I’m a fan of the weekly “Corner Office” column in The New York Times. Generally, there’s a good nugget of learning that’s broadly applicable. Sometimes, however, a bigger theme emerges for me. The latter is true in a recent interview with Tiger Tyagarajan, chief executive of Genpact. In several ways, Tiger hit on the differences between knowing something and making it reality. Here are three:
Knowing vs. Sharing
Tiger shared how familial expectations drove his passion to always be number one – first in his class in school, especially in maths and sciences. But then, in college, he learned an important lesson:
“I changed my view of what’s important to be successful. You have to be able to work in a team and communicate. Just knowing the answer is not good enough. That was a big transformation.
“A group of us would work on projects together and then we would go around the room and decide who’s going to present. Invariably everyone would say, ‘I’m not presenting,’ because they figured that having the answer was the most important thing. None of us realized that presenting is equally important. So I would raise my hand to present, and I enjoyed it.”
The Lesson: Knowing the answer has no value if you’re unable to share your knowledge with others so they can benefit from it as well. In the workplace, this often presents as “information hoarding” and can have significant deleterious effects on immediate team productivity as well as long-term success outcomes.
The Question: What do you know that may be valuable information, but that you’re choosing not to share? What’s holding you back?
Knowing vs. Leading
CEOs featured in the “Corner Office” column often tell stories about management experiences very early in their careers. Tiger is no different, though his maturity in his approach far exceeded his years.
“I joined Chesebrough-Pond’s as a management trainee in sales in charge of a regional territory. I had about 10 people on my team. I was about 24, had no work experience, and the oldest person in the group had 35 years of experience.
“I started by saying I didn’t know anything. There was no reason for my team to listen to me, and I didn’t even know what to tell them. So I quickly decided that I needed them to teach me. I gravitated to the most senior person in the group and had him coach me. I was also completely open and transparent with him. That helped build trust.”
The Lesson: Usually, leading others does not require knowing all the answers. It does require knowing what you don’t know, knowing who does know, and seeking those people out to educate you and, in many ways, partner with you in leading the team.
The Question: Who on your teams knows more than you do? Are you intentionally seeking them out, soliciting their knowledge, and incorporating it into your own learning and leadership approach?
Knowing vs. Doing
People know their jobs (as is all-too-often evidenced by the phrase, “That’s not in my job description.”), but do they understand what they should be doing in terms of the contributions and efforts that are more valuable for success? The answer is often, “no.” And that’s the difference between a satisfied, or even happy, employee and a truly engaged one – understanding the “big picture” goals of the organization and how personal efforts and job duties help to achieve it, then going the extra mile to deliver. Tiger understands this difference, commenting:
“I’m a big believer that you have to have incentives that drive behavior, and to align everyone around them you must make them easily understandable. Metrics that show progress, and that make it possible for everyone to know where they are going, are even more important than trying to be the fastest or the first. You’ve got to find a way to measure progress, because if you don’t, you might end up with a person spending a year thinking that they’ve done a great job, but actually they haven’t.”
The Lesson: Recognizing progress is as important as recognizing results. Indeed, failing to do so can cause the end result to be far afield from the desired goal.
The Question: Are you taking the time to help every member of your term understand how they and their efforts fit in and contribute to achieving big-picture goals?
In what other ways can “knowing” be a false measure of success?
As Globoforce’s Head of Strategic Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. His articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin, Montreal and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.