There is an old story of a man who was walking towards a certain town in a day when men walked from town to town. As he was walking, he took notice of targets painted on trees and fence posts. Each target had a bullet hole exactly in the middle – a bull’s eye on every one. He was amazed with the marksmanship and determined to find and meet this marksman as soon as he reached the town. When he found him, the first question he asked the man was how he had become such an amazingly accurate shot. To his surprise, the man smiled and told him that he wasn’t a marksman at all. He just shot first and then painted the target around whenever his shop landed.
That is what takes place in most cases, either at individual or corporate level. We shoot first and make it look like we planned where it hit. In my view things should not happen this way. We should paint the target around the arrow so that when the arrow is released, it moves with the target around it. The idea is that you should pick the most talented person you can – the arrow- and then craft the job – the target – around what he or she does best. If you allow really talented people to do what they do best then the results are astonishing. They are fulfilled and therefore much more productive than if they were doing something that didn’t fit their talents or interests. The key is putting together a team with the complement of skills.
Benjamin Zander said “The best thing a leader can do is to allow each player to discover their own greatness”. In other words each person is like a star in the galaxy and has his or her own radiance, but the traditions and conventions of man have told them that they have no light. The cultures of oppression have snuffed out the talents of many dynamic employees in many organizations. Some leaders never create necessary environment so that those they lead can exhibit their talents. In fact many talented employees know that when they display their talents they naturally stir up all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity. They know that their bosses who have attained high standing positions in their leadership positions are like kings and queens. They want to feel secure in their positions and superior to those around them in intelligence, wit and charm.
Knowing the dangers of outshining their bosses, most employees who have great talents have crafted survival tactics of flattering and puffing up their bosses. For example if an idea of an employee is more creative than that of his boss , he ascribes it to him in as a public manner as possible so that it is clear that his advice is merely an echo of the boss’s advice. To me this is behaving like the marksman who painted the target around where the shot landed. In other words we are not realistic about our skills and talents. All we do is hoarding our talents to please our leaders and leaders give opportunities to people who do not contribute much to productivity. Paul O’Neill once said “If your calendar is filled up with people who want to see you instead of people you want to see, you haven’t got a chance of success.”
From O’Neill’s statement, I now realize that employees need to develop their own action agenda and targets and stop letting others set it for them if they want to be the very best at what they do. Covey makes this point so well in his discussion of the first habit of effective people. He calls it “Proactivity”. It (Proactivity) means more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions. Not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and responsibility to make things happen.”
The discussion on “Proactivity” by Covey reminds me of events following the development of “balloon angioplasty’- a technique that involves inserting a balloon into an artery and expanding it so that it opens up the blood artery. Before the breakthrough invention, most cardiologists felt that the only way to deal with clogged arteries was to do bypass surgery to remove the damaged vessels. It took great initiative and talent from some proactive cardiologists to make this happen. For example, John Simpson, one of the inventors of balloon angioplasty, wound up having to leave the University where he was teaching to do his research at a private hospital because his fellow cardiologists were tremendously skeptical and resistant to his idea. However, over time, the efficacy of balloon angioplasty was firmly established and became the standard of care for most patients with clogged arteries. This is a great example where the target – balloon angioplasty was painted around the arrow – John Simpson.
Baltasar Gracian said “Avoid outshining the master. All superiority of a subject over his prince is not only stupid, it is fatal. This is a lesson that the stars in the sky teach us- they may be related to the sun, and just as brilliant, but they never appear in her company’’. What Baltasar is simply advancing is that there can only be one sun (boss/leader) at a time. Never obscure the sunlight or rival the sun’s brilliance, but rather you should fade into the sky and find ways to heighten your boss’s star intensity. I do not however absolutely agree with what Baltasar is saying. I stick to my earlier suggestion that every person is like a star in the galaxy and should be left alone to radiate his or her own light.
Therefore, leaders should encourage the people they lead to discover who they are, what their value is, what they can do, what they can achieve and what they can become. Furthermore the ultimate a leader can do to his or her fellow humans is to help them become the best they can become and to have a life where they can do more with their talents for their personal fulfillment and achievements of organizations’ visions. This can only happen by painting the target around the arrow.