Stuck in 1st gear – is the impediment to progress you?

stuck in 1stIt happens easily enough and usually innocently enough. You start a business or organization then endure what is often a long and expensive learning curve. Along the way you learn…you learn a lot. You discover the competencies and incompetencies of those working with you. You learn how to manage cash flow challenges. You learn the ins and outs, the ups and downs of business in the real world.

In a few years the business or organization begins to prosper. By then your role should change from working in your business to having more time to work on your business.

But too often it doesn’t. The business (I use this term in a very broad sense. Even nonprofits are enterprises with a mission to accomplish and must function in just about every sense as a business. The only differences are that the excess revenues received are not distributable to anyone except in the form of salaries paid for work performed) begins to prosper and could expand to another level but something seems to be holding it back.

Could it be you?

How, you object? Because holding on to authority means letting go of responsibility. Notice I did not say shirking responsibility. I said letting go of responsibility. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my early developmental years in leadership is to discover what things, what jobs, what tasks, what responsibilities faced me that only I could do…and giving everything else away.


May I direct your eyes to the banner of this website for just a few seconds? You may have to scroll the page up, especially if you’re reading on a smartphone or tablet. What does it say just under “The Practical Leader?”

It says “Extend Your Reach – Multiply Your Effectiveness – Divide Your Work.”

But too many of us are stuck with limited reach, divided effectiveness and multiplied work…and we’ve done it to ourselves. Like a car stuck in first gear, your journey consumes way too much fuel, makes way too much noise, and takes way to long to get there.


Because one of the key responsibilities resting upon you is the need to empower and release others. To make more leaders. But you won’t be able to do that if you see them as inept and incapable or if you regard them as a threat.

Your role is not to monitor others but to mentor them. This assumes the following:

  1. That you are secure enough in your position as leader that you can share the work and the credit. Insecure leaders seem to be attention hogs.
  2. That you are attentive to who you hire. You have identified your limitations and hire others for their strength to compensate for your weakness.
  3. That you are willing to pass on what you’ve learned to others.
  4. That you will not allow paranoia to stifle the growth of your company or organization.

You can stop right where you are. In fact if you do you are not alone. Thousands of businesses are stymied simply because their owners/leaders cannot or will not shift gears.

Now, by this point I usually get some pushback from leaders who complain that they have no one they can trust, that if they didn’t monitor everything that goes on the whole company would fall into chaos, that every person they’ve ever tried to employ has disappointed them.

They are, of course, quite incorrect. They are either control freaks or they are unable to grow. Will others fail? Yes, but then so do you. Will others disappoint? Yes, but then so will you. Perfection and 100% economy and efficiency is a myth. You don’t meet that standard and no one else will either. It is no reason and cannot be legitimized to excuse oneself from mentoring.

Never forget what your role really is. It is not to make sure everyone does things right. It is to make sure that you… and everyone else… stays focused on the vision and does the right things.

You there, yes you, the leader of your company or organization. Do only those things that only you can do. Mentor others so you can give everything else away.

5 phases of your role as leader

Illus 1
Illus 1

The expectation that leadership can be a singular role is unrealistic. We wear a lot of hats. We manage, we motivate, we correct, we monitor, we inspire, we facilitate, we coordinate, we focus, we bark, we growl, we whisper, we articulate, we define, and we execute.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about our position of responsibility at the top of the organizational system. Then I wrote about our place out front, the visionary whose outsight provides direction and focus to the energy and the efforts of the team, department, business, organization, or company.

Earlier in this series I’ve written about strategies to implement the vision and the tactics that provide tasks lists and daily objectives for everyone. This is where the majority of our work will take place.

Check out illustration #1 again. Your oversight takes on two dimensions. The inspirational and motivational side of your work depends upon the capacity of those who work with you, your associates and employees, to grasp the purposes of your business or organization. If they had the vantage point you have and the understanding you possess, your job would be simpler and easier.

But they don’t.

And they shouldn’t. Indeed, they can’t.

Your position at the top and out front equips you for your role at the bottom. Yes, you do have the enviable place of prestige and visibility as the “head” of your department, company, or organization. Yes, you do have the visibility that comes from being the point man (of course, I know that you very well might be female but the term point person seems unwieldy so permit me the non-sexist use of the humanitarian “man.” If point person makes this more palatable, then please read it as such.)

But I can tell you from experience that most of your time will spent in the execution of the strategic plans at the tactical level. And therefore much of your roletriangle leader function version 2 as leader may indeed be consumed by managing the people and the things they do, the things they should do, and the things they do that you don’t want them to do. Who would of thought that your climb to the top places you most often at the bottom?

