Friday, January 10, 2014

it's not complicated

One of my favorite TV commercials over the past 6 months has been the AT&T "It's Not Complicated" commercials featuring really cute kids who say and do very silly things.  The point of the commercials is to convince the viewer to sign up for AT&T because the decision to do so is "not complicated."  Guess what my wife and I did about two months ago?  We signed up for AT&T U-Verse cable and internet - they got us!

Much of leadership is not complicated - it's complex, but it is not complicated.  When it looks complicated...and when it sounds complicated...and when it feels complicated, then it is probably something other than leadership.  Let me explain...

  • You're sitting in a meeting and the screen in the front of the room is beginning to overflow with charts and graphs.  The numbers are beginning to all look alike, the person explaining the numbers is telling you way more than you or anyone else needs to know, and at the end of the presentation no decision is made because the numbers have made it too complicated.
  • You open the spreadsheet that was just sent to you and you begin to look at it, hoping to discover something that will help you better understand the issue.  The charts and graphs give a lot of detail, and the supporting documentation (found on the next six tabs) is all there - but you soon realize that while you have a lot of information, the question of WHY is not being answered.  You soon give up because it has become too complicated.
  • You are attempting to solve a problem and need advice from your boss, because you realize that the decision is going to include personnel changes in areas other than your own. As she begins to help you with this problem, more and more ideas start flowing and soon you are lost in the transaction, not knowing where she is going with this.  You wanted a solution, and what you are getting is a dissertation.  You walk out of the room wondering what to do next, because the attempt to solve a problem has suddenly become too complicated.
We all are guilty of this syndrome, probably more often than we would like AND more often than we know.  Few people will call us out on this issue because it's hard to argue with numbers.  The saying that "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance baffle them with BS" is true - if I can sufficiently confuse you numbers and facts and ideas, then you will think I'm brilliant and will soon start leaving me alone.  

So what can we as leaders (and leaders to be) do about this?  Here are a few ideas:
  • when we have a lot of information to share, especially when it includes numbers, charts and graphs, be explicit about the WHY of what you are sharing - help people wade through the data to get at the heart of the matter
  • when people come to us with issues, find out exactly what they need, ad stick to that point rather than confuse them with your own thinking and dreaming out loud
  • when we make presentations to groups, especially when it is new information, keep it simple and stick to the point (and be sure to repeat the point over and over)
  • when sharing data with a group, stop every now and then and ask if it is making sense - ask clarifying questions - seek new knowledge from the group - ask if this is something important to them - be crystal clear about why you are sharing the information...and if you begin to see blank stares from the group (or they stop talking) realize that you have lost them and work to get them back
  • when you get ready to send that spreadsheet with numbers, charts, graphs, etc ask yourself if everyone needs all of this information - and then begin to make it less complicated
  • never, never, never confuse complication with complexity - issues with which we deal are very complex and need our best thinking...but we do not need to make them feel complicated.
So take the time to Google "It's Not Complicated," watch some of the AT&T commercials, laugh out loud, and remind yourself that what we do does not need to be complicated...and start today to help your team do its job better by removing complications and making the work more clear.

No comments: