Andy was a seasoned leader with many past successes. He was new to the organization, and you could tell by watching him and listening to his words that he was anxious to show his worth to the organization and those who hired him. The problem was not complex, it was getting divisional leaders to buy into the new plan and hit the targets. “Simple”, thought Andy, “I’ve done this before, no problem at all. We’ll just do what I’ve done before, and they’ll love it.” He lobbied other senior executives for a bonus plan, of course modeled after one he’d used before, which significantly rewarded the divisional leaders if they worked together and hit targets. It should have been an overwhelming success; targets being hit and divisional leaders making more money. What could go wrong? But it didn’t work out, it bombed. Andy’s big mistake is never understanding who was being impacted by the new plan. Whatever you do needs to serve or work for those being impacted.

Andy assumed all leaders were the same because that’s what his experience was. His entire career up to now had been in the for-profit industry. For the first time in his career, he was working for a non-profit. Whereas the previous leaders whom he worked with loved bonus plans and making more money, these non-profit leaders were different. It’s not that they didn’t like money, it just didn’t motivate them. If money were a key motivator, they wouldn’t be working for a non-profit. They wanted to know the targets were the right ones, were realistic and would really help achieve the organization’s mission. Furthermore, they recognized all the work required by their staff to hit these targets and were concerned for them. They also felt guilty about the prospect of making more money, at the expense of their staff. Some wondered how they would respond if their staff and constituency knew about the plan. While there are successful bonus plans in non-profits, it didn’t work with these leaders.

My experience working with new leaders is they often make two common mistakes.

  1. Action focused – They come to the organization “ready to go” wanting to “do something” and, like Andy in the opening story, want to prove their worth. Their action orientation causes them to move too quickly without understanding who is being impacted. Their tactics and strategy then miss the mark and are unsuccessful.
  2. Don’t tell me about the Past – They don’t like to hear about the organization’s past. Yes, sometimes people are living in or clinging to the past, and it might be the cause of some problems. Yet without an understanding of the past, there is no context, as well as lessons about the organization and maybe even what not to do.

When you face a problem, don’t shoot first and aim later. Follow this simple recipe.

Step 1 – Take time to fully understand the situation and who is being impacted. Don’t rush.

Step 2 – Design your response around the needs, wants and desires of those being impacted. Yes, you may need to try something new instead of doing what you’ve always done.

Step 3 – Monitor progress and seek feedback from those impacted. Make adjustments as needed.

Have you ever heard Abraham Maslow’s old saying?

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

Don’t let that be you.

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding Proverbs 3:13

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