05 Oct 2017 16:49 IST

The good, the bad, the ugly

Tasks and people come as a mixed bag. Leaders need to embrace the challenge and deal with them all

Best-selling author Amish Tripathi, didn’t start off being a ‘best-selling’ writer. He self-published his first book and went about the hard grind of marketing it. I’m sure if you asked him about the process, he would answer that he enjoyed writing the most. He was good at it. The words seemed to flow in an inspired torrent, as his imagination created worlds that promised to keep the readers spellbound.

But then, he would talk about the painful and arduous task he performed next — of converting a first draft into a ready-to-publish manuscript. Which meant he would have to stop doing what he liked most — writing. Any further attempt could actually damage the first book’s journey.

And once his manuscript was ready and published, he would perhaps tell you that he had to get cracking on something he didn’t enjoy as much — selling his book; going from one event to the next to promote the book and himself. He could not sit at home doing what he loved most — writing.

This journey has parallels in the workplace as leaders encounter all three tasks — the good, the bad and the ugly. And their success as leaders lies in how well they balance that combination. Let’s look at those areas.

What I like doing and what needs to get done

This is the good stuff, what we could call our ‘sweet zone’. For the sales leader, this is when she goes out and meets with prospects and customers. For the finance leader, this is when he crafts the organisation’s financial strategy, using the finance function to not just execute business strategy but also influence it. For the HR leader, this comes when she does a great interview with a much-desired hire, or does a listening session with a group of top-performing employees who are super-engaged and love working at the office. For an NGO leader, this may come when he works with the community.

All these leaders are in their element doing these tasks. This stuff needs doing and it falls squarely within their strengths and passion zone. For most of us, when we work in our sweet zone, it is no longer ‘work’. We can’t get enough of it. During these tasks, we feel the least fatigued and achieve the best results.

As business students today, we too have favourite subjects, favourite professors, a favourite case study, a favourite topic we love presenting. It is great that we get to do this and we should keep learning and growing from these parts of our journey.

Finding a middle

In some roles and jobs, this sweet zone could form up to 90 per cent of what people do. But these are the lucky few. In other roles, this could be as low as 10 per cent, in which case it may be time to explore a different career or job. Most of us strive to find careers that allow us to be somewhere in the middle.

Leaders working in this zone should strive to make the most of it — give the most and grow the most. They should avoid the temptation of arrogance or over-confidence and stay grounded. They must also resist tagging themselves as ‘experts’ and instead keep looking for opportunities to learn and grow their strengths; they must also look for ways to bring these strengths to work for their teammates and the organisation.

What I like doing, but what does not need doing

This is the bad stuff and often presents a difficult choice. It is when we do something because we like doing it or are good at it, even though neither the team nor the organisation needs it.

As Abraham Maslow put it, “If I’m good with a hammer, I tend to think everything is a nail”. A great presenter tends to use every opportunity to present and showcase his knowledge and expertise, but sometimes, what’s required is to just shut up and listen. The great sales expert sometimes needs to sit and engage with the customer, instead of doing what he loves best — selling. An HR person may love organising events and picnics but sometimes, she may have to cancel an event and get the team to put in extra-long hours that a key project or deliverable needs, while keeping them engaged.

I recall a time when I got caught up in the fever of pursuing merger/acquisition and partnership/alliance conversations for my organisation. It was exciting and fun, but it needed a mentor to tell me that it hardly mattered to the organisation then.

It was not valuable to the company and could actually have been harmful. That’s why it is important for leaders to wake up to what really matters. Are they just engaging in intellectual gymnastics because they like it or because it is what the organisation and the team needs?

What I don’t like doing, but what needs doing

This is the ugly stuff. This is what needs to be done but we hate doing it. It is a necessary part of our role as a leader, but we’d prefer a tooth extraction without anaesthesia over getting it done.

The sales leader needs to fill in those boring reports after the excitement of the great sales meetings; the HR leader needs to understand the financials of the business as she seeks to strategically add value through her HR role; an author may love the buzz of that first flood of inspired words, but then has to get down to the uninteresting but necessary task of redrafting and chopping.

Most leaders know these things need to be done, but often find excuses to avoid doing them and end up not putting in their best. But this is damaging because by doing this, they abdicate the responsibility of being one.

Being a leader includes dealing with the ugly stuff, and it is this stuff that makes a difference between a good job and a great one, between the dreamer and the doer. A leader must actively list these things out — what are the things the organisation and team needs her to do? She might not like it, but she must find a way and make time to get it done.

The people package

The same combination of the good, the bad and the ugly is true of people we spend time with too. There are people whose company we love and whom we also get to work with. We enjoy spending time with them, we work well with them and get great results together.

There are also people we love spending time with, but doing so may not be useful for the team or the organisation. Sometimes, we spend time gossiping with people we like, and criticise the organisation or the boss. This is never useful — most often, it is harmful.

Another pitfall is when we spend time with our favourites — this can sometimes create the wrong culture in a team or organisation and lead to inappropriate relationships at the work place.

Then, there is that group of people we don’t like spending time with. They may not have our tastes or interests but it is imperative for the team and the organisation that we work with them. Again, the leader must find the right balance of ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ on the people front to maximise her impact.

Ultimately, the leader can’t cherry pick. Tasks and people come as a mixed bag — the like-to-do, the don’t-do and the must-do. A real leader embraces this challenge and learns to harness the good, avoid the bad and deal maturely with the ugly. Her success and her team’s success depends on how well she manages them all.

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