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.



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.

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 TheAmericanPhilosopher.com)

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.


Keepers Trait #16 – Nice

Nice guysA few years ago it was my privilege to officiate at the memorial service of an old friend. The family did not want a traditional structured ceremony. They asked that time be given for mourners to say whatever they wanted about the life of the man being honored that day.

For over 45 minutes, I simply acknowledged one person then another as they stood and offered their words of respect. To a man they all acknowledged the deceased as a man of honor, honesty, respect, grace, and ability. They all labeled him a “nice guy.”

Ok, the oft repeated words attributed to baseball coach Leo Durocher, who reportedly said “nice guys finish last,” seem to challenge my premise. But it all comes down to what is meant by the phrase “nice guy.”

This is the last article in the series Keepers, Traits of those exceptional people you want to keep around. I do not want to conclude this leaving any doubt about the overriding demeanor and attitude of a person who makes a valuable asset to you and your company or organization.

I have discussed these 15 traits so far:

  1. Resource-fullness
  2. Aggressive accountability
  3. Psychological and emotional security
  4. Personal & institutional loyalty
  5. Creativity
  6. Organization
  7. Diligence
  8. Prudence
  9. Sensitivity
  10. Skills and temperament appropriate to the position
  11. Truthfulness
  12. Stewardship
  13. Learn-able
  14. Teach-able
  15. Initiative

But a nice person makes all other traits and capacities oh so pleasant to be around. I hate a workplace filled with tension, bickering, or Machiavellian maneuverings. Hate it! I’ve left jobs and turned down positions because one or more of those negative attributes existed.

Life is way too short to spend it in incessant conflict. There is a better, more excellent way. Peter Drucker once wrote of three principles that must guide our engagement with others:

  1. Build only on islands of health and strength.
  2. Work only on things that will make a great deal of difference if you succeed.
  3. Work only with those who are receptive to what you are trying to do.

Find nice people to work with. Not rude, not cynical and sarcastic, certainly not abrasive or manipulative.

Nice does not equal less assertive. Nice people are neither passive nor unambitious, they’re just well, nicer about it. They possess great strength, immense fortitude of character, and courage. They manifest it with grace. A wonderful example of this can be found in the lives of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They were both giants yet fulfilled their roles with great grace. They were nice guys.

Can not so nice guys get ahead? Surely. They often do. And some organizations or companies seem to want that type of person. I don’t.

Nice guys play fair. They give everyone their due, bring others along, work cooperatively and considerately. Nice people treat their co-workers with courtesy, say please, say thank you, offer assistance, are easy to get along with.

Nice guys are not saccharin. One may disagree but do so nicely. The reader should not infer that I am advocating a person who never makes a ripple, never disputes a decision, never challenges a decision. Nice guys as I interpret and apply the term in this context are not wallflowers. They make their presence known but do so in such an excruciatingly nice manner.

Nice guys build bridges, clear pathways, garner cooperation not by mandate but by winning over opponents and inviting participation.

Nice guys finish.

Nice guys, at least in my company, last.

Keeper Trait #15 – Initiative

iniitiativeMany potential employers put it directly in their ads – “must be a self-starter.” It is, apparently, an all too unusual trait.

Perhaps more than any other trait, it separates the successful from the failure, the winner from the loser, the prosperous from the poor. A person with initiative does not wait to be told to something, does not sit back blaming anyone for his or her lack of progress, but steps up and gets going.

C. Northcote Parkinson said that The man whose life is devoted to paperwork has lost the initiative. He is dealing with things that are brought to his notice, having ceased to notice anything for himself.

Stephen Covey adds in his perspective when he says that Employers and business leaders need people who can think for themselves – who can take initiative and be the solution to problems.

In a general sense, your associates, subordinates, and employees will fit somewhere on this chart.4 levels

The Forced Laborer is always there BUT you have to go find them, take them to the job site, show them precisely what needs to be done, and either stand over them yourself or assign someone to do so in order to keep them working. They completely lack initiative.

The Hired Hand is a bit more independent. They will do the job once it has been pointed out, once the tools or devices necessary to do it are supplied, and once the task has been defined. But you usually do not have to monitor them very closely.

The Reliable Assistant has a good deal of initiative but may be a bit reluctant to volunteer. Once you issue a directive or point out a general task that needs to be done (which you can do by either specifying the task or the objective), they will take it from there. What’s more, they will aggressively account to you once they are finished.

The Trusted Associate is so in tune with the objectives of the organization, the supporting objectives of his or her department, and with the comprehensive vision articulated by you, that they will see what needs to be done even before it is pointed out. Then they will take charge and make sure it is done then report to you.

Forced Laborers and Hired Hands cost less money but more in supervisory engagement. Reliable Assistants and Trusted Associates cost more money but they free up manpower and, most critically, they free up your time.

People with the trait of initiative make the world, make your world, a better place. Now, if you’re a control freak, don’t be surprised if you drive people with initiative away. They do not like, and will not tolerate for long, too much meddling. It seems odd that control freaks bring trouble upon themselves. They drive off the independent types who could really help, who could extend their reach, multiply their effectiveness, and divide their work. They limit themselves to associates, subordinates, and employees who require copious amounts of oversight and management causing control freaks to lament that all they can find are people who have to be constantly managed.

