“You know, your fancy lawn is all weeds,” said my sister, holding a clump of crabgrass she’d just pulled.
“Stop pulling it,” I said, “as long as it’s green, I don’t care.”
Not having a real understanding of what weeds do to a lawn, I really didn’t care. A few weeks later, however, as I noticed yellow bare patches between the bright green crabgrass, I started to care.
I got down on my knees and started to pull out one clump after another, after another, after another. As I collected up the monstrous tendrils of each cluster, I found the grass I had paid so much to install dead underneath.
“Looks like we have a weed problem,” I said to my wife.
“Yes. I told you, but you were too busy looking at your damn birds,” she said.
Truth be told, my landscaper, who earlier this spring seeded the new lawn, told me too. “Five weeks from now,” he said after finishing the job, “put down a fertilizer with weed control in it.”
“Ok, got it,” I said, for some reason completely dismissing his statement as one might the overly cautious directives of a new parent. Despite the words coming out his mouth, the fact that my concept of what weeds could do invalidated his directive meant I would not heed it.
This dynamic showcases a personality challenge (I will not call it fault for reasons I will explain later) that must be confronted and dealt with, not dismissed as the challenge itself might dictate.
This dynamic is the same one that CIOs, and all leaders, need to be on guard against. It’s the one touched on by Legacy Health SVP/CIO John Kenagy in Chapter 4 of our interview.
“There’s a phase that I go through that I think might be subtle, and might be in my own mind, between forming an opinion and seeking disconfirming data. Boy, do I find a lot of leaders are not comfortable with that, and it’s something I need to continue to practice, but it’s easy to find people who will agree with what you want to do. I know a couple people, or I’ve worked with some folks, who will actually mentally ignore disconfirming data because it doesn’t fit with their paradigm … ”
If charged with this crime, I’d certainly plead guilty. But before we throw out the baby with the bathwater, we must appreciate that this pigheadedness, this refusal to treat with unappetizing facts, has an upside, especially if we stipulate that those unpleasant facts will eventually be confronted and bested. As a business owner, I’ve talked with others who say if they knew then what they know now, they might have never taken the entrepreneurial path. Sometimes, one can only start the journey if ignorant to some of its more frightful hazards that, if taken in their entirety, can result in a paralyzing effect.
To be sure, a maxim of sound leadership is to gather all the facts and address them dispassionately, rather than hearing only what one wants to hear. To be sure, Kenagy’s observation on the dangerous nature of only seeking confirming feedback is accurate. But some kernel of benefit surely lays in this otherwise unhealthy dynamic — namely, the power to proceed.
Many have observed that the qualities which make one successful are the same that inhibit the attainment of even greater heights — the double-edged sword in our leadership arsenal. Though injury from the less advantageous edge can be fatal (at least professionally), my penance for the latest stumble has merely been some backbreaking work, armed with thatch rake, topsoil, grass seed and starter fertilizer. With the help of some good guidance, I’ll get my prized lawn back, and once again stand triumphant upon the modest piece of ground I call my own, fully confident that, for better or worse, I’m ignoring some other piece of sage counsel to my impending discomfiture.