Action — not knowledge — gets things done

“It’s not what you know that counts, it’s what you do with what you know.” — Anonymous

A number of years ago, I was contacted by the president of a professional services organization to talk about a problem with one of his direct reports. He thought that I might be able to help. When we sat down I heard that this individual, a vice president of the company, was one of the very best client development people in the firm. In fact, clients raved about him. He was one of those guys who got a “10” in every aspect of client service. With this incredibly positive feedback, I wondered what the problem could possibly be.

As the conversation continued, I found out that this superstar also ran the highest turnover in the company in his particular department. A minimum of two people were leaving his department every year for the past two to three years, and the exit numbers were trending even higher. That was the problem. When he was away taking care of client business, the atmosphere in his department was noticeably upbeat. Any time he was in the office, the tension was quite apparent. I asked the president what it cost the firm to find, hire, and train new professionals in this particular discipline. The answer was $100,000 to $200,000 per new hire. It does not take a math wizard to figure out how to multiply to see the ultimate dollar impact. This background set me up for a meeting with the vice president.

When we got together I sensed a subtle arrogance about him. As we got deeper into our discussion he let me know that he was very well read in the area of effective leadership. His past and current book list included just about every hot topic on leadership. He had certainly out read me! He also considered himself somewhat of an expert on effective leadership. The conversation continued.

I asked him what he did with that volume of information and really did not receive a solid response. We then addressed the turnover issue. No matter what question I asked, the problem was always with his people, clearly not him or his leadership style. Finally, after about an hour, he admitted that he “might” be part of the problem. Progress!



Once we got to that point — an open mind — I was then in a position to discuss how we might address the issue. If we moved forward with a plan, the idea was to help him put all his knowledge into practice. He actually thought that this was a good idea. I suggested, and he agreed, to a two-part intervention: start off with getting involved in one of our leadership training programs and back that up with one-on-one coaching. The focus of the training program was essentially taking sound leadership practices and putting them into action. A lot of accountability was included. The first aha moment took place a few weeks into the formal training program. He actually took concepts from the class and started applying them with his team. He stared to show interest in them as individuals, not just employees who were there to get a job done. One of his people actually told him he was “different” in a positive way. That was the beginning and it kept getting better.

Once the formal training was completed and we continued with coaching sessions for the next few months, he kept coming back with all kinds of success stories about his relationship with his people. When he told me he realized that his internal customers were just as important as his clients, he had arrived! The turnover came to a dead stop. The culture of his department went from negative to positive and his people actually appreciated his presence.

The lesson here is all the knowledge there is on leadership, or any other subject, is only as worthwhile as its application. It’s not what you know that counts. It’s what you do with what you know.

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