About an hour before writing this on Sunday night, I had one of those parent – although it could have been boss – moments. Jennifer, Jack and I were driving back from Detroit and the weather was Michigan at its worst – a wet snow and dropping temperatures. The usual 70 minute ride took three hours, as we forsook the parking-lot-expressway for slow and slushy surface roads. My 18-year old daughter and a friend were planning to drive my 19-year daughter the seventy miles back to college – over the same freezing freeway Jen and I were avoiding. I texted, texted and called: “Are you sure you don’t want to wait ‘til I get home and let me drive?” I considered turning my query into a managerial command: “I am driving.” Instead, I deferred. They drove.
So, when do you assert control? When do you retain the decision and power, especially if things are complex, and they may not have your experience? When do you allow the chance of a mistake – that may cost you, the business, or even your own family’s well-being? As every parent knows, and as too many bosses forget: there is no right answer, no easily applicable rule to be applied to an infinite number of fact situations. That’s a little scary. It’s a little scary that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen is making a lot of these solutions up, experimenting with a situation no one’s ever seen before. More accurately, the President has delegated this policy to him (for which some feel relieved), and Paulsen in turn is undoubtedly seeking and following the advice of others who think he should try this or that. How much rope does he give them? Such questions of how to deal with complexity, and whether to let the Gen-Xers or Gen-Yers handle it, abound these days in the workplace. It’s a little scary to let those “kids” have the keys.
On a serious matter like this, I turn to Saturday Night Live for great wisdom that’s buried beneath a spoof about the “expert.” You’ll find it here, and you can slide the bar over to 2:00 minutes remaining if you only have 2 minutes. (I’d encourage you to do that now, and then come back for the exciting conclusion to this week’s RFL.) The SNL spoof is funny but like most humor it’s funny because of the underlying truth: In times of crisis, people desperately look to their managers – whether they are big or small, whether parental or presidential –to FIX IT. But in times like these – especially in times like these where the problems are huge and complex – we need everybody to fix some things.
I am trying to raise kids who can handle tough situations and complexity. I gave them advice: “DRIVE SLOWLY,” as persuasively as I could. But I want them out in that world, taking it on, making decisions, making mistakes sometimes (I hope not tonight!), and learning. And I want them knowing these things: I trust they can handle it, I’ll offer advice and I’ll be there for them. I might have made a mistake tonight. But there’s too many things in this world before them, where someone is going to holler at them “FIX IT,” and I hope that they are ready to fix it. Perhaps more importantly, I want them at those moments to have the confidence to give the work back to those who need to do it with them – offering them advice, support, and confidence.
You’ll never be sure you’re right, but sometimes you gotta let go to
Lead with your best self,