Before you plunge ahead, perhaps you should look back

baseball-1487981_960_720Those are the words I said to one of my clients, an older and accomplished professional who was experiencing some difficulty in deciding what to do next in his career. My question to him?

Where have you enjoyed success in your career?

When he had time to reflect and respond, I explained. I use the word : “enjoyed” in two senses.  First in the sense that you…well… enjoyed it. The moments and circumstances brought a sense of satisfaction and pleasure. The second sense is that of realization, that the experience was not a failure but an overwhelming success.

Most people probably have fewer of those than the other kind, but without doubt it is the enjoyed successes that make things worthwhile. So, why did I ask my client what successes he had enjoyed and more importantly, why should you answer the same question?

First, because if you enjoy success it almost unpredictably indicates a perfect match between your skills, your personality, and the challenge. Most of us can do lots of things but we like to do only a few. Usually we like to do them because we are good at them and we are good at them because we like doing them.

Second, knowing what we like to do and coincidentally what we are good at is critical to more than finding success. It is necessary for continuing success. Therefore if we know what worked for us yesterday we can quite confidently what will work well tomorrow.

Third, decisions become simpler if not easier. It makes no sense to pursue avenues which lead us into places we are poorly-equipped to handle. True enough, we learn daily, but in this consideration we need not try to be all things to all people in all circumstances.

Finally, as leaders we can find others who can do what we cannot or what we would rather not. My client is very smart, brilliant in fact. He could doubtless learn to do more things but why should he? All successful and superlative leaders focus on what they and only they can do in their setting and find others to do everything else.

So, where have you enjoyed success? Why were those times successful? What did you learn about yourself in them? Having learned that, what does it tell you about your future?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some of you have written to ask why I have not been posting for a while.  I cannot share details but on October 1st, 2015 a major medical event completely disrupted our household and my attention, time, and efforts have been consumed elsewhere. I am pleased to report that things are on the mend.

Mike has filed a complaint. What would you do?

question marksHere’s the situation:

You are the general manager of a store that has three departments. Your store is one of more than a dozen similar sites the company owns and operates. You receive a call from the customer service department at the main corporate office.

A customer has called to complain about something that happened at your store. The customer, we’ll call him Mike, had visited there expecting to purchase a product. Entering the department where the product was located, he waited to place an order.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

According to the customer service rep, the would-be buyer said he waited 19 minutes in all. During that time, one sales rep that had been busy with another customer finished what he was doing with them and then simply left. The other sales rep walked in to the department and immediately began chatting with another company employee. Then the rep went behind the desk and began clicking on a computer. Both the first rep and the second had made eye contact with Mike but neither acknowledged his presence or walked the half-dozen steps over to where he shopped to assist.

Mike gave up. On his way out of the store, he encountered a department manager and recounted what had just happened to him. When Mike finished, the department manager said only one thing, “Okay.”

Mike made his purchase somewhere else.

Now, let’s say that you’re the general manager of that store and you just received the call from corporate customer service, what do you do?

Send your answer to Jack@thepracticalleader.com or leave it as a comment below.

We’ll discuss the solution next week.

 

7 things every superlative leader understands about problem solving

what would you doRachel was a relatively new employee at a retail outlet. She was given the requisite week’s training in the training room and sent to the sales floor. Part of her job was to restock merchandise that had been returned. She had been on the job but a few days when an item was returned that was in a damaged box. She checked inside and saw that the manual was also missing.

As she pondered what she should do, the department manager stopped by to see how she was doing. She showed him the item and asked him what to do with it.

He did not tell her.

Instead, he asked, “What would you do with it?”

She thought for a bit, remembered the store’s policy on returns and a bin she had seen at the end of an aisle. “I would tape up the box, put a clearance tag on it marking that it is missing the manual, mark down the price, and put it back in that clearance bin.”

The department manager smiled. That was precisely the correct answer

Every leader is, by nature, a problem-solver. They look at life as a series of obstacles to overcome, issues to resolve, problems to fix. Many relish being the go-to guy, the person with the answers. That will eventually come back to bite you and it reveals two things about you and your leadership style.

First it shows that you don’t understand your primary role and objective as a leader. You are not there to do everything. You are there to be sure that everything gets done. You cannot possibly do everything that has to be done to get everything done. It is not possible…nor is it necessary.