The principle at play here is:

“To get what you EXPECT you must be faithful and diligent to INSPECT.”

How that is done is the subject of much we talk about in leadership circles and the next topic on the horizon here at The Practical Leader. This diagram illustrates where your role works itself out in real life.

Yes, you and those who serve in management do indeed need to control process, contain expenses, and monitor progress. Yes, you do need to engage your top-level people and focus on the producers within your organization. But because your circle of concern is always greater than your circle of ability (what you want to see completed is more than you can do yourself) you must employ others both in the “Let’s hire some people” sense and in the “I’m overwhelmed and need to learn how to delegate better” sense.

The director of one organization I worked for followed his mantra of POTC – Plan, Organize, Train, Control. It worked for him, somewhat at least, but he was highly suspicious of the competence of anyone and everyone he’d hired so he spent most of his time and energy controlling. The work suffered because he simply could not leave anyone alone and it bottlenecked at him who had to assign, monitor, and approve almost everything.

But control is necessary to an extent and only to an extent. If you are a control freak I can predict that your organization will stifle and suffer. I want to add two more letters to the POTC mantra…another C and an F.

POTCC – Plan, Organize, Train, Control, Coordinate and Facilitate.

Effective leaders know very well how to coordinate and facilitate the efforts of those who work with and for them. They know how to light a fire under almost anyone without getting burned (BTW that is the subject of my next book due out later this year).

Those five letters P –O –T –C –F outline the next several posts. Planning is up on Thursday. See you then.

The principle of systems and controls

helpTwo nights ago we went with some friends to a local burger joint. It is not a fast food place like McDonalds but it is part of a chain. It was the dinner hour and the place was quite busy. After being seated, we settled in to wait, quite a long time as it turns out.

When the waiter did arrive she took our orders, writing each one down, and reading them back to us. However, it appeared from her nervousness that she was new on the job. Since we did have a scheduled event to follow dinner we didn’t have all night. But we’d allowed ourselves plenty of time, we thought.

After quite a while not even our drinks had arrived back at our table. It was obvious from the commotion all around us at the other tables that things were going very wrong. When the orders did arrive, they were all incorrect. Every one of them.

When I looked at the check, a computer generated account of what’s been ordered, I discovered that our specified orders had not been entered. But from her general demeanor and the general flurry all around, it seemed obvious that the waitress was not incompetent, she needed training.

When I took a job at Lowe’s, I sat in a training room for almost a week working through a series of computer generated training modules the intent of which was to prepare employees for work on the sales floor. I soon discovered that what was in the training modules had little resemblance to real life. After I finished the modules, the HR man took me to my desk, pointed to a computer and said, “You’ll catch on.”

Tom Peters and Robert Waterman discuss a particular management style they call “Let alone zap.”  It means employees and associates are left alone to fend for themselves until something goes wrong, then a manager intervenes to harshly and suddenly reprimand.

But I am in the middle of a series on motivation called Flipping The Switch and in a mini-series within that series using principles of banking and finance as guides to effective motivation too.

So what does all this talk about waitresses and Lowes have to do with the topic? You may recall in the article on demotivators, a major one is when an associate or an employee feels overwhelmed. It may mean the skill sets required for a particular job are not there or it might mean they need more training.

In restaurants an experienced waiter usually accompanies a novice until they learn the ropes. There must be in place a system of systems and controls so that all aspects of the business are covered at all times. I am not suggesting that managers and leaders must maintain omnipresence. They can’t. What I am suggesting is that managers and leaders know precisely and exactly what has to be accomplished (the objective), how it happens (the process), and who will do it in what manner (the personnel).

In a list form it is these things:

  • The objective(s) to be reached.
  • The process by which we get to them.
  • The people who will make it happen and what needs to be done with them to get them to be able to do it.

Too often the whole thing is too fuzzy. “You’ll catch on” is not an effective strategy.

In the world of finance, records and reports enable managers to determine what is going on. In the world of people management, the same principle applies. Those reports can be written, verbal, or both. The critical factor is that the reporting be taken seriously.

Those who make the reports see a connection between what they do and what they report. They must never feel that the reports are irrelevant. Demotivation sets in when there is not seen a correlation between what they do and what they report on. The numbers or analysis must have a personal meaning.

Those who survey the reports know what they’re reading, what to do about what they read, and then do something about it. If the reports are good, celebrate. If not, then what?

