Shooting from the Hip – Are You Off Script?



My best soap opera these days is watching and reading about the highly entertaining happenings in American politics. Each day we see different twists, turns and intrigues. One that particularly struck a chord was the sacking of Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State who was sacked a few weeks ago by a tweet. He has been called one of the worst Secretaries of State of US history, while some have said his time in the role was an unmitigated disaster.

Tillerson was the former ExxonMobil CEO, whose nomination was greeted and hailed by policy hands – but failed woefully. He ended up not wielding any significant influence in internal administration nor over American foreign policy with Syria, North Korea, Russia, etc.

Tillerson was brought in to address America’s foreign policy issues. He however focused his attention on slashing inefficiencies in the State Department, did not work closely with long time staff in the department and had a fraught relationship with President Trump who appointed him to this role. They had very divergent views on how the State Department and foreign policy should be run. The conclusion was that Tillerson failed at the things he was supposed to be good at.

As CEO of a global organisation like ExxonMobil, you would expect that he should know exactly what his terms of reference for the work should have been and what specifically was expected of him to be termed successful by his stakeholders and his boss. By the time he was sacked most people concluded, he was not savvy, versatile and adaptable. He could not drop the toga of the private sector to adopt the skills and intricacies of the public sector. He also lacked the ability to manage his boss and staff.

Sadly, he tarnished an otherwise stellar career by taking a job, where he displayed a poor understanding of the script and mandate he was given to execute. His execution was very poor by all standards. The question is, why did he fail despite being a smart guy? In his case and many others, it was clear that because you are smart does not mean you are not going to make mistakes which can hamper your career and hold you back.

Taking a cue from Tillerson’s grave mistakes, Gordon Tredgold, Founder of Leadership Principles says, you need to understand that no matter how smart you are in order to succeed, you must aim to do the following:

Planning and preparation are key
Planning and preparation are important ingredients in achieving success, but the most important thing of all is action. You cannot think your way to success no matter how smart you are. At some point, you need to roll your sleeves up and make it happen.

Don’t wait to be promoted before doing the next level job
If you want to be a leader, then you need to start leading. Leadership isn’t a title or a position; it’s about action, influence and the ability to drive results. Throughout my career, I have seen hundreds of smart people wait to be offered a leadership position before they start to lead. But that’s like waiting to be picked for a football team before you learn to be good at football. More often than not it’s not going to happen. Lead first, and then the position will come.

Communicate clearly
When you communicate, it’s the responsibility of the person sending the message to make sure that it’s received and understood. You need to explain things clearly and simply. When people can understand, then they can implement. Too often it’s left to the party receiving the message to figure out what was being said, and what needs to be done. Just because you’re smart enough to know what you’ve said doesn’t mean that the person receiving the message fully understood it. And when smart people get this one wrong, it can result in failure for both.

“It would be quicker if I just did it myself” is a phrase you often hear from those who either struggle to delegate or who don’t like to delegate. But when you refuse to delegate work you limit your team’s achievements to what you can achieve yourself. When you delegate, it allows you to increase your results and impact significantly.
If you cannot delegate then you become indispensable at your current level, which might sound like a good thing, but it could actually stop you from being promoted.

Listen to or ask for feedback
To improve performance, you need to get feedback. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. It allows you to know what went well and what needs to be worked on. Without feedback, you can develop bad habits that reduce both your effectiveness and efficiency. Don’t be the person who, just because they’re smart, thinks they know it all. We can all do better, and to improve you need to both ask for and listen to feedback.

Don’t wait till you are 100% ready before taking a shot
Perfect is the enemy of good enough, and if you wait until everything is perfect, then you will never achieve anything. Yes, you can always do a little bit more preparation, but one of the keys to success is starting.
Great opportunities don’t come along every day, and if you wait until you feel you are ready, you can miss them.

Don’t underestimate the value of the not so smart
Just because someone lacks a particular educational qualification doesn’t mean that their ideas or input should be ignored when offered. In many cases, experience is a much more valuable commodity than intelligence. It’s great to learn from your mistakes, but it’s much smarter to learn from those of others, so you can save time and money by avoiding making them yourselves.

Tillerson failed but, we will not fail. We will read the script of whatever role we are given and understand what is being evaluated and what our boss and stakeholders view as valuable. Not understanding the script can be deadly, as we have seen in Tillerson’s case.