“Are we making progress, or just making noise?”
Mark Twain has said a lot of funny and interesting things, but do you know what he said about chickens and eggs? Or how his comment applies to good leadership? Stick around and I’ll tell you in this edition of “Lines for Leaders.”
The Person, the Quote
Mark Twain was at different times a type setter, river boat pilot, miner, journalist, writer, lecturer and humorist. Perhaps best known for his novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he has also left us with a broad number of witty quotes which still resonate more than a century after his passing.
One I came across last week has stuck with me to the point that I wanted to share it with you. It goes:
Of course, if it had truly been an asteroid, there probably wouldn’t be much chicken left to cackle about it.
Even 100 years ago, Twain recognized that we were living in an “attention economy” – there’s a lot of cackling going on all around us; it seems everyone wants us to look their way.
In the battle for attention, at times the ability to make noise seems to become more important than whatever it is we are making noise about. But this is a self-defeating cycle. Every time I hear that I can “10x my growth” or use these “5 Killer Hacks to Transform My Life” the less interested I become.
All too often the louder the cackling, the smaller the egg.
Like the sensational subject lines on all that spam in my Gmail account, I’ve learned to ignore it. So sadly, when something really will help me transform my life with just a paper clip and half a roll of duct tape, I’m probably going to miss it.
But what’s our role as leaders in this noisy chicken coop of ours? To get past the cackling and focus on the egg. To do that, here are three things we want to keep in mind as we head to the hen house.
Praise the asteroids. First off, it might be an asteroid – at least to the chicken. If one of our teammates has produced their very first egg, that’s a big deal worthy of attention. If that’s the case, we should celebrate the accomplishment with some positive reinforcement.
Be sure to say thank you, add a little public praise if you think they’d like it. Smile. We don’t have to dance a jig, but a little recognition, especially for new accomplishments, can go a long way.
Don’t make them beg. If it’s hard to get our attention, one of two things will happen. Either people will stop trying, or like a child making life hard at the grocery store, they will make more and more noise until we finally look their way.
But if the only way we notice someone’s accomplishment is when they tell us about it, then soon the only people we’ll have around us will be the self-promoters, and they are just going to keep up that racket.
What’s better is for us to be personally present to see what they have done, share in their accomplishment, and give them the recognition for a job well-done when they earn it. To do that we have to get out of the office, down on the front lines, and focus on the actions of our teammates – all of them. And that brings me to the third thought:
Seek the silent. In a group setting, it’s been shown that the people who speak loudest and speak the most tend to carry more weight. But that doesn’t mean they have all the best ideas. As Susan Cain relates in her book Quiet, the people who grab the spotlight don’t necessarily have all the best answers, and often they are no more qualified to be cackling than anybody else.
What we need to do is seek out the silent. It’s like the quiet kid in the back of the class room: either they haven’t done their homework and are trying to hide, or they know more than we think and just need a little air time to share their thoughts.
Whichever it is, we should know what’s going on. So seek out the silent and make a point to ask them what they’re thinking.
Making Noise – The Takeaway
In a world clamoring for us to look, the loudest and brashest cacklers tend to get the attention. But the reason for all the cackling doesn’t always measure up to the thing they are cackling about.
Noise proves nothing. Go to the hen-house. Talk with the chickens – all of them. And look at the eggs.
You probably won’t find any asteroids.
But one could be golden…