Nov. 2010: Seeing the Picture, not the PixelsNovember 1, 2010
Wyckoff Confectioners, a 130-person manufacturer of premium baking supplies, hired Jasmine as customer service manager. Her upbeat personality, and past experience at Hershey’s, the famed candy company, made Jasmine a much-anticipated hire.
Hershey’s employed 14,000 at the time when Jasmine left to take the Wyckoff job. She described the move as “a polar bear plunge into a different culture, a different pace and different expectations.”
After eight months, Jasmine confided to Ron, Wyckoff’s president: “People have not been very welcoming of me here. Everyone’s typically too busy to talk, and when we do have conversations, I find my peers unusually brusque.”
Ron and his management team had worked hard to build a competitive, innovative, and caring culture at Wyckoff. When he heard Jasmine’s remarks, his first instinct was to apologize.
“I wanted to ask Jasmine: ‘What are we doing wrong? How can we make it more welcoming for you here? But I stopped myself from automatically apologizing. Instead, I told Jasmine I wanted to think about what she had told me and get back to her.”
Upon reflection, Ron realized that Jasmine had presented a “pixel view” of the problem: over-emphasizing one part of the issue while missing other key dimensions. For example, Jasmine under-represented the possibility that she had some part to play in not being welcomed, accepted no responsibility for her disappointment, and didn’t pose questions that expressed an openness to learn about herself.
While thinking about Jasmine’s issue, Ron discovered his own weak leadership.
It occurred to him, for example, that he had not offered to discuss with Jasmine her experience of moving from a corporate bureaucracy to a small, fast-moving business. Nor had he asked Jasmine to outline a plan for building relationships with Wyckoff’s key managers. He concluded that he had not effectively mentored Jasmine.
In his early assumptions about Jasmine – that her success at Hershey’s automatically gave her an edge at Wyckoff, that her corporate experience adequately prepared her for Wyckoff’s nimble, bustling, straight-talking culture, and that her unhappiness was Wyckoff’s problem – Ron acknowledged he had been rash.
Ron told Jasmine that his tight-knit management team was unpracticed at welcoming new managers, and needed to improve. But he also discussed his own contribution to the problem: “I apologize for not engaging you in more substantial discussions about what I expect. I have not provided you the mentoring you deserve. I’m going to work on changing that.”
By taking his part of the responsibility for Jasmine’s problem, Ron gained the credibility to ask her:
- “How much responsibility do you have for not being welcomed more vigorously?”
- “What have you done to connect with people here?”
- “Do your peers know what you expect of them?”
- “In your view, what’s the difference between ‘brusque’ and ‘direct?’”
These steps would not have been possible had Ron trusted his initial impulse to “fess up and make nice,” which would have suggested he and his staff “caused” Jasmine’s problem.
Single-cause thinking and automatically following impulses are examples of a pixel view. Leaders with this mentality often:
- Instantaneously apologize, fix, tell and solve because those reactions are easier, quicker and more familiar than mentoring and challenging;
- Embrace simplistic solutions without investigating underlying factors;
- Rely on slogans and sound bites at the expense of thoughtful dialogue;
- Give strongly-stated convictions more attention than multiple points of view.
Pixel-focused leaders usually believe they understand the problem and have a solution. They tell themselves, “I have been here before.” Their myopia masquerades as confidence.
In contrast, when leaders ask themselves, “What’s really going on here?” they are more likely to construct a wider, more realistic view of a problem. When they deliberately ask, “What’s my part in it?” deeper thinking leaders are more likely to develop change strategies based on personal responsibility.
The distinction between pixels and picture offers leaders four important lessons:
1. Resist the urge to fix or solve problems you don’t fully understand;
2. Be wary of over-focusing on one part of a problem while missing other parts;
3. Don’t forget to look at your own part in the problems that arrive at your door;
4. Don’t blame others; it takes your focus away from you.
Remembering these lessons pushes a leader’s insight beyond the immediate issue, insuring a view of the picture rather than the pixels.
© 2010 Leadership Coaching, Inc. All rights reserved.