Day 8. Session 8 of our 30-Day Micro Leadership Course.
Yesterday I mentioned management theory X and Y. These are important because how you choose to see the world and your place in it matters greatly to your leadership potential.
Theory X basically puts forth that people will not do work – much less good work – unless management imposes it on them. It’s the old adage that you have to kick people in the rear to get good work out of them.
Theory Y supposes that people want to do good work. They need the right environment (and support) to help them do that.
Well, you’d be hard-pressed to find two completely opposite approaches. I was in my 20s before I had ever heard of theory Y. No matter, it’s how I viewed the world and my place in it because as a teenage hi-fi stereo sales guy I knew I wanted to do good work. I wanted to make a positive difference. Many of my co-workers did, too. Mostly, everybody I knew worked for a tyrant. Men who were more interested in padding their wealth, buying the latest cool foreign car, taking some European vacation, and buying a bigger house. This was the zero-sum era of American enterprise where the business owner won and the rest of us lost. But I didn’t know any better. I just knew that as a straight commission salesperson I wouldn’t earn a dime if I didn’t produce. For me, the customer was king. I wanted to dazzle customers from day 1 of my working career because it just seemed to me that THAT was the path toward success.
By the time I got my first leadership role where I was the #1 (the person running the show), I was fully prepared to put my own theories to the test. They were formed by a decade of working retail, engaging customer after customer, learning merchandising and purchasing and creating a philosophy that remarkable service with honesty was the path forward. Bait ‘n switch was commonplace in retail when I began my life in retail as a 16-year-old. I was taught it even though I never practiced it. “Yes, we ran that in our ad, but…” is a phrase I uttered hundreds, if not thousands of times. Thankfully, I started my career in shops that didn’t advertise. Ever. So that helped. But even then there were items on our showroom that were more fixtures than items to be sold. They were figuratively nailed to the shelf, not to be sold.
By the 1980s arrived I was ready to put my philosophy of honesty, integrity, and doing the right thing to the test. Coupled with my notion that people wanted to do good work, and a few of us wanted to do great work. Turns out, I was right. It worked. No, not 100% of the time, but most of the time. There were exceptions. People too lazy, too dishonest, too whatever to be good humans. But mostly my philosophies proved successful. It was during these early “testing” years that I realized the environment I provided as a manager and leader made all the difference. We didn’t yet really focus on “company culture.”
You have to remember that Peters and Waterman’s book, “In Search Of Excellence” was published in 1982. That book ushered in the advent of serious business book publications. Business titles exploded onto the shelves of bookstores after that book hit big! I had long prowled bookstores for books on sales, management, leadership and self-improvement. But now the space blew up in all the best ways and the business buzzwords along with it. Including “company culture.”
My own view likened it to a garden. I’m not sure why. All I can figure is I knew plenty of folks who had gardens, even though I never remember my parents having one. I grew up well acquainted with gardens where peas, tomatoes, okra and other vegetables were grown, harvested and picked. Then cooked and eaten. Daily. My childhood was filled with homecooked meals where fresh food was a staple. Maybe that’s why I saw the company as a garden where we could help people grow!
I learned the hard way that the company could also grow weeds. Unproductive, toxic people. And sooner than later I learned it was urgent to get rid of them. Fast. Before they could do more damage to the people trying to do good work. My intolerance for poor performance was sparked by my years working alongside sloths willing to let me do grunt work that all of us were required to do, along with our jobs on the sales floor. As I’d learn, a few of us did whatever we needed to do – whatever would help us be better – and many people would let us as they took smoke breaks, or loafed about.
I was busy creating an environment that would put positive pressure on the sloths to change their ways. Or get gone. Or get caught up in my efforts to get the weeds out of the garden.
But it all started with a fundamental belief that people want to succeed. If given the option, I believed most people would rather do good – and be good – than not. Here I am today, four decades later and I now know I was right. I’ve spent my life testing it and I’m here today to tell you that if you have a more negative view of people, then you’ll see evidence to back up your belief because you will take action to make sure you’re right. And the sad collateral damage you’ll cause will be impossible to calculate. Along with the impossible calculation of what might have been.
We’ll talk about that tomorrow – what could be, what might have been!
Be well. Do good. Grow great!