I attended Open Ocean Capital's birthday party yesterday. It was in the Storyville Jazz Restaurant in Helsinki, with Katja Toivola and the Spirit of New Orleans playing. It was great to be at such a good live Jazz concert, something I have been missing the last years.
Mingling with business people I was reminded of 2 sayings that I often hear managers use.
Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?
This saying was actually quite popular at MySQL. Just in case someone doesn't know how it is used, this saying is used against someone who points out problems or weaknesses in the company, especially if perceived as complaining.
I personally disagree with the premise of this saying. In my opinion the foundation in a solution lies in correctly identifying a problem first! As a matter of fact, if you've ever tried to present some idea without first pointing out what problem it solves, you will know that such ideas may just fall on the floor.
Of course, there are persons who will always be negative and never have solutions, just problems. But that is not how this saying is often used.
Authority/Power is not something that is given to you, it is something you take
This was a favorite saying of a manager at my previous job, Sesca Technologies. (today Neusoft) For clarity I should say, it was not my direct manager, someone else. The meaning is to somehow indicate that a leader should not assume that others will accept his leadership, rather he needs to establish and assert his leadership and authority. Actually, the more I think about it... I have no idea what this saying means...
For some time I took this advice and tried to act accordingly. Then at a rather good leadership seminar the lecturer said something completely to the opposite of this, that when someone is given new responsibilities it is imperative to make this explicitly known across the organization. One cannot expect someone to carry responsibility, if the rest of the organization is unaware of it.
What the lecturer said fit very well with my own experience. With some peers in the company I had had extreme difficulties at getting certain kinds of service that was needed for my organization. I later found out that this was because they didn't know that they had any reason to react to my requests, since nobody had told them that they should. That I had tried to somehow "take" or "assert" a more powerful position had obviously only made things worse. (Otoh, even if they may not have been explained exactly what my new responsibilities were, it is a bit of a mystery to me that the words "Manager" or later "Director" in my title didn't ring any bells for them. I guess it just underlines the lecturers words on just how "explicit" explicit must be!)
There is also another flaw with the assumptions of this saying. It is used by people who want to gain more power because they perceive having a powerful position as something to covet in itself. The saying somehow should motivate them to work harder to then get more authority. At least for me personally the opposite is true: I don't mind what position or power I have, I'm just in this game to do something interesting and useful. However, for many tasks you can't do your job properly if you don't have the appropriate authority needed to execute them (say, a root login on a server, just to take a trivial example). And I don't care about having that authority or somehow trying to "take" it, but without it the task may not get done (at all, or swiftly).