“Leadership is about disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.”

A friend of mine sent me the above quote. He found it in a book titled, Leadership on the Line, by Marty Linsky and Ron Heifetz.

Isn’t that an interesting quote? I’m curious, have you ever thought of leadership in that way; in disappointing your team?

I have not had an opportunity to read the book, but I have read a synopsis of it to get a better feel for where the authors might have been coming from. I noticed that they seemed to focus on leadership as leading people through changes, whether desired or forced upon them. And as I read that, it dawned on me that leadership really is all about change. No effective leader does anything else but drive change.

The changes they drive can be in many areas, from individual to corporate, from personal to societal, from trivial things to great projects; all great leaders effect change in people and processes in some way.

Sometimes change is all about getting back to the basics. Many a company tried to diversify itself in order to take advantage of new markets or technology, only to find themselves a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. They then failed miserably.

But some of them realized what was happening and on the strength of a strong leader, refocused on what they did well and were able to save themselves from themselves.

Other times, change is about adapting to new or different technologies that can help the individual or the entire organization. These can be hard or easy. I’m sure accountants were thrilled when the adding machine was invented (but maybe not). I know I was thrilled when statistical calculators were invented shortly before my class in Statistics (it only cost me $900 – about the same as that semester’s tuition! Now, it’s a free app on my phone.)

Some of these technological changes are hard. Maybe it’s robots doing the work of 20 employees, or a new system that requires significant time to learn and use. People get good at something and when changes come that interrupt that skill, it’s hard. Moving to that means the leader is “disappointing” that person or group by changing everything they already know.

But the second part of the above quote is key: “at a rate they can absorb.”

Too many times, leaders simply dictate a change and make it happen…now.

In almost any situation, whether it’s organizational change or technical or something else, doing it in that fashion causes a significant amount of disruption to productivity. People simply cannot absorb change that fast.

Don’t get me wrong; sometimes a change needs to be done that fast just to survive. A gazelle doesn’t sit around thinking about whether that cheetah he sees coming at him might be dangerous; he reacts quickly and changes direction. If you have a bad apple in your organization, sometimes that change needs to happen now.

But too often, leaders come up with an idea and decide to change everything right now. It just won’t work. People need time to absorb what the change means for the organization, but also for them as individuals.

There are many methods for doing this and I’ve written about some of them before. But the one point I’d like you to take from this post is that whenever you see changes that need to be made, you also need to consider how much your team can absorb. Doing too much too fast will cause too much disruption. Doing it too slow may cause other issues. What the people on your team and in your organization can absorb, is just right.

My guess is that when you look back on the leaders you really respected, you’ll find that they were constantly driving change (and you might not have realized it at the time), but they also did it in a way that it didn’t feel rushed and didn’t feel way too slow. It seemed just right. You could absorb it and work through it with just the right amount of stress.

Can you be that kind of a leader?

In May, our topics address two very important themes for leaders. First is The Leader’s Mindset. How can you be the best leader you can possibly be? And the second is Developing Effective and Devoted Employees. Aren’t these subjects extremely important to us as individuals as well as to our organization? Register here by May 8. 

If improving your management team’s skill set is important to you, let’s talk for 30 minutes and I’ll help you figure out what to do about it. To schedule a time to talk, call 720-515-8081 or email