It was night already, I had just finished a meeting when I got a call. “I’m really upset.” Carla said with her very obvious upset voice. “Is it true that you allowed this?” she asked.
“Yup?” I said. “Why? What’s the problem?”
“This thing is not inline with our values.”
“Why not?” and I proceeded to explain why I didn’t think we weren’t crossing any lines.
She replied with her own explanation of why I was wrong, and why we needed to correct what I had green-lighted. After some discussion, it became clear that she was right and I was wrong. So I admitted she was right, we agreed on the proper next steps, and then I called two other team members who were directly affected to clarify the situation. Then I took a cab to my next meeting, finished that, did my evening routine and went to bed.
The next day, at our daily 7:00am huddle (Yes, we start at 7:00am), I shared the incident with the team, owned up to my mistake, and commended Carla for confronting me. I did this so that every single member of the team would know that not only is it possible and accepted to correct your boss at Bridge, but welcomed. I want them to be using their brains. I want them to sharpen their minds and use them to sharpen mine. I want them to know that it’s not only safe to question but beneficial, that debating doesn’t have to be disrespectful but is an important part of discovery. And I want them to know that I’m not infallible, that I need every single one of them to step up, to become really smart, really strong, really courageous, really excellent, really hard working, and really wise for their customers, for each other, and for me.
I did this because I want them more loyal to our mission and values than to me. And I told them so. “Your loyalty is to Bridge not to me. And what is Bridge? It’s this team embracing one mission and sharing distinct values. If you find me doing things that don’t make work life better for others, correct me.”
I think they got the point. I hope they got that point.
But then I explained my next point, “These tensions make us great. These seeming contradictions, Jett pushing the sales to the edge, Carla pushing compliance, Eric pushing technology, Janna pushing process, all of us are pushing to make our diverse responsibilities work, to make sure we’re the best at our individual domains, because there’s no room for second best. Keep pushing your domain forward. And in our pushing on all fronts, naturally, tension will arise, and during this tension, we will need to learn how to come together and briskly discuss the pros and cons in light of our values and mission. We can’t just jump to conclusions. we can’t just fee bad or feel good. We need to explore what we’re facing. It’s this process of cooperation amidst conflict that leads to breakthrough. So let’s get used to it.
Be so excellent in your field that you can’t help but challenge each other. Be so clear with our mission and values that we can’t help but refine our decisions with them.
We’ll be more than fine. We’ll be great.”
I didn’t exactly say it that way (I tend to ad-lib), but those were my notes. t hope they got that point too.
It’s these tensions that make us great. It’s these challenges that we overcome that lead to mastery, and mastery leads to confidence. I’m glad I have growth-oriented people pushing the boundaries. And I’m glad that the conflicts are settled with conviction and cooperation. I’m confident that someday when the world looks back, it will be glad that we did.
I remember first hearing the term “saling kit“. I hated it. I was with older kids and I wanted to play tag with them, and they said, “Sure. You can be saling kit.” I asked them what it meant, and they said, “It means you can run around with us but you can never be it.” At first I thought that was a great idea. I could run with the big boys, tease the it like the big boys, laugh with the big boys, without the risk of getting caught because I was too slow, or ran into a dead end, or got tired. I could simply do whatever I wanted. Until I realized that being saling kit meant no one took me seriously, not the it, not the other boys, no one. The it didn’t bother chasing me because he gained nothing from catching me. So he didn’t bother with me at all. The other boys didn’t plan with me because I made no difference to the game. I was allowed to play with them but I was nobody to them. Being saling kit meant I didn’t have any risk or challenges, but it also meant I had no impact. After that, even as a kid, I hated the idea of being saling kit. I hated the idea of running around with people yet not being a force to reckon with. I hated the idea of being a groupie, a fan, a bystander. I hated being allowed to participate in something as a favor, not because someone trusted in me. I hated the idea that people involved me out of pity not out of respect. I hated the lowering of a standard for me because I knew that what it meant is that I’m no good for the actual standard.
In case you didn’t realize it, it’s an insult when someone tells you it’s ok for you to operate at a lower standard. When your opponent doesn’t guard you, that’s an insult. When they lower the height of the rim for you, that’s an insult. When they curve your test scores so you can pass, that’s an insult. When they ignore you, that’s an insult. Sometimes we’re so sensitive to the words people say or to when someone gets mad at us, but fail to realize that someone telling you to improve means they see you as part of the game, and that’s much better than being insignificant.
Let me give you some examples of these standard lowering things I’ve heard through the years:
“It’s ok that you lost. What’s important is that you did your best.” – My reply to this is, “Why is it ok for me to be a loser and it’s not for them? Don’t you think I should be a winner too? Help me win next time. What do I need to do to win?”
“It’s ok that you didn’t make it as high. Considering where you came from, you’ve already achieved a lot.” – My reply to this is, “So you mean because I’m coming from a low base, I should be satisfied with something less than what others have been able to achieve? Should a husband from a broken home be happy that his marriage lasted a few years longer than his father’s? Does God tell us, “because you used to be a terrible sinner, now, all I need from you is to be a little more behaved”? Nope. He tells all of us, including those of us from the worst backgrounds, “Be holy as I am holy.” Don’t look at where you’re coming from. Focus on where you want to be.
“You’re not so bad. You’re better than most people.” – My reply to this is, “I don’t want to be like most people. Most people don’t care about anything more than their basic needs and desires. Most people can’t be bothered to reflect, to study, to train. Most people are victims to circumstances because they won’t take control. Most people are making excuses for why their life isn’t more. Most people are settling. I don’t compare myself to most people. I compare myself to who I was yesterday, I reflect on who I am at the present, and I grow towards who I want to be. If you’re really my friend, don’t make me settle for less than the best I can be.”
I can come up with more examples but my point is simple: don’t be an adult version of a saling kit, someone who thinks he’s in the game, but really makes no difference. No one starts out as amazing. We all start out lacking knowledge, lacking experience, lacking skills, lacking money, lacking a lot of things. What makes winners different is that they don’t allow themselves or other people to lower the standard for them simply because they lack something. They are committed to what’s best and are resourceful enough to achieve it. They don’t accept that they’ll be late a few times a week because of traffic. They leave early, they move closer, or do other things. They simply make a way. They don’t accept that they’ll be poor because they grew up poor. The work harder, study continuously, and deliver more and more value. They don’t accept that things are “like that”. They strive to make things the way they should be.
Don’t let anyone insult you by making you a saling kit. Become a person of value based on the highest possible standards. This is hard. I struggle with this. I fail most of the time. But I won’t lower the rim just because I haven’t figure out how to jump higher – yet.
I was asked to say a short message for the Philippine Software Industry Association’s (PSIA) SPRING event earlier at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf 26th St. Bistro. Our company New Leaf Ventures which is a provider of cloud-based software, supports the PSIA and their initiatives to promote Philippine technology.
Read full article here.