Outliers: A Leadership Missive

My daughter is one of those exceptional young people whose needs and abilities fall outside the parameters the public school system is equipped to contend with and so, in spite of their good intentions to the contrary, they continue to send both her and us radically mixed messages. It occurs to me that what is missing – and here I am refraining from a tedious examination of the details of her situation – is a clear and compelling vision for what is possible and a shared commitment to helping that become a reality. What we get instead is a dissection of her performance by standards that serve as an acute reminder of how and where she doesn’t fit in rather than providing a framework for the possibility that she embodies in her own unique and creative brilliance.

Absent a clear vision for the potential future of her particular learning experience she will continue to be at the mercy of a system that is only designed to manage the whole rather than the individuals who make it up. The system isn’t designed for her and it shows.

Schools, corporations, government agencies, in the name of efficiency and alignment, continue to implement “performance management” practices that do little but force compliance to a regressed and vision-less version of existence. Some call this risk-management, I call it a death-knell. .

The reactionary impulse in the face of uncertainty, ambiguity and chaos is of course to control. We get leaders, over and over again, designing better mouse traps of efficiency and compartmentalization because they’re trying to manage their personal feelings of disease by the rampant complexity they face.

Our leaders must get a handle on their own capacity to stand in the face of complexity and change with energy, grace and purpose because until they do so nothing will change. Their teams will continue to build even better systems for the sake of the system rather than because the system is one of the many tools designed to realize a bold vision for the future. That difference is massive. When will it be understood? When will it be acted upon?

There will always be outliers, the ones who just don’t fit the model. They are not there to make your life difficult. They are there to test the flexibility of your design. They are there to push the boundaries. They are there to challenge the clarity of your vision. They are there to force you to learn the necessary truths of operating in an unpredictable world. How they are treated will make the difference between an also-ran organization and one that will accelerate, learn and win.

Leaders lead all of the people, not just the ones who make them feel better. They create organizations in which every person is invited and challenged to connect their personal vision for the future to that which the organization is striving to create. Absent this, it’s just more of the same.

Tell me, please, that we’ve had enough of that.

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.

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