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If you want to know what kind of organization you deserve, look at the one you’ve got

Maybe you’ve never heard chief executives whine about the performance of their organizations – or the people in them. We have. Many times. They seem to be suggesting that they somehow “deserve” better. A little bit like parents trying to get others to agree that they did “the best they could” raising their children, so why those children didn’t turn out wonderfully is certainly no fault of theirs.

Here’s an example:

We arrive at the office of a client. This client – we’ll call him Frank – is livid, enraged. We wait. You should never ask why a person is angry; it encourages them. After a while he says, “I’m absolutely beside myself. Why so-and-so would do such-and-such is beyond me. And, this isn’t the first time it’s happened. What makes him so stupid?”

Our reply (not kind): “Do you mean what makes him so stupid or what makes you so stupid for choosing him and casting him in that role?”

“What do you mean?” Frank turns, some of his anger now targeted at us. “He’s supposed to know better than that.”

“How?” We ask. “By behaving like you do? If everyone behaved as they are supposed to behave, from whose point of view would that be, yours or theirs?”

“Mine,” Frank admits, sheepishly pointing the finger back at himself. “But, it just seems like I deserve better.” Then, unable to muster the same level of anger at himself, he adds, “You know, smarter performance.”

“You probably do,” we reply. “Doesn’t that begin with you?”

You get the point. Them who can, do. Them who can’t, whine about the reality they have surrounded themselves with, using words like “should” and “ought.”

If something they consider “smart” happens, they are quick to take credit for it. If, however, something wrong or “stupid” happens, they start pointing fingers at anyone or anything other than themselves.

So, what do people “deserve”? Better than we are? Better than we have? Contemplate this:

  • The people in your organization are there because you directly selected them. Or, because you selected the people who selected them. How people perform throughout the organization is your mandate – directly or indirectly. If you can’t get that part of it right, you’re going to have trouble getting any of the rest of it right.
  • The person who performs in a way that pushes your frustration or anger button is likely not as fully competent to perform his or her role as may be necessary. Who is ultimately responsible for that?
  • The attitudes and the performance of every person in your organization is directly or indirectly (through your choice of their boss) influenced by who you are, because who you are determines how you do what you do.
  • If you overlook performance shortfalls or the failure to grow in your role until you finally “blow up,” that makes those shortfalls and failures as much your fault as the other person’s fault. From day one, if there are no consequences forthcoming for sub-par performance, then you are responsible for your own frustrations or anger.
  • Are your expectations clear and mutually understood? As Sun Tzu said, if people do not perform as expected because the expectations were not clear (to them), then the fault lies with the boss – with the leader – with you.

With rare exceptions, the organization you deserve is the one you have.

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