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To King or Not To King Published: Sunday, April 24, 2011 8:00 am By: Ulises Pabón, Chief Operations Officer

In the movie The King’s Speech, a humorous interchange between Bertie (played by Colin Firth) and his brother David, King Edward VIII (played by Guy Pearce) caught my attention.  The dialogue ran … Bertie: I’ve been trying to see you.  David: I’ve been terribly busy.  Bertie: Doing what?  David: Kinging.

The scene, albeit funny, portrays a genuine problem common to many managers and business leaders: they become busy doing what they think they’re supposed to be doing.  The problem is not limited to business leaders.  Accountants spend their time accounting; engineers, engineering; operators, operating; supervisors, supervising; managers, managing; and, of course, kings, kinging!  So, what’s the issue?  An analogy will help illustrate.

Suppose you’ve been appointed as captain of a ship.  What top three activities come to mind in terms of your responsibilities as captain?  It may actually be useful to pause here and answer this question in your mind before reading on.

Most managers I’ve asked this question to have responded with something in the lines of: setting direction for the ship, overseeing that all activities are performed according to plan, and assuring the well-being of the crew; important activities, indeed.  However, rarely, if ever, has someone suggested changing the ship’s design.  Most managers take the ship for granted.  The common premise is that the ship is what it is; or as my grandfather used to say: “hay que arar con los bueyes que tenemos” (which would literally translate to: you have to plow with the oxen you’ve got!).  That can be a very dangerous assumption.

Case in point: Blockbuster versus Netflix.  It appears that Blockbuster’s CEO, Jim Keyes, was “terribly busy” captaining the Blockbuster ship and forgot to ask the all-important question: is this the right vessel for the future?  While busy milking Blockbuster’s business model, Keyes was oblivious to technological breakthroughs and changing customer preferences.  By the time he opened his eyes, Netflix had appeared with a different business model and, as they say, the rest is history.  If you’ve been busy “kinging”, it may be time for a wake-up call.

If CEO’s are susceptible to the “kinging” trap, where does that leave the rest of us?  Workers along the totem pole, trapped within the confines of job descriptions, may find escaping them unlikely.  Yet, unless we want to fade into oblivion, escaping from our job descriptions is precisely what we need to do. 

Here are six practical steps that may help liberate you from job-description boredom and pave the way towards self-induced job enrichment.

First and foremost, develop an understanding, and a passion, for your customers.  Internal customers are important; external customers – those that buy the goods and pay the bill – are crucial.  Abstract missions and value propositions acquire concreteness when we face real customers.  With a clear understanding of your organization’s mission and value proposition you will be empowered in a special way.  Understanding external customers and developing a passion for them will uniquely equip you to manage internal customers.

Second, embrace a mindset of opportunity in every task you work on and in every project you are part of.  Opportunities for improvement abound.  Those that spend their time “kinging” rarely pause to reflect on how to improve things.  Becoming a champion for continuous improvement is a key step towards productive employment.

Third, learn to observe carefully and to think ahead of the curve.  Emerging trends, threats, and opportunities rarely appear unannounced.  Learn how to become part of your company’s extended radar screen.  Become an amateur anthropologist.  By thinking ahead of the curve, you will be able to suggest and incorporate new work practices and help propel your team, workgroup, and organization forward.

Fourth, develop your communication and negotiation skills.  We live in an interdependent world.  Collaborating with others and attracting the collaboration of others is a necessity; particularly if you are pursuing audacious goals.  Learn how to build buy-in for your ideas and learn how to enroll others in your dreams. 

Fifth, be aware of the value you bring to the table.  If you want to make yourself indispensable in today’s hypercompetitive world, never stop learning.  Seek advice, read extensively, explore the web, attend seminars, engage in serious dialogue and profound conversations; never stop learning.

Finally, realize that leadership is an act, not an attribute.  Dare to take a step forward.  Seize the initiative.  Choose to be proactive.

We are living trying times.  Gone are the “don’t-rock-the-boat” days.  Going through the motions is a recipe for failure.  Following routine is a ticket to nowhere.  If you really want to be king, stop “kinging” and take charge of your job.

Copyright 2011 QBS, Inc.
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