Are you big enough?

If you’re an investor funding a start-up; the CEO; or a member of the leadership team – long term business success depends on you, the CEO and the leadership team being “big” enough to do the job.

Skills and experience are simply not enough for success today. You need to be big enough to grasp complexity, paradox and potential.

Friday after work, and Sally Sales and  Megan Marketing were walking towards the pub and saw two guys engaged in an age-old pub ritual. Where one challenges the other with the words “Come on, are you man enough?”people-stopping-me

” You know, our work says that to us” remarked Sally Sales.

“What do you mean?”

“’Are you as big as I am?’ is what our jobs are saying to us all the time.”

“As directors of marketing and sales we have two of the biggest jobs in the company. Big because they need both huge skill and us big enough to stand above the complexity.”

“You’re suggesting we need to be two of the biggest people in the company? What does that mean?”

“Compare, say, Nelson Mandela when he was 20 to Nelson Mandela when he was 70. Yes, he knew more, he had more skills. What made him big, though, was how he was able to stand above himself and the situation to see clearly. He could do this because he had continued to grow “up” in those 50 years. He grew ‘up’, i.e., ‘big’ enough to take on the biggest job on the planet – creating the first Rainbow Nation.”

“Megan, how many of the questions you wrestled with today were simple, black and white, right or wrong?”

“None of them, Sally. They’re all too nuanced, to many conflicting inputs, too many things I cannot know until after I’ve decided. So often I feel I’m in over my head.”

“Right! In over your head, drowning. You need to ‘grow’ even further ‘up.’ Growing up means being even more able to keep above what’s happening. In uncertain, complex and rapidly changing situations. Being big enough to fit everything into your brain fully, without prematurely simplifying. Not ending up ignore chunks of the complexity, or worse not even seeing essential aspects.”

As investors, leaders or managers, our output is decisions. Choosing the best for business success between rapidly changing, complex options means

  • First being able to recognize the true nature of the situation
  • Then being able to see all options (and in their full complexity)
  • And finally make a simple choice, on the essential elements, knowing it cannot be perfect.

To do these three well requires the right skills set, and it means growing in three ways:

  1. Bigger answers to “who am I, who are you, and what ought who do for whom?” The more your concept of yourself and others has ‘grown’, the more you can deliver long-term success in today’s business world.
  2. Bigger answers to “what can I do, what are my options?” Once upon a time, it was square pegs in round holes. Now we have all kinds of shapes to fit into all kinds of holes. You must have “thinking spanners” with holes the same shape as your choices, or you will fail to see all options sufficiently clearly. Then you will fail to deliver good decisions.
  3. Grow your ability to get out of your own way, so that you can work transparently in a team. Avoiding all the self-sabotage that disrupts your own and the team’s effectiveness.

If someone is “smaller” than the role and accountability requires, they will underperform. They are unlikely to even realise that they are underperforming. And if they do, they will most likely try to learn a new skill to cope. But what if more skill only makes you grow wider, not up, not bigger?

If you’re an investor, the VC backing a company – is the leadership team big enough to do the job? If you are any kind of leader – success depends on you and your team being big enough. Recognising what decisions the business needs, seeing the options clearly, and choose wisely. Today that requires much “bigger” leaders than 20 years ago when we were living in a much simpler world. Is your leadership team, are your individual leaders, big enough to do the job? How do you know? What are you doing to grow their size as well as their skills?

Do you have a requisite organisation – one where each individual is big enough for their accountabilities?

“Sally, what can I do to ‘grow’ further ‘up?’
“Well, Megan, I’ve grown through a coach using Otto Laske’s developmental framework. I’ve used Elliott Jaques ideas to re-shape my role, and those of my staff. I’ve also found the group practice of this framework, as done in Dojo4Life gave me a safe space to try new things out. And then there’s a whole bunch of related approaches that are part of, or complementary to these, like Kegan’s Immunity to change, and much more.”

“Let’s end the week with a good beer, and I’ll tell you more.”

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