Second, it shows a lack of ability or willingness to develop others. Withholding information that will empower others often signals a need to control. No control freak can ever become a superlative leader. Effective leaders are always giving away information and skills. They intend to equip others to do their jobs, to extend our own reach, multiply our own effectiveness, and divide our own work…and they do so on every occasion.

Superlative leaders are not problem-solution inclined. They are, frankly, a bit lazy.

If you’ve been following my Twitter feed (I recommend it to every leader or manager. Twice a day I send out a leadership tip in under 140 characters. Over 11,000 of your associates have, so why not follow me now? Just click here to follow me.) In a Tweet sent out last week I said to “Spend more time working ON your business and less time working IN your business. Delegation benefits everyone.”

Superlative leaders are competent problem-solvers…and they give others the ability and authority to solve problems as well.

1. Classroom training is one half of the training process. The other half is real-life, on-the-job experience IF it is accompanied by a sharp, confident, and competent on-site mentor. I am not advocating a throw them in the deep end and hope they can swim approach to development. I am suggesting a deliberate effort to sharpen the skills of trusted associates and employees.

2. Giving others the ability and authority to solve problems demonstrates that you can delegate and that you trust them to do the right thing. The converse is also true. Refusing to do so demonstrates a lack of trust and an unwillingness to train. You will limit your reach and inhibit your effectiveness – guaranteed.

3. Measure every problem brought to you and every problem you encounter. Whom can you train, whom can you educate, and whom can you empower to solve it? Someone somewhere in the organization should fit one of those three.

4. Knives get sharper when they are sharpened. People get better at what they do by practice. Training room training is one thing. Real life is another. Show them how and let them do it. If they make the wrong decision, do not scold or condemn. Train and explain, instead.

5. Never forget your two-sided objective – solve the problem and develop effective leadership around you. Reserve your problem solving to only those items that absolutely no one else can attend to, that absolutely no one else can handle. Give everything else away.

6. Ineffective leaders neglect their job of equipping others. Thus they limit their ultimate growth as a leader and as a company or organization.

7. Finally, the most superlative leaders may not be very good at leading followers but they are fantastic at leading leaders. And that is precisely how they become superlative, effective, and legendary.

The Battle of the Bulge and you, what bungled intelligence gathering means for your business

battle-bulge-500-35I watched an enlightening program yesterday on the Battle of the Bulge. After successfully breaching the “Atlantic Wall,” as the Nazi defenses were called, Allied forces had the German army on the run. By December, 1944, things were going very well for the Allies and very badly for Hitler. It was the concerted opinion of Allied commanders that the German Army was incapable of mounting any kind of major offensive and it would be a matter of days before the war ended.

Aficionados of the intelligence game like me find what happened fascinating. The Battle of the Bulge should not have surprised anyone. There was plenty of intelligence to point to a major German offensive and to locate the place along the front where it would occur. Bletchley Park, the British code breaking unit, captured plenty of coded radio traffic and decoded it. Intelligence analysts interpreted the gathered data and concluded that a major offensive was in the works.

The generals, Eisenhower included, decided that the intelligence was wrong and that the enemy was incapable of an offensive of that size.

They were wrong.

For weeks I’ve been writing about vision and strategic planning. The third element in the process, tactics, will come up soon.

Strategic planning does no good if you won’t listen to the intelligence. The people around you, the consultants you hire, the analysis you pay for, the statistics you gather are a waste of time and money if you can’t trust what they say or refuse to acknowledge that what they tell you runs counter to what you want to believe.

Success is its own best validator and its own worst enemy. Generals Bradley, Montgomery, and Eisenhower all had significant and sufficient resources warning of what was coming. All of them ignored it, discounted it, and/or refused to believe it.

“Okay,” you say. “That’s all well and good, but that’s the military. I run a business.” If you’ve been reading my posts for awhile you’ll know my affinity for hiring military people to work with. They’re mission oriented and strategically trained. Those skills are imperative for business.

