Just over a year ago I gave a keynote speech at a conference in Russia. I worked diligently to master a few key phrases. But, between having no natural capacity for foreign languages and not hearing much Russian in my day-to-day life, the result was dreadful. I actually might have insulted their mothers as I greeted the audience; but they smiled and clapped enthusiastically.
Throughout the conference, I tried out my slow and very clunky greetings. It was uncomfortable for me and probably sounded like nails on a chalkboard to those with whom I spoke. Yet, even my worst attempts appeared to spark a human connection and enhance the possibility of real dialogue. I felt embraced rather than embarrassed and appreciated rather than ashamed — clearly not because of the quality of my Russian, but because of the quality of the effort I was investing.
And that’s when I came to a visceral understanding that effort counts for a lot more than many of us realize; that it’s a powerful un- (or under-) used resource in life, both in and out of the workplace.
- How frequently do you hold back, wait until whatever you’re working on is in final, pristine form, or aspire to (and lament falling short of) perfection?
- How frequently might just putting yourself out there, sharing early drafts, and acknowledging progress (rather than perfection) actually make a significant difference – to you and to others?
Given the complexity of today’s workplace, the frequently competing demands, and eternally moving targets, leaders might want to dedicate some attention toward effort. In fact, “mining the magic of effort” just might be the next big leadership competency craze!
Think about the possibilities. Suppose:
- A recent engagement or climate survey surfaces that employees desire more flexibility in their work. Clearly, a manager can’t overturn corporate policy and unilaterally allow his team to operate remotely. But, an honest conversation about the limitations and some genuine problem-solving around small steps in the desired direction could result in a plan whereby a rotation allows each employee to work from home one day each month. It’s not a 100% solution to address the survey feedback, but it demonstrates effort.
- An employee wants a promotion that is simply not possible despite his/her capacity and preparation. Even the most resourceful manager might struggle to materialize a job. But she could work with the employee to craft some satisfying and challenging stretch assignments that approximate and/or further prepare the person for a next steps. She can also demonstrate a selfless commitment to the employee by supporting him in looking at opportunities outside of the organization. It’s not 100% what the employee wants, but it demonstrates effort.
- A team needs a process to change within another part of the company to facilitate their work and allow them to be more effective. Many managers might make an attempt to work with colleagues or the boss to effect the necessary changes but sweep their lack of results under the carpet. Maybe sharing the less-than-stellar outcome honestly, authentically, and without blame would serve everyone in the situation. It’s not 100% of what the team wants (in fact, it’s actually 0%), but it demonstrates effort.
- A manager attends leadership training and decides to try out the new skills even before they’ve been refined and are ready for prime time. It’s not a 100% performance, but it demonstrates effort.
Many of us grew up in homes with mantras that went something like this: “There’s no such thing as trying. You either do it or you don’t.” While parental intentions were good, this all-or-nothing mentality has left many of us erring on the side of delivering a lot of nothing when an attempt might be deeply appreciated by employees and help build commitment, engagement and results.
So, I say “nyet” to perfection and our personal invalidation of the “attempt,” and suggest leaders embrace the magic of making an effort.