Dear Dalitso

Everyday lessons for tomorrow

Discomfort for the Sake of Progress (Part 1)

May 14, 2024
Letter #

Dear Dali

Something has been bothering me for a while. Let me use this letter to reflect a bit more. It’s about the role of a leader. I stumbled upon this on the internet…

The job of any leader is to push people beyond their limits. To lead is to make others better. No leader accepts his/her role with the idea of taking the path of least resistance. And when a leader pushes, there is always resentment, always pushback, because we as humans don’t like being pushed toward the best version of ourselves. We are happy to find comfort, (Bill Belichick Patriots New England, n.d).

I subscribe fully to the description of a leader made above. However, this can easily become unpopular. How does one ‘push people beyond their limits? Can this be achieved without causing tension in the organisation? What does it take to push people beyond their limits? In my learning journey, I had the privilege of being mentored by some of the best scholars and leaders. I learnt a few good and some ‘bad’ habits, given the recent changes in organisational culture. Here are some things I learnt:

Punctuality- this is a golden rule for anyone interested in becoming someone in this world. Being on time does not mean arriving at 09:00 am for a 09:00 am meeting. Not. Rather it means arriving 30 or 15 minutes earlier- familiarizing oneself with the surroundings, the agenda, and making sure that all gadgets are working.

Preparation- related to one above. One just doesn’t arrive/show up at a meeting but rather spends more time in preparations. Acquaint yourself with the agenda of the meeting. Or if you are going to have a regular day at the office-make sure to prepare a list of things you want to accomplish. There are quite a number of planning tools to accomplish this- the most important one being the calendar.

Redoing is the art of perfection- For many working in white-collar positions, the tendency is to do things last minute, send an unrevised email, memo, or report of the article just to beat the deadline. Redoing means before you submit you should have gone through the same written piece at least three times. After submission, one should be prepared to receive and work on further comments. This is where many of us feel like our egos have been bruised, yet it’s part of the learning curve. Revision is the path to perfection.

Forever learners- I have heard and interviewed others who present themselves as ‘experts’ in a certain field yet have not written much on the subject or have just completed their undergraduate studies. My training has taught me never to describe myself that way, but others may call it false modesty. It is better to take on the posture of one who is always learning. Indeed, many disciplines are going through fast-paced change, knowledge gathered yesterday may not be relevant today. It is wiser to see yourself more as a student of the discipline that you are focused on.  

Grit- this is an indispensable quality to have. The tenacious ability to grind on, to put on the hours, to keep on pushing despite the circumstances. Never give up hope. I always say, “take a bet on yourself”. In many other instances, we fail at this. We are good people but lack endurance.

However, the times have changed. Organisational cultures have dramatically shifted. In the past, many leaders got away with abusive behaviour. Some of the leaders meant well but it was perhaps not received well. Now we have a ‘woke culture’, where bad behaviour (intentional or unintentional) of leaders is easily called out. It has become more difficult for leaders to ‘push people beyond limits’ without causing offense. Workers or team members are aware of their rights and condemning or exposing bad leaders has become the norm. However, we also condemn leaders who are trying to make us better. Generally, the world has become more ‘victim’ friendly. There are a few instances where a leader is called out for bad behaviour, even though perhaps it was part of developing grit, and manages to defend themselves in the court of public opinion. It has become hard for leaders to ‘push people beyond their limits’.

Perhaps the ‘pushing’ was not being done well. Leadership as a concept must go through major changes to align with the woke culture. How does leadership play a part in ‘pushing people beyond their limits’ and still not attract bad publicity? There are still many tools available:

First, build a culture of ‘team/horizontal accountability’- in many instances, team members report up and they are so focused on being recognized as an exceptional player. Depending on incentives in place, this strategy may work but the real danger is it creates intra-team competition for recognition and islands of excellence within the organisation. Team-based horizontal accountability reduces the burden of reporting to the line manager and eventually the CEO.

Second- Communicate clearly what you intend to achieve- A team that is clear on its goals, objectives, timelines, and resources required will most likely stand a better chance in ensuring its effectiveness. Usually, once these are properly communicated and understood there is usually no need for further intervention except in instances of course correction and coaching. Clear communication of goals, objectives, targets, timelines, and making available required resources should lead to the achievement of goals. However, there are times when clear communication is not enough.

Read part 2

Bibliography:

Bill Belichick & Patriots: New England's Winning Philosophy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.thedaily.coach/p/bill-belichick-patriots-new-england.

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