9 Tasks of leadership, Task #5 – achieving workable unity



The capacity more powerful than any other in a leader is the ability to articulate vision because vision is a beckoning target. It articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future for your organization. It makes you focus your attention on worthwhile and attainable achievements. It provides the social and spiritual architecture that frames your identity.

It is the capacity to focus, and the leader’s imperative to continually inspire effort towards that focus, that provides the energy to achieve workable unity.

No Vision – No Destiny

No Purpose – No Direction

No Direction – No Progress

No Progress – No Growth

No Growth – Decay and Failure

Direction and progress demand effort, talent, and responsibility. Unity gathers those three components in pursuit of one vision. When the parties involved pursue other visions, even noble ones that becomes two visions which is Division. Division hinders progress towards your objectives or stops it entirely.

So a workable unity is imperative. The keyword here is workable. You are not asking your associates to abandon other visions, but to subjugate them for the sake of the vision of the job. For the hours they work, your vision as leader (or the representative of the leader) is paramount.

It can be as simple as asking associates to turn off cell phones so they can work unhindered by interruptions or it can be as complex as motivating strong-willed independent associates  to just get along with others.

So, you the leader will be required to deal with INTERNAL conflict – the conflict that arises between associates – and EXTERNAL conflict – the conflict that arises between associates and you or other managers. Conflict management is a subject too comprehensive to cover in the small space that remains in this post, but I will address it soon.

Workable unity cannot be mandated, at least not for long. Demanding that others comply works only with those least developed, most immature workers. Mature and more developed associates will not respond to demands for compliance for long.

Their unity must be earned. How?

  1. They willingly and eagerly comply with a vision, and its corresponding demands for effort, talent, and responsibility, because they believe in the vision it resonates within. It matches their own ambitions and expectations for the future.
  2. They willing and continually comply with your vision because you demonstrate authenticity. The image you promote is discovered to match who it is you are. In the previous post I said that motivation happens when people want what it is that you’ve got because you reflect with what you do and how you function what it is that you say you should be. When image matches reality, unity is both demonstrated and promoted. Your associates see it so they comply.

I want to make one last comment on the concept of workable unity. Like you, your associates have a life outside of work. You should live it and you should let them live it as well. Workable unity means sufficient unity to get the job done in reasonable harmony, to maintain a workplace free of hostility, and to accomplish the organizations objectives with excellence.

On Thursday, task # 6 is Explaining. See you then.

9 tasks, #4 – Managing – The 4 laws that demand your attention to keep your organization running smoothly

cowFor centuries inventors have dreamed of a perpetual motion machine, one that will run unattended forever. No such machine exists nor can it in this environment. Leaders have dreamed of a perpetual motion company too, one that will run never needing attention. If there is a common failing in novice leaders it is that one. They want to think that once a process or strategy is introduced and put into effect, it will run by itself. Like the fantasy perpetual motion machine the unattended company or organization will never exist.

Why? There are 4 laws that prevent that from happening.

Law #1 – the law of friction.

When two parts or two people work together the natural and expected result is friction. Friction generates heat. Heat causes components to expand beyond their normal size which will affect working tolerances and will slow the machinery ultimately leading to a breakdown. Careful engineering and attention will forestall, but not prevent, the ultimate need to replace parts. Even then, they need regular lubrication which in this contect means attention from you. Greasing the wheels is a subject too large for this one post, but it means rewards in the form of money, title, prestige, affirmation, and responsibility.

Law #2 – the law of cause and effect means that for every action there is something that causes it and some consequences as the result of it.

Push too hard and risk burning out the works. Ignore your producers and they will eventually run out of fuel. Neglect careful planning and chaos will result. Forego making decisions and anarchy sets in. Fail to keep the vision alive and apathy takes over.

Law #3 – the law of wear and tear

Nothing and no one stays the same. People change. They get tired, they get better offers, they get bored, they get…well you get the idea. Renewal is required for every and all moving parts. The only time wear and tear does not apply is when a piece of equipment is in cold storage. Nothing happening means nothing will happen. Motion means movement and progress (hopefully). Motion and movement mean wear and tear. Wear and tear mean maintenance. Take care of your people and they will take care of you. Neglect them and they will take care of themselves first.

Law #4 – the law of unforeseen events and independent will

When I owned a millwork business in the Caribbean, one of my employees was a retired US Air Force Officer. We would discuss the parallels between military strategy and business…and they are remarkable similar in principle. One that stood out was this law. Regardless of how clearly you envision the future and how thoroughly you plan the strategy and how ccarefully you consider the contingencies, no plan, no system, no directive survives contact with the real worl without some modification because of unforeseen events and the independent will of those who work with you (your staff and associates) and those who work against you (your business competitors and those within you own company who for whatever reason are determined to prusue their own agenda over yours).

