Leadership 202

The glass half empty analogy: and why the simplistic view can not be the focus for leaders.

Whether you’re in business, politics, or some other position where your job is to lead others in a cohesive way. A term that will come to mind more often than not when issues arise is the mantra: How do you look at a problem? As the glass half empty? Or the glass as half full?

In its simplistic form we use it as to help people in understanding there are two ways to look at an issue. i.e., Things could be worse. Or, It’s not as bad as it could be.

However, as a leader you can’t take that small of a position when viewing the glass. You must distinguish the reason or reasons for why the glass is half full. In other words: Was the glass full where now there is only half left? Or the flip side: Was the glass empty, yet now it has been filled, but only half way? And one that many leaders skip entirely: Is the glass half full or empty because half is all the water there is to be found or lost?

It doesn’t take more than a glass of water to observe the job of a leader is to have far more observation and inquisitive reasoning skills than most others. It’s points like these that bear out the reasoning and understandings that fall on many deaf ears that leadership is a skill that constantly needs to be honed.

Far too many get into a leadership position and think, “Whew…made it! Guess I do know what I’m doing. So now I can just hide out here in my new fancy digs and “lead.”

The “lead” part doesn’t come with a title. Many so-called “leaders” have found themselves with their backs against the wall all by themselves when their subordinates are not only remaining on the other side of that wall – but have locked the door to make sure there’s no way the “leader” can reach them as to give further orders.

Remember that other old sage: If it were easy – everyone would be doing it.

The viewpoint, the decision-making process, along with the decisions themselves are diametrically different as to challenges facing “a glass half empty” because it’s draining as opposed to “a glass half full” because it’s filling.

You can throw in a few other variables that a great many also miss and has in itself another complete set of issues that have to be dealt with in different ways: The glass is half empty because it’s just been left to stagnate and evaporate. Along with: The glass is half full because it’s in a place that occasionally drips or pours water into it without any intervention by the glass owner.

These are not distinctions without a difference. They are radically different issues that must be addressed sometimes employing diametrically opposing remedies.

Let’s use a hypothetical example where the exact same issues can be transpiring within an organization yet, they are for two completely opposite reasons.

While both may fit into the “glass half empty” scenario. Again, the decision-making process, the way that process is conducted, the way in which others need to view the reasoning’s of the leader, along with gaining consensus and building a cohesive action plan that people will both follow and help to achieve – is very different.

Example: A company is having severe worker orientated issues that is both effecting customer satisfaction along with customer retention. Workloads per department as well as employees have been increased by as low as 25% to well above 100% in some cases.

Although the process of hiring staff is onerous the HR department makes clear they are being bombarded with highly qualified resume inquiries. It seems everyone wants to work here. Sales are up 30% this fiscal year and backlogged sales estimate the beginning of next year sales will be even higher and profit margins are good.

However, you can’t seem to hire personnel quickly enough to handle the surge. This is also causing customer orders to be riddled with mistakes causing returns, customer dissatisfaction, and customer abandonment. Yet, you’re outgrowing your present location to handle this workload and what you really need is more space to handle all this growth.

Add to this, it would seem your competition is falling by the wayside as you gain more and more market share. Sounds like a perfect problem that fits the “Glass half full” analogy. For at least these issues are from growth – correct?

Not so. This is where careful analysis, an understanding of exactly what questions are to be asked for clarification, what are the true reasons for why X is producing Y, what is to be observed and what is to be overlooked. etc, etc, is imperative.

What many “newly minted” or “book trained only” leaders will do when faced with the above listed overload rears itself – is to seek counsel or advise based solely on the above criteria.

The problems and issues seem ready for text-book solutions and procedures to follow that will be heralded as “The thing to do in these situations” from outside sources. However, it just might be the exact opposite of what is needed and will have disastrous effects down the road.

Why you say? “For these are great problems to have!” One should be optimistic for the “glass is half full!” It could be worse: there could be no sales, no expansion, little work, no one wanting to work there, and more. “These are issues one should be happy with” you might conclude.

And, you might have a point. However, what I just described in the above scenario was not caused by growth. Its causation is borne out of the exact opposite. i.e., the final gasps within a dying industry.

You can envision this scenario happening at companies during the transition from CRT television manufactures when flat screens started to take hold. Vacuum tube manufactures when transistors were first gaining steam. Video stores as entities like Netflix™ or even Redbox™ first gained acceptance. The list goes on, and on. Along with the other variables as to “why there is any water in the glass at all?” as being a very pointed question that must be addressed and understood by a leader if they are truly serious about leading.

It’s not all that hard to get people to follow you into battle if they believe you know what you’re doing and have the fortitude to address the issues in a cohesive well understood pragmatic fashion. Even if they know you might not currently know the answer to every question. It’s in their knowing that you will seek to find those answers is what gives you their trust as too lead.

What they will not do is get behind you when they instinctively know what’s really happening is the exact opposite of what you’re saying. Unless it’s to push you out in front to be used as fodder – as they run for the hills.

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr