Leadership Forum: Making it look easy
February 24, 2023 By Matt Pegg
Have you ever watched someone do something that appeared automatic and even easy?
Think about first learning to drive a car, when everything required conscious, planned and carefully thought-out actions and effort. Nothing was smooth, and most manoeuvres were both awkward and exaggerated. However, as your competence and experience grew, things became easier, smoother, and more natural looking and feeling. Now, as an experienced driver, you seldom need to consciously think about driving your vehicle at all. It now seems to come naturally to you.
I often have the opportunity to be on scene and observe our teams perform incredibly complex and demanding operations, often making it look easy. I remember standing alongside a large and gathering crowd as one of our technical rescue experts began their descent from a construction tower crane with a rescued patient in hand, quickly completing the complicated high-angle rescue safely and efficiently. This professional and the entire team made it all look easy.
Likewise, I am always amazed by the ability of our emergency vehicle technicians to service, repair and maintain the most technologically advanced and complex heavy apparatus like it is second nature to them. Equally impressive is seeing fire prevention officers inspect and enforce the fire code in some of the world’s tallest and most complex buildings; seeing fire investigators accurately determine the origin and cause of fires; and listening to the calm, efficient voices of our emergency call-takers and dispatchers as they process and dispatch incoming emergency calls only to then support the incident command process throughout the incident.
As leaders, we have the privilege of having a front row seat when members of our teams make hard, complex, challenging, and difficult work look “easy”. Unfortunately, leaders can mistake the apparent ease that people display during these complex operations as the achievement being something that really doesn’t require much effort or expertise at all.
There is an important leadership truth to be found here; something that the worst leaders never understand, and the best leaders never forget. The easier something looks to those observing, the harder someone has worked to be able to deliver it with such apparent ease. Making something look easy is the outward expression and application of the highest level of ability, which is often referred to as unconscious competence.
Unconscious competence is found in people who are so proficient and competent at a particular function, that it looks easy, effortless, and as though anyone could do it. This is the highest level of competence, found only in those who have practiced and refined their skills to such a high level that they don’t even need to consciously think about what they are doing. Sports are filled with these examples, with highlight reels celebrating these extraordinary and incredible results.
If you’ve ever watched a professional golfer hit shots, only to then head out on your local golf course to replicate their golf swing, you know exactly what I am speaking about. They make it look easy, but only because of the thousands of hours of practice, learning, honing and perfecting that they have invested when there was no one there to watch. Of course, these players have significant raw talent. But practice, hard work and experience are the only things that will ever convert raw talent into demonstrated ability, in anyone.
The very best leaders among us know, respect, and go out of their way to acknowledge that when someone makes something look easy, they are actually giving us a small glimpse into how hard they have worked to be able to deliver those results at that level.
As leaders, never underestimate the impact you will have when you go out of your way to identify, acknowledge, and appreciate the incredible results that are being delivered around you each day. The best leaders are energized and excited by the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of those around them.
Unfortunately, publicly acknowledging the results of your team will often result in criticism from the weak leaders around you. Weak leaders feel threatened when this happens and often attempt to boost their own egos by criticizing the achievements of others or by declaring the accomplishments of others as being “easy” or insignificant. Unfortunately, ego and self-awareness will never co-exist, so they are generally oblivious to their own behaviour and to how it makes them look.
Take the time to celebrate those around you, especially those who make it look easy, and let them know that you appreciate how hard they have worked to be able to perform at that level.
That’s what leaders do.
Matthew Pegg is the chief with Toronto Fire Services, having previously served in Georgina, Ajax and Brampton, Ont. Contact Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @ChiefPeggTFS.
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