The trouble with cows is that they never stay milked. You can select the most productive cows, provide them the most beneficial environment, give them the most healthy food, but if you milk them this morning they will need to be milked again tonight. Leadership requires more than painting pretty pictures with a broad brush. Grand plans demand diligence and detail to execute.  Leaders must manage if it means nothing more than managing your managers. The ultimate responsibility for the smooth operation and productive output of your company or organization is yours.

On Monday, Task # 5 – achieving workable unity.

See you then.

9 tasks of leadership – Task # 1 = Envisioning Goals

paintingThe following is list of the activities effective leaders pursue. It is not a list of items to schedule throughout the day. The precise things you do should support the 9 tasks. Sound confusing? Well, it is easier demonstrated than defined so let’s step in.

Task #1 – Envisioning Goals

The challenge of keeping the future connected to the present is always there. Managers of necessity must focus on immediate tasks and make sure quotas are being met and processes are being followed. Leaders must focus on the ultimate objectives of the group and its role in the larger organization. Manager’s live and die by numbers. Leaders live and die by less rigid criteria.

Everyone knows that goals must be SMART – Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable so I will not cover that ground here. Leaders neither ignore those goals nor sabotage them. They ENVISION those goals. They paint a picture of what it will be like when the goals are attained. More correctly, they have envisioned the end result BEFORE any goals were defined. Doing things is one thing. Doing the correct things, that is doing those things that will lead one down the path to the correct destination is another thing. In this setting the object is not to go there but to get there.

The task of envisioning goals you will fulfill as a leader is 3 dimensional.

First, you will describe what the group can be at its best and do your best to assure and inspire the group that they can indeed be that group. You will lead people with confidence, with uncertainty, with cynicism, with doubt, with fear. It is your task as a leader to inspire them to overcome their hesitancies, uncertainties, cynicism, and fears.


By clearly painting a picture of an attractive and realistic future. Don’t speak of goals without pointing out past successes, your appreciation of those past successes, and your confidence that the future goals can indeed be reached.

Celebrate incremental victories along the way without mentioning in the same celebration all the work yet to be done. Let victories be savored before throwing more work out there, before pointing out all that remains to be done. I wrote about the deflating effects of such poorly executed tactics here.

Second, point toward solutions not problems. Don’t ignore problems, but don’t focus on then either. The summary concept in the task of envisioning goals is FOCUS. What stands in sharp contrast in your word picture and what is in the foreground fuzz or background haze? FOCUS on the solution and its manifest resolution. In the world of digital photography and graphics, the concept of high resolution has come into common vocabulary. In that setting, high resolution is the inclusion of detail and sharp contrast making the photo or graphic more visible, more appreciated, more attractive. In your setting high resolution focus does the same thing. It brings the whole picture of an attractive and desirable future into focus because you made it so.

Third, define overarching goals that unite people and focus energy. The concept of teamwork and team function is everywhere, but not always well-executed. Comprehensive goals, goals that place one person’s contribution with another, one group’s participation alongside the others enables your team to see how the team functions. This cannot be done in a passing manner. I will address the means of communication very soon, but let me add here that your most important task is speaking with the people you work with. Email has its place, memos serve a purpose, general announcements do their job, but nothing, I mean NOTHING takes the place of a personal conversation with your staff. If you’re too busy to do this, you have allowed the wrong priorities to overwhelm.

The next post on Thursday will cover task #2 – Affirming Values.

Helping your associates grow

I want a staff entirely populated by trusted associates. Everyone does but hardly anyone has a staff who function at that level all the time. Someone somewhere at some time is unaware, that is to say, they are unconsciously incompetent.

You’ve probably seen this chart but I’ve put it in for a visual reference. Louis, the intern mentioned in the two previous posts, functioned more at that level that at any other, but was blissfully unaware of his incompetence. The operative word here is “blissfully”. Louis was incompetent, did not know he was incompetent, but had never been put up against visible, measureable, cognitive standards of awareness and performance to the point that he could grasp his incompetence.

He didn’t know that he didn’t know and, in that happy state of foggy standards, had appraised himself to be above average.

Effective leaders cyclically expose followers to concepts, skills, ideas, and tasks they don’t already know. This is called growth.

Notice I said cyclically. I did not say continually or regularly. To do so regularly or continually will provoke frustration, anger, fatigue, dismay, and deflation. People need positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment if they are to remain motivated.

But, they also need to be challenged if they are to avoid arrogance and self-righteousness. So, don’t nag, it works against you.

If you have people in your staff at the lowest level – forced laborer, (See the chart here) you should consider either finding a place for them to function somewhere else, or hand them off to a subordinate who can manage them thus freeing you to lead the others.

At the other three levels you can by and large leave people alone to do their jobs unless and until your direct intervention is called for. You, as leader, are monitoring and measuring two critical components – competence and confidence.

What are you looking for? You are looking for the teachable moment, that point when the person you are leading becomes aware that either they are ignorant of a required skill, attitude, aptitude, or insight and need to be instructed or they know of it but need coaching to integrate the skill, attitude, or aptitude.

