And now I will shed some light on a—not so little—secret of organizational life. There are some over-eager beavers, who deftly scramble up the political and positional ladder, seemingly salivating at the prospect of power. Their mastery of corporate gamesman/woman-ship does not guarantee that they are the “sharpest knives in the drawer.” All too often, my experience has shown that if you were to strip away their job titles, many lack the influence or substance for making critical decisions.
Ironically, at times it is the awkward foot-draggers who are more capable of making good decisions but are unwilling to be pressured into making them and don’t want to be held accountable. This leads me to an important point: Lots of smart and entirely good people have discovered they don’t have what it takes to manage things or lead others.
Leadagers who possess good business judgment, a strong sense of direction, and a willingness to accept the conditions of urgency and accountability without a seedy overcoat-flashing of their fundamental character flaws are the ideal package. Companies spend a lot of money trying to nurture or “home-grow” these traits. Unfortunately, this can be an elusive combination of qualities. Conversely, a lack of motivation, buttheadedness, and proven idiocy lead to professional euthanasia every time. (Trust me on this; the latter traits are pretty darn common.)
So let’s face it. You will have to make many decisions without the experience or the information you may desperately think you need, and inevitably, you will decide incorrectly. You will be wrong, and hopefully, someone will allow you to learn from your mistakes. It might be timing, support from the powers that be, or just luck that saves your job.
Early in your career, one of the most important things to learn is how to be wrong in the right way. Being wrong the right way looks like this:
- You made what you thought were sound decisions, striving not to be irresponsible, ignorant, or prejudicial.
- You can explain your thought process with respect to how you came to the decision in a logical manner.
- Your values were aligned with the organization’s values.
You have shown good judgment on previous occasions.
- You display a willingness to learn from your mistakes.
If you did all the above, you should come out okay (assuming you didn’t burn the place to the ground).
All new leadagers should be allowed some time to practice alternating the gas, clutch, and brake pedals of managementship (i.e., multitasking and managing/weighing multiple—and sometimes conflicting—priorities [chewing gum and running with scissors for all of you non-driving types]). The fact is most managers are playing the standard game of “catch up” in a starkly maniacal fashion.
I strongly urge you to grow away from being the hapless prey-of-the-day—as events pounce on you—and strive to get ahead of events by becoming a predator of proactivity, turning activities into accomplishments and churning problems into opportunities.