How not to be a change superhero
Bear with me while I seemingly self-promote, there’s a point to all this. In every job I was ever in since 1999, every time I finished I got the most genuinely heartwarming responses to my departure announcements. People telling me how unique and awesome I was, what great work I had done, how I was irreplaceable.
Always nice to hear and more of a testament to the great people I worked with than my own skills. To top of the self-promotion, some quotes from farewell emails and cards:
“If change was a superpower, you’d have to wear spandex in the office, buddy!”
“We’d be completely lost without you, you saved us!”
“You cannot leave, you are my change superhero!”
The image at the top of this post is a tongue-in-cheek farewell gift from my time with Federal government and not a real representation of me in the office on most days. Since then I changed my brand of diet soda and Captain Max just doesn’t sound as cool, does it? The spandex outfit? Yeah, that’s a story for another day!
All joking at my own expense aside, this gifted image is the best representation I possess of my problem: to these people I was a change super hero. And I loved it. Who would have ever thought that I would stick up for Justin Bieber, but I sort of get him. (I know, that’s messed up). Here’s why; if you’re just a regular guy, who doesn’t have an Auriga to remind you that ‘you are just a man’ and millions of girls and boys think you are awesome and model their lives to your values (not exactly my life), at what point do you start trusting their judgment over your own? They can’t all be wrong, right?
About two months ago I realised that despite my best intentions and eagerness to be helpful I had become what no change professional should ever aspire to become; a full-time career false hero. I had become the savior that swoops in and saves the day, the person who comes in once the executive management villains had messed up, finally saw the error of their ways and needed
The Finisher (start ominous soundtrack here) to get things back in order. And I happily applied and complied. I think the technical term for it is being an enabler, which would make for an even better superhero name, provided that the knock-on effect was that I left organisations in a better state than I found them. And I am not sure that I did. Because false heroes are (spoiler alert!) not real, even if people make them out to be awesome, they are not the real solution, just a pleasant surrogate for something real, like that candy bar you got from the vending machine earlier. (Not judging!)
The main issue with my overeager and well-intended but ultimately unhelpful helpfulness was that on the short term it makes for lots of fans but on the long term it didn’t solve anything at all. I spoke to more than a few people about this concern and their responses varied from “Well, aren’t you Mr. ego-all-about-me!” all the way to “Dude, seriously, you think too much. And I don’t mean about yourself, relax a bit, you’re not the devil”. Right. Time to hang up the cape and try a different approach then.
I can’t undo what I did and having the best intentions cannot be an excuse. But I can do better next time, and I will. Moving forward
I will practice what I preach once again:
· No more superhero stuff, unless humility becomes a super power
· Let people own the problem, it’s a sign of respect and appreciation
· Just because people need help, doesn’t mean they want the task done for them
· Always give people what they need,but not always what they want
· Build capability, not dependence
· Start every plan with thinking about how to make yourself expendable
· Treat everyone as professionals, not little kids (even if they want you to)
· Uncertainty fuels growth, (false) certainty stops it, try to know less and learn more
· Humility lasts longer than hubris
Oh, and no more spandex in the office, I promise.