Depthless Impulse Vs. Slow Mastery

What is one of the most common behavioral patterns of young startup founders?

Depthless impulse married with an action bias.

Action bias is good. Action bias with impulse is accident prone. Action bias with depthless impulse is disastrous.

Here’s a story of a young such startup founder and his mentor:

A young startup founder went to his newfound mentor and said passionately, “I am committed to learning your thinking process. How long will it take me to master it?”

The mentor’s reply was casual, “3 years.” Impatiently, the young startup founder answered, “But I want to learn it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice every day, 12 or more hours a day. How long will it take then?”

“5 years,” replied the mentor.

“But, if I really, really work hard at it and give my best shot. Maybe 16 or 18 hours a day if I have to. How long then?” asked young startup founder.

The mentor paused for a moment and said, “Well, 10 years.”

“But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed young startup founder. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?”

Replied the mentor,” When you have one eye on mastering my thinking process, you have only one eye on the path that leads to learning my thinking process.”

Same is the case with many young startup founders. They get so much excited about the end result their idea might produce, they fail to give their 100% into walking the path that leads to the end result they had once imagined.

Depthless impulse is easy, getting into the verticle depth of the matter is not. It is painful. It is boring. It takes more time than you think it should take. But above all, it is a surefire way to achieving your best potential. And, the whole notion of the startups is to achieve one’s best potential, isn’t it?

Startups who do not want to invest in verticle depth cease to exist sooner than later.

Not because they don’t figure out the different ideas to pursue, but because they don’t pursue the ideas differently.

Don’t let you startup cease. Only action bias won’t save your startup. Practice slow mastery over depthless impulse and experience it yourself.

The disease of copying superiors

Recently, Tom Peters shared this insightful article – The 15 Diseases of Leadership, According to Pope Francis – on his FB page and titled it as Wow & Wow & Wow!

It got Tom’s attention than who am I to ignore it?

It turned out to be a really insightful read and its author Gary Hamel has articulated it so aptly.

While all the pointers have the potential to be a wake-up call for many of us, point #10 struck the chord. Here it goes:

The disease of idolizing superiors:

This is the disease of those who court their superiors in the hope of gaining their favor. They are victims of careerism and opportunism; they honor persons [rather than the larger mission of the organization]. They think only of what they can get and not of what they should give; small-minded persons, unhappy and inspired only by their own lethal selfishness. Superiors themselves can be affected by this disease, when they try to obtain the submission, loyalty and psychological dependency of their subordinates, but the end result is unhealthy complicity.

I cannot agree more with this insight. Rather than learning from the superiors, many people in today’s workplace tend to blindly follow their superiors for different reasons.

However, I have observed that many middle managers at startups or smaller companies, often court their superiors because they want to become like them. While their objective is not always to gain the superior’s favor, they are absolutely impressed by their superiors than they should be and often commit a mistake of following their actions (and not their point of views) in similar situations.

These people are not small-minded, unhappy people who are inspired only by their own lethal selfishness. Instead, these people are mesmerized with the way their superior deals with different situations and think that they will also be able to lead similar situations if they will adapt to their superior’s style.

They get inspired by the heroic actions of their superiors and tend to “copy” them.

They get psychologically dependent on their superiors and be loyal to the superior instead of being committed to the startup’s mission.

Often, such acts look innocent and give the superior a sense of personal fulfillment but it might bring negative consequences down the line.

Here is what is likely to happen when such a situation occurs

a) The superior starts feeling good about his subordinate’s act

b) The subordinate starts feeling good by keeping in the company of the superior

c) The subordinate starts simulating his superior’s actions in the majority of the tasks he undertakes – while hiring people; while delivering; while managing difficult situations with the clients; while doing their day-to-day work …

d) The superior start noticing it and often tend to conclude that by following him, his people will also produce great results

e) This might result in missed focus on being as agile as possible, moving fast, failing small and failing fast, gathering as much data as possible and building an infrastructure upon which the startup or the small business organization can stand for the years to come

Four Ideas for Superiors to Deal With Subordinates Who Copy or Idolize Them

Such situations may plague the organization. Here are some of the ideas that might help the superior dealing with such situations:

  1. Be aware: Of your own act. Of your people’s actions and identify matching patterns and see if those patterns indicate that your people are blindly following you, innocently or intentionally – and do something about it.
  2. Substance over smartness: Reward substance over smartness in each of the acts that your part of the business entertains. Even if the substance is not extremely good in style, reward it more over styled smartness which does not have equivalent substance.
  3. Communicate candidly: Talk to your subordinate and communicate what you have observed. Tell him that instead of being an inferior version of yourself, he should choose to become the BEST version of himself. Sure, he can choose to look at the situations from your point of view but he must understand and accept that merely copying your act won’t give him desired success.
  4. Lead thyself better: Now this has more to do with yourself rather than your subordinate. Empower your people such that they are inspired by the beauty of what they intend to create and not your heroic style. This is easier said than done but absolutely necessary if you want to create a mission-driven organization that gets things done!

In closing, copying superiors is indeed a disease and it must be dealt up front and as fast as possible. The key is to accept that it is a disease and then take corrective measures.

Question: Have you observed any such situation? What are your views about it?