I saw a commercial the other day; you may have seen it too. The guy is clearly sick and he opens a door and the camera focuses on his face as he says “Excuse me Jim, but I am going to have to take a sick day tomorrow”. Slowly the camera pans around to Jim. That is when we see a baby standing in his crib and the commercial goes on to explain as a dad you can never take the day off this is why you need the medicine they are selling. The medicine is a sleep agent so you can wake up rested and ready to take care of little Jimmy. I laughed when I saw this commercial because as a parent we all know that we cannot take a medicine that knocks us out (despite the need to sleep) because little Jimmy might need us during the night. The commercial did not provide a solution for everyone who gets sick, the solution was targeted at a segment of the population. The concept was to meet the need of 80% of us that might have someone else to watch over little Jimmy so we could sleep, not the 20% out there who might not have that support system in place.
How many times as a leader have I been convicted of the same thing? Throwing out ideas or visions that I know are not a 100% fit for all. I’ve heard “Sure, Chris that solution fits some of us but what about the 20%, you know that ones that will complain the loudest when we make these changes?” What is my response as a leader? Honestly, sometimes I just get annoyed. Yes, there I said that I get annoyed. Is that the right reaction? Well, for me personally getting annoyed is really never the right reaction. I know that personally because it never leads me to make a wise decision or to act in a manner I would wish to be treated. If I am annoyed I am closed off to what others have to say. Why do I get annoyed, well many times it is because I do not have all the answers. As I a leader I am not supposed to have all the answers, trust me I have worked for people who thought they had all the answers and it was not pleasant. Innovation is not a solo endeavor.
It is important for me to recognize that when I lead my staff with 80% of the idea (often times we call these visions) that I cannot just leave them out there to flounder on the 20%. I can’t take my sleep medicine and sleep through it all. I have to be engaged. I have to listen, guide, and not become annoyed. Just like the man in the commercial I cannot take a sick day from leading. This does not mean I micromanage or tell them how to navigate, it simply means I provide the parameters for the journey. After all if I am absent from even 1% of the vision then how can I expect us to all land in the same place. These are challenges of a leader, not to get too into the weeds, but also not to fly too high in the clouds. We are in our roles for a purpose and it is not to manage people. For the most part the professionals we are dealing with at our levels do not need management. Unlike little Jimmy our staff are made up of competent professionals and they can make it a day without us. What they do need it our support, our willingness to have their back and the confidence that we will not bail out on them. So the next time I toss out my 30 second commercial on a new idea I will remember this medicine commercial and that others listening might be reacting the same way I did, with laughter and pessimism.