Have you been brainwashed into mediocrity?

Posted May 5, 2010 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

Upfront, I have to declare that I don’t own a “I HEART Seth Godin” t-shirt, but if someone knows where I can buy one, let me know.  I’m currently reading Seth’s latest book Linchpin which poses the question “Are you indispensable?”  Two chapters in and the light bulbs are going off for me.  Here’s why…

From page 39 of Linchpin:

Mediocre Obedience

We’ve been taught to be a replaceable cog in a giant machine.

We’ve been taught to consume as a shortcut to happiness.

We’ve been taught not to care about our job or our customers.

And we’ve been taught to fit in.

Godin goes on to describe the “factorification” (? my word, not his) of people.  Factory people are those that do all the right things with a focus on efficiency and bottom-line results.  Factory people toe the company line.  Follow  instructions.  Bark about policies and procedures. 

Godin’s provocation is that, ironically, this behaviour, in the shifting realities of today’s workplace, doesn’t keep you safe.  In fact, this behaviour puts you at extreme career risk. Organizations need people are indispensible linchpins who bring fresh ideas and problem solving skills and  leadership.

From the grassroots level, I think Godin has really hit the nail on the head here (but I bet many people aren’t going to want to hear it… we’re trained to be “good” employees).  Last year, in the land of downsizing, I saw and met with a number of people who had been let go.  Many caught the ax after years and years of service.  In many cases, these were model employees.  They did solid, respectable jobs.  They embraced the company line really well.  Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to ever push the envelope; add value; push the boundaries of their jobs in a way that added to their organization’s bottomline. 

Which leads me to my next point.  Running a leadership development organization is not exactly the way to become a billionnaire overnight and during recessions, the first thing people cut is the development budget.  But, when people asked me how our fledging business was doing, my response was “Great.  You’ll always spend money on your high potentials” (which is precisely who our programs are for).

I knew this from my own experience as a business leader.  Not every employee keeps you up at night, but those that you feel are indispensable to your mission, do… and throwing some development money at them is a no-brainer.

But, here’s where things get interesting… individuals who got enrolled by their companies in our Leadership Accelerator program or in our Roundtable for Leaders programs share something in common: the majority score very low on a key leadership dimension… authority. 

Authority (as defined by our tool) looks at how much you defer to superiors.  Basically, do you do what you’re told because someone holds a higher title than you.  90% of our members (the people that their organization deem as crucial to their success) score between 5% and 40% on the authority scale out of a possible 99%.

So, is Godin on to something?  Oh, I think so.  Job security today won’t come from being a “good little employee”.  Job security today comes from adding value and making a difference.  So, what envelope are you going to push today?

Happy leading!

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