The “But” of Leadership
Success is harder to handle than failure.
Yesterday, I reconnected with the Chief Security Officer at Microsoft, Michael Howard. I’m freakishly interested in leadership so I asked him about his own leadership journey. He said, “Things are going smoothly.”
I wondered how he was handling smooth sailing. He said, “We don’t want to get comfortable.”
“It’s good to have a battle, it gives you a goal.”
The “but” of success:
“We’re doing great but we’re not there yet.” Mike said,
“Be proud of success, BUT…”
Too much “not there yet” and you discourage the team. Too much celebrating success and everyone thinks you’ve arrived.
Creating the but:
The two-sided challenge of leadership is dissatisfaction during success and honoring progress when you fall short.
Mike brought up the term, “paranoid.”
During a workshop in New York City, Jim Collins said, “Hi performing leaders are “paranoid performers.” They’re always asking, ‘What if,’ and then preparing for it. They think about and anticipate the day of ‘bad things.’”
Mike said, “We’re asking ourselves, ‘What haven’t we thought of?’”
Positive work environments are never an accident. They’re created by leaders who think and act with positivity.
Constant “buts” discourage. “We did great, but there’s more to do.”
The function of success is not comfort but fire.
Give it a break. Bring up your “but” tomorrow.
Don’t let your “but” diminish your success.
If you’re always saying “but” after forward movement, you’re a dark cloud, dissatisfied downer. You’re a dripping faucet. You discourage. You don’t motivate.
Help everyone enjoy hard earned successes; enjoy them yourself.
Pick your “buts” carefully.
I’m not suggesting Mike is constantly saying, “but.” However, when things are going well successful leaders always think what’s next; they always press forward.
Connect with Mike on twitter: @MikeHowardMSG
See the Facebook conversation: Success can be more challenging than failure because ______.
How do you navigate the tension between celebrating success and the need to reach higher?
Hi Dan, A colleague maintains that if you use the word “and” instead of “but” it makes a world of difference. For example, instead of “we’re doing great “but” we’re not there yet, if you said we’re doing great “and” we’ll pause for a brief celebration and then continue to build on our past success” or something along those lines, it seems to me that the whole context changes. I find your post mentally stimulating, thanks!!! Have a great wekend.
Just what I was thinking too Don. There’s a world of difference between the way we receive “and” than “but” – a lesson I must keep reminding myself. Amazing how much difference one little word can make to how we respond to a challenge!
BUT is an ancronym for “behold the underlying truth”….. read: Whatever I say next is really how I feel. I work very hard at excising “but” from my vocabulary. Like Don suggested above, replacing with “and” is much more effective and engaging. I’ve also found that when “and” doesn’t quite work, I try “however”. It is all about paying attenting to what you really want the message to sound like for the listener.
One of the ways to navigate this trecerous pass is to keep people around you who will give you honest feedback. You must also be proactive in learning new techniques, reading about your industry and keeping up. The personal mantra I use for this is to “stay near the cutting edge without falling off.”
As Don said you must keep stimulating your mind and body. Some of this will be on the job, but it also applies when you are away from work. Keep a positive and pro-active frame of mind about everything. So much to learn, and so little time to learn it and implement it.
Loved your post. Leaders do need to get their ‘buts’ out of the praise. We must celebrate and then come back with next steps tomorrow. Those we lead need a second to breathe and enjoy the accomplishment. It will give them the fire to start on the next step.
Good post. I think that the “but”, or however you say it, is said because the vision of the future may not be clear to everyone. I think we need to encourage our organizations and teams to imagine perfect outcomes. This doesn’t mean being perfectionists. It helps when we all hold a shared vision. Then we can all see what could be better if we keep working toward the vision. If the leader has to say “but,” it may be that he is having to remind people of what could be better because they can’t see it for themselves. You’ve got it right when each successful project or year is celebrated as a step forward, and everyone knows already that more steps remain because they’ve spent time visualizing the steps and the desired outcomes together.
Awesome comment! You know you are being an effective leader when your team is a step ahead.
I like the “and vs. but” feedback above.
It is important to provide positive feedback, but also to provide negative feedback in a constructive way. We can’t correct and improve unless we recognize the need for improvement. As Kotter has written, complacency is one of the greatest threats to the initiation of organizational change.
So…leaders need to model correct behaviors, ask forgiveness, praise, encourage, correct, and rebuke. They need to be careful of the word, “but” if it will result in a mixed message. Correction and rebuke need to be given from a point of humility, love, and concern – not from a position of power and pride.
I recall my days when I cleared National competition first time. I was more worried about what others will think when I do not clear it again. Though my friends and other people appreciated and recognized my outcomes, I was more worried. I had apprehension that if I do not clear it again, people might think differently. They might think, it was just a matter of luck. Since I had to clear interview to finally succeed, clearing competition was only first step. So, that was actual time to prove my capabilities and potential further. And this boosted my motivation and I made more effort than before. And I could clear next three to four competition.
I agree that handling success is much more harder than failure. I think the reason is simple, in case of failure, there is nothing to hide or feel proud. but in case of success, people do not know how to express it. Sometimes, it also becomes important how you can suppress your emotions.
So, emotional management is very important during success. This is equally true when people fail. Failure takes more energy to balance emotions. But of course using ” But” is very important. When to use is matter of knowing its impact and meaning in the context.
Great post. Naturally an inspirational leader will recognise success, whether great or small. And naturally, an aspirational leader will always be looking for the next step. It’s great that the correspondents here are of similar mind – look for the next step tomorrow (or the next day), and seek it constructively with open questions, or “Have you thought about………?”
Look forward to the next one 🙂
You can separate the two. I believe that you can celebrate the victory without the “but”. Everything does not need to be a lesson. There is time for improvement instruction later. Say “well done”, leave out the but and leave that discussion for later.
Strikes me that the leader is also be the Chief Contingency Planner. I often suggest to clients that they do contingency plans simply becasue they will come up with creative options that they might well use anyway.