35@35 #21: Mistakes

ist2_6028516-pencil-eraserTC's Guidelines and Principles of life #21: "If we’re not careful, we can become very good at doing the wrong things." I actually got this one from a TED talk at TEDxBaltimore in 2014.

The now former director of the Baltimore department of social services talked about how she came into the department with an eye towards improving all their metrics: adoption rate, response time to complaints, etc.

She led the department to huge improvements in all these areas. And the crowd clapped their approval to her.

But after these improvements, she said she started to ask herself a question: were they doing what was best for these kids and their families?

Wasn't it better to find ways to prevent families from getting to the place where kids are being removed from homes and given to other families?

Instead of being great at getting kids out and breaking families up, shouldn't they find ways to keep kids in and help families get healthy?

Nobody applauded as they realized she was completely right.

This story was a haunting tale for me. If you give me metrics and goals, I will work, innovate and lead toward those metrics and goals.

But what if I get there and discover they were the wrong goals all along?

So I spend a lot of time these days looking for multiple perspectives in any area where I am looking to make progress.

Simon Sinek's Start with Why TED talk has been helpful to me in this.

If I start with what I'm going to do, I can fill a sheet up before I even start thinking about whether those things will truly get me or my group to the place we want/need to be.

For me, this leadership application starts with the basic leadership we all engage in: leading ourselves.

Instead of asking 'what I should be doing in life' so that we can determine 'how we will do it', we've got to ask 'why will my life matter?'

If we applied this to a practical action, I would compare it to a painter.

Before deciding what tools, canvas and colors to use, the painter must know what he or she is painting.

Before deciding what s/he is painting, they must ascertain the purpose of the painting.

Is it going to hang in a museum or a corporate office? Is it supposed to inspire or intimidate?

Only once these essential facts are known can the artist pick up a tool and start to "get to work" without fear that they will finish the work and be horrified to learn that it was the wrong painting all along.



35@35 is a blog series by Thomas Christianson which involves 35 blog posts in 2014 on 35 things he has learned at the age of 35.