Posted by James Brown in My Vistage Blog
When I was a young and impressionable summer intern for DuPont I had a lot of good mentors. I learned a great deal from them, but learned a lesson from someone I didn’t know that stays with me today. During this particular summer it seemed to rain every day right at the end of the workday. Not a light sprinkling, but a downpour of rain. The strength of the rain was such that employees, even those with umbrellas, would all huddle under a large awning waiting on the rain to die down.
As one of those waiting, I observed a guy on several occasions as he would say, “excuse me, pardon me, coming through” and make his way through the group and calmly walk to his car through the torrent of rain, with no umbrella, no coat, no hat with all us watching from under the awning. Yes, he got wet, but he didn’t wait for an indeterminate amount of time trying not to get wet.
Of all the things we may face in life, getting wet is on the low end of the impact list. Even though being wet may be uncomfortable, we do not melt and we eventually dry. Yet rain is something that is viewed with enough disdain that we often wait for it to pass. There are obstacles and inconveniences, with rain being just an inconvenience in most cases, but it was an obstacle to those of us under the awning.
It is very easy for people to treat an inconvenience like it is an obstacle.
There is an endless list of circumstances that can cause people to wait and not take action because it inconveniences them in some way. If you are leading people, you will often find when presented with an inconvenience they will wait before taking action. Part of the challenge of being a leader/project manager is just getting people started, getting the work kicked off, because there are always inconveniences that people will treat as an obstacle and then use it as an excuse not to get started.
It is good management practice to have a list of constraints that prevent a major task or work activity from getting started.
You then must assertively “work” this constraint list by eliminating the constraints and always following up to ensure people have nothing prohibiting them from getting started. Additionally, understanding the constraints to getting work started can prevent people from starting before they should and avoid the risks and damage that may cause. In the absence of an actively managed constraint list expect to get a variety of excuses as to why they are waiting to get started.
Often projects are late on deliverables not because the work took longer, but because we started late and we started late because of an inconvenience, not a true obstacle.
Sometimes the best course of action may be to wait, but in a lot of circumstances people wait unnecessarily. Inconvenience takes us out of our comfort zone and unfortunately that is where success lies. Success is almost always out of our comfort zone. The next time you encounter a downpour (without lightning) walk right out into it, the rain will be cold, it will make you uncomfortable but you will not melt and neither will the people you lead along with you into that downpour.
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