I have another favorite show I’ve watched often. It’s called Bar Rescue. An experienced bar business consultant responds to a bar owner’s call for help with his/her failing bar business. The bar rescue guy sends in undercover people to gather what? That’s right. Intelligence! Why? Because if you want to know what to do you have to know what is being done. Incredibly, many of those bar owners discount or dispute the evidence found by the consultant even though their businesses are failing. If you want to know what will be you must know what is. Effective leaders are not blind to intelligence nor do they blindly follow intelligence. Intelligence can be misleading or incorrect.

But not very often. You’re a smart person. If you can’t trust people you’ve hired to be smart, insightful, and honest, replace them with those who are.

Gather intelligence. Find out what’s what and who’s who.

Decode and decipher intelligence. Let your experience and education show you what the data means.

Validate intelligence. Be careful about single-source information. Check things out. Never ever listen to one side of a story, one side of an argument, or one person’s opinion. Get the facts, all the facts. Never hire a financial advisor with anything to sell. Find out if anyone who’s talking to you has an agenda.

Act on intelligence. And do so intelligently. I’ll wager Eisenhower, Bradley, and Montgomery wished they would have.

So why didn’t they? Because the better things are going for you, the less you feel you need to do those things that made you successful.

Odd isn’t it? The better off you get the worse off you think. Amazingly it isn’t an isolated condition. Too many leaders relax too soon. They get sloppy, arrogant, over-confident. In their case, the space between success and catastrophe is only a hyphen. If you’re doing well now, what skills and attitudes have brought you here? If things aren’t going so well, what do you need to do to change them? Intelligence is more than the facts one gathers, it’s also the response one should make.

5 reasons why hope is not a valid strategy

coins in fountainHope is not a strategy but it is an essential attitude.

One of the best employee associates I ever had was a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel. I have always loved working with military people. Their training firmly builds within them a “can do” mentality and a fixation on mission objectives. This one was no different. My retired officer/employee could always be depended upon to get the jobs out the door and focus on billable hours. He often said, when discussing business, that “Hope is not a valid strategy.”

Hope, when used as a strategy, dooms us to failure because it is so fuzzy. Fuzzy thinking has a place in formulating vision, but it has no place in strategic planning. That facet of the leadership process demands clear headedness and cold acceptance of reality.

But that can incline us towards pessimism. I mean, simply looking at the size of a task, the complexity of the issue, or the ingrained habits of a group can overwhelm us. Watching the news does the same thing.

Here are 5 reasons why hope cannot be a strategy. Following this list, I’ll show you the reasons why hope is, nonetheless, an essential attitude.

Why hope cannot be a strategy:

