When I met Pete Mickartz, Senior Director of Sales at Beyond Pricing, he was speaking on a panel for how to hire great sales talent in the very competitive Bay Area. I remember being so impressed with how he described his role. It wasn’t about how he could get the most out of his people. Rather, it was about what he could give. His role was to help his team succeeded, “to get you to where you want to be.”
Simon Sinek describes how leaders are often playing the wrong game. They may say, “I’m responsible for hitting numbers.” The reality is that they have very little direct control over the numbers. They can’t even technically control the performance of every individual on their team. What can they control? Numbers are what show at the top. What drives results? People. When you get to the root, leaders can best influence the top-level outcome with their ability to address the root drivers: team motivation and support. And Pete got that right.
Whether managing ourselves or managing others, much of the struggle we endure is over things we cannot change. That’s wasted time and energy. The beautiful thing is that we can control quite a lot: choosing what it is we struggle over and fixing the root cause. The disappointing thing is that this often isn’t the default response, even among seasoned leaders.
Toyota originated the now-famous problem-solving technique, the 5-Whys. When a problem occurs on the factory floor, what do you do? The obvious answer would be to patch up the visible problem – after all, it’s the one thing we can all see. Instead, Toyota recognized that the surface-level problem is far from the root cause. Slapping a band-aid on it only allows the root cause to fester, leading to the same flare-up days later.
How did Toyota deal with this? They would stop production, and ask why this problem occurred five times.
Problem – A robot stopped mid-operation.
1. “Why did the robot stop?”
The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
2. “Why is the circuit overloaded?”
There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
3. “Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?”
The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
4. “Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?”
The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
5. “Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?”
Because there is no filter on the pump.
Solution - Install a filter on the pump.
That’s where Pete comes back in. He understood that patching a problem at the top wasn’t the solution. Rather, supporting people from the bottom up – building resilience, relationship skills, a sense of fulfillment – addresses the root. The first-order change is for a leader to focus on supporting teammates in self-management skills. The second-order change is for our education and career development structures to emphasize learning, monitoring, and measuring the things we can control: our reactions to setbacks, our decisions, our words. KPIs, just like we have in the workplace, but for the root causes that originate in our minds and relationships. How much happier and more productive could we be?
The LIFE App is just a tool for self-and-other-management. Our success really starts with managers who acknowledge and are adept at controlling what they can. The most important thing is that a person given The LIFE App as part of a team hears: “Someone I respect cares and wants to help me become the best version of myself.”
I've been grateful to have worked with many wonderful leaders in my past, who continue to support my endeavors today. I'll always remember that kind of support, the kind that wants you to succeed in this role, and beyond.
As managers, we are often inundated with fires to fight. Such emergencies take up a significant amount of time and mindspace. But, setting aside the time to consider the root of the problem and longer-term structural fixes is an essential part of strategy, the second quadrant of the Covey time-management matrix. Especially as our companies scale, we can't be everywhere at once. Rather, support can be as simple as enabling others to solve their own issues. That gets to the root—the heart—of the problem.