“The success of an intervention depends on the inner condition of the intervener.”

Bill O’Brien
former CEO, Hanover Insurance

As you’re asking your leaders to be innovators, talent developers and culture builders, it’s important, I think, to focus them internally as well as externally. I coach a lot of C-suite execs and one thing I’m always working with them on is what are they doing to feed their psyche and their spirit. This is not soft stuff. This is tough. I ask them to stop before they walk into a meeting, clear their minds and ask two questions: 1. Who am I being? and 2. What do I want?

I also ask people what they’re reading and when they tell me “nothing” I take them to task on that. The primary quality of a leader is someone who can see and interpret the really big pictures. That’s an ability that has to be fed and cultured.

You’re going to need leaders going forward who have great knowledge of themselves and great knowledge of the world around them. Otherwise, they’ll slide into mediocrity.

Here’s another quote I like from Bill O’Brien, who said some smart stuff.

“The fundamental problem with most businesses is that they’re governed by mediocre ideas. Maximizing return on invested capital is an example of a mediocre idea. Mediocre ideas don’t uplift people. They don’t give them something they can tell their children about. They don’t create much meaning.”

We have a lot of metrics and tasks in business and when those metrics and tasks become more important than the big stuff like providing a guest experience that brings someone back again and again, that’s the tyranny of mediocre ideas. How do you make sure you and your teams aren’t gravitating toward mediocre ideas?

First, that’s where reading and connecting more broadly comes into play. Don’t just read literature on your field or on leadership. Read biographies. Read stories about innovators. Read novels that let you get inside the heads of other people. Read some of those books you pretend you read in college. Challenge yourself and your team to broaden your field.
Farm boy
There’s a great quote from Otto Scharmer at MIT: “”The visible result of farming, the harvest, depends on the invisible quality of the field itself.” What is the invisible quality of your mind? Are you just plowing the same furrows or are you fertilizing it with challenging new ideas and ways of thinking?

Second, you can avoid mediocre ideas with the two questions above. By asking yourself who you’re being, you can catch yourself settling for mediocrity. And by asking yourself what you want, you can refocus on extraordinary quality, instead of mediocrity.

That’s the intervention one needs to do on oneself several times a day. And unless a leader constantly does that intervention on herself, she won’t be able to intervene in a quality way with the people she leads.

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