Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Power has Limits

Even absolute power.  I admit that I didn't always really believe that to be true.  I used to think that I could tackle every problem that came within my vision and that I was morally obligated to do so.  This makes for a very exciting and busy life, two traits that many people pursue with great vigor.  Two traits that almost completely preclude your ability to be effective in accomplishing your goals.

Sapiency requires the ability to not only consistently work toward your goals over time but to do so in an effective (even an ever increasingly effective) manner.  'Effective' in this case simply means getting the best result for the resources expended.  Your resources include: your own effort, the goodwill you've built, money, status, reputation, vitality, time and many more.  Each of those has its limits and, importantly, sometimes reaching the limit of one will prevent you from effectively using another.

It seems the Mitt Romney campaign may understand this principle.  As you've probably heard, Rick Perry is running for President, tossing his hat into a crowded ring.  Last time around, Perry's entry would have inspired immediate action by Romney's campaign.  Well, let me rephrase that.  I'm sure they're taking action this time.  It would have inspired immediate public action, more expensive than internal preparations.  This time the Romney campaign seems to have come to grips with its limitations more accurately.  The limitation is less one of money than it is one of goodwill, or trust.  As I discussed in a previous blog post, the opportunity to advise has to be earned.


Every time you attack someone publicly you're not trying to change them (if so, please stop as it isn't working) you're trying to change the minds of those listening.  That is, you're giving them advice.  Very few people have such strong general trust that they have earned permission from their listeners to give advice on all matters.  That means each time you change the topic of your criticism not only are you tapping into a new 'trust account' you almost certainly don't know how much currency you have in that account.

Right now Romney is earning and spending trust to criticize Obama.  If he begins spending the public's trust to criticize Perry he runs a very real risk of losing the accounts he's building up to attack the current president.  If he begins attacking others at this point, having not yet really earned the trust to do so, he will quickly run into his own limits in that area.  And doing so would probably render ineffective many of his other significant resources including efforts of volunteers and the campaign's funds.

The same principle applies to you in your organization.  When creating change you are spending people's trust and goodwill toward you.  Change requires effort and everyone is lazy on some level.  Sometimes that's only because their priorities don't match yours.  However, when you are asking people to change you are criticizing their current situation and (depending on how insecure they are) their ability to bring about a better result themselves.  That's a fairly heavy hit to any trust account.  So be focused on where you spend your change efforts.  If you find yourself with spare time, somehow, spend it building up your trust accounts in areas you may want to tap in the future.  Don't spend it looking for things to change outside of your most effective focus.

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