— Be careful how you swing it…
A couple of years or so ago, I wrote an article about what you lose when you ascend into senior leadership (especially CXO-level). You may gain a lot – dinero, status, authority, new biz cards, etc. – but you also lose a few things. One of those things I wrote about was your ability to merely suggest.
You lose that right when you join the senior leader ranks, since your suggestions will almost always be implemented – much to your feigned shock. Your suggestions sound like, well, more than just suggestions. And even if they didn’t, it’s easy to draw a line between your suggestions and “I thought that’s what you wanted,” and making the boss happy is a small price to pay to get you out of my hair or off my ass.
Oops, did I say that last line out loud?
It’s true, though, that your suggestions sound less like spit-balling, brain-storming or thinking out loud, and more like “Here’s what you should do.” It just is – deal with it.
There’s also that big, honkin’ tail you lug around behind you.
You know what I mean.
Abrupt changes in direction from your position create massive movements, ripples, and gnashing of teeth at every level below you on that chiseled-in-sand org chart of yours. You unilaterally make what you think is a minor course correction, and that “tail” of yours causes plans to shift, objectives to be altered, directives to be rescinded, even people to be hired or fired.
That’s some big tail.
Back in the days when we could travel… <sigh>, people wearing backpacks on their backs while navigating airplane aisles would irritate the crap out of me. Like a protruding shell on a turtle’s back, these ignoramuses would whip around to talk to someone or eyeball an open overhead bin, oblivious to the carnage being caused by that rip-stop nylon bulge affixed just above their butt.
That suitcase-sized lump on their back acted just like that senior leader tail I mention above. Ignorant of the impact to others, whipping around that tail can cause damage far greater than just a pissed off couple of passengers in first class.
And don’t think for a minute that, as long as you don’t change course quickly, the tail is harmless. Just having that tail causes consternation. A couple of real-world examples:
You want to go visit the office in Dubuque. Your regional VP calls the office ahead of you, tells them you’re coming, and to “get the place cleaned up.”
That honklin’ big tail of yours…
You stroll down the hall, feeling generous since there’s a hole in your schedule, deciding now would be a good time to have a little personal chat with another senior leader. You poke your head in, ask if she’s got a minute, and 30 minutes later you leave, content that you’ve nurtured the relationship and shown that you care.
In reality, you just cost her 30 minutes she’ll never get back and was probably planning on using for something meaningful.
But your damned honkin’ big tail got in the way.
I don’t tell you these things so you’ll intentionally avoid making priority shifts, course corrections or plan changes. I don’t do it so you won’t go to Dubuque or take some time to chat with another senior leader about softball schedules and their secret stash of Blanton’s.
Just realize, there’s this honkin’ big tail behind you, and take the swath it makes into account when you do these things. Understand that, try as you might, that thing is going to swing wide in your wake, and create some turbulence no matter how much you wish it to be different.
Be aware, acknowledge the impact, and be prepared for (and demand) lots of inputs from those affected.
Both before and after swinging that thing.
Sort of a “Tail Mitigation Initiative.” TMI for short.
And after thinking about the backpack bozos on United, maybe I don’t really miss traveling after all…