The Most Ignored, Dismissed, and Underappreciated Leadership Attitude
The Most Ignored, Dismissed, and Underappreciated Leadership Attitude
News Flash! There is no magic pill… for anything.
There are no “Three Easy Steps” to accomplish something worthwhile in life either, no matter what catchy marketing sound bites tell you. But we already know that.
There is, however, one simple attitude that can make all the difference in our personal and professional lives.
Authors and leadership researchers and experts Jim Collins and Morten Hansen describe this concept in their book, Great by Choice.
That one simple, often ignored, dismissed, underappreciated and undervalued attitude? Extraordinary Execution, or as Collins and Hansen call it, “Fanatic Discipline.”
Yes, that’s right. Extraordinary execution or fanatic discipline unleashed on an ordinary idea can produce results that risk, creativity, innovation, talent and “wow ideas” cannot.
A long time ago, before I knew anything about leadership, and before Collins and Hansen wrote their bestseller, I saw this simple truth play out in real life, although it took me a while to recognize it.
It was during my college years, and the object of the lesson was my best friend, Olena. Both of us attended college as foreign students, and neither of us had resources to put ourselves through school without the aid of academic scholarships.
Olena was offered a full-ride scholarship if she committed to major in math. The odd thing about the offer was that Olena was not really that great in math. Plus, in order to keep the scholarship, she had to maintain a certain grade point average.
For four years, I watch my best friend struggle, cry, and apply herself with never before seen discipline. Despite the fact that there were others more gifted and more “natural” in math, her dedication and fanatic discipline paid off. She went on to graduate with a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics and is now working for one of the global corporate giants. Did I mention that Olena was not really all that “natural” or gifted in math?
In Great by Choice, Collins and Hansen give us a list of organizations that have withstood global economic chaos, competition and other external factors largely due to their commitment to fanatic discipline.
But why is this attitude of extraordinary execution such a rare occurrence in our personal and professional lives? There are many factors that contribute, but today we’ll focus on three behaviors that stop us from executing.
Three Behaviors that Stop You from Executing
“Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice’” (1 Samuel 15:24).
In her Fortune article, “Why Most Innovations are Great Big Failures,” Anne Fisher outlines why traditional creative groupthink sessions fail to deliver.
- Because groupthink tends to treat every idea as “precious pearls to be polished,” and because most of us tend to put the “wow” before the “how,” we end up chasing too many proposed solutions and suggestions without properly vetting them.
- Groupthink exerts quiet peer pressure to cheer every idea—if nothing else, for relational reasons—instead of questioning each idea’s potential limitations. The majority voice, no matter how irrational, often overrides individual objections.
God’s Word gives us powerful examples of the destructive power of groupthink. In 1 Samuel 15 we watch King Saul lose his favor with the Lord and his position as Israel’s rightful king when he gives in to the seemingly rational and logical voices of the “majority” after the battle with Amalekites. Instead of destroying everything belonging to Amalekites, as the Lord commanded, Saul gave in to pressure from his men to preserve “the best” of livestock and other goods. Taking the time to ask “How does my decision align with God’s voice?” and “What are the potential consequences of my disobedience?” could have protected Saul from yielding to the destructive pressures of groupthink.
2. Perfectionism Instead of Excellence
Perfection is not excellence, yet we tend to confuse the two when we talk about excellence while we instead are pursuing perfectionism.
So what’s the difference?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines perfection as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially: the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness.”
Excellence is simply defined as: “extremely high quality” and “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.”
In his book, Moving Past Perfect, Thomas Greenspoon gives a helpful side-by-side comparison of perfection and excellence. Here is what he says:
Excellence = risk
Perfection = fear
Excellence = effort
Perfection = anger and frustration
Excellence = openness to being wrong
Perfection = having to be right
Excellence = spontaneity
Perfection = control
Excellence = flow
Perfection = pressure
Excellence = confidence
Perfection = doubt
Excellence = journey
Perfection = destination
Excellence = acceptance
Perfection = judgment
Excellence = encouraging
Perfection = criticizing
Looking at this list, can you see why perfectionism tends to stop us in our tracks?
Jesus modeled the pursuit of excellence better than any other leader.
- Jesus took a risk by recruiting young, inexperienced, sinful, not-really-all-that-religious guys to carry out His great mission.
- Jesus was okay with others’ failures, as long as they weren’t final! Jesus’ relationship with Peter is probably the greatest example.
- Jesus took time to pause for spontaneous interactions with others. Remember Zacchaeus—the tax collector who climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus and ending up sharing a meal in his own house with his Savior?
- Jesus displayed incredible confidence in His disciples. After spending only three years with them, He physically departed from them, confident that they could carry on His mission of building His church.
- Organizational ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)
Last, but not least, lack of focus is a frequent culprit that prevents extraordinary execution.
Spreading resources too thinly, chasing too many ideas and being too impatient are symptoms of organizational ADD that plague most organizations. In Great by Choice, Collins and Hansen talk about the myth that today’s “fast culture” organizations require “fast decisions” and “fast action.” Fast, fast, fast is actually a good way to get killed, according to these leadership experts.
Instead of going after the latest fads, moving from one strategy to another, successful organizations display unparalleled consistency and focus by executing agreed-upon objectives with discipline and patience, using solid data.
Can You Relate?
Can you relate to any of these three behaviors? Is there anything that immediately pops into your mind that you know you must change in order to give yourself and your team a better chance of not only surviving but succeeding?
Change takes time. Change is a process. Discipline is an attitude that develops over time, not overnight. When teams embrace excellent execution, something great happens.
So don't give in to the external pressures that make you try to “be all” and “do all” to “please all.”
Remember, extraordinary execution or fanatic discipline unleashed on an ordinary idea can produce results that risk, creativity, innovation, talent and “wow ideas” cannot.