Sunday, January 17, 2021

Easygoing, Right, Wrong, and Difficult

This post is an expansion of the concept in Valuable Jerks.

Say your team has a project that needs execution. Launching a new product? Trying to land a customer? Trying a new process improvement? If it’s at all interesting, then it’s not obvious what to do and that means leadership is trying to form and communicate plans of attack.

Let’s use a quadrant to look at how that might go. 

  • Vertical axis: easy to work with versus hard to work with. 
    • Easy-going has lots of friends and is always busy because they’re invited to everything. They don’t rock the boat. Stable.
    • Difficult can’t compromise, causes friction, makes waves. They’re disruptive. Volatile.
  • Horizontal axis: wrong versus right. Everyone in the team is asking themselves, “Is the plan going to work?” This one can be tougher because in some problem solving situations no one really knows the right or wrong answer until a thing is tried. So let’s disregard how the plan will actually float in reality later, what matters in preparing and building a solution is the team’s opinion of the plan. If they don’t believe, they’re not going to swing for the fences.
    • Wrong is unable to produce agreement that their plan could work. Perhaps this is a failure of vision, a failure of communication, a failure of knowledge or experience. For whatever reason, the team has Capital C Concerns.
    • Right is able to produce that agreement, and the team more or less agrees with the approach that they suggest.

Now for the magic of social interaction... Easy-going trumps Right or Wrong.

  • Wrong and Difficult? Seems obvious that this leader is not going to have an easy time. Their idea is unpopular and so are they. If they don’t have the skills or temperament to change one of those things, a performance improvement plan can be expected. And since they’re not easy to get along with, they will need to do something drastic to impress everyone that they’re actually right.
  • Not like Right and Difficult has it much easier. Sure, the team agrees that the leader is heading the right direction, but every day is a struggle. Since it’s already a struggle to do things that are worth doing, struggling over mundane tasks like shared situational awareness is kind of a waste. The Right and Difficult leader may have the charisma to inspire followers to put up with their difficult behaviors (insert your favorite exemplar here), but it’s still an unnecessary self-own. Unless an unhealthy team dynamic is the goal of course.
  • But Wrong and Easy-Going? This leader’s team may well give them a pass. Even if they don’t think the plan is right, daily activities can proceed just fine and the boat is not rocked. Delay is a natural outcome, because there’s rarely pressure or challenge. This leader might be rotten, but it’s going to take an outside force (such as a leader from above or a customer complaint) to drive change.
  • Finally, the golden quadrant: Right and Easy-Going. Everyone’s happy and the project swims along until real life provides some objective feedback.

Relevant: Rands In Repose