I found a quote the other day and it captures many a conversation I have had with some highly intelligent clients of mine. The quote said, and I’m paraphrasing here, "Never argue with a fool. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” – Sarah Cook
I would say that most of the CEOs and executives I work with don't have any issues dealing with a direct report not quite up to their intellectual standards. But when they have to deal with one of those dogs that can't hunt and said dog is also in a position of power like their boss or a Director or even a peer, these highly intelligent executives become victims of those who know so little. So what can you do when you find yourself suffering a fool’s fate??
For the sake of simplicity (and this blog) let's just assume that the fool you are dealing with is your boss. This executive may be occupying the physical space (mere geography) of a leader but they have yet to step into the intellectual or inspirational roles one would expect of someone at that level. Meanwhile you have exhausted every avenue to advance what most would assume to be logical business objectives. Your frustration continues to grow and you are rapidly coming to the conclusion that fighting this insanity is useless. In addition and for some ridiculous reason, the universe is allowing this imbalance of logic to continue – here enters hair pulling and choice, four letter expletives. At this point it’s been my experience that one of two avenues is taken by most executives:
1) You start to question yourself. It seems to you that since the fool is currently squatting in the geographical location that you covet, then perhaps there is something you are missing! This is a slippery slope my friend because once you leave your knowledge at the door and replace logic with frustration and self-doubt, surrender is imminent and now you have entered the fool’s territory! Refer back to the quote above for the complete “aha” moment.
2) You decide to be the aggressor and make the decision that two can play at this game. The aforementioned conclusion is true if you yourself are a fool but you are reading this blog and, therefore, are not a fool. So you enter the land of Foolville completely out of your element and with no real knowledge of how this game is played. Now, like any other rookie you end up looking to others as the real problem because of your sheer inexperience. The biggest danger in this scenario: if you can actually out fool the fool. You see, when you out fool the fool you have instantly become the kind of person you’ve detested almost all of your life and you can't take enough showers to wash that stink off!!
So what is the solution to this dilemma?
A. Faith – In 30 years of working with business leaders I have found that a fool’s time in the sun is limited. Some go down in a fiery blaze while others get pushed aside and fade away. Over time, business results, intelligence and pure business momentum make them obsolete. Now if you don't have time to join the faithful, then this dilemma has turned into a career decision and is no longer about the executive but rather about your inability to deal with them.
B. Strategy – Get agreement early around the strategy and don't get caught up in the weeds of tasks, the fools live here and can derail any strategy by arguing minute details. When you feel the frustration building you need to go back to the strategy, get agreement and then show how the task aligns with/reinforces the strategy. You may need to repeat this often but use the strategy to gain agreement; all tasks cascade from the strategy.
C. Recalibration – If your goal is a perfect ten then you need to assess the affect the fool has on achieving your goal. Most of the time the executive can affect 20% to 30% of what is possible so you need to focus on the remaining 80% and execute flawlessly that which you can control and accomplish. Focusing on the fool and your unattainable goal of that perfect ten only creates an environment that sub optimizes any results; this is detrimental to the business, your people and to your career. What you need to remember is that a fool will ultimately leave and someone else will inevitably take their place but here’s the kicker – the first question they will ask you is why you have not managed what was in your control. And before you know it, you have become the fool’s fool.
So when your inner voice tells you that you cannot let the fool win this game and your competitiveness wants to kick into another gear, remember this famous quote:
The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
– Albert Einstein
My goal for this blog has always been two-fold. First, I have the opportunity to share my insights and years of experience with you, the reader. And second, I myself get to hear your thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. To make this blog a mutually beneficial experience, I would ask that you take the time to post your comments, your questions and your own war stories from your years in the business. Let’s use this blog to generate dialogue on the issues we’ve all faced in our businesses and work together to come to some great solutions.