Making Knowledge Work

May 25, 2014

Ingredients for success – or at least the avoidance of disaster…..

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — virginiahenry @ 3:45 pm

You’re cooking a meal you’ve never made before. What do you do?

  • Read carefully through the recipe?
  • Think about similar culinary techniques you’ve used in the past?
  • Get some advice from an old hand in the kitchen?
  • Plan extra time in the preparation and cooking, just in case it’s more difficult than it looks?
  • Have a standby set of ingredients that you know you can turn into a meal if everything goes awry?

Or do you just throw yourself into the process, reading the recipe one line at a time, and ad-libbing when you hit snags? Confident that your determination will “make it happen”.

You might get lucky, and rescue something edible out of the chaos you’ve created, but it’s unlikely to be what you set out to make. Or you may find yourself transforming the best of ingredients into the worst kind of mess.

I’ve seen this approach applied in the organisational “kitchen”.   With projects and teams suffering because the person in charge believes they alone must make the decisions. Listening, and taking notice of advice, would be a sign of weakness. Consulting with colleagues might appear indecisive. Leaders don’t do that kind of thing. They lead.

To these individuals leadership is synonymous with being in control, brooking no argument…… even micro-managing. Just to be sure their imperfect interpretation of the recipe for success is carried out to the last inadequate letter.

And I’ve seen, when the half-baked results fail to please, the same misguided confidence applied to the cause of disaster – the team were at fault or inadequate, the ingredients (software, tools or processes) were wrong. When faced with the shame of failure, we’re all inclined to take refuge in blame. But if we allow ourselves to believe that leadership equates to infallibility, we’re bound not to reflect on the consequences of our decisions or learn from things that go wrong.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some excellent leaders too. So good that the team didn’t notice it was being led – each felt they were achieving success together. When things went right (which was more often than not) the leader made sure the team members were the focus of praise and appreciation. But when things went wrong the leader took for themselves all the blame and criticism.

Attempting a new recipe, learning new techniques, seeking advice – none of these things are particularly easy. But they can be really enjoyable, and a lot less nerve-wracking than cooking up disaster out of what could have been success 🙂

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