One of the best books I’ve ever read about leadership is Leadership without Easy Answers by Ronald Haifetz. One of his major points is that leaders should be able to spot “work avoidance”. By which he doesn’t mean people skiving off, or low productivity. He means there are certain issues which are so difficult – so difficult to talk about, so horrifying in their implications, or so complicated – that society often prefers the easy way out. Society avoids the work of dealing with the issue.
According to Haifetz, common tactics of “work avoidance” (dodging the really difficult questions) include:
- externalising the enemy
- pretending the problem is technical
- attacking individuals rather than dealing with issues.
And one of the tell-tale signs is a sudden feeling of relief; a moment when everybody relaxes because something has been taken off the agenda. One for his tips for leaders is: watch for when breaks are called early, or for when people in authority close down a discussion. What was being discussed at the time?
So out of interest, when do we feel “relief” in L&D? Are there obvious moments when learners, trainers, L&D professionals, commissioners and the rest agree to bodyswerve a problem, and everybody instantly cheers up?
– at the end of an event. The organisers celebrate, and the participants exit the room like bats bursting from a cave. Both think the work is over.
– when we realise that somebody else will be thinking about evaluation.
– when we get universally 100% good feedback. Everybody liked it!
– when they don’t cut our budget. So we can stop trying to prove our value for a while.
– when we find a provider who knows what they’re doing and seems popular with the punters.
– when our favourite facilitator is available that day.
– when somebody else volunteers for the role play exercise.
– when somebody else agrees to “scribe”.
– when somebody else agrees to “present back to the wider group”.
– when it becomes obvious that they weren’t serious about doing the pre-work.
Those examples range from the important to the trivial, but Haifetz’s challenge is one for daily life as well as the grand strategic issues.
What are we ducking – and do we know why?