The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.
During one of my professional "iterations" there was a complete executive retooling within the organization and with it came a number of very capable business people... you know, the people that have Harvard, Wharton or General Electric somewhere on their resume; the type of people where in a meeting it can sometimes be analogous to "watching a tiger play with a puppy" (as an aside, I love using pithy sayings like this). This was a particularly fulfilling time for me at a professional level - I learned so much.
An adage that started to get bantered about at the time, which to this day echoes mixed emotions for me, was "Good People Find a Way". But why, I've asked myself? It obviously is a truism... isn't it? Someone who is able to get it done, make it happen or create something never seen before is by definition good - This of course is true. But if they are unable to find a way, are they then bad? Lets talk it out and let me start here...
I knew a VP of Sales and Marketing named Roger Cooper (may he rest in peace), who once said this about selling, "Intellectually you know you can't win every sale, but emotionally and in your heart you know you will win them all". This has resonated with me for years as his point was you need to believe that you will win it all and align your thinking and activity to that - There was no plan B* for him. This has to be at the core of "Good People" when defining them and ultimately making "Finding a Way" possible. This is how you move into a place where you can think "outside of the box", tear down barriers and accomplish what people said can't be done. Obviously you have to have the ability to "find a way"... be it knowledge, skills, endurance or that nebulous special quality. I should point out that depending on the situation, "finding the way" may include an iterative failing and learning process, environmental situations that need to be managed through with resources that need to be secured - All of which you may be in the midst of being worked though when someone decides to measure you with this adage. The rub for me begins to take shape.
So lets say "Good People Find a Way" is a valid truism and yes you are good when you solve for the situation...very objective. I will also suggest that being "good" is also applicable when you are emotionally engaged, skilled and working through the situation - Doing the right things... maybe a little subjective but "you know it when you see it"**. Where I struggle, is with the context and leadership of when and how the term "Good People Find a Way" is used, not what adage itself represents.
I want to back up here for a minute to clarify the context of when the adage "Good People Find a Way" is applicable. We are talking about addressing complex situations, unknowns or "unexpected surprises" and solving for them. We are not talking about administrating an established process or practice that should be considered table stakes - If a person can't find a way to manage this out you have a training issue or a miscast. The adage is out of place here.
So what do I mean when I say I struggle with the context and leadership regarding "Good People Find a Way"? Contextually there are two ways that this adage can be used - To re-enforce the "truism" or as a motivator... and it's as a motivator where I struggle.
Let me get the easy one out of the way - If a leader is using the adage as a truism to set the bar and develop expectations, it is a "good ol' rally cry" to anchor people...it then can be workable. It allows for the articulation of "Good People", the qualities (both hard and soft) and what it takes. This is a very valid way to set the bar for expectations, values and culture but it still needs to be clearly articulated.
I will concede that in theory, as a motivator, "Good People Find a Way" could be used to re-enforce that a person is good, has what it takes, and sets the stage for discussions involving what is needed to work through challenges and "find the way". My experience though, more often than not, is the adage gets introduced when the results are not as expected and it becomes a challenge for the person (or team) to pull up their proverbial socks.
I have seen it disastrously used when a leader uses the adage because he really does not want to accept the situation and that their initial expectations may be flawed; putting blinders on with regards to a bigger, possibly more difficult situation than initially thought. Worse still, uses the adage as a method of blame and deflecting ownership and responsibility. Not only does the leader miss the real situation but demoralizes the people who can solve for it.
"Good People Find a Way" is a truism and should be treated as such; it is how the impossible is made possible - If you want it to happen, get the right people and foster the right environment. As a leadership and motivational tool, as well as a performance indicator, it needs to be considered with great caution...more often than not, when used, it reflects poor leadership, deflection and blinders.
I write some of this with fond memories of an old colleague of mine, who unlike me with my mixed emotions, simply hated the adage.
* I will never say you shouldn't have a back up plan but I will also say that if you are not careful your Plan B will become your Plan A. (a future blog topic in the making)
** If it's good enough to be used by the U.S. Supreme Court it's good enough for me. (Obscenity in Jacobellis vs Ohio)