Leadership Cancers #4: Adrenaline and testosterone

by Gary Monti on April 6, 2010

Have you ever just wanted to make something HAPPEN! It can be a very strong urge in response to a frustration or a flash of insight. There are times when that jump to action makes great sense. There are also times when it is counter-productive and causes damage.

I’ve joked with clients and students about “getting the job done with adrenaline and testosterone.” (Without a gender-neutral phrase I beg the indulgence of women readers. Come to think of it, though, there are situations where high female testosterone levels have a definite impact – hyenas – but that’s another story.) Let’s explore both sides of the issue.

Fight or Flight

If your child was about to stick her finger in a light socket how fast would you jump to save her? That reflex is very handy. Does it have a lasting impact? You bet!

The cost associated with it includes elevated blood pressure, corticosteroids, insulin, adrenaline, etc. Having something like this happen once in a while is manageable. Having it happen every day is another story.

What if you walked into work and your team members were about to do the equivalent of putting their collective finger in a light socket and create a problem from which the project might not recover. You may react fast enough to get them to stop. Having the management bulk to push hard may be essential.

What’s the Problem?

Some people are very proud of being able to react so quickly. After all, part of a good leader’s value includes being able to gauge a situation and determine a plan of action in a timely manner. The problem lies in one word, “react”, or, better yet, being in a chronic state of reacting, a situation where reacting is the modus operandi for moving a project forward. The customer may get what they want but the cost is high.

In terms of scheduling and cost control, chronic reactivity is a sign of being out of variance. This means time, money, and people are being wasted. The project also has a higher probability of being damaged or failing outright.

Aside from this logical reason for letting go of reactivity there is another reason a little subtler and much more destructive. Adrenaline and testosterone can become addictive. This is especially true in highly frustrating environments. Sometimes when people pump up they feel more significant. It’s intense and transcends logic. These are the heroes, the firefighters, in the negative sense of the words. You may know people who brag about pulling all-nighters, working weekends, etc. Do you feel relaxed with them or on edge?

I was lucky enough to have a mentor, a refinery manager named Bill, who focused on safety and getting the job done. He would say, “Beware the expert firefighter, they carry a pack of matches.” Bill understood the dangers of reactivity.

What’s the Answer?

The answer is quite simple – plan. One of the real values of planning is supporting the team in staying in a proactive position. This helps them keep options open including longer time lines to develop responds. Oh, and stay away from the trap that says, “You must be a perfectionist since you always want to plan. What a luxury!” The answer to that is, “Actually, no, since my plan includes risk management the project has greater flexibility at a lower cost.”

If you would like to delve deeper into project management and leadership and how to become more successful send me an e-mail at gwmonti@mac.com or visit www.ctrchg.com.

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