  1. It encourages sloppy thinking. Hope as a strategy rounds off the corners of life’s sharp edges. It edits the images we see so that only those “proofs” that prove our preconceived notions are seen and accepted. Look at the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin minted by the Treasury Department. Every focus group, every study, every analysis showed the coin to be too near the size of a quarter and therefore confusing to the public. But those who wanted the coin ignored the evidence and went ahead with a disastrous launch of a coin that never found acceptance by the public.
  2. It tends to ignore the past or at least minimize its lessons. This is just plain stupid. I once attended a pastor’s conference where the invocation prayer proved to be one of the best presentations of the entire event. The pastor opening the event prayed, “God, let us make new mistakes. We are tired of making the same mistakes over and over and over again.”
  3. It tends to promote delusional thinking. On a small scale, but one that demonstrates this, there is an author in my community who has written a book of her life’s story, focusing on its hardships and how she overcame them. Well, somewhat. I’ve read the book and it is badly written, sketchy at best, and desperate for the skilled eyes of an editor. The author hired one of the many “publishing” companies that has sprung up in recent years to publish and distribute her book to whom she paid a princely sum. I saw her just a few days ago and asked her how it was going. She had no idea but she “hoped” it would do well. She told me she intended to make enough from the sales of her book to live in ease and comfort. As one who’s been in the writing and publishing business for decades I can assure you she will be lucky to recover even a portion of what she paid the company to publish her book. At the risk of sounding insensitive, it really is a badly written book of no interest to anyone except her family or her generous and forgiving friends. Had she examined the market, studied what makes a successful book, learned how books are marketed these days, accepted the realities of independent publishing, and examined what the profit realities are for 99% of authors (almost none which is why most have a day job, too), her chances would be better. Not great, but better. But, delusion is a powerful force, one that has charmed her into a level of fantasy that will be either disappointing to her or one worse. That brings me to point #4.
  4. Hope, when used as a strategy, rejects facts, glosses over evidence, and believes what it wants to believe because it wants to believe so therefore it must be true. This is where we begin to distinguish between hope as an attitude and hope as a strategy. I’ll address hope as an attitude on Monday and I do indeed consider it to be a vital component in the tool chest of an effective leader. But positive thinking in and of itself is incredibly damaging. I’ve written about this on my other blog here and here so I won’t repeat it in this post. Hope, when used as a replacement for sound judgment is deadly.
  5. It inflates the positives, deflates the negatives, and therefore clouds the faculty to make intelligent decisions and take intelligent action. The result is most often discouraging, defeating, or even disastrous. We must have sound judgment supported by honest motives and our willing acceptance of the facts as they are. Strategic thinking is creative thinking at its most useful level. Creative thinking has three components, particularly when it comes to our need to creatively make strategic plans to propel our department, team, company, or organization towards its vision.
    1. Component #1 – A must equal A. A cannot equal be and must not equal whatever you want it ti. Creative thinkers discover reality and accept it as the place to begin. Those who substitute hope do not. They ignore the facts, minimize their importance, and/or rationalize away their validity. Anyone remember how I’ve defined “rationalize?” It is to tell yourself rational sounding lies and believe them regardless of the facts.
    2. Component #2 – The law of cause and effect. The decisions we make and the actions we take cause things to happen, not happen, or fall apart. The effects of those decisions and are caused by something. Hope as a strategy ignores this reality, clouds over the causes, and explains away their effects.
    3. Component #3 – The principle of influence. You are a powerful figure in your setting. You may not know this. You may not understand this. You may even be baffled by it. But I can assure you that when you talk, when you make decisions, others listen. You have influence. That is the essence of leadership, the capacity to affect what others think and do. Hope as a strategy tends to numbify others, to coin a term. Because your circle of concern is always greater than your circle of ability, and because you must have the active and intelligent cooperation of others to reach the noble and grand objectives now incarnated as vision, you need to capitalize on your influence. Hope, when used strategically, tends to dull the senses, and relax the sharp attention of others. You want to be carefully tuned to your circumstances and you need others to be so as well.

Up next? Why hope may be a bad strategic device but is a critical attitude. Stay tuned.

6 Bases of Power – Knowledge

knowledge3When the definition of power includes the “ability to exert influence” there is probably no basis greater than the subject of today’s post. People love advice form perceived authorizes. Take, for example, Ann Landers.

Ann Landers is a pen name invented by Chicago Times columnist Ruth Crowley in 1943 and taken over by Eppie Lederer in 1955. For 56 years, the Ask Ann Landers syndicated advice column was a regular feature in many newspapers across North America.  A few months after Lederer took over the column, her twin sister, Pauline Phillips, started her own column calling it Dear Abby. Through the years millions of readers have read thousands of columns.

The add the many other advice givers in print and broadcast media, throw in celebrities endorsements of products and political candidates, and add it to an educational system that credentials experts and the sum is a civilization intent on yielding authority to knowledge givers.

Indeed, being in the know adds depth, credibility, and authority to your place of power. Nothing builds confidence like being in the know, like being proven to be correct.

In a moment of shameless self-promotion, let me refer to my book the “3 Essential Skills of Effective Leaders” wherein this point is skill number one. An effective leader understands what’s going on by virtue of his/her experience, training, insight, and knowledge. They then know what to do next, know why it is important to take that action next, and knows how to make it happen.

Knowledge has such power, exerts such influence because followers seek out these four things:

Solutions to problems. People look to us to resolve issues. The fastest way to move away from leadership is to manifest ignorance. A few days ago we watched the taut thriller U-571. Without giving away the plot, there is one scene where the exec was faced with a tough choice and confessed publicly that he did not know what to do. Later, in private, the chief took him to task for that, saying that the leader must never admit he does not know what to do. Once your people believe that you do not know, your ability to influence them and consequently your power, greatly diminishes. HINT: Even if you don’t know, find out, figure out, work it out. Never, I mean never even hint that you are in the dark.

