Friday, February 1, 2013

When Do You Throw the Fastball?

Imagine that you’re a professional pitcher, or at least a really good nonprofessional pitcher. You’ve got your arsenal of fastballs, breaking balls and change ups. Of course, you decide which pitch you use at any given time.

Who you’re facing is critical in deciding which pitch you use. While you may have a blistering fast ball, you don’t use it every time, do you? Of course not. It’s not suitable every time, and the opposing players soon learn how to deal with you.

Let’s change it slightly. Will you pitch the same to a five-year old as you would to a college ball player? An eight year old? A 12-year old? A 17-year old? Of course not. You would adjust your pitch to each person.
Now, let’s switch perspective. Do you communicate with everyone in the same way? Strangely enough, a lot of people do. Some people use their fastball every time they deal with people. Why would someone do that? Because it’s fast and overpowering. It’s their most powerful pitch, and it makes them feel good when they throw it because they see communication as a competition. However, if the other person is not quick enough, the ball has passed by before then even realize it. It becomes intimidating because they know that, if they’re not careful, the ball can cause some major damage if it hits them.

Yes, there will be times when you need the fastball. In an emergency, perhaps. But, if you can’t tailor your pitch to the person you’re dealing with, people will stop swinging at your pitches. Eventually, they start finding ways to avoid playing on your team. Or, in real life, they stop listening to you. They come to fear interacting with you. Fear has no place in leadership.

As a leader, you always need to work at perfecting your pitches, finding new ones, and improving and modifying them to fit the situation. You can’t be a one-pitch leader and be effective.

In Leadership, Environment Is Part of Destiny

Think of two scenarios.

In the first, you’re back in high school, and your family just moved to a new city where you don’t know anyone. It’s your first day at school. How do you feel? How do you behave? Who do you talk to?

In the second scenario, you’re moving to a different high school where you know a few people but not that many? It’s your first day at school. How do you feel? How do you behave? Who do you talk to?

While the building may be different, the real environment that makes you feel welcome or not is the people you hang out with day after day, your friends and fellow students, the teachers and, to a lesser extent, assistant principals, counselors and the principal.

It’s the same thing when you go to work. It’s not the building or even the work that makes you feel welcome. It’s the people. If it’s your first day on the new job, you’re on shaky ground, not quite knowing how to behave, what the rules are, who’s really in charge, and where the best place to eat at the cafeteria is (just like in high school). It takes a while to learn all of that.

While you a contribute a certain element to the atmosphere, there is already a substantial atmosphere in place that you will mostly conform to. It takes a lot to change the atmosphere.

Contrast that with a start-up or newly formed company. The first couple of generations of workers at the new company get to create the new environment. Then, it tends to take on a life of its own and live on for decades. New CEOs, directors, supervisors, managers and staff come and go, but the culture lives on. Sure, it’s modified along the way with each new generation, but the basic structure of the culture remains.

After that, new leadership (not necessarily management) can change the environment with some dedicated work. It’s long term and needs to be focused. Like most other things, it starts from the top leadership levels.