A Bowl Full of Peas

Fresh green peas in bowl isolated on white

There are days on this leadership journey when it feels like life would sure be easier if your team thought more like you . . . if everyone had the same perspective, like peas in a pod. And you probably would be more comfortable in such an environment, you just wouldn’t accomplish near as much. For maximum impact, what you really need to do is shell a variety of different peas and mix them throughout your organizational bowl.

Researchers Heidi Halvorson and Tory Higgins point out two of the “peas” you need in your bowl — Promoters and Preventers. Promoters are motivated to make good things happen, to maximize gain. Preventers’ focus is to keep bad things from happening and to minimize loss.

I’m guessing as you read this, the promoters are instantly visualizing the preventers on the team and thinking of examples of how they have created a drag on some exciting new initiative. As a promoter, I get that. But here’s the deal . . . you need both the gas pedal and the brakes to safely traverse the winding roads that we all face in business today. If not for the preventers on the team, the promoters would likely go hurtling off some cliff because they were “traveling too fast for conditions.” Too many promoter “peas in a pod” can be dangerous for your organization. (Of course, too many preventers would never pull onto the road in the first place . . . you get the picture.)

John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen  highlight two additional “peas” you need in your organizational bowl — Performers and Producers. Performers tend to be the organizational darlings, the ones who make their supervisors look good. They follow the established rules and exceed expectations. Yep, definitely want a healthy portion of performers in your bowl. Producers, on the other hand are innovative people who come up with new ideas, and approach things in unique ways, and when given the opportunity can achieve great success (self-made billionaires fall into this category).

Much like preventers tend to get labeled as “sticks in the mud”, producers are frequently seen as difficult to manage, rebels who think that the rules don’t apply to them. And yet, these are often the people who have the breakthrough ideas that create new opportunities for your organization. Many of today’s most successful organizations pair producers and performers to maximize their gain.

Promoters and Preventers. Performers and Producers. No doubt a “flavorful” combination, but the best leaders don’t step up to the plate because they are looking for easy and bland. Want maximum impact for your organization and those you serve? Then what you need is a bowl full of peas.

The State of Your Cup

Water Glasses

I’ve seen a variety statistics that indicate somewhere between 40% and 85% (depending whose numbers you believe) of the things we worry about never actually happen. Studies have shown there are ‘promoters’ who try to make good things happen, and ‘preventers’ who try to keep bad things from happening (http://www.heidigranthalvorson.com/books/focus). There are glasses that are half full, half empty and — in a nod to my oldest son the engineer — ones that are twice the size they need to be.

So what does that mean for leaders? From my perspective, it means that context is everything. In actuality, the glass that is half full and the glass that is half empty have exactly the same amount of water in them . . . it’s all about what direction you think the water is going — up or down — and whether you believe you can impact the state of your cup. Because if you believe you can impact the state of your cup, you will take proactive steps to do just that. If you see your cup as half empty, and fixate on all the ways your water supply can be further depleted, you can become paralyzed with worry and ultimately create a glass-draining, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let me give you a real life example of what I am talking about. Recently, we asked our staff to complete a SWOT analysis. We ask for this feedback on a regular basis, and report back to all staff their cumulative top five responses in each quadrant. This year, under the Opportunities quadrant (the “O” in SWOT) one of our staff’s top five responses was “changes in government.” I was thrilled! Why? Our state government is in total chaos. (No, that’s not why I was thrilled.) The fact that our staff could see this as an opportunity means they understand that they can impact the state of our cup! Yes, they also listed “changes in government” as a threat, but think about how their approach will be different if they can see the current volatile environment as an opportunity . . . something they can positively influence . . . a chance for them to help fill our cup. With that perspective, our staff will look for creative ways they can position the agency for impact. They will be seeking new solutions, while their glass-is-half-empty colleagues will be hunkering down for the next blow. Our staff and their colleagues in other agencies are facing the exact same external circumstances, but unlike some organizations, our staff believes they can impact the state of our cup . . . and so they will.

What is the context of your leadership? Do those who look to you for guidance see your organization’s cup filling up or inching lower? Are you fostering a can-do attitude or encouraging a defensive shield? The current water level isn’t the critical issue. The critical issue is the direction it’s headed.

What is the state of your cup?