to fix our issues. He was just happy to have M thrust a recipe at him, his only duty being to implement) and took the approach of “let me see what you can do” instead of “let’s do this, Kelly”.
In two years, we achieved some major successes with my plan: we implemented a warehouse management system which imposed never before seen order and efficiencies, cut labour costs, increased visibility across the network and drastically reduced stock variances. The change that the board wanted did not come fast enough apparently though, and half of that executive management team was eventually “made redundant”, including yours truly. I think it was easy for my CEO to cut me. You see, in all my “rightness” I never bothered to spend the time or energy to get him on board, and fully supportive of my plan. Had I focused on being as effective as I was right, I would have ensured that I was aware of the balance of power.
In the literature, they refer to this as “force field analysis”. It’s simply a common sense approach to implementing change. The leader has to know where support is, where it is lacking, and then implement measures to deal with those obstacles to change.
An effective change leader would know that failure was certain without the backative of the most powerful member of the team, the CEO.
So a decade later, I know for sure that I am older. I hope I am wiser. I remain passionate, opinionated and a seeker of truth.
What I do know for sure, is that no matter how right I am, if I don’t implement properly, if I don’t get all stakeholders on board, if I don’t engage my team, if I am not effective, my rightness means very little.