Remember the difference between discipline and correction. Disciple reprimands for behavior not up to standards. Correction acknowledges behavior not up to standards but instead of merely reproving, it uses the incident to provide training and redirection.

Systems of reporting and control have one more benefit. (NOTE: There’s lots to be said about this subject so do not assume that what’s written here is all I have to say about it. This post is limited to the subject of motivation and manipulation.) One key motivator is autonomy. People feel they have at least some degree of self-management.  But, autonomy is one thing, abandonment and indifference is another.

The waiter I mentioned above looked abandoned to me. She will soon become highly demotivated because success breeds success but nothing advances failure like floundering. Learn quickly when to intervene and when to not.

Systems and controls motivate because it lends the sense of control to everyone involved. Motivation is an emotional and psychological effect reached and advanced in part by mechanical and procedural methods. They provide tools, structure, and one more big component – perspective. Systems and controls put everything in focus and in balance.

That’s why coaching is such a valid vocation. It puts a trainer (that’s you) in the position of seeing the end from the beginning and enabling your associates and employees to get from here to there successfully. Winning players tackle problems more enthusiastically, overcome challenges more creatively, and win games even more often.

6 Bases of Power – Charismatic

Wizard-of-OzThey stand out, those charismatic leaders.

Larger than life and more enduring than time, their names remain known and their works referred to yet today.  People like Jesus, Caesar Augustus,  and Charlemagne anchor ancient history.  In the more recent past it is Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, Henry Ford, Aimee Semple McPherson, Churchill, Hitler (despicable but charismatic nonetheless), Patton, Walt Disney, and countless more known less well but effective within smaller circles.

Charismatic power has traction because the leader is verbally eloquent and able to articulate a vision of meaning to his/her followers. They are celebrities in their own right even if their field is not entertainment. And in a world where media reigns supreme, charismatic leaders have a lock on power.

Plus it doesn’t even matter if they know what they’re talking about.

The influence of a celebrity is why product endorsements are so lucrative. The product endorsement business is gigantic, many millions of dollars every year. Despite a few failed associations, celebrity endorsements work.

We grant authority to charismatic figures (we cede to them power) because of their supposed status. Indeed, some charismatic leaders are persons of exceptional heroism, character, and ability. Sadly, most are not. They only appear to be. It has more to do with the relationship between the leader and their followers than it does with the leaders exceptional abilities. The charismatic leader who finds a receptive audience has struck a chord within them and they respond. Too many of those charismatic leaders tend to be two dimensional, possessing bigger than life appearance. Often they either lack depth or they simply are not what one supposes and ascribe them to be.

Often manifest in religious groups and politics, both of which require a suspension of credible belief to function. They call on ideals, evoke images of a brighter, better tomorrow, and persuade followers to participate in their pursuit of that tomorrow.

C.S. Lewis defined a celebrity as one who is well known for being well-known. They play on their image behind which there may or may not be any substance. I am not implying deception although I will acknowledge that it does sometimes occur. Like the wizard of Oz, they do not want you to see behind the curtain. Television, radio, the internet facilitate this quite well because of its ability to broadcast an edited performance allowing the leader to control what the followers see and hear.

The farther away and higher up the ladder, the more power we tend to give them.  I call this the prophet from another country syndrome, taken from the words of Jesus in the New Testament when he said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country. It implies that if you really knew who the person was and understood what they were really like, they would not have nearly the same power.

Charismatic leadership works because it taps into a dynamic of motivation all effective leaders understand. When followers admire what you have to say and how eloquently you can say it, they will follow enthusiastically. Conversely, as I will address in the very next post, there are men and women of exceptional character who lack eloquence and flash. Their possess intelligence, vision, and character, but are handicapped because of a lack of charisma.

Charisma is not a bad thing. It is merely a dynamic. Used by unscrupulous people it is disastrous. Employed by persons of character and honor, magnificent things happen.

Here’s the video:


6 Bases of Power – Coercive

fistThere was a time when this type of power was common. It is the first resort of bullies, manipulators, and thugs. It is the last resort of everyone else.

The Business Dictionary defines it as “Authority or power that is dependent on fear, suppression of free will, and/or use of punishment or threat, for its existence.”

This is the 4th in a seven part series on the Bases of Power. The underlying meaning of power in our context – leadership and management – is INFLUENCE. We, as those who shoulder the responsibility of directing departments, groups, institutions, and organizations, must be able to influence others. Our objective is to move forward, achieve goals, reach targets, make an impact, and fulfill vision.

