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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Curious or Critical?

A million years ago I was coming off a successful operating executive experience and landed the CEO job I had always wanted.  I was 35 years young and eager to make my mark.

As you do at the beginning of a new job, I was meeting with people at all levels, key stakeholders, long-term employees and new ones alike.  The Board gave me great freedom to move about and explore the landscape.  In my enthusiastic self, everyone seemed happy to hear what I had to say and seemed ready to march to the new beat that I brought.  Perhaps.

Within a few weeks, I began to notice that while people were happy to talk, they really weren't all that interested in changing anything.  They were committed to the way they had always done things.  "But, where do I get to leave my mark?" I began to lament to myself.  "These people are stuck in an old mindset,  they have no plan, they are entrenched and all the power is being held by the wrong people.  Can't they see it?"  I became more and more critical.  Disillusioned.

About 90 days in, the HR Manager came into my office and shut the door.  Rarely is it a good thing when the HR Manager shuts the door.  So, I braced myself.

"You know Vince," she said, "This place has somehow managed to survive for almost 100 years before you got here.  From your questions and the way you are moving about, it sounds like you don't think we've ever done anything right.  You might get a better response if you showed up with a little more curiosity."

Hmm.  Her 2x4 upside my head hurt.

And, I heard her. I had been coming from a place of criticism.  I saw problems with the way things were being done and my questions were digging in to clarify and confirm that my criticisms were correct and that things needed to change.  Instead of appreciating what was going right, I had been on a hunt to verify what was wrong.  And, the troops were pushing back against me, defending themselves, and drawing the battle lines.  Yikes!

So, did I make a course correction?  I like to think so!  Within a year or so I looked around the room and realized that more people were paddling with me than against me.  I noticed that we were aspiring to a vision that seemed to be embraced by all.  A few people had left and I had made a couple of key hires which had helped solidify the team.  Appreciation and curiosity seemed to be more the norm than criticism and defense.

My sense is that over time, curiosity wins the day over criticism.  Not a big surprise, but sometimes surprising that I need to learn it over and over again.

As I look at my life today, am I coming from a place of curiosity or criticism?

Onward!

V