Bossing it: acceptance & action
Last week we looked at the need for avoiding avoidance — keeping the agency's nose pointed at the problems to be overcome on your route to success.
So, if you do ask yourself the questions posed there and recognise some key issue is being avoided, how do you address it as the boss?
Part of avoidance is often making excuses: the client is an idiot, you lost a pitch only on price, your competitors are terrible, and so on.
But by making these excuses you and your team give away your power, your 'agency'. You release yourselves from having to act — by creating your own 'virtual reality' but at the cost of not being able to improve the situation.
If the client truly is an idiot (unlikely) then there's nothing you can do except moan. But if the client's poor decision is a result of weaknesses in your agency's account management, or your failure to clearly and convincingly present the best option in a proposal, then you can act. That action will get you a better result next time.
Another part of avoidance is false hope. Hoping a problem that's coming down the tracks towards you (like inflation, a client cancelling a project, and so on) will veer away at the last minute, or a problem you already have (a bad hire, a complaining client, a project overrun), will suddenly evaporate.
So, as the boss, your role is to lead and facilitate open, frank and safe conversations about issues. To challenge excuses. To steer the team towards accepting reality. To reach that acceptance yourself too.
Don't fret that discussing problems will make you seem pessimistic.
We do need to be optimistic — but most people misunderstand what it means.
Optimism is not about putting a cheery smile on, pretending everything is great and ignoring problems.
Optimism is believing that you can and will overcome the problems.
So acceptance of the truth of a problem is not pessimism or defeat. Acceptance is the first step in optimism.
Barack Obama didn't win hearts and minds at any point in his presidency by saying "Hey, everything's great! Let's just keep on doing what we're doing, just as we're doing it." He was always frank about the scale of the problems, clear on the need for change, and painting a picture of hope for a better outcome. That's what connects with people.
In my early days as a boss though I failed to accept reality so many times. I hoped a cashflow dip would sort itself out, I made excuses about why we'd lost a pitch to try to cheer the team up, I saw that a project had hit problems but allowed excuses about how it'd catch up and get back on track in the next few weeks. This failure to accept reality, and ensure the agency as a whole did, was a key part of me failing to step up to be the boss. It meant the agency felt like it was stuck in the mud, never able to move in the direction we wanted at a suitable pace.
So, I now recommend retrospectives after all pitches, at regular intervals during projects, and at agency quarterly retreats and other meet-ups. Examining what you've been doing, how it's gone, and what you can learn and improve. By having these regularly scheduled it becomes routine — a rhythm of improvement — rather than being like a sullen defensive post mortem examination only when things go wrong. As the boss your role is to ensure (or ensure someone else ensures) the discussion reaches an honest acceptance of the reality.
If you hear the room falling into excuses, ask questions that bring the power back within the agency. "If that was a bad decision by the client, how could we have guided them to a better decision? What prevented us from doing that? How could we have ensured we did do it? How will we make sure to do it next time?"
The importance of acceptance and action in your own work as the boss can't be overstated too. Check and challenge yourself, to be sure you accept the reality of the economic climate, market conditions, your hiring choices, cash flow and so on.
Once you've reached acceptance of reality, then you can act to create a better future.
And then you've taken one more big step towards bossing it.