If you try to intervene when a person is confident and competent your intervention will be regarded as interference and provoke resentment. If you try to intervene when the person is unconsciously incompetent, you will confound them.

I am not suggesting that you simply leave people alone to flounder around until they get so frustrated they ask for help. I am suggesting that you lead, not ignore. Remember the three essential skills of effective leadership?

  1. Understand what’s going on all the time everywhere.
  2. Know what needs to be done.
  3. The ability to influence those you lead to follow your leadership.

So, your role is to:

  1. Know where you want to go with the person you’re working with.
  2. Know where you are.
  3. Know what steps to take to get from where you are to where you want to go.
  4. Do that over and over.

The function of development is cyclical. It should get easier along the way because you build confidence within the person(s) you are leading and you strengthen their confidence between you and them so they more comfortably respond to your leadership. They develop confidence in your competence while they deepen confidence in their own competence too.

Barrier #4 – We Lead By One Approach Most of the Time

man at chartOur particular, and in some cases peculiar, personality style gives rise and abets a favorite leadership style. In the 1960’s, Douglas McGregor’s study suggested two divergent leadership/management styles – Type X and Type Y. The Type X style, according to the researcher, is a top-down, task oriented style. Type X managers favor giving orders, making demands, setting standards, enforcing rules, and exercising discipline. Type Y managers favor participative, team-building management. Most of us usually mix the two with one approach dominating the other. Continued management and leadership style research now favors a gradient of approaches from very directive to very disengaged.

All of us have a favorite approach, even though most of us have not identified it nor do we consciously apply it. Like talents, our favored, most often used management/leadership style is a natural response, the one on which we most often rely. We can, with education and training, learn other styles and apply them with varying degrees of success. This is where a strategic association comes in. Strategic associates can both point out our favored style and provide additional approaches to management in our reach for the outer limits of our circle of concern.

This is not a series on management/leadership styles so I won’t explore them in depth just yet (coming though). However, a brief description should provoke you to begin the process of identification of the one(s) you most naturally apply. At the risk of over-simplifying a complex subject, there are four basic approaches to leading/managing others. Two relate to task effectiveness, that is, getting things done. Two favor relationships, that is, getting people involved.

The “hands-off” style supports task effectiveness although in a peculiar way. Hands off leaders are nearly disengaged from the work process. They lead by not leading, believing their absence or lack of participation will create a vacuum thus forcing others to get involved. This can be ineffective but there are times when it is the best thing to do. If you have an associate that is ready to take on more responsibility, your withdrawal will push them into action. The hands-off manager leader typically withdraws, postpones, and avoids responsibility. Only the most self-motivated, self-directing people will put up with it for long. Conversely, highly motivated, capable, and self-starting people actually like a hands-off manager. They tend to regard participation by a manager or supervisor as interference and welcome his or her distance.

The “hands-on” manager/leader is so focused on objectives to be reached and efficiency of operations that people are often considered to be objects. Task oriented manager and leaders regiment, judge, and reward or punish behavior. They are often considered control freaks, especially if they seldom or never manifest another style. This type of manager/leader will have a difficult time adding others to a strategic partnership for long, but when the chips are down and a drop-dead crisis is approaching this is exactly the type of style needed.

“Let’s talk” manager and leaders concern themselves with people more than projects. They are most dedicated to getting everyone involved. They tend to entertain, want to have lots of fun, avoid judgement (even when a little discernment and direction would be helpful), and they often seek approval. This style can be misinterpreted. Rather than assuming the partnership is capable and self-directing, person-oriented manager/leaders can assume the group is fragile and needs them to provide cohesion and support.

“All work” manager leaders seem to include all the above, but they typically are a bit more task-oriented than not. They are totally involved in the workplace and the work process. They typically initiate participation, involve others, assimilate ideas, reinforce behavior, and solidify conclusions and decisions. This style can be put offish to some who don’t want to be more than casually involved or those who are self-starting, self-directing, self-motivating.

At either end are two styles most ineffective and irritating, but they bear mentioning. There is the slave, a person who serves at the beck and call of everyone they work with. It can hardly be called a management/leadership style because it neither manages nor leads. It lets everyone else do so. Slaves cannot build a strategic partnership because they cannot find the time or energy to do what’s important to themselves. They are quite occupied doing what everyone else wants done.

Then there is the martyr. Similar to the slave, this person works very hard and does what others won’t, but they are quite vocal about it. The martyr uses their hard work and willingness to help as a lever to meddle in everyone else’s affairs and make them feel guilty for not doing what they, the martyr are quite willing to do. Gifted manipulators they, martyrs cannot build an effective strategic partnership because they won’t claim responsibility for their own desires and objectives. They have them, they just won’t or can’t let anyone think they would ever do anything so selfish and self-serving as pursue a personal goal. I’ll discuss this in depth in the chapter on motivation and manipulation.

Why Do You Need Others?

