Monday, August 4th, 2014 | By: Mike Donahue

Wimpy Behavior

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I’ve referenced Lee Thayer in a blog at least once a month since last winter and this blog will keep the string intact for another month. Few people can write about leadership and make me squirm like Dr. Thayer can. This blog is all about what he calls the “Five Drivers of Wimpy Behavior.” I pulled these thoughts from Chapter 7 of the revised edition of his book Leadership: Thinking, Being, Doing. You can’t be a leader if you act like a wimp; truth be told, I’ve displayed these behaviors from time to time and I’ve seen them in my coaching clients and members of my peer groups too often. Here are Dr. Thayer’s five drivers of wimpy behavior:

Wimpy Driver #1: Habits.

Dr. Thayer notes that “habits take us where they want to go, not where we need to go.” We respond to events according to our habits, choosing the same behaviors over and over again as if we’ve been programmed. Remember the episode of Seinfeld about the bad breaker-upper?

Every time a woman told the guy she wanted to break up, he responded by going down the same well-traveled cow path he’d been down before and insulted her, never reflecting on whether his preprogrammed behavior got him the results he wanted. Breaking old, bad habits means we can no longer be who we are. Thayer challenges us to reject the habits that inhibit our chosen future and replace them with habits that enable us to achieve that future.

Wimpy Driver #2: Routines.

Habits grow into routines, which are the second driver of wimpy behavior. In organizations, following a routine is how things get done; they are habits writ large. What makes routines so resistant to change is that they become part of a culture that is larger than the individuals involved and become barriers to making improvements.

Routines also allow people to function on autopilot. When this happens they perform without being engaged mentally or emotionally. Those who are not engaged in their work won’t be the ones who see or implement ways of improving the processes by which work gets done. Routines are the enemy of engagement. Dr. Thayer says they “displace life.” I say they take the excitement out of a job and turn it into drudgery.

Wimpy Driver #3: Bureaucratization.

I wasn’t sure this was really a word. Bureaucratization is a problem when the rules for how to do things take precedence over results. In too many companies, rules or “policies and procedures” become ends in themselves. When people get rewarded for following the rules instead of achieving results, there is a problem. Reform of the Veterans Administration is currently a top news story and I suspect bureaucratization is making it hard to fix the VA. Remember Thayer’s admonition that, “Great performance requires that accomplishments take precedence over rules.”

Wimpy Driver #4: Comfort Zone.

This one is my favorite; working with small and midsized businesses as I do, I see it often. Comfort zone refers to our propensity to act in “habitual, safe, familiar ways of thinking, feeling, seeing, acting and reacting.” Staying in our personal comfort zone makes us content with the status quo and resistant to change. When snuggled safely in our comfort zone, we dismiss good ideas out of hand and ignore or disagree with anything that would rock our boat. Years ago, I worked with a guy we called the “abominable no man.” He could chill a good idea in just one monotone sentence; that sentence inevitable began with the words, “Yes, but…”

Wimpy Driver #5: The Knowing Mode.

Call this one “that’s the way we do it around here.” The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece last week titled “Sunstroke at the FDA” detailing how a stuck-in-its-ways Food and Drug Administration has moved at glacial speed to approve new, more effective sunscreens that have been on the market in Europe for years. How many cases of skin cancer has its failure to create a faster approval process caused? Thayer says that when we’re in knowing mode, “what drives our knowing is what we already know … and what drives our life is the way we were yesterday.” Seems that as the world moves forward, the FDA is stuck in knowing mode. How about your company? Is it like the FDA?

One of my favorite Lee Thayer quotes is, “You won’t change if you aren’t dissatisfied with yourself.”

How dissatisfied are you with your wimpy behaviors? Dissatisfied enough to change? Now that you know the drivers of wimpy behaviors, I hope you commit to get outside your comfort zone to address a habit or routine that might have you living a life of wimpiness.

If you think this blog is interesting, check out Lee Thayer’s book. It’s not an easy read, and he’s one of the best leadership thinkers you’ll encounter. Ive learned from the book, been enlightened by Thayer’s thinking and profited by sharing its lessons in my one-to-one executive coaching sessions and leadership group meetings.

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Posted in: Leadership | 1 Comment »

1 response to Wimpy Behavior

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