This article is a personal story – it is an experience I had while working on a project where I learned a key lesson that I have been carrying with me since and use on a regular basis. More than once, this lessons helped me get out of difficult situations and avoid making a mistake.
In the late 1990’s, I was working on a mega project; the project was building (engineering and construction) of a world-class petrochemical plan in Texas, United States. The project was a joint venture among three partners (global companies) and the project management team was an integrated team with representative from the three partners. I was seconded to the team in the capacity of project control manager.
Early in the project engineering phase, the project management team brought-in a team development consultant to facilitate a team building sessions. The sessions were a mix of meetings and discussions and various outdoor activities. At the end of every day, the participating team members had to give each other feedback; each to state two points: a positive point and an improvement point.
At that time, I was not too patient and it seems that I always wanted to move fast even when some team members might not have been ready.
When it was my turn (in the team building session, where the others have to give me feedback), a colleague, Mr. Wes Agnew, gave me his feedback.
Wes said “Mounir, I have one comment that is positive and constructive at the same time … you have to be careful, you seem to be quite smart and rush to get on the bus but remember not to leave until everyone else might be on the bus.” His point was that due to my impatience I might alienate other team members who are not ready to move as fast as I like to.
This issue was not because I was smarter – I am your average guy – but it was mostly a character trait; that at the time we labeled as ‘impatient’. Years later, I was learning a leadership/motivational model that explain how people have different traits and might react and make decisions differently. Some need information and can go ahead (that was me), some would run with little information (those were aggressive action takers), but there are others who want to “be convinced” with a great deal of analysis before they can move (the word move here signify taking action = getting on the bus).
I took Wes feedback to heart and did reflect on it for a while, since initially i did not fully understand it.
I had also recalled another colleague telling me that “Mounir you are impatient with incompetence”. Which means if someone is incompetent – I do not have patience for them at all and get annoyed very quickly. I do agree that I am. Nothing frustrates me more than incompetence — which is in my definition is someone who is not competent but act as they were the masters. I ran into one of those a couple of days ago online and I finally had to block the person.
Back to the team building session – so what was the issue? Were my colleagues incompetent? Most of them were not incompetent and they were highly capable and qualified people (competent). So incompetence was not issue — then it must be ‘me’. I kept searching and what I found is that some people are risk taker – and I am one. I also learned that one characteristic that differentiates leaders from managers is that leaders might run on limited information and their instincts to make decisions whereas managers need more and more information for decision-making. This is similar to what I said earlier but from a different perspective.
At that time, because of the above situation and other factors, I started to recognize that I have more leadership attributes than managerial attributes. I have done well in my various team lead roles but I really do not like to manage. As a result, I did accept and finally understood the feedback.
Since that time, every time I am in a situation where I think we are ready to move but notice that not everyone is ready, I recall the bus feedback and I slow down to give others the chance to get on board. However, I do also recognize that some people might take forever to get on the bus so what do we do?
As an entrepreneur and business leader, I try to balance my instinct and desire to move fast with having to get the buy-in and support of my team. Therefore, the way I now work with any team is that I get to the bus quickly and I will be at the bus explaining, sharing, and encouraging the team members to get the team to join me on the journey. I will wait for others but only for a while. I tell my team something like this: “let me know if you are not ready to board and I will do my best to ease the transition and explain why we need to be on the bus. However, we can wait only for a while.” If some hesitate too much or cannot make up their mind, then we leave without them!
That simple feedback and few words from 13 years ago still resonate with me and I share it with others. It has helped me on numerous occasions not only with my team but also working with volunteers in a not-for-profit environment. I have learned that leaders have responsibilities to be servant leader and lead by consensus. We cannot lead if we leave the people who trusted us left behind or alienated.
In closure, I have to admit that this does not always work at times our patience line could be quite elastic and other time quite brittle. We continue to learn and improve as we travel this wonderful journey we call life!