“The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.”
“We are tossed about by external causes in many ways, and like waves driven by contrary winds, we waver and are unconscious of the issue and our fate. We think we are most ourselves when we are most passionate, whereas it is then we are most passive, caught in some ancestral torrent of impulse or feeling, and swept on to a precipitate reaction which meets only part of the situation because without thought only part of a situation can be perceived.”
“The reactionary is always willing to take a progressive attitude on any issue that is dead.”
So. It would be an understatement to say that the number of ways a leader can lead are so numerous it would most likely take a book to explain them all <and people have certainly tried>. Trying to simplistic suggest “this is the way to lead” is simplistic tripe.
That said. Today I am talking about reactionary leaders. I sometimes call this “I told you so” leadership.
For those of us who have had the fortune, or misfortune, of walking the halls of management in business we have all crossed paths with the scary tactics of a reactionary manager & leader <I call them leaders because they have the title not because they know how to lead>. Reactionary leaders are the leaders who do not really have the ability to articulate an idea well enough for the idea to gain traction and be implemented. It is far more likely that the idea is just not worthy of any meaningful traction, but suffice it to say they are a leader/manager and their idea will inevitably hover.
Their ideas hover in the background within a sliver of people who agree and maybe even a majority of people’s minds as “well, in a certain situation maybe we would do that.” Or maybe their idea is misguided for the overall vision of the greater good of the organization, but is a tactic, a tool, which would fit in a different situation or organization <and this leader isn’t smart enough to know the difference between a tactic & strategy or how sometimes short term tools stay in a toolkit simply because they may not fit the longer term vision or even that the tool is just not something that is right for that organization>.
The rest of us warily watching this reactionary leader mostly thinking “why don’t you go elsewhere with that idea?”, but we remain wary because we sense rather than retool the tool, or simply scrap the tool, that reactionary leader is tiptoeing around a belief they want to warp the overall vision of the organization so that the tool suddenly fits <in other words, change the vision to match the idea>. Now. That may sound scary but what makes this reactionary leader so scary, and dangerous, is they lay in wait. Their ideas simmer in their heads waiting for the boiling point that they are sure, if they are patient, will inevitably arise.
They wait for that moment and at that time they stand up and say “I told you so” while holding up the idea like a standard bearer leading a charge. It is within that moment when more sane, more longer view, managers see the danger. For in that moment the short term idea can be seen, through a certain type of lens, as a longer term vision.
A tactic becomes the flag behind which an entire organization can rally behind. It is from that tactic this reactionary leader, well, grabs the reaction to the ‘I told you so’ moment and swerves the entire organization onto a completely different path. These leaders <and, yes, I want to call them ‘false leaders’> lie in wait eager to demonstrate the ‘effective’ tactic they have espoused for years.
They are eager to vindicate themselves, so eager, they will use the smallest of ‘I told you so’ events to jump in with the tactic <cloaking the tactic in a false longer term idea>. After years of having their idea, or quasi-ideas, diminished and relegated to the loony bin management idea scrap heap they relish the clash inherent in an ‘I told you so’ moment. The bigger the ‘I told you so’ the bigger they make their own idea <making it look bigger by attaching as many tactics as possible to the idea itself>.
It is quite possible, if they are crafty enough, to have the cleverness to rummage around for several more dubious data points to create a rickety looking trend <suggesting the trend is as solid as bridge>.
It is quite possible if they are crafty enough they will use the ‘I told you so’ moment to draw an increasing amount of people into actually believing not only the importance of the tactic itself but also the underlying more widespread ‘truth’ from which the tactic springs forth.
It is quite possible if they are crafty enough they will wrench the entire organization from the more sane rational vision to a misguided emotional reaction driven vision <one which meets only part of the situation because without thought only part of a situation can be perceived>.
Well. It is in that latter point where the greatest danger lies to an organization. The rest of us see this moment as the first step onto a dangerous road … one from which we fear, once started down, becomes increasingly difficult to turn back from. The rest of us see this moment as, well, a potential shift in gravity. Yes. Organizations tend to have their own gravity. Once they start moving in a direction, assuming you can align emotional & rational gravity, it gains momentum.
If you haven’t been in management, “I told you so” events can be viewed incorrectly. Why?
In everyday personal Life it seems like we run into ‘I told you so’ events so often we begin to confuse them as not an aberration, but rather the normal <which if we truly invested energy researching the truth we would find patterns are not always patterns and exceptions are more the rule>.
Therefore if you haven’t been in a leadership position in which you have had an opportunity to view things from the top down rather than the bottom up you could quite easily scramble to get behind a leader who held up an “I told you so” event who was claiming it was a pattern to be addressed and not an outlier or aberration to the larger view of the world.
I admit. I always get a little uneasy as soon as I hear “I told you so.” I feel uneasy because in my gut I start sensing that the “I told you so” will be quickly followed by something that person has held in their hip pocket for quite some time as a “here is what you should have done … or you should do from here on out.” To be clear that doesn’t mean it it’s a contextual solution, but rather it is just a “I told you so” solution.
The biggest issue? “I told you so” solutions tend to be simplistic dull edged tactics offered for what is actually a nuanced complex situation. Therein lies the biggest strength a reactionary “I told you so” leader has – simplicity. Because it is a reaction they have the opportunity to dumb down anything & everything to a simplistic “if this, then that” cause & effect action.
95% of leaders recognize that this is not only a false premise for thinking, but faulty behavior for the situation. 5% of leaders see this as their opportunity to “win the moment” and in winning the moment drive through the opportunity reveling in the clash as the reward they deserve for all the past perceived slights they endured.
We should all be wary of any “I told you so” moments. The speaker, more often than not, is using the opportunity to showcase something – hubris, smarts, ego, narcissism, ignorance, etc.
It can be well intended and it can be ill intended.
View it wisely.
Make your choice wisely.
What I do know, from experience, is that a reactionary leader is rarely a wise leader. Their organizations rarely wisely navigate the path to success and are more likely to forge a path strewn with conflict and a see saw of wins & losses where the organization gets stripped of moral & purpose-driven behaviors out of simple survival.
What I do know, from experience, is that I have no desire to be part of that type of organization.