This describes almost every guy I’ve ever met who’s ultimately successful in white-collar business:
Most leaders we encounter have every minute of their calendars filled, typically with meetings and emails they write in between, often on the run. But relentless demands and the pressure to respond rapidly undermine more complex thinking. Critical as decisiveness can be, nuanced solutions emerge from wrestling with the most difficult issues, rather than prematurely closing in on a decision.
№1: no shit, and no one truly seems to understand this. It never changes. People just block their entire calendars, rush around to meetings and sending emails, burn themselves out, go to a “three-day offsite,” supposedly recharge with some consultants, and do the exact same thing again within 72 hours. It’s completely pointless at some level.
Aren’t those the same thing?
Good Lord no.
Reaction is what most managers do — BANG BANG BANG QUICK EMAIL FIRE OFF BECAUSE NOW I AM VIEWED AS COMPETENT AND DECISIVE.
Response is what good leaders do — “OK, this is a complex issue and it has long-term implications for this business unit. I need to get the right people involved and think on this and not immediately respond.”
See the difference?
It’s quite literally the dividing line between “a shitty manager” and “a good manager who might even be a leader.”
Why do people fire off emails so quickly and without context?
Because one narrative we’ve been fed over time is that “decisiveness” is crucially important, especially for men. We need to be decisive and strong thinkers and we JUST GO GET IT.
That’s deeply tied to the overall narrative around what masculinity should be. Some of the most-deified males in societal history are often referred to as “decisive,” especially generals and business leaders. Some sports coaches too, of course.
Truth, though: guys are often dickless wonders who have no idea what they’re even doing at work, and come to run everyone in their unit in circles for years. We all know this. It’s just a question of how willing we are to admit it.
There’s legitimate research out there that managers can’t set or understand their own priorities, and that as a man rises up a chain in white-collar enterprise, they actually can’t name the priorities of the company either.
So this is work to many: a bunch of middle-aged guys, barely component, running around with no idea what’s even happening just firing off email responses to seem “decisive” or “on top of it.”
How big a joke is that? We spend years in these places. These places determine what level of life quality we can have. Our mortgages and children’s education are tied to these places.
And it’s just a bunch of guys with no clue trying to seem “decisive.”
How do we fix it?
I guess at the most basic level, we need to fix how we parent boys.
That’s going to take a while, so try some of these ideas:
- Start awarding bonuses to men based on different factors
- Hire for soft skills
- Get better at teaching managers what their actual priorities are
- Investigate ways to teach empathy to adults
- Promote more women into leadership
- Teach men to stop being dickless wonders overall
There’s a few places to start. What else might you add?
(And look, I know in general we all view “decisiveness” as some great thing. But too much of any “good” thing can be bad. Too much confidence is arrogance. Too much sex can get you the clap. Etc, etc. Too much decisiveness in the form of immediate decision-making on mobile creates burnout and bullshit all over your culture.)