Hacks – The Quintessential Leader Perspective

Posted: March 26, 2018 in Practical Quintessential Leadership
Tags: , , , , , ,

Hacks lead to poor quality, and, in the long run, cost more in time, effort, and moneyOne of the best summaries I’ve read on the etymology of the word hack appeared in The New Yorker a few years ago.

The word itself generally has, in historical terms, a negative connotation (which is why programmers who try to break into networks and/or computers are known as hackers), and, since in reality its results are, for the most part, negative, that’s how we’ll look at the word in this article.

Hacks have become ubiquitous in our society with one of the definitions being shortcuts that will supposedly save time, money, and/or effort.

There are a few minor hacks that achieve one of these. A couple of examples off the top of my head are hitting garlic cloves with the flat blade of a knife to easily remove the skins or a wooden spoon laid across the top of a boiling pot to keep it from boiling over.

But, for organizations, in general, hacks lead to poor quality, and, in the long run, cost more in time, effort, and money.

Most organizations have abandoned quality in their products and services. Because their primary focus is on speed and spending as little money as possible, most organizations have resorted to relying on hacks as their primary way of doing business.

Most hacks are, by nature, sloppy. The resources – people, tools, and equipment – are inferior. And the results – products and services – may kind of, sort of work in the short-term (or they may not), but in the long-term, they fail completely.

Sometimes, the lack of quality is apparent right away.

I was recently working on a project with someone who decided to hack the project, ignoring what I, as the project manager, had specifically laid out in terms of the time, the tools, the tasks (both what needed to be done and in what order), and costs needed to do a quality project with excellent results.

And knowing I was going to be the one cleaning up – more time, more tools, more tasks, and more costs – after this person because I am handling the project long-term, I decided to stand back and listen and observe and learn.

Here’s what I learned.

Most people who rely on hacks as a way of life have neither depth of knowledge nor any clue at all about what they are doing.

Watching and listening to this person – who tried to present themselves as an expert (if someone wasn’t listening carefully, they had just enough buzz words to sound knowledgeable, but I both listened attentively and kept asking harder and harder questions that any expert would have known the answers to, but this person got flummoxed quickly and resorted to outright lying to cover up their ineptitude) – it was obvious that this was their first time to this rodeo and they were YouTubing it all the way.

How do I know?

Because I’ve done projects like this so many times that I could do them in my sleep and there’s a definitive order in which things need to be done and there’s a definitive right path to take to accomplish them successfully.

The expert decided to watch a few YouTube videos (they were so clueless that they told me this) without any knowledge about what the project was and what it entailed and decided they knew how to do it.

Hacks generally sacrifice the details of a high caliber process from the very beginning to the very end.

This person started the project badly. Not only did they not start at the beginning, but the first task they did was literally a mess and there is no way it would have worked at all either in short run or the long run.

I did point this out to the person and explained to them again the order of tasks and what needed to be fixed when we got to this task.

People who rely on hacks as a way of life won’t listen to anybody. They are so convinced that they know everything that it is impossible to coach or lead them onto a correct path. 

Once on the incorrect path, hacks end up going south exponentially in every way.

This person was so committed to their hack that every next step just compounded the mess that was unfolding. There were layers upon layers of mistakes, errors, and completely inaccurate processes.

People who rely on hacks as a way of life believe things are finished and they’ve done a good job – and will defend to the death both – despite all the evidence to the contrary.

When this person decided the project was finished, they pronounced it complete to me and patted themselves generously on the back for a job well done as they were leaving.

Except that the project wasn’t finished nor was it well done. So after this person left, I got the right resources and started over to do the project right.

As a result, the project is behind schedule (it’s a multiphase project) and more effort and cost has been poured into it to make it right.

Quintessential leaders don’t rely on hacks as a way of life. Most shortcuts, as appealing as they appear to be, end up not being shortcuts when it’s all said and done.

Instead, quintessential leaders strive to do it right the first time.

They know their projects inside and out (even if it’s something they are unfamiliar with, they will educate themselves so that they know everything they need to know to complete projects successfully) are straightforward about what resources they need to ensure a quality product and/or service.

Quintessential leaders set realistic parameters around projects in terms of the time, the resources, the efforts, and the costs that will be needed to do them correctly.

Often, though, organizations don’t care about this and use people who rely on hacks as a way of life the first time and then call in the quintessential leaders to clean up the mess that proceeds from their poor decisions.

None of us who is striving to become a quintessential leader should be relying on hacks (always looking for shortcuts and ways to cut corners, knowing that quality will be sacrificed in the process) as a way of life.

Our commitment should be to always get it right the first time and to do whatever is necessary on our parts – time and hard work are often the most important tools we must be willing to use – to make sure the end result is successful in terms of quality and longevity.

How are we doing?




  1. Martha Peeples says:

    Excellent post! The truest statement is how, with hacks, things “go south exponentially.” Being able to recognize when a project is going in the wrong direction, and then being willing to stop and re-examine your options, are critical traits of a good leader. Unfortunately, it’s more common to see the opposite: when “experts” hack harder in the wrong direction, leaving a rapidly expanding mess in their wake.


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