Look For The Things That Make No Sense

Photo by Rickard Fallqvist via Flickr

Usually I write my blog posts pretty quickly. But today I've written and scrapped at least two. And I know why that is -- my focus has clearly changed, and it's hard to know what fits.

A friend of mine reminded me. That is to say, she reads my posts and it took her about five seconds to tell me what my "blog-brand" now is:

"How to survive this crazy @##$% government system."

Alright. I'll take that. What do you call a combination of leadership, management, project management, knowledge management, communication, marketing, branding, PR, social media, technology, organizational development, psychology, pop culture together with abstracted stories about my memories, friends, peers, bosses and general life?

All I really want to know is how to do things better. And I'd rather spend this writing time learning than sharing 101 stuff you can get from Branding for Dummies.

So here's a leadership/management lesson I learned by observing a team of experts in action:

"Look for the things that make no sense."

When I first met this group I confess I was a bit naive. I thought that going up the career ladder meant taking on progressively more responsibility for projects and programs with a defined scope. What I did not understand was that the higher you go, the more you will be creating, defining, and yes fighting for these.

There was more to learn. It became clear to me that seasoned executives have a trained eye. They are not only looking at the reality of a program or project, but always at how it appears to others and how others are trying to undermine or usurp its success.

It took me a little while but I learned the signs and signals. It was surprising to me that underminers would leave tracks out in the open like that, but they always did. And the symptoms would manifest as institutional realities or actions that were otherwise inexplicable. Such as:
  • Institutional divisions, roles or responsibilities that work differently on paper than in reality;
  • Ridiculously insufficient review times for documents on short turnaround before "silence constitutes assent";
  • Lack of resources directed at critical institutional needs;
  • Lack of meaningful discussion at meetings;
  • Key people being left out of meetings, emails, and so on.
And of course:
  • Numbers that didn't jive.
  • Contradictory statements or thin explanations.
  • Institutional or individual silence.
In the past, when I was confronted with inexplicable organizational realities, I tended to "notice then overlook" them. That is, I would realize that something was "off," but then try to "normalize" the environment mentally so that I would not portray any sense of discomfort.

These executives taught me to do just the opposite. They always looked for the things that made no sense, and made it a practice to drill down into them until they got the real story.

In government or anywhere, it's an incredibly important habit to develop. When you see something that strikes you as odd, notice it. Rather than walking away, walk into it, understand that it could be a problem for you one day, and talk to someone else about how to handle it upfront.

* All opinions my own.