Merge's Blog

Why substance matters more than style

Two weeks ago I was speaking at a client event in Amsterdam, and as luck would have it, my visit to Holland coincided with the six weeks during which tulips bloom.  What an absolutely spectacular sight – miles upon miles of tulip fields in every colour you can imagine – red, pink, orange, yellow, and every shade in between for as far as the eye could see!  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that these flowers were not grown for their blooms, but rather for their bulbs.  In fact this week, probably as I write this post, harvesters are making their way down the rows upon rows of tulips and chopping the flower heads off, letting them drop right there on the ground.  Soon the fields will be dug up and the tens of thousands of bulbs will be packaged and shipped around the world.  A Dutch colleague explained it to me.  “Cut flowers are always beautiful,” she said, “but the real worth of these tulips lies in what you can’t see.  What’s below the ground is actually much more valuable and important.  Cut flowers only last a few days, but the bulbs can be planted in gardens around the world and then can be enjoyed for several weeks instead of several days.”

It got me thinking about how sometimes as leaders we get sidetracked in the workplace by the sizzle instead of the steak; we wrongly focus on style instead of substance.  We get distracted by the pretty bloom that has short-term value instead of focusing on the invisible bulb that has long-term potential.  I am personally aware of several situations where outgoing vocal employees were rated higher over those who were quiet or introverted, and I can recall at least one instance in which a vendor with the better product presentation won the contract despite the fact that another offered better service and terms.  What about you?  Have you observed situations in the workplace where style won out over substance?  Do you think it was okay?  Do tell.

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