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By Francis Wade

Monday, June 25, 2012.

At dinner on New Year's Day, I discovered that my cousin, a professional working in the United States, is an extreme believer in keeping an open mind. While we would all agree that this is important, most of us are convinced that 'we already have one'.
In other words, we use a closed-minded response to shut down the possibility that we might not be as open as we think.

Remarkably, he made the point that he still thinks that he's closed-minded in some ways, and that they have become more difficult to see. He uses a method of continuous questioning to ferret out these hidden areas of rigidity that still exist.

If it all sounds esoteric, then take a moment to read management consultant Marshall Goldsmith's new book: What Got You Here Won't Get You There.

He does CEOs and other corporate leaders a great favour by outlining 20 unproductive habits they fall into when they reach the very top positions.

These habits all represent ego trips that are often obvious to everyone else, but are quite invisible to the owner. From my experience, the following select habits apply directly to Jamaican executives who have 'won' the corporate game, but lost the ability to learn.

Habit 1 - Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations, even when it doesn't matter and when it's beside the point.

Habit 2 - Adding too much value: The desire to add their two cents to every discussion, even when they are uninformed.

Habit 5 - Starting with 'no', 'but' and 'however': Giving immediate negative responses to every suggestion or idea, with an unspoken intention to show that 'I'm right and you're wrong'.

Habit 6 - Telling the world how smart they are: The compulsion to show everyone who will listen how smart / clever / well read they are.

Habit 15 - Refusing to express regret: The unfortunate inability to apologise, in order to keep the fa├žade of being right ALL the time.

Habit 18 - Punishing the messenger: Blaming someone who is only trying to help, because they disagree with some aspect of the message.

Habit 19 - Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone (and everything) around them, but themselves. Professional finger pointers.

What's confusing to employees is that our top leaders often do these things with a smile and a pat on the shoulder, rather than in a shouting fit. We wonder: If they are so nice, then why do I feel so bad?

The fact is, like the JLP leadership in the recent election, many CEOs live in a bubble in which almost no one is allowed to tell them the truth. Those that try are often fired or sidelined, or told that they need to become better 'team-players'.

What can a CEO do?

The answer lies in taking practical actions that pushes them outside their comfort zones. If these actions can be converted into projects with a practical outcome, then they can become a powerful learning experience.

I can't think of a better example than that of my own father, Barry Wade, who recently completed publication of his book, Ministry at the Margins.

I was abroad when he started to speak about a growing urge to step outside the boundaries of his role as chairman of an environmental consulting firm, and into the community surrounding his church in Mona. The journey from scientist to community worker/ counsellor was one that he crafted on his own, and it required a return to college while joining a HELP ministry at his church. There, he encountered our society's 'untouchables' in face-to- face sessions - gunmen, prostitutes and drug addicts who he met and tried to ameliorate. Their stories are outlined in his book, and it shares his bafflement at how he could live a life so close to people in distress, while having little clue as to their real situation.

Not all executives need to follow his lead precisely, but it's a good idea for them to create learning opportunities that require the development of a 'beginner's mind'. It would help rid them of the arrogance and short-sightedness that often turns out to be so very costly.

Francis Wade is a management consultant at Framework Consulting and can be reached at francis@fwconsulting.com

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