To do that we must enlist the cooperation of others. Coercive forces others to cooperate. It does not enlist their cooperation.

Effective leaders have a multi-faceted approach to leadership. They can call up different approaches, manifest different styles, and use various devices to motivate, manage, and lead.

Coercive force is sometimes, even rarely called for. It presumes an adversarial relationship exists and once coercive force is employed an adversarial relationship will certainly result even if it was not there before.

It might be the oldest form of power in the context of structured relationships. Coercive power is the raw exercise of authority over others. Conquering armies use it as do monarchs.

It can usually be justified in times of crisis and chaos. If all hell is breaking loose, there might not be the time to assemble a focus group and come up with a plan. Coercive power can be mean spirited and abusive. Sometimes, as in crisis, it might be the most efficient and effective means to the end.

But it most often manifests itself in insecure leaders and managers where it easily becomes abusive. Emotionally and psychologically insecure leaders fear losing control and this is where coercive power takes on an insidious approach. You may have worked for or with a master manipulator who will do whatever it takes to get you to do what they want you to do. This is where it gets tricky because coercive power is not always blunt force. It is, especially in this day and age, more often seen as subtle, indirect manipulation.

Those who resort to coercive force do not regard people as people. They regard people as objects, devices to be controlled and maneuvered.

Because followers follow from fear or manipulation, commitment is superficial. The focus is always on the one doing the controlling. But, control is mostly reactive and temporary.

I once worked as a consultant for a master controller and manipulator. His mantra was POTC which he explained meant:





If we define “control” in the “manage and oversee” sense, all is well. If we take it like he did, it meant absolutely squelch any and all sense of individuality and cooperative participation. Control for him really meant coerce. You either did what he said in precisely the manner he said it or you were out. He was physically and emotionally exhausted because the functions of the entire organization depended on him and his need to control everything.

I would like to propose a slight alteration to his mantra. POTC is fine, but let’s define it as





Why “COORDINATE”? Because coercive power should be used very, very sparingly and only as a last resort. Leaders and managers will be far more fruitful and far less stressed when we learn to coordinate the talent that works alongside. Positions of authority are important. The bases of our authority and the devices we employ are critical.


3 Ways to really piss off your associates and employees – When power is abused and misused

frustrated employeeMatt was a high-volume sales associate in a large retail store. He sold custom-built products that required a significant amount of time to prepare estimates and proposals. On one Thursday evening he was working  alone at his desk in his department when the manager from another department in the store came to Matt and asked about the status of one proposal the other department manager had initiated. In that store, sales associates from anywhere could begin the process but it was the responsibility of the specialist to complete the process.

Matt explained that he was not pursuing that proposal because the customer had declined to comply with government-mandated permits for the installation of the product. “This sale,” Matt explained, “is dead. But I do have estimates sitting here on my desk I am working on right now that amount to more than $50,000 worth of sales.”

The interfering manager would not let it go. He kept insisting that Matt drop those projects and return to the project Matt had already proclaimed to be DOA.

“Don’t you care about the store’s reputation to meet customer’s needs?” the manager challenged. And he would not let it go.

Now, if you really want to discredit yourself as a leader and/or manager and if you really want to piss off a productive employee, try something as stupid as that.

Guilt trips always end unhappily. Always!

Matt’s sense of responsibility should have been obvious to that meddling manager from across the store. Matt was not just sitting around. He was working on large orders at that moment. Matt had carefully explained that pursuit of the project in question was futile.  The manager’s interference brought on frustration, resentment, and confusion. Matt now wondered if he was required to pursue futile projects or focus on those promising profit. What mistakes did the meddling manager make?

Mistake #1 – He meddled. He was guilty of trying to direct the actions of an employee not directly his responsibility. While technically, in that company anyway, managers of any department do possess authority over subordinate employees anywhere else, that authority is not absolute. If you do not have a relationship with those outside your domain, and if there is no immediate crisis for which discussion is not possible, issuing orders like he has done only result in misunderstanding BECAUSE THEY ARE BASED ON MISUNDERSTANDING.  A side to side approach will work far better than a top to bottom one.

Mistake #2 – He used an X-style to deal with a Y-situation. I am referring to MacGregor’s X & Y management styles. The X style is direct, dictatorial, and demanding. In some cases this is precisely what is required, particularly when you are addressing the EFFECTS of decisions made and actions taken which result in a crisis demanding immediate and aggressive action to prevent catastrophe. The Y style is indirect, parliamentary, and participative. The meddling manager had no real basis of authority other than on structural grounds. As I wrote earlier in this series, authority is granted upward. The official authority that comes with one’s office must be supplanted by one that comes from one’s character and association. If you try to use X when Y is more appropriate you come off as a bully.

