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5 minute read - Racket

I could, but choose not to

Feb 20, 2022

TLDR; Sometimes we know what to do, but aren’t prepared to do it. That does not mean we are not capable. Identifying our successes, even in-spite of the environment, can give you the confidence to repeat in a different environment. In a different environment we might thrive.

Organisational Fit Is a Thing

An important lesson that I had to learn was the difference between “not being ready for something” and “choosing not to do something”.

I was on project and the manager left and the didn’t know who to pick.

But the manager who was leaving said that I could do it.

I wasn’t sure, but I gave a shot and I could, to an extent, I wasn’t sure I could, I didn’t know I could. But I was able to manage the team, and the scope of the work, and the process, and all of that internal stuff, and we were making progress.

What I couldn’t do was the politics.

It was a completely dysfunctional system and organization and I wasn’t prepared to play the game.

I was essentially disruptive in the outer team system, with all my peers of managers, and I haven’t really changed in that respect.

It took me a while to recognize that as my nature.

And that there are things I would not do.

Can Do, Does Not Mean Will Do

Not because I wasn’t able, but because I couldn’t. My moral and ethical framework, my nature, my beliefs, about how systems should work: I would not violate them to that extent. Because I wanted the other peer managers and my leaders: to be honest, to face the reality of the situation, to fix problems to make it better.

They wanted to be political, because political would allow them to survive within the system.

I wanted the project to succeed and survive, and I wanted my team to succeed and survive and I didn’t care about my personal survival within that system.

So I could have done it. I could have played politics, I could have put up with the nonsense, but I chose not to do it.

That was just not an environment that I was prepared to be a manager in.

So I helped them recruit my successor and I left.

Now I might have been wrong. I might have misinterpreted the system. I might have misjudged the environment

And that’s fine.

But I left believing that I wasn’t ready to take on a management role. And I didn’t take on a management job again for a couple of years.

I thought I wasn’t ready, but I was.

I didn’t realize that because I had confused Readiness for Willingness. I wasn’t willing to do what it took to survive in that environment because I thought it would be detrimental to the project.

I was ready because I knew what it was going to take. I knew what I wasn’t prepared to do. I just didn’t realize that I was ready, I had confused all that.

So the lesson that I have taken from that is to understand your nature. Understand the nature of the system. Because sometimes they clash, and we are free to choose, not to do something.

That doesn’t mean we’re not ready to do, it means we’re choosing not to do it.

So don’t confuse that choice of “not to do” with “being unable to do something”.

This was originally recorded on Racket in 202107

Follow On Notes

Organisational fit is very important. The strategies and approaches that you adopt may work in one environment, but not in another, so we have to learn to be flexible in our approach.

Keeping track of our successes in our work is very important to help us understand our capabilities.

We often don’t receive positive comments about our work, so we have to identify the positive impact of our work. This helps us identify our strengths and weaknesses and identify areas to improve and build on. It is ’nice’ to receive comments from others, but it is not a necessary condition for improvement.

Keep track of what worked, so you know what you are capable of achieving. Examine what you did, so that you identify a way of working. Examine the conditions that surrounded the action and supported you so that you can identify the same environmental conditions in the future, this also helps identify when the environment is not supportive of that approach, so you can identify a new approach.

Identify when you are uncomfortable, and try to identify reasons for that. If they are reasons that you can change, then change them. If they are outside your control, and you think it is important then learn to tread carefully.

Keeping track of your successes can help you recognise the skills and capabilities you have so that you not just “believe you can”, but “know you can”.

Sometimes you are just not a good fit for an environment. Not fitting the environment, does not mean you are not a good fit for the role.

I’ve read far too many ‘management’ books over the years. The ones I tend to recommend are:

  • How To Manage by Jo Owen
    • This is a very practical, and down to earth book, about ‘being’ a manager. Very useful when starting out in the Management Role. I thought Jo Owen’s “How To Lead” was also a good early book to read.
  • Organizations by Herbert Simon and James March
    • A classic that helped me understand the wider system behaviour of teams and departments.
  • I Want You to Cheat by John Seddon
    • A useful book on how targets, measurement, goal descriptions and team organisation can adversely affect behaviour internally. John Seddons other books are also very useful for this.