This is a video excerpt from The Freethinking Leader Coalition, unpacking the fourth lie in Marcus and Ashley’s upcoming book, Nine Lies about Work. To view the full video, read book excerpts, and engage with the authors, join here by pre-ordering the book. To learn more about The Freethinking Leader Coalition, click here.
We asked parents around the world this question: “If your child comes home with her report card and she has an A in English (or your native language), an A in Social Studies, a C in Biology, and an F in Algebra – which grade deserves the most attention from you?”
In every single study, in every single country, at least 70% of the respondents say the F in Algebra deserves the most attention. Because we believe that the best children are well-rounded children.
And this theory follows us around our entire lives. Think of your last performance review – I’ll bet you that your manager spent the first five minutes on the things that you’re doing well, and devoted the next fifty-five minutes to your “areas of opportunity” – the things you could improve on. Because we believe that the best employees are well-rounded.
We all seem to think that excellence – in anything – can be defined in advance, and independently of the person being excellent. We use competency models to define excellence in a job by various states and traits that you need to possess: things like business acumen or strategic thinking or goal orientation – and then we measure you against this pre-defined list of competencies that we’ve decided are necessary to achieve excellence in your role.
Of course, this is a ridiculous way to look at excellence – by defining it in advance, measuring you against the definition, and then sending you to be trained in whatever states or traits you supposedly lack. Because excellence isn’t well-rounded.
Look at excellence in the real world. Consider two CEOs; similar job, similar age, same race: Warren Buffett and Richard Branson. Both massively successful. If we defined excellence in that occupation by Warren Buffett’s standards, we’d have to tell Richard Branson to move to Nebraska and start downing cherry colas. It’s just silly.
Excellence isn’t well-rounded – and the best people aren’t well-rounded, either. If, as someone once said, the British fox hunt is the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible, then the competency model is the unmeasurable in pursuit of the irrelevant. We need a new way to think about excellence.
To learn the truth, join the Freethinking Leader Coalition.