I think we need to get one thing straight up front: I am a patient person. I just have an internal clock that seems to run at a faster rate than other people’s clocks. Okay, maybe it runs faster than most people’s clocks. Everybody’s clock? Whatever, I don’t have the time to try and explain it.
I think it is also pretty well known that I am not the world’s greatest proponent of meetings and reviews. Staff reviews, team reviews, whatever, I can lose some interest in them rather quickly if there is not something in them specifically for me. I tend to drive toward very short and succinct reviews, when I have them. I prefer to have people doing things as opposed to reporting on the things they have been doing. It’s funny how you seem to get much more done that way.
Why then, you may ask would someone lacking such an apparent abundance of patience, who does not ascribe to a significant amount of value in reviews say that sometimes they are in fact called for? It all depends on what needs to get done, who is needed to get to do it and when it needs to be complete.
Violet Fane is attributed as having said “All things come to those who wait” as a phrase extolling the virtues of patience. I think it has been modified many times and has entered the language lexicon in many forms since then. I guess in Violet’s world I would not be the most virtuous person available.
Abraham Lincoln is one of those that have been attributed as having slightly modified this phrase and said “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” (Somehow I have a little bit of a problem believing the man who had such a command of the English language and penned something as memorable as the Gettysburg Address used the word “hustle”, but it seems to have been corroborated on multiple web sites. I guess I will have to go with it for now.)
What I am getting to here is the seemingly diametrically opposed forces associated with wanting to make something happen within our own predetermined time frames and waiting for something to happen in its own appropriate time frame. Sometimes you can push to get things done, and sometimes you can’t. But which is which as these differences can be crucial to both success and sanity.
We have all seen and have been steeped in the idea that leaders “make things happen”. They are movers and shakers. They act. They don’t react. They shoot, move, communicate and repeat as necessary. They never sit in economy coach when flying. We have all come to believe that the way to be a leader and the way to move ahead is to be first on the scene, the first to recognize and respond to a problem, the first with the answer.
In many instances this is indeed the appropriate course of action. In most cases a leader is the one called upon to recognize an issue, either before or after it has happened and to chart an appropriate course of action to either respond to or avoid the problem. They are required to act, solve and move on to the next problem.
When a leader has the ability to directly address a problem or issue, then they have the ability to be the active participant in the solution that we all aspire to be. However there are many instances where the solution or the implementation of the solution may be outside of the leader’s direct sphere of control or influence. In effect many times a leader must rely on someone else to implement the desired solution or take the desired action.
This is a point where mismatch in expectations regarding the desired solution can occur. If the person who has responsibility for the resolution does not have the same priority for resolving the issue as the person who needs the resolution then there will be incremental stress added to the situation. It is always good to remember that just because you have a problem does not mean that other people see the same problem, have the same problem, or even have a problem at all, for that matter.
So not only does a leader need to be able ascertain if a solution needs to be “driven” versus allowed to occur, they must also know how to modulate the priorities of those that must be relied on to implement the solution.
In many instances this may not be a difficult thing to do. If those that are responsible for the solution are on the leader’s direct reporting team then it is just a simple matter to reassign priorities (understanding what is elevated and what is reduced) and moving on.
However if the person responsible for the solution is not on the leader’s team, then the leader must find a way to make sure that the two group’s priorities are aligned. In many instances this can be done by appealing to or aligning with a higher order organizational priority. Priorities such as revenue increases, cost reductions, margin improvements are universally recognized across an organization. Aligning desired activities and solutions with these priorities are an excellent way to make sure that people align with the desired goals.
No one wants their inaction to be pointed out as the reason a margin improvement, or an incremental sale was not recognized. This is probably one of the best ways to get an action from an external entity or individual.
But what happens when a leader needs something done and there is not a higher order priority that can be aligned with in order to get another party to act on the issue? This is the situation where no matter how immediate the leader’s perceived need is, there is no leverage that can be applied to motivate the party that may be responsible for the activity.
A good example of this type of situation is the hiring process. No matter how much the candidate may want the decision maker to make their hiring decision, there really is not much that they can do to expedite the process. The candidate may be in a position where they would like the selection decision made as soon as possible, but the hiring entity may actually be incited to slow down the process in the hopes of attracting more and better candidates for the role to choose from.
So how does a leader get an activity prioritized outside of their own group? The simple answer is patience. A simple clear and concise explanation of what needs to be done and more importantly “why” it needs to be done will be required. An explanation of the time frames and their relevance will also be helpful. The final key will be the agreement not so much on when things will be done, but when the milestone reviews will be held.
No one likes to go time after time to a review that they agree to hold or attend without their deliverable being complete. Knowing that a review is coming and that there is an agreed agenda item that they must provide an update on is normally enough to get people to move on their commitments, even when there is no apparent downside to their non-delivery.
The idea here is that no one likes to be reminded or re-asked to provide a deliverable regardless of whether or not it may be germane to their own functional requirements. This goes for leaders (and the rest of us impatient types) as well. However the patient leader usually needs to only ask once for a deliverable, if they accompany that request with an agreeable schedule of reviews where progress against that deliverable can be reviewed.
Once the desired deliverable has been supplied, there will no longer be a need for the review and it be cancelled, and then everyone can get back to the real work at hand. Most people dislike reviews, so the added incentive of not having the review once the deliverable is supplied can work wonders.
Reviews rarely serve a useful purpose within an organization. If there is good leadership in the organization, there will normally be good communication, thereby rendering a review somewhat redundant. However across organizational boundaries they can be useful as a methodology for inspiring those outside an organization to provide deliverables that are required within the organization. The inspiration being that the responsible party has the dual drive of first avoiding having to report any potential lack of progress on their deliverable, and second knowing that there will be no additional reviews once they have provided their deliverable.
Just as we have heard management say “The beatings will continue until morale improves”, we can now say “The reviews will stop once the deliverable is provided”. Patience and perseverance will usually prevail.