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Wanting vs. doing, competence & control: Continued thoughts on leadership from Dr. Thayer

“Wanting” Vs. Doing

In the top executive seminars I conduct around the world and where I sometimes talk about such things, I’m frequently asked, “How many top executives can actually do this, based on your experience?”

My answer? “All of them could. Are you asking how many will actually carry it off?”

“Yeah,” they say. “That. And, what’s the difference? What do you mean, all of them could?”

“By ‘all of them could,’ I’m acknowledging the fact that whether they can or not depends ultimately on whether they did or not. And we’ve all been surprised from time to time by our judgments of people and what they actually do. In all cases, it’s possible. It might take one person a few years and considerable effort. It might take someone else a lifetime and incredible effort.

But perseverance counts for more than potential. So how many will actually produce great outcomes? Out of every ten or so who really, really want to be responsible for great achievements, maybe three or four will actually make some progress. But it’s likely that no more than one out of ten will see it through.”

“So it’s not potential? It’s not motivation?”

I have to answer as follows, “It’s not potential. More potential goes to waste than anything else. But, by itself, what we’re calling potential won’t do it.

“Motivation? I don’t even know what that means. It’s a weasel word. People use it to excuse themselves and put others’ achievements into the hands of psychological fate. It’s nonsense. A person either accomplished what she set out to accomplish or didn’t. Nothing is added by saying, ‘She was motivated to do so.’

The key point to focus on here is that wanting to do something and doing it aren’t even in the same universe.

People who aren’t going to do it will waste everyone’s time by talking about how much they want to do it. They are delaying, in the hope that someone or something will do it for them. The person who is going to do it just does it. Nothing is added by saying, ‘I want to do this or that.’ It’s more like a way of bonding with other people who would rather talk about what they want than to make the effort needed to bring it about.”

There is nothing easy about being the best at something. And there is nothing easy about learning how to be the best at something. “Wanting” is the easy way out. “Doing” is what it’s all about.

Then comes another often-asked question, “So how do you decide who you’re going to work with? If you’re picking one out of ten, how do you do that?”

I don’t always do a good job of picking the winner. By the time an executive has made it to the top, he or she is really good at deceiving other people. So I’ve been had – mainly by enthusiasm, as we all are.

It is very intuitive, like Michael Jordan’s decision to shoot this one or that one is ultimately intuitive. Based on experience. Asking a lot of questions. But it probably comes down to how much experience the candidate has had at strategizing and putting whatever effort is required into accomplishing the impossible.

It may not seem so at the outset, but it won’t be long before a task will appear that seems to be impossible. That’s what will separate those who do from those who don’t.The key, certainly, is preparedness. Beyond that, there are factors over which no one has any control.

Competence & Control

People often talk about competence or “talent” as if it would permit you to control things over which you do not and cannot have control. Competence alone will not ensure your success.

Competence optimizes only your preparedness. The real world will go on functioning as it does, immune to your will.

The real world is oblivious to your wants and needs, even to your competencies. Real achievement has to be pursued in that world, not the world of fairy-tale success stories. The real world favors those who are best prepared, because they are prepared for both good “luck” and bad “luck.”

It is frequently the case that people try to control what they cannot control. And fail to control what they can control. What they can control are their own capabilities and competencies. To be fully competent does not give you any more control over the uncontrollable than others. What it does provide is being prepared for whatever happens. And competent people have contingency plans.

There is no way of creating superhuman people or organizations that can bend the world to their will. Increasing one’s competence every day in every way is the only reliable means there is of coping effectively with a world that operates by its own logic – not yours.

You will never be omniscient or invulnerable. The best you can do is never ceasing to develop your competencies, and/or those of your organization. No one leadership course can provide you with immortality or certain success. But, if thoughtfully internalized and practiced, it can help you immensely to equip yourself to be prepared. If you bring unremitting passion to bear, the mental tools and provisions you collect will provide you with what you need to make the journey.

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