What we see is what we bring to the seeing. –George Nelson

Greenleaf writes: The opprobrious label ‘gimmick’ is applied to any organizational procedure that is introduced with the hope of accomplishing what only better leadership can do, or that will not be effective, long term, because it is not in harmony with the prevailing quality of leadership.  Such nostrums. . .are abundantly available.  Too often the result is an ‘aspirin’ effect – not the path to long-term health for either person or institution.  . . .exceptional institutions either evolve their own procedures, or they learn from other well-led situations.  They are not in the market for aspirin. 

 I hear the protest: ‘What does one do when the organizational pain is intense?’  My response is, ‘Attend to the quality of leading, unless you want to spend the rest of your organizational life living on ‘aspirin!’ 

 Even though I am not a researcher I am familiar with organizations that have spent millions of dollars on the expert and his/her ‘gimmicks;’ I have even been invited to work with a few of these (picking up the pieces, if you will).  The great W. Edwards Deming (the ‘father of the quality movement’) went to his grave frustrated because organizations in our country only embraced two of his three ‘Cs’ and experienced a near-perfect failure rate because they did so (at least this was his belief as to why these organizations failed in their attempts to bring his quality improvement concept into their organizations).

It was easy for organizations to embrace two of his ‘Cs’: Counting and Customer.  In doing so they embraced ‘gimmick’ – seeking the quick fix.  By the by, the ‘C’ they ignored (and my experience is that most organizations ignore this ‘C’ even though they might espouse it) was: Culture.  Deming knew from direct experience, ‘Culture Matters!’

Leaders and Organizations are not, I don’t think, ignorant.  So ‘Why?’ do Leaders and Organizations continue to be seduced by the ‘expert’ and his/her ‘gimmicks’?  Sadly, Greenleaf’s concept has also taken on a ‘gimmick’ quality (but I digress).  How many Leaders continue to say ‘We are not interested in the quick fix!’ and then they embrace a quick fix (sometimes they embrace a quick fix to fix the quick fix that was not a fix).

Greenleaf suggests that Leaders embrace ‘gimmicks’ because of a lack of leadership.  Could be.  I invite us to consider another possibility.  Leaders and Organizations continue to embrace ‘gimmicks’ (the ‘gimmick’ market continues to flourish in our country) because they see almost everything as a ‘problem to be solved.’  How many role-defined leaders were given the role of leader because they were good problem solvers; many I think.  Today, more than ever before, Leaders and Organizations are greeted with Paradoxes, Polarities and Dilemmas more than Problems.  The technical, quick fixes that might work well when it comes to Problems will not be effective when it comes to Paradoxes, Polarities, and Dilemmas (a ‘Dilemma,’ by definition, involved a ‘forced-choice’; there are two types of Dilemmas: Right-Right & Harm-Harm).

Problem-solving gimmicks will continue to flourish because they, like aspirin, provide short term relief.  As a corollary, how many folks are hooked on a type of aspirin in our country today?  How many Leaders and Organizations are also hooked on – addicted to? – ‘THE’ Gimmick Aspirins’ that are abundantly available to them?

Greenleaf provides us an answer, one many Leaders also espouse: ‘Attend to the quality of leading!’  This prescription does not involve swallowing a ‘gimmick’ aspirin – not even close.

Knowledge is often easily procured; understanding only rarely so. –Stephen Hudson


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