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Leaning into the Danger

Jun 21, 2024

When I think about the idea of entering the danger, I tend to emphasize the word “danger.” It could be dangerous for you, for your engagement; you might get fired. It could be dangerous for a team member who’s wondering if they’re going to get fired or if there will be any punitive action. It could just be dangerous emotionally and psychologically. At a minimum, it’s really uncomfortable. 

Entering the danger is the idea of leaning forward and into uncomfortable moments instead of leaning back. We’re leaning forward into something whether that is highlighting politics, dysfunction, or other underlying problems. You’ll notice when you touch on something dangerous, people want to lean back. One extreme example was a time I was in New Orleans with an architecture firm. The CEO and the COO had been at odds for a long time. It felt like we were having the same conversation at multiple offsites in a row. They were going back and forth constantly. I said to Darren, the COO, “Darren, it seems like every time you talk, the team just opposes everything you’re saying and isn’t listening to you. It seems like every time the team is talking, you’re not listening to them. Can we just call this out? Do you want to keep doing this around and around?” Darren looked at me in the most nonchalant way and said, “No, I don’t want to do this anymore.” I thought he meant he didn’t want to do the dynamic anymore, but he meant he didn’t want to work here anymore. He literally closed his laptop, put it in his bag, and walked out, never to come back. The CEO gave me a bear hug and was thankful that we got through it.

I was with another company trying to talk about their core values, but they were wordsmithing the hell out of it. However, I didn’t think wordsmithing was the root problem. My partner Keith literally blurted out, “What the hell is going on right now?” By doing so, he called out that there was a lot of politics and something else going on. The wordsmithing was just the surface.

When entering the danger, you’re always looking out for the dynamic underneath. You’re not always going to be right. People might say, “That’s the thing I didn’t want to talk about. That’s the elephant in the room I don’t want to address.” That’s why it’s dangerous, and that’s why you have to enter. It’s an art more than it is a science, and you’re going to get it wrong. You might say, “Hey, can we talk about that? Is that an issue?” and people will say, “No, no, no, let’s move on.” Other times, you’ll open it up, and it will feel like Pandora’s box, and you can’t get it back in the box. It’s tricky, it’s dangerous, it’s uncomfortable, but we need to talk about what’s not being talked about. That’s entering the danger.

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