There is an old Saturday Night Live routine that includes Steve Martin talking about his one holiday wish. If you’ve never seen it, go to Youtube and search “Saturday Night Live Steve Martin's A Holiday Wish.” It starts off with Steve Martin talking about some sincere desire for all the children of the world singing together in the spirit of harmony and peace; and then quickly progresses to things like $30 million dollars a month tax free, revenge against all his enemies, and all encompassing power. As ridiculous as this bit is, it is not too much different than what many leaders do when they start ‘wishing’ for performance.
As an example, many years ago I was coaching a Director level leader who had been having a pretty rough year. There had been a merger, a CEO change, and she had had several challenges in her personal life that had impacted her focus on work. The differences in results from previous years were pretty dramatic, and I was brought in to help her readjust. During one session in early December she blurted out “All I want for Christmas [sic] is for my people to perform.” I was a little caught off guard because we had not been discussing the holidays (I make it a point be sensitive about such topics), but like any good coach I thought it might be a best to see where this train of thought would take us. As we dug a bit deeper, she started talking about more wishes such as for her employees to “stop asking so many stupid questions,” and “finally be able to know what to do without having to be told all the time.” While not quite as ridiculous as asking for asking for all encompassing power, these are still not realistic hopes.
These wishes are not realistic because performance doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen. We have to set up processes and embed a culture that drives people to behave in the ways we need them to so that they can create value. We have to remember that as leaders we set the tone and drive the culture that creates and manages performance of our teams. Most importantly, we support our people so that they can perform. So while I’m sure most leaders have made a similar holiday wishes at one point or another (I know I have), perhaps a better wish is that we have the skills and competencies to create cultures that enable our people to perform. When we have that, the rest of the outcomes will take care of themselves.
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About the Author
Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with eighteen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard.