I’ll never forget the day I heard Steve Kerr speak almost 20 years ago – he changed the way I look at leadership. Steve was the former head of G.E.’s legendary Crontonville leadership development complex. On the day I heard him speak, he had a single slide with the following equation…
He said, “The day Jack Welch understood this equation is the day he became a great leader.” I was hooked. What did it mean? Here’s a quick summary of his presentation.
Q = The Quality of an idea. Steve pointed out that early in Jack’s career, he was always looking for the better idea. He was an engineer by training – that’s what engineers do. And, when he or a member of his team found a better idea, he assumed everyone would willingly embrace it. Why not? It was a better idea. However, as a leader, he was constantly frustrated by the lack of buy-in and execution of these new and better ideas. That’s where the A comes in.
A = The Acceptance of an idea. Regardless of how brilliant an idea is, if people don’t accept it, it is of little real value. Acceptance can be driven by many factors: the clarity of the communication, the rationale for the change, the complexity of the idea, the rewards and punishments for embracing or ignoring the idea, the organizational alignment or lack thereof, and on and on. Getting acceptance for new ideas is rarely easy but it is always critical - Because without A, you have no E.
E = The Effectiveness of the original idea. This is where it gets personal for me. Early in his career, Kerr reported that Jack Welch thought he was paid to find and create big ideas – Q. That’s what I used to think too! The reality is that Jack wasn’t paid for Q and few leaders are. We’re paid for E - the EFFECTIVNESS of those ideas. So, consider the following math to see how this works in real life.
If you have an idea that is a 10 on 10-point scale, with 0 on Acceptance, it looks like this:
10 x 0 = 0
However, if you can modify your idea to get more A, it would play out like this:
7 x 10 = 70
Okay, it’s not 100 – but 70 is a lot better than 0!
Now that I understand this, I see it almost every day. One quick example...
Several years ago, we designed a new program for emerging leaders. It was awesome – clearly a 10 on the Q scale.. When we field-tested the idea, the response was, “No one will use it.” (That equals a 0 on Acceptance). I was shocked. The feedback - the program was too long. Our response - we reduced the length of the modules significantly. The result - the Q clearly went down – maybe to a 6 or a 7; but the Acceptance skyrocketed. The last time we checked, we had over 60 percent usage of this resource.
The bottom line, as leaders, we must be on the search for ideas that are high on Quality; but we’ve also got to cultivate the Acceptance of those ideas. Because at the end of the day, we’re not paid for Q or A, we’re paid for Effectiveness!