Regaining Your Virginity

We went through a fascinating exercise this week at the Drucker Institute: figuring out what our “leemers” are.

“When something unexpected happens, you’ll know it because you’ll feel surprised, puzzled, agitated, anxious, unsettled, frustrated, or even startled,” Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe write in their 2007 book Managing the Unexpected. “Aviators call these feelings leemers (probably from leery).”

The leemer that’s left us most unsettled at the Drucker Institute is this: We’ve held several gatherings of high-level executives from corporations, nonprofits and academe. The first event failed to include any representation from government. So did the next. And, the next. We’d used any number of excuses to explain away this weakness. Now, we’ve recognized these repeated slips for what they are: a serious hole in our game. We’re confronting it and are pursuing a plan to fill it.

[EXPAND More]Weick and Sutcliffe revisit the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and find leemers lurking everywhere. “When unexpected burns appeared on the O-rings that sealed sections of the booster rockets, engineers enlarged their definition of what was an ‘acceptable risk’ to include these indications that hot gases were leaking past the gaskets…

“The words of NASA’s Larry Wear say it all: ‘Once you’ve accepted an anomaly or something less than perfect, you know, you’ve given up your virginity.’”

Peter Drucker had his own way at getting at leemers. His idea: “The people who work with a manager write a monthly letter to him or her, reporting on anything unusual or unexpected” that they’ve noticed on the job.

“Most of these ‘unusual’ things,” Drucker wrote in his 1999 book Management Challenges for the 21st Century, “can be safely disregarded.

But again and again, there is an ‘exceptional’ event, one that is outside the normal range of probability distribution. Again and again, there is a concentration of events—insignificant in each reporter’s area, but significant if added together.”

The real goal of this monthly letter, Drucker suggested, is to guarantee that “there are no surprises” and to ensure that “before events become significant, executives have already adjusted to them, analyzed them, understood them and taken appropriate action.”

So, what’s your biggest leemer—and how will you let your manager know about it?[/EXPAND]


What’s your biggest leemer—and how will you let your manager know about it?