I recently had the great pleasure of visiting my old friend Birket Foster (www.mbfoster.com) in Ottawa. He is a wonderful host for this amazing city, and it feels like he missed out on a career as its ambassador! The timing of our visit coincided with the 17th annual fireworks festival held in Gatineau, just across the river in Québec. The evening for which we got tickets was the presentation by the Chinese delegation... what a treat! The fireworks, coordinated with a beautiful piece of classical music, were simply breathtaking – a masterful 20-minute coordinated explosion of colours and patterns that delighted eyes and ears while providing that satisfying percussive thump when the sound of an exploding shell finally reaches the stands. As you know, the Chinese invented gunpowder - so there is a strong expectation of great things from them when putting on such a display... and they did not disappoint. In fact, they..
wowed the crowd and the presenters of the evening ent, who were at a loss for words following the display. While I was in awe of what we had just witnessed, it got me to thinking, oddly enough about leadership, and how leaders use the resources they have in their organisations.
Gunpowder is not by itself evil - it's just "stuff", a resource, if you will. It can be used to create the kind of dazzling display we had the fortune to witness , but it can also be used for destructive purposes, as we all know too well. Question is... which is a "better" use of gunpowder? Can the "light" side exist without the "dark" one? Would the beauty be compromised without it's opposite? There are those who would argue both sides, and I will not take sides here, but the from a leadership point-of-view, it's about making choices as to how you use your resources.
Let me illustrate this power of a leader's choice with an example from my own past. In the organisation I was leading at the time, there was a resource, in this case a salesperson who regularly produced excellent results, exceeded quota, won "impossible" opportunities, and... well, you get the picture. The dark side, however, is the way those results were achieved, and the cost to the organisation of his individual success.
I fell into the trap of focusing on the results he delivered, rather than seeking to understand (and sometimes simply dismissing) the carnage he was leaving behind within the organisation to achieve them. There were stories going through the office of support and administration staff being reduced to tears following interactions with him, but I had never experienced that in person, and chose not to believe it or ignore it because of the amazing results he kept producing. While driving to a customer meeting together, it hit me in the face, and I could no longer feign lack of knowledge as the reason for my inaction.
His conversation with one of our customer service people was simply shocking, and completely unacceptable in its tone, content, volume, and vulgarity. It made me wonder whether he had simply forgotten that I was in the next seat... but if this was the kind of behaviour he was willing to exhibit while I was there, it made me shudder to think what would happen if I were not there. The time had come to act.
Due to the regulations in that country regarding dismissal, it took several rounds of warnings verbal and written, and I ensured that my eyes and ears were now open. His behaviour did not change, so I had no choice but to ask him to leave. In examining my behaviour in this situation, I realised that my actions were driven by fear - that we could not continue to deliver the results we were without the contribution this salesperson made to the numbers. How wrong I was.
As soon as he walked out the door for the last time, the open expression of gratitude from the rest of the organisation was so overwhelming that it took me a bit by surprise. Many even said that they were contemplating leaving because they dreaded the calls from him so much. I was such a fool, but I learned. My reward for taking action (and losing this top-performer) was improved performance. The whole team lined up together and took action together. It was inspiring, and humbling. I had nearly compromised the integrity of the team for the sake of one excellent performer. Lesson learned. Thanks team.
This salesman made a choice as to how he would use his resources and skills, a bit like using the gunpowder to make bullets instead of those beautiful fireworks. What a shame. But as the leader responsible for using those resources, the blame for their continued misuse fell squarely on my shoulders, exactly where it should have. Once again, lesson learned. Thanks again team.
So, the question is, how are you using your resources personally, and those of the team you lead? Are they being put the best possible use they can be? If not, you must take action. You owe it to yourself, and more importantly, you owe it to your team.