Answers to questions. This is why Ann  Landers, Dear Abby, Miss Manners, and Dr. Phil do so well. Life gets complicated. We face dilemmas. We have questions. We look to, and ascribe authority to, people who have answers. Answer men and women explain why, what, and how…and consequently we lend them great authority. A month or so ago I noticed that my left eye was not focusing properly and that when I looked at a straight line there was a small dip in the line about a third of the way from the left. This happened with any and all straight lines. I figured my eyeglass prescription was out of date and I needed new glasses, this was accelerated when I stepped on them and broke them.

So I made an appointment and went for an eye exam. When he finished the doctor told me I needed to see a retina specialist because there appeared to be a blister on the retina of my left eye. I left there and made an appointment. Before the appointment I googled my condition and found a medical site that told me that a blister like bubble will sometimes form on the retina, that they do not know why, and there is no cure, that it usually goes away in 4 to 6 months.

When I returned from the retina specialist I relayed to my wife what the doctor said, that a blister like bubble will sometimes form on the retina, that they do not know why, and there is no cure, that it usually goes away in 4 to 6 months. It was precisely what I had learned for free on the internet but that doctor’s charge of $100+ now brought assurance that the answer was the answer. See there, having the answer contains value, in this case $100 worth.

Information to fill a void. Consultants make their living because of this. We know what piece or pieces are missing and what to do about it. You might have heard the story of the consultant hired to find out why a particular manufacturing process was not working. He looked around the plant, walked over to a particular pipe, pointed to a certain spot, and smacked it right there with a heavy hammer.”

They did so and it started working. When he sent his bill for $10,000 the company objected to the charge saying that was a lot of money to hit a pipe with a hammer. He resubmitted an itemized bill that read:

Hitting a pipe with a hammer = $1.00

Knowing just where to hit it = $9,999.00

Directions when they can’t find the way. When I think of leadership, this is the image that first comes to my mind. Leadership paints an image to me of movement toward a destination. Not talking about it, not planning for it, but moving towards it. This is also why I discount the idea that one can lead from behind. One can manipulate from behind but one cannot lead.

Life coaches do so well at this these days because the advice and assurance offered by someone whose opinion we respect holds tremendous value. I was counseling a young couple who had started a business. Their business was about two years old and they wanted to know if things were going as well as it should. After reviewing their accounts and plan it became very obvious that they were indeed on the right track. They remarked that they just needed someone of experience to tell them things were ok.

But I counsel many others who are not doing so well. They are just starting out and cannot see the way. Leaders have tremendous opportunity here to show people the way.

Of the bases of power I have reviewed so far – official, transactional, and coercive, knowledge is by far the most prevalent and most effective. Education and experience packaged together yield powerful leadership.

Check out the video:

Power Plays – the 6 principles of delegating responsibility

Power Lines diagram responsibilityA man got on a crowded bus carrying a heavy briefcase. There were no seats, and he had to stand near the driver, holding on to a pole next to the driver’s seat. He held the pole with one hand and the briefcase with the other.

After a while, the bus driver looked at him and asked, “Mister, why don’t you put the briefcase down and let the bus carry it?”

So why don’t we let the “bus” carry our load? I am a realist so I am not naïve. Most of us have been burned when we tried to pass off jobs to others. Some of us may be so badly burned that we’ve decided to do everything ourselves or we have become very reluctant to delegate anything.

I cannot possibly address every aspect of this topic in one blog post. But I can in several of them, which I intend to do. For oh so many years I travelled from country to country and encountered a common challenge – overworked, overloaded, over-conscientious leaders and managers who cared deeply about their organizations or companies and wanted success for them and themselves.

I believe that you are reading this because you are a conscientious and responsible leader who feels the same way.  But are you letting the “bus” carry your load?

Some leaders, especially those who have built a company or organization from scratch are reluctant to hand off authority. They want to retain decision-making power for all those positions they’ve occupied along the rise to the top. Simple logistics should soon convince you that you cannot keep up the pace for long.

