DeM Banter: Something to ponder this week… Walter Isaacson’s book is a great read, highly recommend, if nothing else…check the abstract…. and remember to be thankful for all those great people you have the privilege to work with…
Every great leader possesses a degree of what Walter Isaacson (in his biography of Steve Jobs) describes as “an ability to distort reality.”
What Isaacson meant is that Jobs forced his will on Apple, often pushing people to create things they never thought possible–a powerful asset in any leader.
But that reality distortion effect works both ways. It also means that every leader, to a greater or lesser degree, distorts the reality around themselves, leading to tensions, inconsistency, and bad decisions.
There are two reasons why leaders who live in a bubble become so dangerous to themselves and those they lead.
First, the most insidious aspect of this is that it happens in seemingly mundane ways which are hard to spot, but which have far-from mundane consequences to the group, team or organization.
Second, the bubble effect is directly proportional to the ability of the leader. The better they are at what they do, the larger the bubble grows, and the harder it becomes to burst. (Peers and colleagues will readily burst a reality bubble of an insecure or less than effective colleague, but the highly successful leader is rarely challenged.)
Here are the three things most great leaders get wrong, and which together, place them inside a negative reality distortion field:
1. The time needed to do things.
Visionary leaders work at such strategic heights that they consistently underestimate how long it actually takes to get stuff done. (My estimate is that most visionary leaders have a seven-times perception error. If they say something will take an hour to do, it will actually take a day; if they think a day is enough, it’ll take a week.)
This particular form of reality distortion regularly gets positive play in the media, who love stories of derring-do whereby the hard-charging visionary leader refuses to accept what mere mortals tell them, and instead push their team to superhuman feats of achievement in unheard-of time frames.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is that for every published tale of whip-cracking brilliance there are a thousand exhausted, frazzled teams forced to produce crappy, unsustainable gum-and-glue solutions for no other reason than their leaders inability to tell time.
2. The relative importance of people and ideas.
The second bubble-creating reality distortion that visionary leaders fall prey to is the tendency to categorize everything–every idea, every person–at extremes. An idea is either brilliant or it sucks. There’s no in-between. People are either for us or against us. Etc.
This form of reality distortion is certainly colorful, and can even be fun to watch play out, but for those who get tarred with an extreme negative categorization, based on little or no evidence, it’s demoralizing, and for everyone else it’s just plain confusing.
3. What other people hear you say.