When I worked in a corporate office, there was something about the first day of work that was reminiscent of my childhood first days at school. The night before, I’d plan my outfit making sure each piece had been drycleaned or pressed to perfection. I’d wake up early, grab coffee, listen to motivational talk and envision the limitless possibilities my new role would bring.
On one particular first day, I was beginning training at a well admired Fortune 50 company. As an auditory digital personality, I process information in sequences and am all about “due diligence”. That day, I was ready to be a sponge and learn as much as possible. I was taking my typical exhaustive notes and honing in on the details, ensuring no stone was unturned in my comprehension.
However, I noticed that whenever I asked questions such as “what do we do in this scenario?” or “considering blah, how would we approach blah?”; the trainer’s face would squint in agony. Finally, the trainer exploded and said “Liz, we’ve been doing this for years! We’ve considered all of these things, just listen, take the training and trust what we’re providing you.”
I felt like I’d been gut punched. My questions were not posed to diminish the organization’s wisdom or expertise.
Yet, to my surprise, the head of operations pulled me aside that evening. He’d actually been impressed by the quality of my questions. From that day forward, I was brought in to lead and facilitate innovative projects and strategic initiatives. I soon came to realize that my analytical mindset and natural tendency to challenge the status quo was a gift after all.
In the book, Originals: How Non-Conformist Move The World, Adam Grant says those who “challenge the status quo tend to be more open to new ideas and less threatened by the contribution from others. They care more about making the organization better than about defending it as it stands. They’re motivated to advance the organization’s mission, which means they’re not so loyal that they turn a blind eye to its shortcomings.”
I’ve been in countless scenarios in working with organizations where leaders become defensive and uneasy when discussing their challenges and shortcomings. And trust me, I get it- no one wants their baby called ugly. However, I caution leaders who surround themselves with “yes men/women” and who hire highly agreeable talent.
It is intimidating for the majority of people in an organization (especially the middle segment of hierarchy) to challenge the status-quo. Studies show that this segment of a firm often conforms to “follow the leader” as they quest to advance to upper management. Studies also show that when women offer suggestions for improvement and revenue generation, they are judged as less loyal than men.
As leaders, we must be willing to be critical of the organizations we lead. We must be so passionate about the impact and mission of the firm, that we are able to analyze our weaknesses, without filter, in an effort to ultimately, overcome them. Furthermore, we must learn to embrace the healthy tension that comes with critical questions and the diverse expression of ideas.
As growth firms scale, one of the top four priorities is ensuring the right A-players/leaders are in place.
Is your firm breeding conformity or are you attracting your own team of “Originals” for scale?
Let’s do better business!