If you are ever going to reach your personal and professional objectives you soon understand that your circle of concern is always wider than your circle of ability. (See figure 1)

Figure 1
Figure 1

 

Delegation starts the process. It gets the power flowing. But just what does one hand-off? It boils down to this:

You will look for and engage people to whom you can hand-off specific tasks that will:

  • Increase their skills
  • Free their superiors (that’s you!)
  • Extend your reach
  • Multiply your effectiveness
  • Divide your work

You hand off RESPONSIBILITY, not authority. I will cover “authority” in a future post. Authority is created when one accepts responsibility. Never, and I mean never give out authority to a position unless and until that position is tied clearly, definitively, and permanently to a responsibility.

Here are 6 principles for enabling the responsibility-authority matrix:

Principle #1 – Give opportunity according a person’s ability. All effective delegation is intelligent and well-considered. You just don’t hand out jobs to keep people busy. Match jobs to people with the skills, personality, and attitude to match.

Principle #2 – Expect responsible behavior in return. The hand-off is never total and the release never final. You will demand…and receive ultimate accountability because you are still responsible for the results of your company or department. You hand off jobs not to get rid of them but to get them done and done well. HINT: Your best followers will return MORE than was expected of them.

Principle #3 – Responsibility is not completed until accountability is given. Power flows only when there is a complete circuit.  It is not wrong to expect those to whom you delegate to come and find you to give you a report of what happened.

Principle #4 – Shouldering responsibility builds a person’s credibility. Nothing succeeds like success. Nothing shouts competence like a job done well, done on time, done completely. I hired a computer repair firm once to repair a laptop. When they returned it they had done the job…almost. There were still things to be done but they told me, “You can handle the rest of the things.” I never hired them again. Why? Because I hired them to do the job but they did only part of the job. I delegated to them the responsibility to repair my computer. They did most, but not all of it.

Principle #5 – Acting responsibly assures leaders of a person’s dependability. We are looking for people upon whom we can rely. Handing out power to an unproven recipient is a formula for catastrophe. We are looking for people who can shoulder greater and greater loads of responsibility. We know we can safely do that when one handles a job well.

Principle #6 – When a person demonstrates responsibility, then and only then, should you grant appropriate levels of authority. Take a look at the last two articles again. You the leader/manager have a choice to make when you pass off a job. The amount of autonomy you give will depend directly on the confidence you have in the person. That confidence may come from personal experience or from referral but the final choice is yours.

Ok, so why make people responsible? There are four reasons.

  1. You care about people and what they do or don’t do.
  2. Keeping promises is important.
  3. If people do not do what they say they are going to do the entire organization suffers.
  4. Integrity is at stake – theirs, yours, and that of your company or organization.

So, when you delegate a task to another, there is one more component – the all-important verbal contract. The responsible party is guaranteeing to you three things:

  1. They are saying to you, “I believe this can be done.”
  2. “I will do it.”
  3. “I will tell you as soon as I doubt my ability to keep my promise to you, tell you why I was not able to keep my commitment, and explain what I am going to do about it in the future.

Once these criteria have been established, then you can delegate the job and begin to release authority. Not before. Once a person has proven their ability to shoulder responsibility, less and less specific agreement and action will be required because they have built trust between you and you can see the history of performance.

In the two previous articles I wrote about delegating (here and here). This is the fourth article in the series on Power Plays – those systems and procedures that keep build your influence and get things done in your business or organization.

Up next? Authority. See you Thursday.

The previous posts in this series are:

The Gentle Side of Force

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 1

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 2

 

 

Power Plays – How power flows

The mantra goes like this. We have a staff of employees, associates, and subordinates for three purposes:

To extend our reach – to make it possible for us as leaders and managers to get influence more people and thus get more done.

To multiply our effectiveness – the principle of reproduction works here. We impart to faithful people who are then able to impart to others. Our vision, our objectives, our enthusiasm, our ideas, our intelligence, our abilities are distributed through a network of trained and competent individuals, otherwise known as staff.

To divide our work – we add others so we can pass on task lists to them thus freeing ourselves to focus on those things that we can uniquely do. Discover what it is that you as a leader can do that no one else can. Give everything else away.

For those readers that have been visiting my blog for awhile, you’ve read the three purposes above before. (if you’re new and want to catch up, check them out here.) They sum up the definition of leadership which is:

“the process OF PERSUASION AND EXAMPLE by which an individual (or a leadership team) induces a group to TAKE ACTION that is in accord with the leader’s purposes or the shared purposes of all.”

