Time To Ask the Real Question

I was trolling through various websites, of various gurus and pundits. And you hear incontestable gems like, “Teamwork really pays off,” or “Managers have to care about who the person is beyond the 9 to 5 job,” or “Don’t let negativity get you down,” or “If you don’t care about your health, who will?”  Now, underneath the fortune cookie gloss there are veins of wisdom in each of these observations, that if mined can be genuinely illuminating.

But why are these base-line statements still needed? Why haven’t we moved on to saying, as perhaps a next-stage observation for each of these: “For teamwork to pay off you have to know who you’re on a team with and why,” or “Managers have to show they know their people by customizing recognition and coaching accordingly,” or “Look to reframe the negative concerns shared with you in a way that releases rather than inhibits possibility,” or “Care about your health by creating goals that would be fun to realize even if seemingly tough to reach.”  These are far more interesting insights and assume we’ve at least passed “go” already.

Arguably the reason we keep reiterating basics as if they were first-time bolts from the heavens is because cerebral repetition, even of almost axiomatic observations, just doesn’t work. And while I can as a fan of  the indefatigable nature of the human spirit applaud the seeming immunity to lack of results (or can I?) that engenders such enthusiastic repetition, the consultant in me would suggest we’re using enthusiasm as a surrogate for strategy which is rarely wise. Sure, absent a viable strategy, I’d rather have enthusiasm, as we’ll  at least muddle forward until we find a way through — a way that can spawn a strategy. But when there’s a repeatedly failing and dysfunctional strategy, enthusiasm can be just a convenient name given to dogmatism and obtuseness.

The real question is not, “Do teams deliver value?” Surely we’re past that.  The real question is, “Given how valuable teams can be, why are we not one, or seeking to become one?”

The real question is not, “Should managers value people as people?”  Again, paradigmatically at least it’s the 21st century not the 19th. Rather it is, “Why would you practically expect to get the best from someone if they feel you don’t know them or care about them?” And, “How can we most effectively and appropriately care about those who work with us and for us?”

The question is not, “Should you let negativity get you down?”  Surely everyone from Zig Ziglar to the Dalai Lama have helped us tackle that one. The question is instead: “Why do we so often encourage and proliferate negative downward spiral conversations and thought patterns?”

The real question can’t be, “Should you care about your health?”  Our mania in this regard is well documented. Health-obsession, at least insofar as the cosmetic aspects of health having become a virtual religion,  the real question is, “Since we all have a vested interest in our health, how can we make sure that translates into how we live?”

Questions need to be applied at the fulcrum of knowledge and behavior, at the potential disconnect between understanding and emotional commitment. Repeating nostrums won’t help. Delving into barriers, obstacles, limiting logic, ineffective default positions, outmoded reflexes, can be transformational. The Archimedean lever with which to move the world is asking the right question. A question jarring enough to our complacency that it almost impels action. A question that mobilizes action, not just piles on more insight.

So beware of any adviser, guru, consultant, or otherwise, who spends the bulk of their time with you repeating homilies or seeking to browbeat you into acting on the patently obvious — by stint of its conceptual incorrigibility. There is a huge knowing-doing gap in human affairs. Otherwise the Golden Rule would have outlawed almost all conflict a couple of millennia ago.

Understanding what keeps that gap gaping in specific situations for specific people and organizations, and thereby understanding, learning and practicing how to bridge that gap based on such understanding — that’s where the mother lode is.

Decide to make 80% of all problem solving or educational or coaching conversations about why what needs to happen isn’t happening, and demanding accountable progress at those epicenters of the issue, and watch your business, your life and your results, and those of others you are seeking to help, positively transform!

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