What was that famous line? Oh yea. “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” WRONG! I for one think Forrest is interesting and intelligent in his oh-so-Forrest kind of way. However, if you’ve eaten enough chocolates you know exactly what you’re getting. There is no mystery. You know the round ones from the squares ones from the bumpy ones from the rectangular ones. That’s not the interesting question. What really matters is whether you understand which one will satisfy your specific craving right now!
All joking aside, therein lies a great leadership lesson. Leadership success is very situational, and every situation is different. Every situation is a combination of you, other personnel, various task, resources, deadlines, etc. The chocolates are just resources, levers you might pull. The challenge becomes determining which levers to pull given the unique characteristics of the situation you are currently facing.
This is a wonderful little fact – and important too. It’s important because well meaning and very busy men and women in cubeland often believe (or want to believe) there is some “right” behavior that is basically appropriate in all situations and contexts. They read about a particular idea, heard about it in a training course, who knows, but it becomes their favorite “hammer.” Trouble is, as I’m sure you know, when you have a great hammer, everything starts to look like a nail! That is, everything begins to look more similar and the unique nature of the situation becomes lost.
What to do? Two things are most important. One, you must realize that when considering a particular person, tool or path you might follow as a leader you are not judging them in any absolute sense – but only based on the needs of the situation. Thus, the age old question (as one example among many) as to which is better, being an extrovert at work or an introvert at work becomes less complex. The answer is that it depends! Two, individuals always have limitations. Groups, built correctly, should have fewer limitations. You need a good college on your team willing and able keep you honest. This is someone willing and able to give you honest feedback when they see you swinging your hammer once too often, even when it does not fit with the situation.