In software development we have a term for design or architectural decisions that will ‘save time now,’ but will not be great building blocks in the future called ‘tech debt.’ A similar phenomenon may happen in project management that I’m calling morale debt: a decision is made that will not build up, empower, or strengthen the team, but will produce a sense of expediency.
It is known that tech debt will need to be repaid, often with interest, but leading people into morale debt comes with a steep cost that can be much greater to recover from. Once a leader forces an issue, violates trust, and removes ownership from individual contributors earning trust again can take months to years.
Morale debt may cause an entire organization to operate with great dysfunction [see also: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team] because at the core of morale debt comes a destruction of trust. You don’t borrow from a pool of funds, you reset to a negative balance instantly, and the payback must be done in installments, it can’t be repaid in 20 minutes. All apologies only start on the path to reestablishing trust. Steps will have to be taken to regrow trust and a new history of trust will have to be created.
One violation, but hundreds of steps to correction. On top of that morale debt may cause teams to dysfunction as sides become politicized and so causing trust to be lost and morale to be destroyed could be needing repayment for months at different layers.
Morale debt is not insurmountable, but if you ignore it, you will be crawling on your knees for miles in the hope that penance has been paid. Don’t do it. Move slower; move deliberately; check your emotional intelligence, and seek counsel from those you trust.
Debt sucks, morale debt may be a death knell for your organization.
In 9th grade I had a tremendous amount of apathy for time not spent with friends. On a scale from none to “kiln me now” I was pretty sure that working on anything for school was stupid as I was going to become a rock legend. Rock legends don’t need backup plans. Then Mr.H. happened to me and my history class. The first day of class he said and did a number of things with great intensity. He kicked our collective apathetic butts, and he made us think – even if it was with a little fear.
He told us that the next class we’d take the hardest test we’d ever take (it was), and that if we promised to study he wouldn’t give us another one that hard. So we came into class and ran out knuckles over the cheese grater of his test and realized in brokenness that we weren’t as smart as we thought we were. But then something really cool happened: we realized he actually cared about us.
Mr. H. drew a long line across two chalk boards and used his thumb nail to scratch a tiny line out of the chalk. He turned to the class and said “This side of the line represents the infinite of the past. And this side of the line represents the infinite of the future. And this scratch represents your life. Can you see how short it is? You can’t change the past, but you can have a massive impact on the future, and it’s my job to help you do that.”
And my life has never been the same since.
– the MGMT
If you’ve never heard of Dave Ramsey, Jim Collins, or Patrick Lencioni, then you’re missing out. That being said, get introduced to their material on leadership here. These guys have had a large amount of influence on leaders all around the world.
I have read a number of books on leadership, and I intend to read many more, but The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership stands out as a great summary list of qualities you want to cultivate in yourself. It was so impressive that I committed the list to memory. The book’s purpose is to give you a list of laws, or attributes, that you need to be aware of, understand their value, and then to encourage you to seek to develop those attributes in yourself. The Laws are:
- The Law of the Lid
- The Law of Influence
- The Law of Process
- The Law of Navigation
- The Law of Addition
- The Law of Solid Ground
- The Law of Respect
- The Law of Intuition
- The Law of Magnetism
- The Law of Connection
- The Law of the Inner Circle
- The Law of Empowerment
- The Law of the Picture
- The Law of Buy-In
- The Law of Victory
- The Law of Momentum
- The Law of Priorities
- The Law of Sacrifice
- The Law of Timing
- The Law of Explosive Growth
- The Law of Legacy
I expect to go into these in more detail in future blog posts because each one has an entire chapter dedicated to it and writing a terse description of each law is probably a hair too terse.
As a leader understanding how to unpack each one of these principles will help you guide your team to excellengce and to help them lead others to excellence. It will build a Leadership Pipeline that can handle the varying demands on each layer because they have a root system that is feeding them, growing them, and allowing them to handle the daily tasks of a leader.