Mistake #3 – He used guilt to try to gain cooperation when logic and reason had proven him to be wrong. Manipulation is manipulation and our employees are too smart to be fooled by a stupid argument like the one our meddler used. Guilt is the result of desperation, used by someone when they have no real basis for their argument. If we gain the upper hand by using guilt, we will plant the seeds of resentment, anger, and rebellion. Cooperation and collaboration are far more effective. Far more!

The objective of all management and leadership is results, to find the most expedient, efficient, and effective path to success and follow it. When a productive and fruitful employee like Matt comes along, don’t screw it up. Let them do their job.

The meddling manager manifested the dog on a walk syndrome meaning he needed to piss on the territory of a neighboring dog to show he was there. This is why I’ve given this post the title it has – 3 ways to piss off your employees.

More next week.

Power Plays – Getting the job done

Power Lines diagram functionA friend once remarked that “It is amazing how much you can get done if you just do it.” A look at a jobs offered column on line or in a newspaper will inevitably turn up several with the qualifier “Must be a self-starter.”  Why? Because you hire people to extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work. You do not, or at least you should not, hire people who make your life and job more difficult or complicated.

I’ve been writing about the flow of power within your department, company, or organization. If you’ve been following along, you are familiar with this diagram. The flow of power starts with and returns to you, the leader and/or manager. You’re the one to get things going, to set things in motion and ultimately to qualify their success.

The act of delegation, discussed in this post, passes a job off to a subordinate or associate.

The key is to pass off a responsibility, discussed here, not simply place someone in a position. The title is not the central focus. The responsibility is.

When the responsibility is defined and assigned, commensurate authority is assigned. In the article I wrote here, I explain how authority is conditional even while it grants some degree of autonomy.

Next, in this post, I discussed how you and those who work with you will define and describe precisely what terms by which the job and their performance will be evaluated. It is very critical that this step not be neglected. Institute a “no surprises” habit. You don’t like being blindsided, your associates don’t like it either.

The reason for and method of accountability comes next. The circuit, the flow of power starts to cycle back to you here. The mechanisms for reporting may be formal such as in written reports or informal such as a verbal report or both, but they need to be there.

Then, once you have defined what you are going to hand off, the person or persons to whom you will assign that responsibility is defined and solicited, the responsibility is defined, the authority is assigned, the evaluation criteria are agreed, and the method of accountability is contracted, then, and only then, do you hand off the task.

Function begins then. Admittedly some associates are well dialed in to what needs to be done and their responsibility in getting it done. Over time you develop levels of experience and trust that can leave some of the above steps implied simply because you’ve covered that ground with that person enough that everyone knows what’s what.

But for new people and new situations, you’ll need to make a judgment call about how much to define. My advice is to err on the side of caution at first. I will discuss how this can become annoying and irksome to trusted people in a future post.

The circuit, necessary for the safe flow of power, is complete. And it repeats itself over and over as you hand off more and more.

Why do you hire someone? Because they possess the skills and personality to do a certain task or set of tasks. Then let them do their job. Meddling is not managing. Pestering is not conscientious oversight.  Leadership is bringing people willingly to a place of growth, contributing to that growth when necessary but allowing those you lead the experience and satisfaction of doing their job. Most people want to do a good job.

But some employees and associates find it difficult to focus. They are easily distracted. They could be eager to please and over-responsible so they get drawn off into another job to help you or someone out. Then they are drawn off into another one, then another and never get back to their original responsibilities. This can be understandable because we all know that we cannot control every minute of the day. There are inevitable interruptions and at least some of our time is at the mercy of someone else.

Or they could be lazy. I worked with someone once who spent huge amounts of time figuring out ways to get out of doing his job. Or they could be in the wrong spot. It might be they don’t have the skills to do what they need to do and are either need more training or to be assigned somewhere else.

But all of that should either be discovered and discussed in the beginning or very shortly thereafter. If they can’t do the job, find someone who can. Remember, this is not personal. It is business. I hired a young man to work as a semi-skilled assistant in my shop. It became evident to me early on that he was not going to be a good fit. A visiting friend  of mine suggested that the poor fellow had a bad family life and needed a father figure to guide him in life. I reminded my friend that I was not a therapist and my shop not a therapy center. I had orders to fill, work to be completed, and hours to bill. If the fellow couldn’t cut it he couldn’t cut it. Nothing personal . Everything business.

