Nine Lies About Work

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure, that just ain’t so.”  Mark Twain (or so we think)

Work today overflows with systems, processes, tools, and assumptions that are deeply flawed, that push directly against our ability to express what is unique about each of us in the work we do every day, and that enhance organizations’ need for control.

In Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World (Amazon link), Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall uncover some big lies that permeate our organizational lives. 

Lie #1: People Care Which Company They Work For

Employees don’t care about the company. They care about culture, leadership, and their work, and how these qualities manifest in the team. “The team is the sun, the moon, and the stars of your experience.”

The best team leaders make their team members feel part of something important and meaningful; and they recognize individuals’ uniqueness and connect to them, care about them, and challenge them.

Lie #2: The Best Plan Wins

It’s not true that the best plan wins; rather the best intelligence wins. Intelligence is accurate, real-time data, distributed broadly and quickly. Team members can see and react to patterns deciding what to do next.

Lie #3: The Best Companies Cascade Goals

There’s absolutely no research that supports the thinking that cascaded goals–goals decided by our bosses and our bosses’ bosses–stimulate greater productivity. In fact, just the opposite. Cascaded goals limit performance.

The best companies don’t cascade goals; the best companies cascade meaning. Rather than cascading goals and instructions for action, we should cascade meaning and purpose. People don’t need to be told what to do, they need to be told why.

Lie #4: The Best People Are Well Rounded

We have specific, signature strengths–activities that make us feel strong; which become the “master lever” for high performance. 

The best team leaders focus on this and concentrate on outcomes, not methods. They fit the work to the person, not the other way around; and they use the diverse strengths among the team to accomplish the intended outcomes. 

Lie #5: People Need Feedback

We don’t look for feedback. We want an audience. We thrive on safe and nonjudgmental attention and our performance skyrockets when we get it.

Lie #6: People Can Reliably Rate Other People

It’s not about them, it’s about us. When we rate the performance of our team, colleagues, and bosses, we fall victim to the Idiosyncratic Rater Effect, which notes that we apply our own biases and attitudes in rating others.

What we can rate reliably is our own experiences. If we’re asked what our experiences have been with our team members and bosses, we’re liable to provide a reliable measure of how we feel about working with them.

Lie #7: People Have Potential

This lie is a product of organizations’ desire for control and their impatience with individual differences. The damaging inference is that “potential” is inherent and that people carry it with them from situation to situation. 

Instead, look at employees’ momentum–their strengths and their achievements. Everyone has momentum. The good thing about momentum is that it focuses on what’s happening in the present, not what might happen in the future. The team leader’s job is to “grease” their team member’s momentum–suggest specific actions that move that person along their path.

Lie #8: Work-Life Balance Matters Most

Work is hard. It stresses and drains our energy, and can lead to physical exhaustion, depression, and burnout. It’s a transaction–we sell our time and talent for money to buy the things we love and to provide for those we love. 

And life can also be hard. Caring for kids, elderly parents, spouses, and partners can take its own toll on our psyche. 

In the end, balance is an unachievable goal. It aims for a momentary stasis in an ever-changing world.

Instead, seek out what you love in what you do. Not necessarily do what you love–which is not always possible–but find out what you love about the work you do. How do you use your signature strengths at work every day? Do more of that. That creates flow and flow is what you seek.

Lie #9: Leadership Is A Thing

Actually, it’s about followership.

There’s not any particular collection of qualities that every leader has, and every leader has obvious shortcomings. Leaders aren’t perfect, and there’s no perfect leader, but the best of them have learned to work around their imperfections.

The key lesson from the real world is that a leader is someone who has followers. The only determinant of whether someone is leading is if someone else is following.

And followership is a thing because we can reliably measure it. We measure our feelings about the person who leads us, rather than measuring abstract qualities about a leader’s effectiveness. 

And Nine Truths

Truth 1: People care about which team they’re on. Because that’s where work gets done.

Truth 2: The best intelligence wins. Because the world moves too fast for plans.

Truth 3: The best companies cascade meaning. Because people want to know what they all share.

Truth 4: The best people are spikey. Because uniqueness is a feature, not a bug.

Truth 5: People need attention. Because we all want to be seen for who we are at our best.

Truth 6: People can reliably rate their own experience. Because that’s all we have.

Truth 7: People have momentum. Because we all move through the world differently.

Truth 8: Love-in-work matters most. Because that’s what work is really for.

Truth 9: We follow spikes. Because spikes bring us certainty.

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Image copyright:  dolgachov