Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Manager's Dilemma: Talent and Laziness

Here's the most counterintuitive management tenet I know: urging workers to try harder isn't the appropriate recourse when they're performing tasks for which they're ill-suited.

My sister - a natural artist who emerged from the womb able to draw, paint, and sculpt - inadvertently taught me this early on. Like most naturally gifted people, she didn't view her talent as special. She assumed everyone could do art! From her perspective, people who draw poorly simply aren't trying hard enough.

This misapprehension can be spotted in many circumstances. Gregarious people assume shy people don't try hard enough to be social. Attractive people think unattractive people don't make enough effort with their appearance. Etc., etc..

I grasped this early on, yet it was slow to fully sink in. This led to problems when people I've managed have failed to be, for instance, creative, or clearly articulate. My urge is to coax them to try harder. They seem, above all, lazy. I've continued making my sister's error long into adulthood.

Egotists don't have this problem. They see people around them (especially those under their supervision) as lesser creatures, so deficiency is unsurprising (they'd never have expected workers to match their magnificent talents). Given that egotists run most hierarchical organizations, this explains why such operations are usually stiflingly drudge-ish. If you never expect people to step up, to "bring it", to leap to unexpected new heights, there's little alternative but to treat them as finite commodities, and to box them in so their core competencies can be efficiently pumped, like egg-laying chickens in tight little pens.

Managers who don't have big egos, by contrast, are shocked and perplexed when workers can't do what they can, leaving those workers confused and annoyed by the expectation that they'll magically exhibit faculties not in their nature. The problem is that the very notion of a fixed, limiting "nature" involves a condescending worldview that's creepy terra incognita for those lacking the condescension gene.

Yet, as with many shortcomings, there's a hidden pearl. If you don't know better than to expect greatness and transcendence, workers sometimes, indeed, will step up to meet those expectations. Whenever people recall that they "did their best work" in a certain situation, it's generally the result of having worked for a non-egotist, who declined to box in chickens because "nature" was never imagined a limiting factor.

But while it's fine for hope to spring eternal, the challenge is to remember that it's not laziness that prevents cats from fetching balls or cows from hunting mice.

No comments:

Blog Archive