The leadership parable of the roofer, the carpenter, and the inline skater

Leadership and Different Ideas

Most “leaders” at organizations:

This varies by organization, of course, but most managers/leaders I’ve worked with fall into those camps. If you don’t believe me, look at how promotions tend to work: the guys (mostly guys) closest to the power vortex in terms of politics get promoted. Why? Because the people who already have the power want like-minded people in their top-dog meetings. They’re not comfortable with ideas opposite their own. Remember, at a certain level, you can explain the entire working world by just realizing that your manager fears being viewed as incompetent. 

Now check this out:

Three European economics professors conducted a study of roofers, carpenters, and inline skaters to collect ideas on how to improve the comfort of their respective safety gear. What’s fascinating is each group came up with better ideas to improve gear from the other two fields than its own.

That shouldn’t actually surprise anyone, per se — people have ideas about things they don’t do day-to-day, often because what you do day-to-day becomes kind of rote to you, and things that are rote become less creative — but no one in a working context ever seems to understand this.

For example, I work in marketing, right? But if you read this blog, I have a lot of ideas related to HR and on-boarding and performance reviews and topics like that. My company’s fairly small, so maybe I can enter those spaces and make a few recommendations, right? But at a larger company, do you know how hard it would be for someone from marketing to make a dent in HR? First off, the marketing person would have to care. Second, HR would have to accept their offer to help and not be threatened by it. Then, there would have to be time for work. (Remember: we’re all insanely busy, right?

Then there’d have to be a system for the two sides to work together (phrased another way: silos).

By this point, the two sides potentially working together has collapsed in 15 different ways. (Again, at most places.)

The point here is that oftentimes, people have an idea about something totally separate from their day-to-day role. Listen to peopleEmbrace their ideasStop embracing only people like you. 

Leadership is as much about bringing in all the possible different ideas and perspectives — from everywhere — as it is about hitting all the deliverables in the way you already understood them to be hit. People need to get that.

Ted Bauer