Leadership does not happen in isolation. By its nature it involves, engages, and affects others. Therefore, leadership is primarily a function of influence, the capacity of one person to positively motivate someone else so that something happens.

No attributes of leadership are passive. They are all active. Something happens as a result of leadership. If nothing happens, if no one follows, if no one does anything, if nothing develops, leadership has not happened.

Like the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “Leading is easy. The hard part is getting people to follow.” So, the mobilization of inanimate objects requires some sort of force.

In my last post I wrote of the gentle side of force. Today, I will discuss the dynamics of force as it energizes objects and creates movement. If that is to happen, there must be some sort of connection, power lines if you will, that transfer energy from one to another. It looks and works like this:

Power Lines diagram.docx

Leadership conceptually and practically demands that you, as leaders or manager, get the ball rolling. A good friend who served as manager for a major automobile manufacturer once remarked that

Effective leaders become the point of action and accomplishment while ineffective leaders become the point of reaction and resistance.”

My illustration above provides the outline for the next several posts. You as the leader or manager are the center point. Power starts with you. What you believe, what you say, who you are, and what you do either influences others or it doesn’t. Let’s take the premise that you are reading this blog because leadership rests on you.

With most subordinates, something must be said, tasks must be defined, and objectives must be clarified. The hand-off of power is called delegation. True enough, you may have associates who are quite intuitive and proven who can “read your mind” so to speak and pick up on what needs to be done, then run with it, but those associates are not many. Most will need, want, indeed wait for the hand-off from you.

If this does not happen, not much else will either.

However,NEVER DELEGATE AUTHORITY WITHOUT EXPLICITLY AND DEFINITIVELY TYING IT TO RESPONSIBILITY.

Never!

Power is not to be played with and never to be passed around simply because you can pass it around. Power has a purpose – to accomplish a specified and agreed upon task or objective.

Therefore, for you as leader and manager delegation does NOT MEAN abandoning responsibility even when you hand it off. Take another look at figure 1 above. Power needs a complete circuit in order to flow. Just like electricity, the power must return safely to its source.

The leader/manager always retains the responsibility to:

  • Know what is going on,
  • Set the direction for the department or company,
  • Make the decisions the delegated party cannot make,
  • Ensure that everyone stays on course
  • Open doors, clear the way, offer a guiding hand,
  • Assess performance,
  • Be smart.

In the next post I will explain the choices you have to make when delegating, how the process works, and verbal contracts. Check back in on Thursday.

Keeper Trait #11 – Truthfulness

360_lie_detection_0713The tasks of evaluation, decision-making, and determining action are constant for leaders and managers. We must, from start of day to its close, gather information, qualify that information, and prescribe appropriate responses.

This requires intelligence and I mean that in the broader sense of information and intelligence gathering not just in the “smart” sense. Leaders and managers need information and should demand it, should settle for nothing less.

This is where trait #11 comes in. The people we assemble into work teams and staffs must be truthful with us and with themselves.

A truthful person is:

Honest about what they do, have done and consequently will do. They build a track record of reliability in the capacity to accurately report what they have done thus we can trust what they tell us about what they can do and consequently what they will do.

Honest about what has happened. When giving account (trait #2), their account is accurate in three dimensions:

                They have told us what happened (the truth),

                They have included everything in their report (the whole truth),

                They have neither embellished nor interpreted the facts (nothing but the truth.)

In so doing they have become reliable witness upon whose testimony we can rely and from which we can make the best decisions and take the most appropriate actions.

Honest about how things are because you need information based on facts not fabrication. You need to make decisions and take action based on facts not speculation. Peril awaits on either side – exaggeration or it’s opposite, minimizing.

We need to fight and defeat immaculate perception. There exists within just about everyone an inclination to magnify the importance and validity of our own ideas. I call it immaculate perception, the tendency to ascribe to one’s opinions the attributes of omniscience and consequently the belief in one’s omnipotence. In short, we think too highly of our own ideas and truthful people are a balance to that.

We need truthful people because we cannot be everywhere all the time and we cannot know everything. Corporate structures are guilty of insulating decision-makers from reality because they are often physically removed from the places where decisions are put into practice. The TV show Undercover Boss substantiates this. In every case, bosses discover that their decisions have been both useful and harmful.

