Been There, Done That, Bought the Leadership T-Shirt


Been There, Done That, Bought the Leadership T-Shirt

Recently, VIM Executive Coaching had the pleasure of working with some Boulder/Denver-area business leaders in an informal executive development setting. It was a weekend and the dress attire was listed as casual; super casual. As we’ve all been in business for a while, most of us understand that “casual” is a tricky dress code to navigate, even on a Saturday.

This one fellow showed up wearing an interesting t-shirt. The white shirt had the following expression in black lettering: “I want everything, and then more.” It was an expression that was meant to be amusing, I suppose, and it did generate a few giggles but as one of the discussion points was “abundance,” it caused a great deal more thought than simply “amusement.”

Easy expressions, impossible dreams

The ancient masters, the deep philosophers and thinkers, always warned us of over-filling our bowls. When our purpose is to accumulate as much as possible, we frequently spill and unnecessarily spend. We can realistically hope for abundance, but what about those who are never satiated? 

On a physical level, those who over-fill or want much more than their share, are said to be gluttonous or filled with greed. They are not necessarily bad people. A wealthy antique car collector can certainly be a philanthropist as well as owning 50 vintage Bugatti’s. A museum curator who strives to make art accessible to the masses, can also be corpulent from huge meals of Pasta Primavera enjoyed in her travels

However, it is when we get to the more ethereal or egotistical that wanting way more than could possibly be needed, borders on the dangerous and the unmanageable. An unrelenting need for power, a drive for success that excludes the boundaries of propriety, a manager who “steam rolls” over employees, peers and even customers and board members in a bid to have it all, is much more boorish than driven. 

We might convince ourselves that we “want everything,” but in the realm of executive leadership that type of thinking is outlandish and outdated.

To never be satisfied, to expect far more than necessary or reasonable may be the stuff of posters and T-shirts, but it rarely works in real-life. We certainly want the best for ourselves and our organizations, but to never be satisfied on any level is problematic and may also lead to arrogance. We might cite many examples.

Imagine an employee suggesting a change in policy to the leader, and the leader saying, “I have already thought everything through, and I won’t entertain a better way. Please, get back to work.”

How about this scenario: The leader is approached by a plant safety engineer who points out a design flaw in a system that could lead to injuries. The leader is intractable when hearing the complaint and says, “I was in the initial planning sessions for the system. There is nothing wrong with what we have. You are overly concerned.”

Finally, envision the head of engineering approaching the CEO of an automobile company saying that the emissions claims as stated in proposed advertising are erroneous. The CEO tells the engineer not to worry about it, that marketing is fully aware and knows exactly what it is doing.

In recent memory, all the above scenarios have taken place and with catastrophic results. The leader who believes that abundance is not enough is often an inauthentic leader. It is fine to be dissatisfied with the status quo, but it is worrisome when the status quo is arrogance.

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Bruce Wolk