In these too early “dog days of summer” (a term that came partly from the Greeks, who are facing their own dog days just now), I just want to stay cool and indoors. So I’m watching old black and white movies (e.g., High Noon).
And then I read about a book on Alfred Hitchcock. In "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (New Harvest, 2014), Michael Wood talks about Hitchcock’s “options” for films and their characters: “to know too little, to know too much . . . or to know a whole lot that is entirely plausible and completely wrong.” When that happens, characters could find themselves in a horror film.
That could describe business leaders as well.
I talked recently with a just promoted, very talented leader. He steps into the senior position at a high-performing organization known nationally for its innovations. He’s got good people around him at all levels and he’s learned from committed mentors. But I still worry.
How does he know if he’ll know too little, too much, or know a lot that is completely wrong? Basically, how does he learn to trust the people, the information he receives and himself?
So I offer a few tips that good leaders from different fields seem to follow.
1. Find thinking partners with no agenda. One reason The Gang has worked well over the years (high-performing aggressive learners from widely different fields) is that they offer honest feedback and suggestions to each other, because they have no stake in whether another leader uses the ideas or not. No posturing, no politics, but a lot of trust.
2. Triangulate. That’s a big word that simply means getting information from at least three sources. When I started studying organizational creativity, I gave speeches around town about three I was researching (in those days, they were a software firm, a theater company, and a football program). At the end of every speech, I asked for suggestions of other organizations to study that were high-performing and creative. (You’d be surprised at some of those suggestions.) But if the same organization was mentioned three times, I checked it out. Those were the winners.
3. Ask, don’t assume. A very competent manager once talked about asking his project managers “how’s it going?” If the answer was, “fine,” he asked no more. When one project went far off course, he realized that he’d not asked some critical questions early in the process. By the time the project was failing it was too late. Lesson: ask a lot, especially early.
4. Keep in mind the “Hitchcock three:” Last, ask three questions periodically to check whether you think you are on the right track: do I know too much, too little or a lot but it’s completely wrong?
In the meantime, stay cool and go watch the 1943 gripper, “Shadow of a Doubt.”