Of Mafia and Last Card. Leading through change.
Updated: Jun 17
In December, we spent two weeks at our beach house in Kudat, Sabah. It’s a black hole retreat: no cellphone coverage and no wifi. There were 6 of us. Roger and I, our 3 teenager-ish boys and Roger’s brother, Symon. Without internet, the kids complained, “I’m bored”. Like, every hour.
After dinners, there was nothing to do. No Netflix. And it was too early to go to bed. So what to do?
Roger & Symon played Last Card when they were kids, and suggested we play it. The kids were keen. Roger and Symon taught us the rules. It’s a lot like Uno, just using a normal deck of cards. We had fun. The next day, the kids were asking to play Last Card.
Then the kids suggested we play Mafia. It’s like a detective role-playing game, where the Mafia covertly “murders” an innocent, and then everyone has to vote who the Mafia is. It wasn’t the first time the kids were suggesting it to us. They had been trying to get Roger and I to play Mafia back in Singapore. The kids would explain the rules, and before they even finished, I would throw my hands up in defeat: "It’s too complicated! I’m not playing!”
This time, I agreed to give it a try. No Netflix. What else was there to do?
The first few attempts were HILARIOUS! I forgot what role I was supposed to play. I kept picking the wrong Mafia. The kids, on the other hand, were incredibly astute in identifying the Mafia. Like they had some special intuition. I was getting a headache. Forget it, let’s go back to playing Last Card.
Soon, the kids were looking forward to after-dinner game time. I was happy to play Last Card, but had to be cajoled into playing Mafia. Then something surprising happened…. I started enjoying the game. Once I got used to how the game is played, I could start strategising. I started appreciating the subtleties of the game: the intrigue, the play-acting, and the whole psychology of it. I started getting better at identifying the Mafia. I was not too shabby a Mafia, either!
GREATNESS IS OFTEN DERAILED BY FEAR
If we want a different result, we have to do things differently. We have to change.
Consciously, we know that change is good, it leads to innovation. But intuitively, we avoid it. Because change is not easy. Change is not easy because of the strong negative emotions we feel when we do something for the first time and suck at it. We move from blissful ignorance to painful awareness. Suddenly, we’re conscious of what we don’t know. We worry about what other people will think of us. This is the stage of conscious incompetence. We feel awkward. We feel embarrassed. We get a headache. It’s only human to get frustrated and give up. Or not try at all.
What if we acknowledged these uncomfortable emotions? What if we accept them like we accept the weather? What if we are more compassionate to ourselves? Maybe that will renew our enthusiasm and we remember why we started on this journey in the first place. Over time, we become more competent. The joy of learning goes up, the fear goes down. We start seeing bright spots - small wins. Things become easier, the bright spots become brighter. It becomes a virtuous cycle.
This stage of conscious incompetence is a necessary step towards greatness. You don't get to greatness without passing this stage. This is where most people give up.
This is the edge of greatness.
NEW BEGINNINGS IS OFTEN DISGUISED AS PAINFUL ENDINGS
As leaders, we play a critical role in guiding our organisations to take that giant leap towards greatness. And keep on that path to greatness.
I’ve witnessed leaders who chose to lay the blame on others, inevitably dragging themselves into a perpetual cycle of hire-and-fire, not realising that they're just running back to bliss ignorance.
As an authentic leader, it’s our responsibility to work each day to chart the right course, rally the team down the rabbit hole and make corrections when we inevitably fail. It’s our responsibility to remind our team that it’s okay to feel all those horrible feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment. It’s our responsibility to recognise that we're standing at the edge of greatness. We must not be afraid of it. Greatness is a matter of choice. It has to come from within, and that's where the power lies.
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