Monday, March 17, 2014

If Everything Is Important...

There's this great scene in The Incredibles (link to clip):

Dash and his Mom are in the car after leaving the principals office. They are discussing why he keeps getting into trouble, and Dash starts talking about how "Dad says our powers make us special."

Mom's Response: "Everyone's special Dash."

Dash: "Which is another way of saying no one is."

The jist of it is Dash's comment: that if EVERYONE is special, than NOBODY is. It's a common theme in the movie. There's another scene where Syndrome is speaking to Mr. Incredible about his plan to become a new "hero," and then eventually sell his inventions to everyone; and so then, when everyone is super, no one will be. 

It almost feels like a commentary on the "participation trophy" phenonemon going on with kids today. We can't have the kids feel left out, we can't hurt their confidence, or provide a little hardship that might help them grow, so here's the trophy:

Image courtesy of digitalart / 

But what about the adult side of things? The leadership side? What happens in an organization when your team is told that:

People Are Our Number One Priority

Nothing Is More Important Than Safety

The Bottom Line Is, We Have To Get The Job Done

Do you end up like Dash, looking out the window, rolling your eyes before the last syllable is spoken? 

The truth is, that If EVERYTHING is important: 


As a leader you have to set priorities, and everything cannot be NUMBER 1. So which is it? Is it growing your people and giving them every opportunity because they are the most important thing? Will it be getting the people home safe, so that we continue to have a strong workforce that is confident and cared for? Or is it that the job has to get done, because we are in business and business means making money and finishing jobs?

That decision is up to you as part of Command. After all the planning, after the communication, after the meetings, conference calls, and reports, it is up to you to decide which is your priority. The funny thing is the only real wrong answer is to have more than one.

In Iraq my number 1 was to get everyone in my platoon home (preferably safe and whole), and my decisions were driven by what was necessary to complete the job, but minimize risk to my platoon. In war there are no guarantees, but thankfully all my men came home, a little worse for wear, but whole. Not every leader was so fortunate.

As a Project Manager, working with tons of steel, and potentially dangerous machines, I am still a big believer in safety. I want my teams to go home safe every night. If they go home every night in the same condition they came in, then I feel the next thing to worry about is the job. After that, I worry about growing my people in the course of the job. But that is my 1,2,3 order. 

I would love to to hear your opinions. Which priority do you have as a leader? What is your number one goal?

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