If you are ever going to engage the outer limits of your circle of concern, you will have to employ and deploy others. The talents with which you were born, the time granted to you, the personality developed within you, and the management/leadership style manifested by you have brought you to the point of success and the brink of exhaustion. You might have even tried to assimilate others into your partnership of assistants. You have probably done so with varying degrees of success. The first and most critical concern is selecting the right people, ones who will indeed facilitate your success. There are people who will extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work. If you’ve tried to light a fire under others before and gotten burned, then read on. There is an easy and simple method for determining who to recruit.

Here’s A Simple Task That Will Extend Your Reach Right Now!

Retrieve the lists you made at the conclusion of the post “2 choices & 3 tasks to change your life today”.

Review each name on the list of people you can immediately conscript. For each one answer the following questions:

  1. To what task or position on my “give away” list will this person be assigned?
  2. Is this person a good personality match to work with me in the task or position for which they are being considered?
  3. Will my natural leadership style provide the right kind of support in this capacity?
  4. How, exactly, will this person extend my reach?

Barrier #2 – We Can Do Many Things, But Not Everything

busyIn the previous post I defined Barrier #1 – We Have Limited Time. Today I will define barrier #2 – We can do many things but we cannot do everything. (Hint – this is a longer article than I normally like to post but I am confident you will find it worthwhile.)

So then, what talents do you have? By this time in life, you probably know. But can you list them? Maybe not.

Many people just do certain things and avoid others without considering why. What do you do for a hobby? Of the many tasks that confront you every day, what tasks do you perform first? What bores you? What do you put off as long as you can? If the schedule gets tight, what falls through the cracks? What do you do when no one is paying you to do it? What do others consistently ask you to do?

We typically gravitate toward tasks and responsibilities that employ our innate gifts and away from those that don’t. While knowledge may be acquired and skills developed, talents are what come naturally and easily to you. Talents, when put into action, make us feel good about ourselves and what we have done. We employ them precisely because they are comfortable. Tasks and responsibilities outside our natural deposit of talents make us feel stressed, anxious, or unsatisfied.

Talents show up everywhere – at home, at work, in recreation. If we have a talent for planning, we plan everything. Even the routine of planning is planned. If we are visionaries, we see the future with excitement and anticipation. If we are organizers, we organize everything and everyone who will let us. But as much as talents are natural and show up everywhere, they are invisible.

When do others get annoyed with you? This question is so often the best clue of your talent. Our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness because we overuse our talents, especially when we don’t know what our talents are. Unrecognized talents are dangerous. We rely on our talent even when it’s not needed. For instance, a skillful planner ignores creative input because she’s too logical. A take-charge manager unwittingly discourages others from sharing his ideas. A research scientist continues to gather data long after it’s time for a decision. An entrepreneur takes unnecessary risks when it’s critical to play it safe. There’s an old saying: To someone with only a hammer everything looks like a nail. When we know our talents, we can optimize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.

Want to find out what your talents are? Complete this sentence:

I am _____________________________________.

  • Don’t respond with a job title. This exercise is not about your career, it’s about you as a person. Respond with adjectives that describe the unique qualities you bring to any situation (innovative, creative, determined, easygoing…).
  • Respond with nouns that define the roles you most often, most comfortably play (leader, follower, number-two person, planner, organizer, motivator, problem-solver, etc.).
  • Insert the word “that” and complete the sentence with words describing the benefit others receive from your presence and participation ( resolves conflict, gets things going, builds coalitions, etc.).

When you’re finished it should look something like this: “I am a focused, creative visionary that gets things going.”

Below is a list of fifteen possible talents. Identify several talents that are easy for you. Remember, talents are natural, knowledge is acquired, skills are developed. Which of these possible talents jump out and attach themselves naturally to you?

I am a Creator – I love to innovate.

I take abstract ideas and turn them into concrete projects (or timelines, products or services) that others can use. However, once the idea or project is fleshed out, I lose interest.

Implementer – I am action-oriented.

I know how to get things done. I often don’t come up with the original idea, but I know how to make things happen. Just tell me what’s needed and turn me loose. Everything starts moving when I’m involved.

Facilitator – I keep the process moving.

I make sure that people are getting along and focusing on what needs to be done. I see the value of different views and help people appreciate other perspectives.

Visionary – I see what can be.

I see where we need to go in the future. My ideas are ahead of their time. I can imagine what does not yet exist. I see new possibilities. It takes others a while to see what I’m trying to describe.

Analyzer – I see the factors at work in situations.

I can take in large amounts of data and identify trends. When something goes wrong, I can sort through the facts and get to the bottom of it. I use a rational, logical approach to solving problems.

Planner – I put things in sequence.

I anticipate what’s needed. I can see where problems might arise and what we need to do to have everything work out well. I lay out what needs to be done and if people follow my plan, things go smoothly.

Coordinator – I join this to that.

I like to orchestrate events. I bring people together and coordinate a host of details in order to pull off a project or event. I can keep track of a million details and bring it all together in the end.

