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.

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.

Beware the naked man who wants to give you fashion advice

 “Well, you have your degree. Now you’re going to get an education.”

One of my professors said that to me the night I graduated. She was correct.

A few weeks later I had moved with my new bride (who is now my not-so-new bride but exciting nonetheless) to Northern Arizona for our first post-college, degree-enabled job. Four years of formal education delivered by some of academia’s finest minds would lead one to think that graduates of the program would be equipped for every good work.

Our first morning there, I stepped outside, looked up into the clear Arizona sky and said right out loud,  “I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

I figured it out eventually.

Fast-forward now several decades to a Harvard commencement program. My son was receiving his Master’s degree and we were there to witness and bask in his accomplishment. The commencement speaker, himself a Harvard grad, began to speak and what he had to say remarkably paralleled my own story. Years invested in higher education, launching into career post-graduation with no idea of what to do, eventually figuring things out and making a successful life along the way. We both got the bulk of our education after receiving degrees.

So, you are wondering, what is my point?

Employers place a good deal of emphasis on education and experience for good reason. Education alone seldom prepares one for work and life in the real world. It does expand knowledge. It does provide information both general and specific. But it does not, and cannot, prepare one with the thousands of nuances and insights that come from living life and interacting with its many opportunities and curve balls nor can it provide the street smarts that comes from working in your field.

You remember the old story about the young executive who asked of his mentor hos that mentor became a success. “Good decisions,” replied the man.

“But,” asked the young man, “how can I learn how to make good decisions?”

“Simple,” replied the mentor, “that comes with experience.”

“How do I get experience?”

“Simple,” replied the mentor. “Bad decisions.”

Most of us have been subjected to the friend or relative who can well tell us how we should raise our children but their words do not resonate for one glaring omission. They’ve never had children of their own.

A friend once told me, with a completely straight face, that he was the best husband to his wife that he had ever known. When I asked him how he knew that, he remarked that he had been to a marriage seminar and what he learned there had assured him he was.

Now, there is probably no doubt that what he learned was true, accurate, and worthwhile. But education’s power to transform is limited until it encounters the catalyst of real life. Why? Because life is full of “Aha” moments, those increments of time when what you have learned and what you have become aware of collide to produce truth and reality. Education is quite good at swelling the head by filling it with information but frankly it is of limited appeal and therefore limited use to practical leaders (notice the title of this website) until it has been tempered with the sting of battle and shaped by the exigencies of life.

Now, this essay is more than an exercise in examination and opinion. There is a point.

I was interviewing potential associates for business and asking if they had ever owned a business. Most had not. One employee who left my employ (fired him for unsafe shop practices) and started out on his own told me later he had no idea what a challenge cash flow was, that he was used to getting paid regardless but as an owner he got paid last if at all. Well, duh?

Another told me he had been in business but when I asked the nature of the business he said it was a small shop located in an out-building behind his house in which he made the occasional piece of custom molding on order for the company he worked for every day. So, while technically he was a business owner, it was not the type of business that could, by any stretch of the imagination, be equated with a stand-alone business that demands finding customers, fulfilling orders, handling payroll, making lease payments, and the dozens of other pieces of business of a real business. His was a “business” for tax purposes only and met the criteria for tax reporting that allowed certain deductions.

So here’s my point. Neither of those guys had the complete package. One had experience in the field but completely lacked both business knowledge and experience. The other had some limited knowledge but had never embarked on the unknown sea of commerce; his was a boat in a bathtub but he fancied himself a blue water sailor. (FYI, the last I knew this fellow was marketing himself as a business consultant.)

When I was in college I noticed the large number of alumni who had gravitated back to the school to teach. Then I checked into other institutions of higher learning and found the trend was the same. I asked that same professor who predicted when I would get an education why this is so. She said, “Because those who can do, but those who can’t come back here and teach you how to do what they could not.”

Without doubt you will encounter a goodly number of consultants who offer their services to help you solve a problem, build a business, or make a life. There is little doubt they will have good things to say and might be worth their fee. But before you hire one of them, ask them just exactly what they have achieved in their field. Beware the naked man who wants to give you fashion advice.

Making Good Decisions

Making Good Decisions:

When a recent graduate joined a prestigious firm, his ambition to succeed and advance drove him to cultivate a friendship with one of the firm’s principals. After a few weeks he felt comfortable enough with the man’s friendship to ask, “How do I get ahead in this business?”

“Make good decisions” he replied.

“But there’s so much to learn, how do I learn how to make good decisions?”

“Experience.”

“How do I get experience?

“Making bad decisions!”

Well, I have plenty of experience, enhanced by bad decisions. I can report, nonetheless, that the result is good decisions.

I first started in a position of leadership and responsibility in 1972. The morning I started in my new job, I remember saying out loud to no one in particular, “I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

Did I have a college degree? Yes.

Had I been promised my college education would prepare me for my profession? Yes.

Did they? No.

Why? Because leadership is a practical art more than it is an academic science.

So, I welcome you to this blog and the development of a corresponding web site. I’ve learned a few things about the practice of leadership and I believe I can help you become an even more effective leader.