One of my favorite characters is Mullah Nasruddin, a Sufi mystic and philosopher believed to have lived in the Middle Ages. In order to understand why he is so beloved to me, let me tell you a story from my early executive career.
As I looked down the long conference table and into the eyes of 13 other CEOs, I realized I was way out of my depth. I was 29 years old and running a brand-new merger acquisition firm. I had been invited to be a part of a Vistage group with executives far more seasoned than I. In fact, I had had to count the plants in the office lobby as employees in order to meet the minimum company size to be a member.
On that particular day a respected leadership author and team builder had been invited to speak to our group. He posed to us the opening question: “Please name the most impressive quality of each CEO in the group.” When it came time for the others to name my quality, the group offered up the lukewarm endorsement of, “Alan’s strongest attribute is the ability to make the obvious more so.”
From that day forward that was the comic moniker that I carried.
Some years later, as I was living in India, I was introduced to the stories of Mullah Nasruddin. The very first story I heard was the following:
Once Mulla Nasruddin was forced to come to the court because he had been found again drunk on the street.
The magistrate said, “Nasruddin, I remember seeing you so many times for this same offense. Have you got any explanation for your habitual drunkenness?”
Nasruddin said, “Of course, your Honor. I have an explanation for my habitual drunkenness. This is my explanation: habitual thirst.”
In that moment I recognized that I had found a kindred spirit with that same ability to make the obvious more so.
In our leadership and corporate world today we have the predilection to build sophisticated and complicated models that many times covers up the simplicity that lies below.
Now I’m curious as to your thoughts on this subject. Do you ever stop and ask yourself “Would the simple and obvious work in this case?” And if you do, tell me about your experience with this approach. For I have found that over the years that the young CEO that lives inside this much older man still tries to dollop out the obvious.
photo taken by hiroaki hirano via flickr
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