The Fool’s Eraser
A fool finds a way to discount and devalue principles. There are three reasons we play the fool.
- We don’t like admitting we’re wrong.
- We don’t want to change.
- Our behaviors seem to work.
Fools have a need to be right that prevents them from learning.
Stubbornness looks for reasons to ignore or reject challenging ideas.
The fool’s eraser is an exception to the principle.
All principles have exceptions. Suppose you teach a group of managers that successful leaders ask questions.
Someone in the back of the room says, “But sometimes you need to tell people what to do.”
Does anyone really believe asking questions means never giving direction?
Finding exceptions is often an attempt to devalue important principles. Once resistance finds an exception, it breathes a sigh of relief. “I can stay the same.”
A person who doesn’t want to ask questions finds a reason to give directions.
It takes humility and curiosity to ask questions, something resistance lacks.
Once a fool finds an exception, it’s used to ignore the principle.
Is there a place for directive leadership? Of course.
When the assembly line is broken and you know how to fix it, don’t call a meeting to explore options. Get the product rolling out the door. Explore options later. Equip the team to fix their own problems with a training session. (You might use the broken assembly line as a teaching moment, if time allows.)
The above paragraph does not erase the principle that successful leaders ask questions.
Principles or step-by-step instructions:
Step-by-step instructions are for incompetent novices.
Learning technical skills often requires step-by-step instruction.
Universal principles enable people to act without step-by-step instruction.
The universal principle of putting a puzzle together is – assemble the border.
Teach principles or you’ll always be giving step-by-step instructions.
What are some universal principles of successful leadership?
The Business Case for Curiosity (HBR)
Why Leaders Resist Change (CBS)
How Foolish Leaders Become Wise (Leadership Freak)
I love this one, and it feels so relevant. I keep a little file for my favorite posts, but I’ve come to realize that file needs to turn into a large binder. And all these little reminders are becoming the size of a book. 🙂 Thank you for all you do.
Thanks John. Much appreciated. Have a great week.
To see the message you have to be the Artist, not all viewers see things clearly.
In order to have individuals with the same principles they need to be groomed, such as starting time is 08:00AM= punctuality, have your tools= responsibility, dress for the tasks= preparedness, pick up Bob at 07:30 AM= concise. Just a few that came to mind.
Thanks Tim. After writing this post, I hoped someone would remind us that the step-by-step is useful. Cheers
Great reminder about teaching principles! Whether dealing with line or managerial staff, imparting principles signals the respect and trust needed for engagement. Step-by-step instructions might be needed for critical safety or compliance actions or for initial training, but they otherwise tend to stifle creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and engagement.
Thanks Paul. I appreciate you explaining the potential impact of step-by-step instruction. If we want engagement then we need to make space for people to be engaged, instead of telling them every little step to take.
Principle—–Use a style of management/leadership (directing, discussing, delegating) that is appropriate for the situation. A style that will teach, engage, and motive people to achieve the goal. Change your style as people grow and develop.
If you want more info on the 3Ds –see my YouTube video on Leadership Styles
Thanks Paul. Yes, adapt to the people and the situation. Novices need more intervention. Experts need and deserve greater freedom.
It is generally helpful to think of principle as strategy,
and instruction as tactical.
Leaders engage (and demonstrate) principle to communicate WHERE we want to get to, and WHY. This makes sure we’re “all on the same page” as we go along.
Managers engage (and demonstrate) instruction as to WHAT we are doing and HOW it needs to get done.
We all need to do both, but it’s best to be deliberate about WHICH we are doing WHEN.
Lead thyself, first; then you can manage it.
Wow. Very powerful. Thank you for this, Dan. I’m posting in on my board.
Yes! Every day I am learning from you. Thank you!
Dan, this is simply awesome!
Daily, I meet people who discount principles and find exceptions. And it is so frustrating!
Few principles – value strength of character over cognitive intelligence; value transparency and authenticity over ingenious cover-up.
Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and insights!