Beware The Leader With Stone Tablets

Beware the leader with stone tablets.

When I assumed the role of university advancement leader/administrator, one of my directors was absolutely agitated by my approach to things. Within a few weeks of my arrival, we met to discuss her office’s operations, its successes and ‘failures,’ the type of experiences alumni had with the university as students and as alumni with the office, the culture of the university, the reputation the university had with community members and many other things.  The conversation frustrated her immensely.

“Just tell me what to do,” she said. “You know what you want so tell me what to do.”

I replied, “I have an idea of what the vision will be, but I cannot and will not develop a vision for the office and the university without understanding what has happened before me. I realize the world did not begin the day that I showed up.  I need to learn, listen, inquire and explore.  We will build the best operation we can based on insights about the people involved—university members, alumni, students, etc.—and history.  I do not have stone tablets for you with the ten things to do.  We will succeed by listening and learning first.  There are no stone tablets.”

“But that is what I want,” she said.

Beware the leaders with stone tablets and those who want them.

Too often, leaders, managers, consultants and experts display their own version of stone tablets. While they may be using white papers, PowerPoint presentations, memoranda, operating plans, strategic plans, policy manuals and such, they are basically saying “Here are my commandments.  Do this.”  That doesn’t work.  They use words, pie charts, bar graphs and more as the etchings in stone.  Cutting data nine ways to Sunday will not yield more members for your organization; making contact will.  Making gift pyramids, PERT charts and moves management strategies do not acquire donors; making contact will.  Yet there are those who lead, guide, counsel and manage by data and documents on stone tablets.  Rubbish.

All those types of documents have a place, but that place is not in stone. I prefer to see those as illustrations in a picture book (the story of your business or organization and how it will accomplish its vision), or as routes on a map app (revealing multiple routes to reach your destination…choose the one that works best for you).

Stone tablet information tends to not be read very often, nor is it absorbed. I have sat in administration meetings where I believe no one could recite the four components of their brand and promise.  They thought the process to discern that was to create a cool advertising slogan.  Those components were as alive as the stones into which they etched the words.

Maybe that is why I facilitate meetings on a white board. Changes can be made, items deleted, information color coded and clarified, all in full disclosure and discourse.  I’ll save the stone tablets as steps in my garden…that is the only way they can be involved with growth of some kind.

This entry was posted in Boards, Leadership, Management, Team Development. Bookmark the permalink.