Information, accurate information, is on our side. It is not our enemy. Truthful associates make the company stronger. Truthful information does not weaken the company, it only shows us where the weakness is.

Truthfulness is sought here as a manifestation of good judgment because being truthful will imply that the person knows what to say, when to say it, to whom to say it, and how it should be said. Now, the question arises here about why people who work for you and with you do not tell you the truth. It could be because they are dishonest people. Those do exist and you know what to do about it. But it could be that they are afraid to tell you the truth because of you.

It might be that the way you react to the truth has shut down the flow of information. If that is the case, the world of fantasy will gradually displace the real world and the consequences can be dire.

Many surveys show that truthfulness is a key component of leadership because it implies reliability, trustworthiness, and credibility.

Frankly, truthfulness is not a valued trait in some workplaces. The powers that be have given themselves to delusion and want to hear only information and input that supports that delusion. Other leaders are insecure and must be continually propped up by sliver-tongued sycophants.

What do you do when someone tells you the truth? How do you react? What do you do when you discover someone has been dishonest? What can you do today to encourage truthfulness in your company or organization?

Trait #13 is stewardship. See you in a few days.

Keeper Trait #8 – Prudence

flat rate boxesWith nothing to do but wait while we stood patiently in line at the local Post Office, we happened to see that there was but one “If It Fits It Ships” box in the rack. For those readers outside the United States, the Post Office here has a product  that lets a shipper send a box for a flat rate anywhere in the US if it fits inside regardless of weight. Normally, there is a selection of several sizes which ship for different rates. In our local office there was only one box.

When we got to the window, we mentioned to the postal clerk that she was almost out of “If It Fits It Ships” boxes.

“Yes,” she reasoned. “I know. As soon as that one’s gone I’ll order more.”

We could not let that reasoning go unchallenged. “Why not order some now so that you don’t run out?”

“But we have one left. We don’t order until they are all gone.”

“But,” we persisted, “if you order now you will never be out and you are out of some sizes already.”

“We have our system,” she bristled. “When we’re out we order more.”

In so doing, she immediately disqualified herself from ever working for me in any capacity in any application (not that she would even want to). The postal clerk happened to be female but her lack of prudence is not gender specific. Either sex can be shortsighted.

Prudence is foresight, the capacity to see what lies ahead and do whatever it takes to be ready for it.

All businesses have future completion dates that must be met. My woodworking business dealt with deadlines every day. But non-production companies do to.

Prudent people do not see only the next step; they see the end result and the steps between now and then. They realize that if something is going to have to happen “then” something(s) will have to be started now.

Prudence has come to carry the meaning of cautiousness as well, but this is seldom an issued in business unless one wants to counterbalance recklessness. Business itself carries risk. We use the term business venture because there is an element of risk. Recklessness does not consider the risk and potential for peril and proceeds anyway. Prudence does consider the risk and proceeds when appropriate because it considers contingencies and prepares to meet or avoid them. The ability to discern whether a considered act is foolhardy or courageous is itself an act of prudence.

Prudent people weigh options and make a considered decision. They have the insight and understanding (I discuss these in detail in my book 3 Essential Skills of Effective Leadership) to reason rationally and intelligently. They allow emotions like desire and machismo to be tempered by foresight and maturity.

Prudent people understand why foresight, planning, and preparation are necessary. They put the pieces together so that customers have flat rate boxes whenever they might need them. Prudent people do not retreat into and hide behind systems or policy. They place the over-riding objectives of customer service and relationships as trump cards. If they are going to supply customer’s needs, they will never run out of flat rate boxes. They will always have an on-hand supply.

Prudent people will be free of debilitating vices, or if not free, have them well under control. In the last post I spoke of the 26 employees I had hired and fired. More than one of them lacked prudence. If you show up for work stoned, you may be certain prudence is not among your virtues.

Finally, prudent people pick their battles carefully. They are neither firebrands nor demagogues. They know that not every engagement is an opportunity for conflict. Prudent people build bridges before they burn them.  They save their strength and resources for battles that can be won.

Trait # 9 – sensitivity – is up next. See you in a few days.