3 immutable laws of leadership – Part 1

 width=Part and parcel with the three essential skills of effective leadership – 1) Understand the times, 2) Know what to do, 3) Command action, are three immutable laws. Skills and laws are built around and support each other.

Immutable Law #1. A=A, a thing is what it is independent of the perceiver. (There is another condition which arises in the exercise of leadership that must consider the perceptions of those you are leading, but that is another story for another post). For more than a generation the prevailing philosphy has been towards subjectivism. Subjectivism is a label used to denote the philosophical tenet that “our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience.” Metaphysical subjectivism holds that Metaphysical subjectivism is the theory that reality is what we perceive to be real, and that there is no underlying true reality that exists independently of perception.

“Hold on!”, you may be thinking, “I thought this blog was about PRACTICAL leadership not conceptual stuff.” Well, it is. I define subjectivism because it is a widely held point of view. I am not a subjectivist. The feelings, ideas, opinions, and perspectives of others must be taken into account, but they are not reality.

Reality is reality. Objectivists like myself often quote Ayn Rand:

  • Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
  • Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.

She adds two more tenets which deal with moral intent and political philosophy and are not germaine to our discussion of leadership here. If you’re interested you can read them by going here.

So, let me bring this down to earth and make an application to the practice of practical leadership. Hitchhiking on the skill of understanding the times, an effective leaders must hold the A=A law as absolute. A faddish expression these days is “It is what it is.” And, it is what it is is correct.

The circumstances in which you practice leadership have a set of absolutes that are at play all the time and another set that may vary from event to event and certainly vary from person to person. They vary because reality changes, circumstances change, conditions change, people change. Effective leaders can see them and accept them for what they are.

When you allow subjectivism to gain supremacy, when you elevate tentativeness and uncertainty to reign, leadership begins to crumble. Let me illustrate with two situations.

Some years ago I responded to an ad for a mid-60’s Pontiac for sale. The ad claimed the car was rust free and ready to roll. When I got there, I could plainly see that the entire frame holding the windshiled in was rusted and in more than 75% of the palces, rusted through. “I thought you said this car was rust free?” I pressed the seller. Incredibly, he said, ‘It is! There’s not rust anywhere.”

“What about this?” I pointed to the windshield.

“That’s not rust.” he insisted.

He was either lying, blind, or stupid. In all actuality, subjectivists end up being all three. They are blind to things as they really are, see them but elevate their love of the subjective above reality and blind themselves towards the truth, and sound stupid because anyone can plainly see what’s going on.

When ideology and a subjective philosophy reign paramount, events are re-interpreted to be something other than they are. Three years ago or so, an officer at Ft. Hood opened fire on his fellow officers, shouting Islamist oaths as he fired away. His actions have been officially called workplace violence when we can plainly see it was an act of terror. But the prevailing philosophy is that terror does not happen so that cannot be terror.

In leadership, an accurate and valid assessment of exactly how things are is imperative if you ever hope to find a solution, fix the problem, and move along towards your objectives. Denying reality, relabeling the facts, ignoring the dynamics will guarantee leadership failure.

It is what it is. It is not whatever you want it to be. In my blog JackDunigan.com I addressed the problem of positive thinking and how it gets in the way of finding real solutions to real problems. Denying cancer exists in one’s body or calling it something other than what it is so one remains positive will not move you along to a solution. It only delays the inevitable.

There are two more leadership laws – the law of cause and effect, and the law of influence. Next installment comes on Thursday. See you then.

6 Differences between leaders and managers

photo by Stefan Wagner, http://trumpkin.de



In my last post I mentioned the capacities of insight and outsight, two characteristics which distinguish leaders from managers. Leaders, as set apart from management tasks, are supposed to “see” further and deeper than those who serve under them. It is the “Line of Sight” principle.

Here are 6 differences. There are doubtless many more, but for this elementary exploration, these set the stage. I’d like to here from you on this topic, too.

