Covenant-One Does Not "Drive" Results

Where did you learn to work?

Our current economic crisis demonstrates that the covenant between people and work has been broken. Investors abandoned their ethical responsibilities to become mere speculators. The pursuit of short-term profits subsumed long-term sustainability. Tactical advantage undermined strategic focus. Metrics clouded meaning. Growth overshadowed purpose. Personal position justified undermining collective well-being.

Each of these behaviors illustrate an ignorance of how work works. The fundamental principles of working well together have been known throughout the ages. Each of us have encountered teachers who have attempted to impart these timeless understandings. These teachers have not always held the formal title of teacher. Few of them have. But each tried to plant their fertile seeds in fertile soil. For me, I can say that my soil has not always been ready to receive these seeds.

As with any planting, some of the seeds inevitably fall on barren ground. In fact, few of these seeds need to sprout. Perhaps only as few one, for we are not growing an exclusive crop or feeding merely on the rich harvest of wisdom. Some of what we, as humans do is inevitably stupid. Sustenance does not require driving all darkness out of the cave, and at best, we navigate through shadow much of the time. One candle makes a difference. One well-formed vision adequately illuminates a worthy goal.

We live in a time, as have every generation before us, illuminated by false Gods. That's what my many mentors have tried to impart. More, they have tried to show me how I might distinguish between false and benevolent Gods, between false and sustaining beliefs, and between false and nourishing choices.

I was moved to start this series when I was reading job descriptions. I found in many, indeed most of them, evidence of deep misunderstandings of what people can and should do in a job. The phrase that popped most excruciatingly for me was this one:

"Incumbent drives results"

I stopped in that moment and questioned this now common metaphor. In the currently common vernacular, leaders, managers, directors, and executives produce results by driving organizations, operations, systems, and most emphatically, people. And I remembered then, in that moment, something one of my mentors tried to teach me long, long ago when I attended business school.

This mentor seemed ancient to me at the time. His sheer antiquity lead me to question his wisdom. His obvious joy when railing at his innocent students scared me a bit. "I consider it to be my sacred responsibility to see that this University release only capable people out into the world, and if you can't demonstrate your capability to me, you will not receive a degree from here," he used to say. When he winked at me as I finished a case study presentation, saying, "Mr. Schmaltz' got it," I knew I'd touched something remarkable. I wonder still what that remarkable thing was.

Now I find words for it. Here's the first of my covenant collection. It has served me well. May it fall on fertile soil for you.

1- One Does Not Drive Results

Leadership demands not driving but guiding. Our organizations are comprised of sentient, intelligent beings, capable of choosing wisely for themselves and for the communities surrounding them. Remind them of their capability. Invite them to act with compassion, to engage with purpose, and make informed choices. Lead with a light hand.

There are some things no team should be asked to do. If you, as leader, do not know what these are, your team can help you understand. Ask them how if you do not know, and you'll know.

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