Last night I learned something I didn’t expect to learn about leadership from watching The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
This lesson comes from an old adage: “Never bring home an injured baby Tyrannosaurus Rex.”
First, replay this gripping scene in your mind’s eye:
It was a dark and stormy night. Scientist Julianne Moore warned activist Vince Vaughn, injured T-Rex in his arms, saying that taking the injured dinosaur to their trailer laboratory was “going to be really, really bad.” Even if you don’t remember this scene, you’ve already guessed (1) he didn’t listen, and (2) it was really, really bad. (Raging Ma and Pa Rex pushed the lab over the 500 foot cliff into the churning sea below. And, worse yet, I don’t think Vince Vaughn ever apologized.)
What’s this got to do with leadership and collaboration, you ask?
Well, I find it curious that similarly in our groups at work, timely knowledge (like that of the savvy scientist) can sometimes go unheard.
In decision-making processes, when there is a high value placed on inclusion, the unintended effect is sometimes that the most pertinent or relevant knowledge is suppressed or ignored. Frequently, this is in favor of the pursuit of “feel-good” balanced participation and consensus (whether it’s informed, or not). For a group, the consequences can be dire, or at a minimum, unproductive and stagnating.
The reason why the relative value of these different inputs goes unexamined is because we may be subtly (or perhaps unconsciously) favoring fully-expressed subjectivity over empirical sensibility. We avoid evaluating the idea in favor of maintaining happy campers.
Now I’ll also be the first to admit that the opposite is often true: a special expertise is privileged early on and pulls people into action without sufficient alignment, so the resulting group’s action is uncoordinated and ineffective.
Both of these biases fail our higher aims as collaborators, makers, entre- and intrapreneurs, leaders and facilitators. And what they are failing is not merely our aspiration for a “successful” outcome. They fail because they betray the reality of what is arising now in order to stick to an existing commitment we’ve made to ourselves about what should be.
The challenge is that we make these commitments—large and small—all the time. And the danger is that if we don’t realize we’re making them, these commitments are actually “making us”—and not the other way around.
As a leader, mentor, coach or facilitator, my commitment is too small if it remains within the safe contours of a preferred outcome or a political status quo. Especially when I am faced in the moment with unexpected information.
If I want to authentically and adaptively serve those I am working with, my first commitment must be to my own responsiveness; to those around me, to the novelty of the moment, to creativity, and to the wisdom inherent in conflict, power and intense emotion.
As a facilitator, I need to be just as sensitive to the coherence and alignment of the group and the group’s shared meaning and understanding, as I am to the speed and tempo of the decision-making process.
Both the subjective and objective perspectives available to all of us need to inform important decisions and joint actions—not only because there is a T-Rex on my butt and the stakes are high, but also because as a leader, I care about buy-in and commitment, follow-through and execution.
So a question worth asking is, “How do you enable a conversation and decision-making process that maintains forward momentum and appropriately and consciously privileges resident expertise and shared understanding?”
If we can facilitate this kind of flex-flow experience, we can up-level the participation and performance of any group we might be working with.
Here are some suggestions for those of us who’ve chosen to step into roles where (explicitly or implicitly) we are exerting our influence for the beneficial development of those around us:
P.S. One last lesson: Keep out of the tall grass unless you can outrun a velociraptor (you can’t).