My friend Michael gave advice about operating gadgets that I often reflect on: 'If you have to force something, it's not the right way. You'll break it.'
A 'forcing function' is a step in a process designed to interrupt us. It forces us to pause and think before proceeding to the next step. It's usually a safety feature.
Closing a door before a microwave will operate is a forcing function. Child proof locks on the caps of bottles of medicine are another example.
Life has naturally occurring forcing functions:
Organisations add to or tailor them:
- Other People.
Each of these constraints forces us to pause in our stream of consciousness workflow, instinctive, opinion-based decision making - and to pay attention to what we're doing.
Yes - we could open the screw top faster if we didn't have to grip it at specified points and apply downward pressure while unscrewing.
Yes - we can get more work done by emailing in the evening and on weekends.
Yes - we can avoid the difficult conversation and ignore the poor performance.
Yes - we can use our positional power to override policies, ethics, emotions.
Yes - we can make decisions in one step instead of Five.
Yes - a monk could find God without having to live in community with other monks.
Yes - we can bypass the fiddly cap by smashing the bottle open.
Yet the higher and more permanent the stakes (prison, unemployment, loss of trust, eternal life), the more our evolution, jurisprudence and spiritual systems have designed the equivalents of the child-proof cap to interrupt our instinctive flow towards a decision so that we pay attention to what we're doing.
There's a good reason that the criminal justice system can take years to potentially put a person in prison. That an employee can't lose their job unless their boss follows the steps of procedural fairness. That we feel a twinge in our stomach at the thought of having a difficult conversation. That the more important the decision, the longer it should take. That it takes years for a monk to make final vows.
Not blocking our progress - just making us mindful of it.
We pause and deliberate on what we're doing, who we're doing it to, and who we want to become.
One of the top myths in Leadership Lore is that Leadership is hard and reserved for a special few because it demands high stakes decisions to be made under pressure that are too difficult intellectually or emotionally for lesser, more timid beings.
Many leaders - new and experienced - conclude that their sole job is to deploy their positional power to ignore or bypass the laws, policies, processes, values, emotions, promises, information and other forcing functions that have hindered the non-leaders from making a decision.
If the leader won't use their power - then what's the point of having it?
Leadership Lore says that the function of the leader is to bypass forcing functions and get things done.
Yet even a 12 year old knows this is not the bravery that defines Leadership.
Where does the leader of Leadership Lore get this power?
We give it to them.
When we encounter something that is hard - in work or in Life - we pine for a Leader.
Not for their wisdom, patience, humility, trust, curiosity, compromise, intellect, pacifism, service, vulnerability, love...
We want their power.
Our Leader smashes the bottle open.
Hooray! Decisive! Effective! Uncompromising! Fast! Courageous! Heroic!
We return to our desks and homes - relieved that someone has Led.
Tiny shards of fear embedded in our souls.