The One Thing You Can Do To Not Suck

So I wrote this thing about how maybe your big idea sucks. Perhaps your big idea isn’t so bad. It could be awesome. It’s not really about the idea itself, as much as it is about whether anyone cares; it’s about being a leader and making the idea happen.

I thought perhaps it was a bit irresponsible to pronounce that your big idea might suck and offer no way to turn it into a blazing monument to human awesomeness. If you don’t know that your big idea might not be great, you’re going to fail. This is called hubris. However, knowing your big idea might not be great doesn’t mean you aren’t going to fail; it could just mean you’ve become self-defeating.

Fortunately, there’s one thing you can do to not suck.

Just to complete the Upworthy hucksterism, I could even tell you that if you do this one thing, you won’t believe what happens next! That said, you’re going to have to read the whole piece to get what I’m on about, or skip to near the bottom (in which case you will probably be disappointed, because I’m not Upworthy, and this stuff takes some, y’know, thinking.)

Whether you’re talking about the introduction of a new idea, or even just managing people, designing the future is always political. If you want people to do something they’re not currently doing, or do something differently, the amazingness of your idea is not sufficient to make them do it. We can’t penetrate another person’s consciousness, which means we can’t make anyone do anything of their own volition. It is for that reason that politics exists. Humans organize politically to accomplish everything humans accomplish.

So, how do ideas happen? How does one not suck?

Leaders Shouldn’t Suck

An important way into answering these questions is illuminated by our rather thoroughgoing belief that the people we call “leaders” shouldn’t suck, and yet we all know, they often do. Even generally great leaders are sometimes loathsome. Why?

We know, in a deeply profound way, what leaders should be. Simon Sinek is really very eloquent in articulating what we know we want from leaders. We want servant leaders. We want leaders that know that leadership isn’t merely about being lionized, or having the best parking spot, or the corner office. We want leaders that are willing to, as Simon says, run toward danger.

Over the last several decades, a truly staggering number of management and leadership books have been written (640,000 results on Amazon.) Untold numbers of speakers have held forth in countless conventions and webinars. The prescription is always the same: treat each other well. Still, we’re all quite familiar with the fact that most of the people that are called leaders are neither leaders nor do they treat others well. The avalanche of advice seems to have done not a thing. It’s the great leadership and management paradox of our time!

This seems to suggest that the problem isn’t the leaders. Just like the problem isn’t your big idea. The problem is political; it’s structural. The political tools we use to accomplish stuff lead us into hubris, and usher people who suck into leadership roles.

The implication is we’re not going to get the kind of leaders we want by any combination of demanding, requesting, teaching, or begging. We get the leaders we want by creating and implementing political tools that provide incentives for not sucking. We get the leaders we want through political organizational models that are predicated on trust.

The One Thing

Forget yourself.

That’s the one thing you can do to not suck.

A leader isn’t a leader because we implore that person to be great. Likewise, your big idea isn’t going to be accepted because YOU think it’s awesome and YOU implore those to whom you present your idea to believe you. The kind of leader we all believe is a good leader becomes so because they forget themselves and instead, they push, bend, and manipulate the political structure to make room for trust. Great leaders don’t punish you because you’ve technically violated a policy, they protect your trust by making the politics conform to it.

The same is true for your big idea. Forget yourself. Create a political interaction that privileges trust with the people to whom you intend to present your idea. To forget yourself means to temporarily forget your big idea.

This applies whether you’re a manager, or a consultant, or a big professional services agency. You may be awesome and have awesome ideas, but forget all that and start by building trust with those you wish to help. Immerse yourself in their culture. Observe their behavior. Ask questions about what they’re trying to do, what they need, and what challenges they face. Collaborate with them to craft principles for designing a vision.

Only once you have done these things will there be a basis for trust. Once trust is brokered, your big idea can actually start to matter. It will matter because it will no longer be your big idea; everyone will have some ownership of it. This keeps everyone aligned around persevering to make the idea happen, because people are attached to what they create.

That’s the one thing: Forget yourself. It’s not about you. It’s about you plus those you wish to influence. Influence comes with trust and trust doesn’t start with a punch to the solar plexus. Trust starts when you forget that it’s your big idea so it can become our big idea. Most importantly, it goes from being a big idea to being a big thing.

Now you can confidently point to the evidence and know that you don’t suck.

Read more about the question of making business more human at Be Human Project.