Leadership and the Power of ‘AND’

Nigel is sitting in his manager’s office for his annual performance review. It had been a tough year, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic had decimated his plans for Q1 and Q2, but Nigel had put in a superhuman effort and hit targets in Q3. Nigel was expecting nothing but praise for his efforts, so imagine his surprise when he heard the following,

“You have met your Q3 quota, Nigel, but I have some concerns about how you got there”.

All Nigel heard was, “But we have some concerns.”

The word, ‘but’ has the effect of negating everything that proceeds it.

Imagine you and I met, and I said, “I really like you but…”

You would be on the defensive for criticism, even though I prefaced with, “I really like you.”

‘But’; is judgmental and is generally perceived as negative. For example, “I want to do this, but I can’t.”

‘But’ often creates the frame of limited choice. For example, “You can eat your cake, but you can’t keep it.”

Being human is a paradox, we are wired to be successful and competitive, but we can’t do it alone.

Successful leadership and resolving the paradox of ‘but’

What if we could eat our cake and have it?

It sounds impossible, and with ‘but’ it is, so let me tell you a story.

A Western anthropologist was studying African tribes. He hung a bowl of fruit and candy on a tree branch and gathered the village children to him. “We are going to have a race” he announced. “Whoever gets to the tree first, wins the fruit and candy. Ready, set GO!”

On the command, “Go” the children held hands, walked to the tree, took down the bowl, sat in a circle, and shared the candy.

The anthropologist was confused at this behavior and asked the children why they behaved this way, and they replied, “Ubuntu, - how can one of us be happy if the others are sad?”

Ubuntu comes from the Zulu phrase "Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu," which translates to, "a person can only be a person through others." According to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, "Ubuntu is the essence of being human.

Being human means being an individual, AND part of a tribe (team). Legendary basketball coach Doc Rivers, who led the 2008 Celtics to their first NBA championship in 22 years, used the concept of ‘Ubuntu’ to bring individuals together as a team to achieve the win. In 2008 the Celtics had traded for three superstar players — Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, each of them was a leader, in their own right.  Coach Rivers told these Superstars, “You're going to have to change”, it’s not about who is best, it’s about being best and about the team.

Under Rivers’ leadership, the Ubuntu concept unified the Celtics. Ubuntu in practice means, "I can't be all I can be unless you are all you can be. I can never be threatened by you because you're good, because the better you are, the better I am." It is the perfect concept for a team, turning a group of talented yet disparate individuals into a single, tight-knit unit.

Leadership and the Team

Back to Nigel and his performance review. “You have met your Q3 quota, Nigel, but I have some concerns about how you got there”.

Nigel’s manager went on to explain. “Nigel, you have made this quarter all about you, you have heroically visited every client and been part of every deal, but is this sustainable? Nigel, you have a team, and you are part of a team. Yes, your role is to meet the numbers and to develop your people and to work with other parts of the business. Nigel, your attrition is the highest of any manager, your colleagues find you rude and demanding and tell me you have refused their help when offered. Nigel, you look exhausted and your people are demoralized, is that the legacy you want to be remembered for?”

“But”, stammered Nigel, “I thought you wanted the numbers?”

“I did and I do”, said his manager. “And it is possible to hit the numbers and coach your people, and collaborate with your peers, if you take on mindset of a leader, rather than try and be the hero”.

The Power of Culture

Whilst I am not an NBA coach, I have been an Executive Coach to leaders for over 20-years, and I can tell you that I have met many ‘Nigels’. So much of Western Culture promotes the individual hero, which in turn creates excessive competition. Yes, we need to strive to be the best version of ourselves, to step into our confidence, and the more confident we are, the more comfortable we are to collaborate.

“Confidence creates Collaboration”

As you read this article, you may be relating to Nigel, or his manager and wondering, like Doc Rivers, how do I get my people to play as a team?

The answer is, use your self-leadership to be the best version of yourself, and see the best version of each member of your team.

"Ubuntu - I can't be all I can be unless you are all you can be."

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