Last Friday, I had the opportunity to sit down with His Excellency, George Washington, to learn about leadership. As a surveyor, planter, rancher, scientist, distiller, builder, warrior, and dancer, he placed a high value on direct expertise, which allowed him get successful results from subordinates, and quickly correct situations that weren’t going to work.
When he was directed to re-employ the recently captured and released General Lee with due regard for his “seniority,” Washington complied. And when the strategic brilliance of releasing General Lee became apparent as he outran his men in a rout, Washington’s attitude was more fearsome than the men’s fear of death. They rallied, and followed Washington back on the field, taking advantage the the enemy was out of position and out of energy having chased the Americans to what looked like a sure victory.
When I like or respect somebody, it is usually because they are demonstrating useful skills.
Two years ago, I met a young man who wanted to start a different kind of organization. He couldn’t do it all, so Jack and I added what we could do. Others added what they could, because they saw so many doing good work. His organization flourished.
As he has adopted a grander business style, his successes have dropped.
I have seen that first level commitment to demonstrated excellence drive several of the more successful organizations I have helped.
But what’s next?
The first level of the Ego Stack is doing what needs to be done. After listening to George Washington, I wonder if there is a second step.
Twenty years ago, our government wanted contractors who had both federal and commercial credentials. It was an internal theoretical wet dream, but we were happy to comply. My client was a NAVY contractor, and had a looming succession/liquidation issue.
In a couple of years, we built a blue chip list of raving commercial clients, so our company was bought by a much larger contractor. As a consultant, I was off the hook.
Then they called back and wanted to hire me at my 20 hour/month rate for 40 hours/week, to create their Y2K practice.
I already knew my team, so I studied up on this Y2K, and put in their first four projects. Big times! We were saved!
I got called up to my president’s president, a retired admiral, who had brought a cast of flunkies to his secretariat, which was in a building that had no other company employees. He told me that while my record was acceptable, he needed me to stop selling our existing customers and start selling many more people who didn’t know us in order for me to make his planned numbers.
I said, “Let me get this straight, Admiral. You want me to sell a solution we don’t yet know how to provide to people who don’t know us? Let me get back to you with a business plan.” He thought that was a capital idea.
I went back to my division president customer, related the fantasy, and said, “I better leave before you get fired.” He reluctantly agreed. So pasha lifestyle doesn’t work in the ego stack. Beyond first level execution, I haven’t seen much work.
I serve on a couple of boards, where I get to observe higher level ego stack. I also read about some.
I am particular entertained by the delegator. His whole role is to get somebody else to step up and do something. It’s usually the assignment from hell, since the delegator has no idea how it should be done. The typical response is, “OK, whatever…” And then nothing occurs.
Then there is the moosher. If we have two solutions and choice has to be made, the moosher says, “Let me take the best parts of each proposal and then EVERYONE is happy.”
As explained by Richard Nixon and then mocked by The Stones and others showed, compromise solution is neither.
As Don Rumsfeld wrote, When you are capable of making a decision, make it.
I observe the more grandiose layers of the ego stack occur in organizations that see themselves as impervious, waddling toward their future. And anyway, the stuff I’m doing won’t come due until after I’m retired.
The other point of view is Art Money’s ego stack puncturing mantra. “Well, what have to done for the fleet TODAY?”
Keep it simple, Stephanie.
Perhaps related and might be of some Interest
Tim O’Reilly’s Blog post How I Failed
That’s a terrific post, and people who are reading this blog should also read Tim’s.
I guess it’s always been out there, I just got slammed into it Friday.