As humans, our power of rationalization is nothing sort of masterful. Whenever we avoid something we don’t want to do, we convince ourselves subconsciously that it didn’t really need to be done in the first place!
And when we look at the results we achieve at work, it’s incredibly easy to believe our own bullsh!t. But how much of this was due to our skill and performance, and how much was due to factors outside our control.
My turnaround of CS Energy was a 5-year success story. But I’d be the first to admit that we had a tailwind in the market, which made everything that the team and I did seem even better!
There are several psychological factors at play that make us believe our own bullsh!t, and like most leadership disciplines, overcoming this one requires self-awareness, a willingness to accept that we may not be everything our ego is telling us… and a good measure of courage.
I have one very powerful tip for staying grounded, and not believing your own bullsh!t: Always look at the outcomes.
Everything you do as a leader has to tie back to value creation. It’s your number one imperative and the reason you’re employed. And as you may have heard me say,”The value hasn’t been captured until you hear the sound of the coin dropping in the tin“, metaphorically speaking.
There are two key questions that help you with this. The first is that, for anything you think you might want to claim as a victory, simply ask yourself, “What’s actually different?”
When you’ve made a decision to invest your company’s resources, what was the outcome of that activity? And, just to give you a hint, the outcome isn’t simply the fact that the activity has been carried out. It’s the value that’s created as a result of that activity.
The second question, which you need to constantly ask of your people is, “What’s your evidence for that?”
When someone claims to have done something wonderful or made a significant difference to the company, just ask them to elaborate. Don’t take it on face value. Enforce the discipline of making your people support any claims of success with data and facts. You can even help them by holding them to account for capturing the value that has notionally been created.
For example, “You’re telling me that you’ve saved $4.3 million in ongoing operational expenditure. Well done, that’s superb! So, to make sure we capture this, I’m going to reduce next year’s opex budget by $4.3 million. It’s the best way to recognize your good work”.
The value has to be physically captured. If it’s not, it’ll just be absorbed somewhere else, and you’ll just believe your own bullsh!t. So, put the measures in place.
As W. Edwards Deming said, “In God we trust. All others must bring data”.