The next articles in this series address power systems – how power is wielded, both properly and improperly. See you Thursday.

Power Plays – Authority

Power Lines diagram authorityPower has a source, a circuit, and a purpose. The laptop into which I am entering these words is powered by a battery which receives its power from a wall outlet which receives its power from a power line which is powered by a generating plant.

The circuit is completed when the power flows from the generating plant through the lines into my house into the adapter and into my laptop which completes the circuit by running it through the computers many components and back to ground. Since the generator is connected to “ground” the circuit is complete and made so when the power converts electrical energy into another source of energy which yields the desired results. My document is written and posted where you can read it.

Power without a complete circuit goes no where. The energy remains in the line until work is performed. If there is a short, there are lots of sparks and consequential damage which prevents the completion of work.

Ok, enough about the dynamics of energy transfer. How does that apply to us as leaders and managers?

The power starts somewhere, probably with you. But you might be a component along the way and get the power from someone farther up the line – your boss, supervisor, or board of directors. Your personal engine of competence can’t do everything so you’ve hooked up more tools and are delegating to them this job or that.

By now we have covered the first two components in the distribution of power throughout your department, company, or organization – Delegation and Responsibility. This unit in the series will address the concept and practice of Authority. Delegation is the power outlet, the wall plug-in that connects the power source to the device. Responsibility is the purpose of the device, the reason it’s connected at this time because it specifies its purpose. Authority is the flow of power.

I am a user of If you haven’t used the site, take a quick look (wait until after you’ve finished this article, please). Definitions found there are contextually inclusive for those of us in business or organizational settings. I like what they say about authority:

1. Institutionalized and legal power inherent in a particular job, function, or position that is meant to enable its holder to successfully carry out his or her responsibilities.

2. Power that is delegated formally. It includes a right to command a situation, commit resources, give orders and expect them to be obeyed, it is always accompanied by an equal responsibility for one’s actions or a failure to act.

They agree with me. Authority is forever and always tied to a job, function, or responsibility and it is consequential. It carries with it rewards or penalties.

You know how packaged inside the box of every new appliance there is a list of cautions and directives you are warned to read BEFORE using the device? Well, here is my list of ten things to remember before you start connecting people and handing out responsibilities.

  1. Authority is both delegated DOWNWARD and awarded UPWARD. You authorize someone for a particular job. They grant you authority to oversee and hold accountable.
  2. When a person accepts a subordinate role, they essentially delegate a portion of their personal AUTHORITY and AUTONOMY to their superior (that’s you). Subordinates do not act in a monarchy. They owe you for the responsibility and authority you have yielded to them.
  3. When authority is given, there exists an IMPLIED CONTRACT that says, “If you will commit yourself to accomplish this goal, we will delegate to you the authority you need to achieve it.”
  4. Authority must match the responsibility. Give enough to get the job done as specified, not more, not less.
  5. A leader can never give away all his authority.
  6. Authority should first be given to a POSITION and a FUNCTION (a RESPONSIBILITY) not to a PERSON.
  7. Always state:
    1. What is to be accomplished
    2. How it is to be done
    3. When it is to be accomplished
  8. Always get a VERBAL AGREEMENT on the objective.
  9. Request a WRITTEN PLAN on how the objectives will be reached.

Authority, then, is official or traditional sanction for individuals occupying specified positions to perform certain directive tasks. Malcolm Forbes has said that “Those  who enjoy responsibility usually get it; those who merely like exercising  authority usually lose it.” I concur.  What experience you have had when delegating jobs? How did it work out?

Previous articles in this series:

The Gentle Side of Force

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 1

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 2

The Six Principles of Delegating

The Gentle Side of Force – 8 skills of leadership Iearned from my friend the horse whisperer

horse whispererMy friend Steve is a horse whisperer, was one long before Robert Redford made the label famous. Steve’s been a cowboy forever, a genuine, sure ‘nuff, tall in the saddle hand-me-that-rope cowboy. He’s knows his way around a horse, knows how to care for them, and knows how to handle them. If you’re interested you can read about him and horse whispering here.

The fascinating thing about “horse whispering” to me is that it works and works very, very well.  Effective leaders have wonderfully developed skills of persuasion. They seldom, if ever, resort to barking orders. They don’t have to make people do what they want them to do or what needs to be done.

Granted, there are two sides to this. Finding willing, responsible, cooperative, skilled employees is a necessary component. But we don’t always have them, can’t always find them, or shouldn’t always count on having them at our disposal. We might have to get the job done with those who are reluctant or even downright resistant.