Mentor – people look to me for advice, direction, input.

I enjoy developing people. I am often a coach or a sponsor for individuals or initiatives. I like to teach or advise individuals and I take an interest in them.

Promoter – I talk things up, get people involved.

I get others interested in new ideas, products or services. I generate enthusiasm by talking to lots of people and bring attention to new ideas, projects and possibilities.

Integrator – I fit things and people in.

I bring people and ideas together. I see the interrelationships between ideas or tasks and connect them to achieve a common purpose.

Improver – I’m not critical, I simply see flaws easily.

I quickly see problems inherent in a new design or document or plan. I quickly find the mistakes and flaws. If you don’t like criticism, don’t run your ideas by me. I like to improve an idea and make it better.

Developer – I build something where there was nothing.

I like to develop new ideas, projects or businesses and make them successful. I can take a small project or idea and develop it into a large, successful project, prototype or business that has value and that others want.

Investigator – I sniff out information.

I like to research the facts. I gather data from many sources and synthesize what I find. I search out new information from diverse sources. I never have enough data. If it requires research, let me do it.

Broker – I network this person with that one.

I like to put people in touch with one another. I have a broad network of friends and associates that I connect with each other. Others come to me to find valuable resources they need for projects.

Communicator – I like being the one in the know and letting others in on what’s happening.

I like to communicate what’s going on. I am often in the know about things. People come to me to find out what’s happening.


Knowing what I’m good at is one-third the equation.

We also need to know what we’re not good at. If I do some things well, I do other things not so well and I do some things poorly. If I want to extend my reach, multiply my effectiveness, divide my work, and quicken my pace I can use help in those things I don’t do so well and absolutely must have help for those things I do badly. But there is a final element that threatens both of the first two.

Because you are effective as the result of your unique talents, you probably think that others should be like you. It is hard for planners to understand why others can’t, or won’t plan. If you broker people together, you might not have much patience with someone who prefers to work alone. Trying to make everyone like yourself, or even assuming they should be, is a fatal mistake.

Without doubt, you have discovered that your talents have yielded a certain degree of success, maybe even a great degree of it. And you probably consider your particular talents to be more valuable and worthy than those manifested by others. Most humans do even if they won’t or can’t admit it.

The reality is they aren’t.

There are reaches of your circle of concern that are out of reach for you as you are. And if you are out of touch with yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses, they will remain elusive. Discover who you are, what you are good at, what you are not so good at, and what talents you need to fill the gap.

Further, it isn’t a good idea to add someone too much like yourself to the mix because of inevitable conflict.

Two planners will battle over whose plans will be used. Two promoters will vie for the loudest voice. Two visionaries, perhaps the most dangerous marriage, lead to the most threatening condition – two visions, which is division. So while you are likely most comfortable with someone of like mind and ability, and you will be stretched to make room for someone whose strengths do not match your own, it is a good tension. For example, if you’re an innovator, you might feel someone who is an analyzer is slowing you down. Just remember that you select the talent you need. You don’t need and shouldn’t try to add every other major talent to your strategic partnership of assistants. Pick people whose talents, knowledge, and skill further your own in the dimensions of concern that are uniquely and particularly yours.

Inasmuch as you are naturally gifted and talented, you are as uniquely developed as a personality. Your genes provided the basic mix of traits that make you, well, you. Your childhood molded and shaped them further. The sum of personal experiences, good and bad, produced the person living inside your skin at this moment. That personality causes you to relate to others, and consequently provokes them to respond to you, in a manner both beneficial and detrimental.

On Thursday, I will define barrier #3 – We have preferences because of our personality.

The first of 4 barriers that hinder you from reaching your circle of concern

clockThere are four barriers that stand in the way of everyone and anyone. Once you realize what they are and define what they do, then and only then can you determine what abilities an associate should possess. You cannot readily find the people and means to overcome the barriers until you know what they are.  Until you realize what those limitations are and how they affect our work, you should not add anyone to our staff.

You must have people who will add to your effectiveness not subtract from it.

You need associates who will complement your efforts not compete with them.

You must find staff members who coordinate with your efforts not confound them.

Barrier #1 – You Have Limited Time

Time is yours in two dimensions, circular and linear. Like wheels that carry a vehicle, twenty four hours roll around and around transporting you through morning to evening and morning again. Twenty-four hours for me, twenty-four for you. No one gets more.

On only two days will we receive less – the day we were born and the day life passes from us. Between those two days we use up all twenty-four hours every day and none can be carried forward to the next day. Every hour, every minute must be used as it arrives.

With a sense of urgency, many of us are driven to achieve and succeed. You cram days full of meetings. You participate in events. You take on more tasks and make yet another commitment. Finding enough time seems to elude us. The frustration at having too much to do and too little time in which to do it first warns of the need to get help. When it goes on long enough, when the frustration mounts to a critical stage, the need for help becomes imperative.

