The execution challenge – are you a leader or a 3 year old ?


Everyone likes their leaders to take fast decisions and then stick by the decision in the face of diversity . They like leaders to be proactive and everyone else to be reactionary. Guess what – that is also how three year olds generally work ! But you don’t want your leaders to behave like a three year old , do you ?

Sadly, this is rather common and many of us would have had a boss who acted this way . I certainly had – more than once !

There are a few things that can (and should ) differentiate a leader from a three year old .

1. Ability to change course when needed

Despite best of intentions, some times we have to take decisions that are awful . But unlike a three year old who would just throw a tantrum when challenged – a leader should listen patiently , weigh options and change course if needed .

The hallmark of good parents – according to my late grandmother – is that they let the young kids win some battles while they always win the war . I think that applies to managers too 🙂

2. Communicate clearly instead of yelling and screaming

I don’t honestly mind leaders swearing occasionally . But I do not think yelling and screaming are hallmarks of a good leader ( or follower) . Neither is public shaming of their followers for a failed strategy .

3. Identify and fix the flawed strategy behind the failed execution

There is no such thing as a great strategy that just failed in execution . Leaders cannot absolve themselves of execution failures . If you didn’t hire the right people or if you misjudged the macro economy – that is on you and your strategy . Accept it , fix it and move on – don’t just blame execution sitting in an ivory tower . Better yet , let your best execution people provide direct input to strategy before you hold them accountable to results .

A lady who was my team leader several years ago used to say “pick your team with the same due diligence as you would when you pick a nanny for your child”. It took me a long time to appreciate what she meant .

4. Accept responsibility (and share credit )

As a leader , you have to delegate authority every time you delegate responsibility . If you say “go for it” and hang back without providing resources to get stuff done – you are in three year old territory .

When my daughter got into trouble when she was a three year old, she would use “it’s daddy’s fault” as her way out . I always thought it was cute and even enjoyed it while it lasted – but that works with kids because they grow up and you have time to fix it . She stopped saying that pretty quickly . The trouble with adults who blame others is that they don’t always “grow up” – it takes a lot more time and effort and often needs intervention from an authority figure .

All that being said , very few people are honest evaluators of themselves . I know that I am not always critical of my flaws, How much ever hard I try . And so, employees who wait for managers to “grow up” seldom see any fruitful results .

Depending on your job situation, there might not be a lot you can do if your manager chooses to be a three year old instead of a leader . This is is why many choose to ignore such managers and try to do their job with blinders on . But – there are many who successfully help change their managers and help them be better leaders . I will share some stories on those brave hearts in another post.

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One thought on “The execution challenge – are you a leader or a 3 year old ?

  1. Reblogged this on Thoughts, Theories, Facts, and Notions and commented:
    Vijay, Great blog. Few key thoughts. Some leaders got to their position based on single really good decision or achievement (sold big deal X) and now have no idea how to repeat. The largest group of leaders, have achieved their level by working under a single business / technology condition (dot.com, global SAP in major corporations, portals, etc.). I find this may be 60 – 75% of managers and execs. These leaders are not weighing all the facts. Instead they are pursuing it through a VERY narrow lens, get frustrated when they can’t fit their expectations to reality, and rather than adjust and lead, they lash out as 3 year olds. If you read Nate Silver. He talks about different information styles – Hedgehogs and Foxes. Most leaders, unfortunately, are hedgehogs. They go big and fail. They hang on any news they are right. Foxes instead fight like heck for an idea, but when presented with new, good information adjust. We tend to idolize the hedgehogs and call foxes “flip floppers”, but you really do want to work for leader who is a fox or lucky hedgehog who happens to be in the perfect time slot.

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