  1. Effective leaders think longer term while managers are unit thinkers. Managers process steps, checklists, charts, systems, and diagrams. Please don’t think I am maligning managers. Managers are absolutely and comprehensively necessary to the efficient function of a group. But their responsibilities are different. Managers exercise leadership to some degree but of necessity limit themselves to units of time, quantities of product, and/or scheduling of events. Leaders, at least the effective ones, have a knack for considering the long-term effects of the processes managers must manage.
  2. Effective leaders look beyond the unit they are heading and grasp its relationship to larger realities. They are able to connect the pieces and see how one unit plays into another then joins with yet another to create the desired result. Managers continue to focus their attention upon processes even if those processes no longer contribute to the end objectives or their validity has been lost. When I lived and worked in the Caribbean, I learned that it took a great deal of effort to get a driver’s license. There were endless papers that had to be completed, medical exams that had to be passed, and you had to find someone to take two passport-size photos so the license bureau could laminate them into your license. The island government finally decided to join the modern world and purchased computerized equipment that enabled them to take a photo at the window and produce a driver’s license on the spot. For many months following the introduction of these machines, applicants still had to bring with them two passport size photos. Clerks would collect the photos and staple them to the application, then ask the applicant to stand still while his or her photo was taken by the computer for the license. Finally someone asked why two passport photos were still required when the computer took the license photo? The response? “Because it is on the checklist and the manager says we have to follow the list!”
  3. Effective leaders reach and influence constituents beyond their jurisdictions. Managers are limited by geography and focus to their particular place in the organizational plan. Leader’s see up and out, but manager’s focus down and within. The effects of effective leadership are usually far-reaching. Decisions and supporting actions change the nature of business, politics, culture, and life. Managers, on the other hand, are committed to keeping systems running as they are. When leaders lead they build recognition. Their renown spreads. Others see what they’ve done or hear about it and success promotes emulation. This is the “tide effect.” When the tide rises, all boats float higher. Effective leaders bring success to everyone in the group, to any associated groups within the company or organization, and to some extent, to the competition in business. How? Departments win or lose as units. Companies succeed or fail entirely. Along the way, those leaders responsible for segments of the operation can inspire others to action. Competition provokes imitation. When another’s group does better than ours, we are prompted to overtake them. The reverse is true, too. When my company does well my competitors don’t just roll over and give up. They respond by improving. Look at McDonalds and its many imitators. Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, and more continually practice one-upmanship. McDonalds set the standard and they keep raising the bar. Apple Computers does the same.
  4. Effective leaders put heavy emphasis on the intangibles of vision, values, and motivation. They understand the non-rational and unconscious elements that characterize and influence interaction between leaders and their constituents. This is where leaders really shine. They don’t have to be very specific. Painting with a broad brush attracts the widest audience. Followers love to hear of grand and sweeping vistas yet to be realized. Presidents Reagan and Obama were very gifted at this. They both spoke in terms that resonated with listeners but avoided being very specific which allowed those listeners to draw their own conclusions about what the speaker was promising. That the interpretations might have had little to do with what the leader could actually do was, at the point of speaking, irrelevant. It is the very act of inspiration that matters. Managers usually don’t even attempt to do this. They just get through the day getting the task list completed.
  5. Effective leaders have the political skill to cope with conflicting requirements of multiple constituencies. I confess that is much easier said than done. Leaders are a great deal like kings or queens trying to unify heretofore competitive fiefdoms so as to join them together to participate in a common vision. Lee Iacocca reported that the condition that nearly brought the Chrysler Corporation to ruin was competing constituencies within. While it is critical that leaders focuses forward and outward, failure to pay attention within may render their entire visionary acumen meaningless. Conversely, it is the skill of the leader in selling his/her vision that can unite competitors and turn efforts toward the future. Inability to inspire and unite, or the refusal of constituents to participate in your vision as leader while pursuing their own vision is to permit, perhaps even promote two (or more) visions. This is di-vision, the condition wherein attention and effort is incapable of focus. Division will destroy any company or organization. I address this very critical skill in my book “What You See is What You Get.” 
  6. Effective leaders think in terms of renewal. Managers, by virtue of their role and responsibilities, are like maintainers. They oil the machinery of organization and operation keeping its schedules and procedures running smoothly. They tend to become protective of those schedules and procedures and consequently resist change. Leaders understand the times and know that the times always change. History is cluttered with the bones of once glorious nations, companies, and organizations that simply failed to adapt to changing times. Renewal is not a fresh coat of paint. Renewal is to make new, not just makeover the old.

What differences have you noticed? What similarities do you see?