Don’t Be Dazzled by Complexity

Authored by: Kim Hoogeveen, Ph.D.

I was cleaning out some files this weekend when I came across a handout I received some time back.  I had forgotten I kept it, stuffed away in a folder.  The handout had been given by a presenter who was talking to a room full of leaders about how his company goes about training and developing members of their staff so as to ensure business success.

I can remember having a painful reaction when I saw the 52-page handout complete with many acronyms, flowcharts, models, and trendy organization development language designed to make an impression of profundity.  I was even more dismayed to see the roomful of attendees attentively listening and occasionally nodding as if great wisdom was being imparted through all this intellectual clutter.

Let me tell you what was not conveyed by this purported expert on building people.  There was no sense of the importance of clearly understood and articulated leadership principles being infused throughout the organization.  There was no recognition that a key leadership objective should be to see to it that every single employee within the organization has an opportunity to work for a tremendous supervisor – one who is committed to both their personal and professional success.  There was no focus on the crucial element of identifying the best possible people to promote into those supervisory roles.  Lastly, there was no understanding that those selected for leadership need to be trained on how to make those clear and crisp leadership principles come to life every day for every employee.

Many ostensibly credentialed individuals have the dubious ability to make the simple complex – in this instance making easily understood human desires into an incomprehensible, intellectual word salad.  Yet so many listeners just sit there and nod as the speaker pontificates.  It seems we need to find that little boy or girl who will say what the adults are apparently too intimidated to say, “That emperor has no clothes!”

And here’s the end of the story: the company that was touting the sophistication of their talent management efforts is now bankrupt.  Kaput.  Gone.  Apparently their complex-sounding organizational development processes were impressive on paper, but a dog in the real world; although I have no doubt their metrics perfectly measured and charted everything all the way to extinction.

Here is some good advice: when someone is talking to you in a manner that is unclear and difficult to understand, grab your wallet.  You are likely listening to bull.  One of the more insightful quotes I have run into in this regard came from a Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, John Alexander Smith, who in 1914 said this in the first session of his two-year lecture course:

Gentlemen, you are now about to embark on a course of studies that (will) form a noble adventure…Let me make this clear to you…nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life – save only this – that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education.

In the domain of “leadership” and “culture” where MindSet operates, we find there to be a good amount of rot.  When you can’t see the reasoning and clarity of what is being said – it is likely that the problem is not you, but to whom you are choosing to listen.

I want to remind you once again: phenomenal leadership is not difficult to understand.  The challenge is to accurately grasp the essence of what is important – starting with MindSet’s Seven Principles of Leadership© – and to consistently keep a focus on that every day, in every interaction, with every decision you make as a leader.

Want an example of what no-nonsense advice looks like?  Check out this blog from our archive: Employee Success: the Simple Path.