Let me state here that this usually comes about because you are doing good things, not bad. Raising a family, building a business, pursuing a dream, and making a difference in society are worthy pursuits. But having too much to do and even more we want to do presses upon us. If we could find competent people to shoulder the load with us, we could actually do more by doing less. The tyranny of the twenty-four hour day enslaves us if we attempt to do everything or nearly everything ourselves. That same twenty-four hour barrier can prod us to learn, and implement, new methods of getting more done with less effort.

Equally exacting as the twenty-four hour rotation, time’s linear dimension leads to an ultimate and unavoidable conclusion. Life will come to an end too quickly, too soon. Life’s fleeting nature creates the urgency to do more.

Unlike children for whom time moves slowly because they have so little capacity to plan beyond the immediate, it gathers speed for us nearer the end because there’s yet so much more we want to do, so little time in which to do it, and decreasing reserves of strength with which to do it.

The capacity to plan and execute plans makes each day seem too full and the number of days seem too few.  Roger, the one whose story began this study, knows it all too well. A rare and dangerous heart condition prods him to complete what he’s started, to move farther down his list of challenges to address. He knows very well he doesn’t have forever. But the very process of increasing the pace threatens both his life and that of the organization he leads. Because of his heart condition, he should avoid too much stress, take more time off, learn to relax, and back off on commitments. His brush with death before the condition was discovered should impress upon him that the organization he leads will not have him forever. If it will continue to enjoy the considerable successes he’s led it into, a trained successor will be necessary.

What is Roger doing? He has backed off somewhat, but still works at a steady, fast, overtime pace. As to a successor, the last time I saw him he seemed less motivated to find one.

I don’t have a heart condition, at least to my knowledge. But I do have a number of Rogers in my range of acquaintances, and enough have passed on to emphasize to me that life has a linear limit. The lesson?

Ironically, it is the drive to succeed that points first to the imperative to do less!

Don’t simply get busier. Building and deploying strategic partners not only extends your reach as you work now, it extends your work far into the future.

You need, and must find, people whose values reflect your own but whose talents supplement your own.

In an organization, it is especially important to find someone whose style and gifts differ from your own. You have brought your group or company to where it is because of your unique capacities and if it hasn’t done so already, it will arrive at a point where it can’t go any further because of them as well. Find complementary people. Your talents are proven and necessary, and yours may be many, but not even you have them all.

On Monday, the second barrier in this series.

How to light a fire under almost anyone without getting burned – part 2 – Four Reasons Why We Work Alone.

Four Reasons Why We Work Alone.

 width=First, We Find It Too Daunting to Release Responsibility to Others.

 We have an  intuitive understanding of our ultimate objectives and the things that need to be done in order to reach those objectives. Often the people to whom we would release responsibility don’t. Our natural instincts, insight, and understanding make us singularly capable. Yet that very deposit within us also creates a barrier preventing or at least impeding the entrance of other people who could enhance and extend our gifts and enable us greater reaches of influence and accomplishment. We know the what’s, why’s, and most of the how’s but we are often not so good at revealing them to others so that they can grasp our vision and make it their own.

 Second, When We Have Attempted to Add Others to Our Team, We Have Nearly Always Picked the Wrong Candidates.

A common and debilitating misstep, it often makes leaders gun shy. Having pulled the trigger on a misfire, it “blew up in our face” and we’re reluctant to do it again. We tried to light a fire under someone and got burned. The practice and art of selecting the right people receives a thorough investigation and I will explain in detail over the next several weeks, so I won’t elaborate here.

 Third, We Find the Task of Keeping Others Motivated to Be Too Distracting and Too Draining.

We feel, and correctly so, that the job of stoking the fire takes us away from what we really like and need to be doing. As people are added to us as strategic partners, there is an initial period where more attention is required from us towards them and less towards what we want done. But if, and I emphasize if, we have carefully selected people to work with and through, and if we know how to light a fire under them, the temporary “distraction” of fire kindling and stoking pays remarkably huge dividends over the longer term. The fire will ultimately burn independently, we’ll be able to move away from its flame, and we won’t get burned!

 Finally, We Simply Do Not Want to Take the Time and Effort to Channel the Activities of Others Unfamiliar With Who We Are, What We Do, and Where We Intend to Go.

We have too much to do in too many places. Our gifts have made us successful. That success has created a demand for what we do. That demand has expanded to the point we simply cannot even consider adding one more task to our list, especially ones so mundane as selecting, training, and deploying visionary strategic partners. That’s the paradox. Working busily on really important objectives, we need assistance. But that would mean taking time away from what we do to recruit and train assistants, time we think we cannot afford.  So, we have assembled and almost exclusively limit ourselves to tactical assistants.

 Competent Tactical Assistance is a Must.