Please pardon the obvious correlation between associates/employees and horses. You, being intelligent and intuitive, already understand that I do not mean to imply that associates or employees are brutish or inhuman. I use the parallel in the sense that we must all take people who possess a natural independent will and somehow persuade them to cooperate and contribute to the cause or enterprise in such a way that neither party suffers injury or humiliation.

I always thought that horses had to be “broken.” I’ve seen the TV shows and western movies where the brave cowboy gets on a horse and forces the objecting animal into submission. Thankfully these days our understanding has increased and we approach the subject with more respect for the animal and more understanding about how to gain the role as leader. We have made the same progress in business and organizational dynamics too. I hope the days of the bullying supervisor are over.

I was so interested in Steve the Horse Whisperer’s technique that I researched just how it is he gets an untamed, unfamiliar animal to do what he wants it to do. I discovered that his techniques are remarkably parallel to those of effective leaders who understand how to apply the gentle side of force. 

Here is how it works:

  1. Establish Leadership and Partnership. Show that you are the Leader. Someone has to lead, particularly in our culture. Some cultures favor consensus but even there someone rises to the place of prominence and becomes the visible focus of leadership. Indeed, the capacity to establish leadership is a primary indicator of leadership. It sounds like circular reasoning but it really is axiomatic – leaders lead. Put even a few people together and give them an assignment, even a simple one. If at least one of them does not begin to articulate what needs to be done, if they do not begin to take charge, nothing will happen. I wrote about this awhile back which you can read about it here.
  2. Talk, communicate, establish two-way communication. The gentle side of force does not resort to issued decrees, broadcast statements, or memos. They have their place; in some cases it may be absolutely necessary. But talk to your people, face to face if at all possible. A global survey of senior executives and managers conducted by NFI Research solicited input about methods of communication with staff. One respondent said E-mail is great for scheduling and confirming meetings, phone is good for quick conversations that require two-way communications and a memo is preferred for long background pieces. In-person and scheduled meetings are always the best for any discussion requiring true dialogue and consensus.” Really good leaders know how…and when…to employ all three.
  3. Let the horse communicate when he is ready to accept you as leader. Establish who is the leader and who is the follower. It might take a while. If you’re new on the job or you have a new hire, understand that gaining someone’s confidence might take a day or two, probably longer. Don’t try to be buddies, try to be associates. Maintain the trappings and systems that conduct power safely. Every component has its place. Run the flag up the pole and see who salutes.
  4. Maintain connection and association, do not avoid physical presence. Keep your eyes on each other. The best, most successful, most effective leaders are those who maintain presence. General Patton was everywhere, so was General Bradley. If you want to turn powerful people into allies instead of enemies, keep them close. The emphasis on team building and team dynamics has made MBWA – Management By Wandering Around – popular again. First identified by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their big seller In Search of Excellence, the concept manifests itself when managers and leaders stay engaged within the workforce.
  5. Prove that you can be trusted, that you will not harm or compromise them. People are not stupid but they are skeptical. Just about everyone has been had before. Built over time and repeated experience another word for this is integrity. You are who you appear to be. I will pass through this quickly because the subject of integrity deserves a much larger treatment and is on the schedule for inclusion in this series in a few days.
  6. Test respect by asking that followers follow. Salesmen ask for the sale. Leaders ask for the lead. There comes a time, actually there will probably come many times, when you as leader ask someone to follow. You can buy a person’s time and talent, you must earn their respect and enthusiasm.
  7. Ask for a response – do not assume the follower will know intuitively. You will probably still need to point out what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and when it is due. In short, lead. Good delegation technique solicits a verbal contract of agreement, an oral memo of understanding that lays out what is to be done, who will do it, and when it will be completed.
  8. Saddle up and ride! When the gentle side of force has done its work, you can do yours. Lead! Pursue the goals, press forward, get going. You don’t do this just to show who’s the boss. You do this because you have worlds to conquer, places to go, objectives to reach. You’ve gained someone’s trust so make the most of it. 

Power Plays have a point. They deserve my time and your attention for the purpose of the ethical pursuit of noble causes whether they are for business or for charity.

Churchill and Hitler were both effective leaders. Here’s why.

churchillsteve21/hdc/people/69/0192Leadership as a topic can be completely separated from concepts of good and evil. Leadership in its execution has been used for both. There is perhaps no more certain contrast of this than in the parallel administrations of Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill.

