When to Rock the Boat...

APRIL 8, 2011

A few days ago I saw the following quote run through the Twitter stream:

"When you rock the boat you have no time to row and when you are rowing there isn't time to rock the boat."
When I first read that my reaction was, "So true!"

But then I thought more about it.

What if my job is to rock the boat?

Granted, it's important to define what that means. Certainly if you run an accounting firm, you don't need a lot of people rocking the boat. Your roles and the expectations of your customers are pretty well defined and clearly understood. But, what if I am in sales, or marketing, or engineering, or operations, or any of a hundred other roles that are expected to create new value for the company?

Do I want those people to fly a slot, fill a role, tow the line, or sit idly in the boat rowing the same way everyday? Or do I want them to constantly seek new ways to create value, serve customers, change the marketplace, and impact customers?

I think this is often a problem of perspective. If the boat is going in the wrong direction you would do everything in your power to steer it properly. You would rock it, row it, shift cargo, or throw something overboard if that's what it took. When the people in YOUR boat are concerned about the direction they will do the same. The issue is whether you want them to really challenge where you are going or just get on board.

I think the issue with wanting folks to "not rock the boat" is saying that you want people to follow your vision, and if they won't it's their fault.

It's never their fault.

It's your fault.

If the people won't follow the leader it is ALWAYS the leaders fault. It's a lack of credibility. Or vision. Or clarity.

That doesn't mean you can't change the team when necessary. Values alignment and work competency being the principle reasons to do so. But, if you have people that are values aligned and competent in their work, you need to help them follow the vision.

That's what I dislike about the quote that I read. It really shifts the failure to follow to the follower. And that's not leadership, that's dictatorship.

What other commonly touted business platitudes do you accept without considering if they are true?

What are you guilty of assuming about the followers in your organization?

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