Without it the stream of activity in your professional or personal life loses its direction in the same way a great river descends into its delta. The energy and force that characterized its flow as a young stream becomes lost in a broad range of relatively shallow activities. Focus, force, and direction enable great rivers to cut new paths, change the landscape, and alter the environment. Over time and distance, that focus broadens and clearly defined purposes and objectives become fuzzy. The river’s force dissipates and it finally empties itself out. Its direction becomes less certain, less definitive, more inclusive. The best features of the river seem to lie behind, in the past, upstream.

But it doesn’t have to be!

With deliberate planning and execution, we can maintain focus, sustain force, and preserve direction. Rescuing us from a multitude of organizational and mundane tasks, tactical assistants do enable us to accomplish more than we can alone.

But not nearly as much as we could do if we utilized a strategic staff!

You simply cannot accomplish as much in as wide a range at as high a level by yourself as you can with a staff of competent, motivated, reliable associates. In your realm of  responsibility and activity there are many things that just about anyone can do. There are many things some people can do, but there are a few things only you can do!

It is usually those few things only you can do that make possible your success. Your unique blend of personality and proficiency needs to find the center spot on your plate of responsibility and activity. To reach the highest levels of accomplishment, discover what are the things only you can do and do only them.


Leaders and managers who hold an objective of accomplishment, appropriate the skills and obligate themselves to the challenge of creating and deploying strategic partners. They have learned to light a fire under others. Robert, the man I referred to in the previous post, having tried and been burned or perhaps couldn’t keep the fire going without providing too much fuel which he himself had to provide, simply gave up and indirectly, perhaps even unconsciously, decided to limit his personal and professional successes to what could be accomplished using only tactical assistance.

Tactical teams are more easily managed because their tasks can almost always be defined in quantitative terms. You can post or schedule a list of activities – filing, typing, setting appointments in an office environment, drilling holes in widgets, attaching whatzits to wherezits in a manufacturing environment. Then the list can be quite easily managed by plotting tasks that must be done against the time it will take.

But they will not, indeed they cannot provide the broad sweeping support and multiplication that comes from a strategic staff of associates. And that is the subject of Monday’s post. Talk to you then.

In the meantime, I’d like to know what problems you have encountered in your quest to develop and deploy associates. I promise to direct future posts to answering your questions. Either leave a comment below or send an email on the CONTACT ME page.

How to light a fire under almost anyone without getting burned – part 1

When your circle of concern is greater than your circle of ability.

 width=Robert’s second floor offices are crowded with papers, files, memos, phone messages, charts, and project plans. On his belt hangs a smart phone. A secretary in a front office handles the business telephone, which rang a dozen times in the few minutes I sat with him.

He is a busy, busy man, and not without reason. Robert is singularly responsible for the redevelopment of downtown districts in two small cities, for creating an arts district in an neighborhood of blight, crime, and decay, sits on the boards of a half-dozen more companies and foundations, and has taken his organization from nothing to something significant in just a few years. He has done so for two central reasons:

First, he is a very capable person – his natural gifts, post-graduate degrees, personable manner, and skills honed through considerable experience equip him to accomplish much.

People possessing abundant personal attributes, like Robert, expect much of themselves and consequently require much of others. They have placed high demands on their time, drawn deeply into personal reservoirs of strength and skill, and pushed themselves (or allowed themselves to be pushed by the opportunities presented to them) to the limits of personal talent and stamina. Because of their abundant personal attributes, the Roberts of the world think farther ahead and at a deeper level than almost everyone else. They are usually quick studies, grasping new ideas and possibilities with ease. They get a lot done in a remarkably small amount of time. The Roberts of the world seem to be able to do everything.

However, this both reassures and intimidates co-workers. It inhibits others from getting involved because they consider their abilities to be no match to Robert’s and therefore of little possible use to the project at hand. So they are reluctant to offer their assistance. A superman-like atmosphere implies to others that Robert has the task well in hand and has no need of their assistance to the point they don’t even offer.

So his abilities have brought Robert to an advanced level of success which has filled his plate with responsibilities. He simply cannot work any longer or any harder. Therefore, working alone, Robert’s abilities have produced an enviable level of achievement but at the same time almost certainly preclude further success. He will neither be able to maintain his present level of activity (too hectic and demanding) nor expand to new regions of interest or need (not enough time or energy).

Secondly, he is a very concerned individual – his is a big world, a world of many personal interests and ambitions, a wide circle of people, events, circumstances, and conditions he wants to impact professionally and participate in personally. He is not content to put in his eight hours and go home to vegetate in front of the television. He is a participant, but not a meddler.

Participants involve themselves because they are concerned about OUTCOMES; they want to better the world in which they live, the company or organization for which they work, the people to whom they relate. Meddlers, however, involve themselves because they are concerned about CONTROL; theirs are issues of power, domination, and manipulation. They get involved because they consider their participation to be a buy-in enabling them to interfere in the affairs, techniques, methods, systems, procedures, processes and to some extent, the very lives of others.

But this is not Robert. Robert is concerned for the right reasons. He is a caring person. He likes people and wants to enable more people to live better lives.

