Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do you pave roads or construct walls?

I had a discouraging conference call recently. The kind of call that makes you want to run for the hills, give up on your ideological dreams, and resign yourself to living within the system and never trying to make a difference.

The problem was that I ran into a wall builder. Not a single wall which could be scaled, but a system that was designed to continuously build walls meant to prevent progress.

Inevitably, people get tasked with "looking out for the best interest of the organization", but where these individuals fail is in the execution of that mission. They forget about the big picture. The best interest of any organization is not to protect themselves. The goal is to make progress. Build the best product, delight customers, advance research, or make new discoveries. The individuals need to be shepherds but too often act as gatekeepers locking everyone inside and refusing to stick their neck out.

The very best shepherds are the ones that have the most creativity. They find solutions in the face of restrictions. In essence, they become adept at scaling walls and overcoming obstacles. They don't use words like "can't" and "won't". They articulate concerns and encourage solutions. And perhaps most importantly, when presented with a problem, the shepherds understand it is more important to listen then to talk.

Locking the gate and throwing the key away is the easy way out. When you block progress or maintain the status quo, you fail. And you piss a bunch of people off along the way.

Do you pave the way for others? Offer help and advice? Or do you just build barriers?