One used his considerable skills of leadership to bring most of the world to the edge of annihilation, the other to stop it. One employed the techniques that typify exemplary leadership to call out the worst in human behavior, the other to call out the best. Like courage or sincerity, leadership as an act is morally and ethically neutral. True enough, admiration for leaders and validation of their leadership does often depend on the outcome, but there can be no doubt that the components of leadership are the same however it works out. While failure can often be traced to poor leadership, effective and competent leaders fail too, witness the fall of the Third Reich.

One may be a great leader while being a despicable human being. The two are not mutually exclusive.

In the case of Churchill versus Hitler, both were sincere and brave in the advancement of their beliefs even though Hitler’s were loathsome. Both were opportunists, taking full advantage of time, history, and circumstances to propel themselves into positions of power, garner a following, and motivate them to do their bidding.

It is the leader’s use of words to draw on the emotions of their listeners that seem to make the difference between effectiveness and ineffectiveness. One moved his nation forward toward light and victory, the other towards darkness and defeat.

Leaders do so by appealing to emotions which, throughout history, has remained remarkably limited and amazingly constant regardless of the times or the culture.

Take for example, Pericles Funeral Oration spoken at the public funeral of those who died in a war in which Athens was still engaged. Compare that with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and you’ll discover the parallels in principle are remarkable even though they are separated by millennia.

Leaders have  the power of persuasion. This is usually achieved by what the leader says and how s/he says it. In my work on the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States, I soon discovered that there is no Navajo language equivalent for our English word “leader”. A “leader” in the Navajo nation is an orator, one who speaks eloquently and persuasively. Well, there you have it. A leader is one who can move a crowd.

That phrase – “move a crowd” – points out another component. Not only can a leader speak well, but s/he can motivate listeners, inspiring them to “move” from where they are in their thinking and actions to something else. Demagogues do this very well.

I will go so far as to say that when a person in a leadership position becomes silent or fails to say something, s/he is moving away from leadership. There is no such thing as leading from behind when a “leader” falls silent. The label “leading from behind” is employed when a leader has screwed up and not been out front as the job demands.

Churchill spoke, spoke very, very well. So too, did Hitler. They both possessed charisma, that compelling charm or appeal that inspires devotion in others. Once that charm has worked its spell, the leader can convince and inspire people to do more than they ever thought of themselves.

Followers willingly accede authority to a charismatic person. Willingly! Followers grant to their leaders authority over them and give their money, time, attention, talent, efforts, even their very lives. From our vantage point, we can sit in judgment of those who caved in to a monster like Hitler, but in those times what he said, particularly in the beginning as he began his ascent to power, seemed entirely reasonable and held obvious appeal to the masses in Germany. They did not know, probably few even considered, where it would lead.

James MacGregor Burns wrote “One of the most universal cravings of our time is a hunger for compelling and creative leadership.” Time and again it has led to disaster. France cried out for leadership from Napoleon in 1799, Russia looked to Lenin in 1917 and doubled down with Stalin ten years later. No less than 13 million Germans voted for Hitler in 1932!

But it works out well too. In the US we can point to the leadership (words and oratory) of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and the others who persuaded reluctant colonists to throw off England’s mantle. Then there was Abraham Lincoln, the skills of speaking found in Franklin Roosevelt, the popular appeal of Ronald Reagan who won 49 states in 1984 (Richard Nixon won 49 states too and we know how that turned out). Even Barack Obama, who won considerably less States in both his elections, is obviously a gifted orator.

Limiting our discussion to only the manifestation of the acts of leadership there is lots to say, and I intend to pursue the subject. I want to emphasize right now that my pursuit of this subject has no reflection on my personal political beliefs and should not be taken as such. I intend to explore the subject on the terms of effective leadership skills. History is better at qualifying the results and we will rely on it to do so.  (If you’re curious, and promise not to let your political beliefs persuade you to abandon this blog if they conflict with mine, you can read my columns at

So the next series begins later this week –  “POWER PLAYS – the components of leadership and how they are used to inspire and motivate.”

Here’s a brief outline of what I will cover:

  • The four elements of effective leadership
  • The definition of leadership and how it is different from authority and      management
  • Why and how vision is critical to powerful leadership
  • 4 ways to destroy your leadership role
  • Why strong, compelling leadership is imperative – there are 18 key pieces to      this puzzle
  • The role of your staff in exercising power
  • The 5 dilemmas we face and how to solve them
  • The three types of power and how each can have its place
  • Power sources – where to find, tap into, and transmit power to accomplish what      must be done

I hope you’ll log back in and follow the series through to its completion.