So he works hard at it. Regardless how hard he works, his circle of concern will always be bigger than his circle of ability. I went to see him because everywhere I inquired in the city, Robert’s name popped up. “You need to meet Robert,” I was told. His reputation is excellent , his successes obvious, his role in the community crucial. I scheduled an appointment to learn more about this leader and the reasons behind his successes. I wasn’t disappointed. As we talked, he reviewed his many achievements, responsibilities, and ambitions. I wondered how well and how much he employed the talents of others. What I discovered was no surprise because it is so typical of so many leaders in every field.

His feats are almost entirely singular. Although he doesn’t work alone, those working alongside in his office are almost entirely tactical. They are paper handlers who organize, store, then retrieve the many documents collected and generated by Robert. They answer his phone and make his appointments, and maintain his office.

It isn’t that he has no choice but to shoulder the workload alone. He has always worked in a group setting where the responsibilities were greater than one person could manage alone. In each and every setting there have been those who have offered or been directed by superiors to assist. Some have done so more successfully than others.

In his present position, Robert stepped in at the infancy of the company and built it to one of significance and considerable effectiveness. So he finds himself in the top position of a smallish organization, and for reasons discussed below, can afford to determine who will work with him, with whom he will work, and what those workers will do. By deliberate choice forged on the anvil of circumstance and under the hammer of experience he mostly works alone.

I don’t mean to imply a hermit-like seclusion from the world, laboring away in some dark, musty room surrounded by stacks of books, papers, and empty take-out Chinese food cartons. Robert’s work environment is one of bright, well-trafficked offices, gaggles of meetings, close associations with government officers, bankers, and board members, jangling telephones, zipping printers, and taps on the door. He works with lots of people. Except for his clerical staff (which I refer to as a tactical team) those other workers plug away on their own projects steadfastly pursuing their own objectives.

As to Robert’s circle of responsibility and concern, well, he handles that alone. When someone offers to come on board, to join the team believing they can make his organization even more successful, Robert declines the offer. He surveys the challenge of informing, training, motivating, and managing another person and is convinced, because his experience at developing and deploying associate workers has apparently failed, it is easier to do it himself. When I met with him it was apparent that doing good was not good for Robert. He had tried, and failed to light a fire under others. Either some just would not ignite, or, more often, he’d been burned by well-meaning, well-intentioned associates. They had let him down.

Robert’s success has pretty well put a lid on greater success because he has not learned to light a fire under others without getting burned. Would you like to know how? Come back to this blog on Thursday for the next installment in this series

Immutable law of leadership #2 – cause and effect

 width=Effective leaders understand both causes and their effects and are capable of dealing with both. In an earlier post I used a story of a manager at Disneyland who encountered a late night situation with tired horses and large crowds of people. You can read about it here.

The immediate concern was the safety of the people and the care of the animals. It demanded a certain hands-on, crisis mode style of leadership. Once the crisis was over, the manager then met with his subordinates to discuss calmly and carefully why the situation developed and what they could do to avoid a reoccurrence.

One style dealt with effects, one with causes. Effective leaders can manifest both because:

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail.

Now, let me clarify that I am not addressing cause and effect in the universal sense. The concept of reaping what one sows, the golden rule, or karma is not within the scope of a blog on practical leadership, as important as is the subject. The principle of cause and effect universally applies and you as a leader with address it a hundred times every day.

  • Effects are usually easier to see than causes. Causes are often underlying, effects are on the surface.
  • Causes are almost always less urgent than effects. If horses are going to trample people, you have to do something now. Once the crisis is resolved, it is less demanding to address the steps that “cause” the crisis. Humans typically give more attention to effects because of their visible, in-your-face, explosive nature. Our lives and work are crowded with tasks, demands, responsibilities, and obligations. Pushing causes to another time is easy to justify, dangerous to ignore completely.
  • One of the most significant tasks and consequently one of the most difficult challenges is to develop the capacity to see cause and effect relationships in the people you lead. Because of the principle of line of sight, experience, position, and wisdom make it simpler for you to see than those who serve in subordinate positions. One effective tool is to be sure to clarify why and not only address what. The crisis on Main Street Disneyland was not necessarily due to misbehavior. It was because the supervisor could see better the potential for trouble than could the others. It became the supervisor’s privilege and responsibility to define the problem and, if he was skillful, solicit from the team solutions. It seldom works to form a committee to research, review, and discuss the resolution to a crisis. If your toddler is crawling out into the street between two parked cars, you pick up the child. Discuss with those responsible later why and what.
  • There is always an effect brought on by some connecting cause. It’s there, you have to find it.
  • Good “causes” create positive “effects”. We typically see cause and effect relationships in negative terms. Horses will trample people and toddlers will get squished by cars. But it works the other way as well. Setting in motion certain conditions, events, directives, actions can reap huge rewards. The up-coming posts on motivation and productivity address this.

So, take a look at your own leadership context and tell me where you had to deal with cause and effect and most importantly, how it worked out.