Moving Past 9 Common Lies About Work to Become a Leader Others Follow
“It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So.”
—Mark Twain? Josh Billings? Artemus Ward? Kin Hubbard? Will Rogers? Anonymous?
“Lie” is a strong word to use, especially in the context of work. But when research shows things you likely believe about the world of work simply aren’t true, “lie” is an accurate word to describe them. More importantly, use of the word “lie” increases the urgency around figuring out what is true and applying the new findings.
In their fascinating book Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World (2019), researchers and leadership practitioners Marcus Buckingham (ADP Research Institute) and Ashley Goodall (SVP of Leadership Development at Cisco) focus on nine common lies about work to deliver just that. Their book describes how false assumptions can interfere with reality, teambuilding, and optimal performance. More importantly, they outline nine data-driven truths we can use to move past the nine common lies about work:
- While people do care about which company they join, once they’ve joined a company, what matters most is which team they’re on (because that’s where work culture is experienced). This truth offsets the common misperception that people care most about what company they work for.
- Developing an intelligence system to adjust to real-time issues is most key to overcoming challenges (because the world moves too fast for plans). This truth offsets the common misperception that the company with the best plan wins.
- The best companies cascade meaning and give the locus of control for goal-setting and deciding priorities to team members (because they understand their work environment and where their ability to do something about it intersect). This truth offsets the common misperception that the best companies cascade goals from the top.
- The key to excellent performance is not hiring people without any deficits versus hiring “spikey” people with signature strengths (because hiring for uniqueness is a feature, not a bug for top teams). This truth offsets the common misperception that the best people are well-rounded.
- Team members need attention and praise for good work (because we all want to be seen for who we are and what we contribute). This truth offsets the common misperception that what team members need most is feedback (both good and bad).
- Team members can reliably rate their own work experience (because they understand their job and how to filter out meaningful data from less significant data). This truth offsets the common misperception that people can reliably rate other people.
- Career progress is tied to momentum, so hiring needs to focus on finding people who can do quality work fast (because team members at all levels of an organization can be top performers at their job). This truth offsets the common misperception that what is most important is hiring people with “potential.”
- Finding love in what you do is key to job happiness (because it brings purpose and meaning to work). This truth offsets the common misperception that work-life balance matters most.
- Team members follow leaders because of their “spikes” or the one or two distinct strengths they use to make a huge impact in a specific area (because this creates certainty). This truth offsets the common misperception that leadership is a thing created by fulfilling a list of traits or criteria when it in fact is difficult to measure outside of the actions of followers.
Buckingham and Goodall emphasize the value of teams and the importance of freethinking team leaders defined as someone who:
- Embraces a world in which the weird uniqueness of each individual is seen not as a flaw to be ground down but as a mess worth engaging with – the raw material for all healthy, ethical, and thriving companies
- Rejects dogma and instead seeks out evidence
- Values emergent patterns above received wisdom
- Thrills to the power of teams
- Puts faith in findings, not philosophy
- Knows that the only way to make the world more optimal for tomorrow is to have the courage and the wit to face up to how it really is today
For Buckingham and Goodall leading and following are not abstractions. They are human interactions – human relationships – and their currency is the currency of all human relationships: the currency of emotional bonds or trust and of love. If we, as leaders, forget these things even while mastering everything that management theory world tells us matters, we will find ourselves alone. But if we understand who we are at our core and hone that understanding into a few special capabilities reflecting and magnifying our intent, our essence, and our humanity, then in the real world, we will be seen. And we will be followed.
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Vice President Emeritus for Learning Technologies Donald Smith, Ed.D, CPT, headed ME&A programs in learning, leadership, and performance enhancement. He stayed with the firm in his retirement, bringing more than 65 years of experience as a coach, designer, facilitator, evaluator, manager, educator, and organizational change architect in more than 50 countries.