So, what do you do? Find those with initiative and integrate them into your work circle so they can do what they do so well. Keep cycling through the others until you build a team that can run the engine of commerce without your constant oversight.


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.

Keepers Trait #5 – Creativity

sinksFor my birthday, my son took me to a new restaurant in downtown Ft. Myers, Florida, near where I live.  Ft. Myers was winter home to Thomas Edison. While here, he invited close friend Henry Ford down for a visit. Ford liked the place so much he bought the house next door to Edison. The estates are now a historic site and have prompted a number of Edison and Ford themed businesses. One of the newest is called Ford’s Garage, the restaurant we visited on my birthday.

The entire place is cleverly done, from the vintage Model T hanging over the bar, the shined-up institutional furnishings. The napkin rings are hose clamps. The thing I found most creative was the faucets in the bathroom. They are gasoline filler nozzles connected to the water lines with black rubber hoses.  Everywhere you look there is creativity.

This is not a plug for Ford’s Garage. It is an appeal for Keeper Trait #5 – creativity.

“Creativity means making something new or rearranging old things in a new way. “

The operations of any organization, large, small, commercial, or non-profit all require people who can solve problems, tackle dilemmas, and inspire customers. We have become bogged down by data and analysis gained from gathering preference statistics and conducting focus groups.

Anyone who has stayed in a roadside hotel can spot it. Rooms are totally lacking in creativity. They all are about the same size, have the same style of furniture, are appointed with a bed, a desk type of area, a counter to put suitcases on, an mini-bar, and a flat screen TV with remote. The colors and décor may vary but the basics are there.

Spurs to creativity, says Vance, are change, stress, and excess. “Moderation kills creativity.” Average people can achieve great things, he promises, when “they’re pissed off” or “they’re on fire with a cause.”

Now, most of us are not in the business of designing new businesses or redecorating apartments. The most likely venues whenever we talk about creativity are in design businesses, graphics arts, or architecture. But creativity is a keeper trait for every business or organization.


Because there are three basic premises to creativity:

Premise #1 is that “A” must equal “A”. “A” cannot equal whatever you want it to equal. If creativity means making something new or rearranging old things in a new way, one must know for certain what the old thing is and one must know what already is so that something new can be fabricated.

Premise #2 is the Law of Cause and Effect. Creative people understand the difference and are able to sort the differences out.  They know that most people will deal with effects but seldom get to the causes. Creativity comes in when they begin to develop solutions to problems, a highly useful and oft-needed skill.

Premise #3 is the principle of influence. Leadership is influence. People willingly follow because they are influenced by someone (positively and negatively). Influential people are people with ideas. Ideas require creativity. People with ideas are moving towards leadership. People without them are moving away. There is no such thing as leading from behind. One may fall behind. One may lag behind. But whoever is at the head is leading. Influential people are idea people.

There are two manifestations of creativity. On one hand, there is artistic and scientific creativity. Those are the Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs types who come up with brilliant ideas. I had a business partner once who was very creative. He could design a machine for our shop where no such existed.

On the other hand, there is creative problem-solving – the ability to overcome obstacles by approaching them in novel ways. This is the kind of creativity that comes in most handy in the business world. This is the kind we will find most useful to most applications for us. Success magazine recently ran a good article on this here.

Chanting once again my mantra about the purpose behind hiring others, let’s all say it together. We gather associates because they:

  1. Extend our reach.
  2. Multiply our effectiveness.
  3. Divide our work.

Creative people are idea people. They see solutions, embrace objectives, and find a path through. They are eyes through which we can see farther, ears by which we can hear more, and arms by which we can reach out more.

Keeper trait # 6 is organization. See you on Thursday.

Accountability, traits of keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful – #2

power plugI had ordered a meal and let the conversation around the table carry away the wait. When the order arrived, it was a different server who placed my plate in front of me. It was almost correct. I had ordered fish and what was on my plate was indeed fish. The problem was I had ordered it prepared a different way.

When the server sat it down I told him so and also suggested I keep it. I’d waited long enough.

In under two minutes the server who had taken my order was at the table offering an articulate and sincere apology for the mix-up. In that one moment, the server identified herself as a Keeper. Why?


An accountable person understands that mistakes happen and they own up to them when they do. They don’t have to be chased down and confronted about it. They don’t try to cover up or ignore it hoping it goes undiscovered. No, they report to you and explain what happened.

Accountability is an active trait, not passive. It takes the lead. Accountable people offer no transparent excuses, no blame-shifting, no relocating the guilt. There is a reality show series on TV called Restaurant Undercover or something like that. Restaurant owners who suspect an employee of theft hires a company to install hidden monitoring devices to find out what happens. I have watched a few episodes. In every one I’ve seen, when the culprit is caught they try to relocate their guilt back onto the restaurant owner. They all claim that their job performance is above and beyond the call of duty. They refuse to even acknowledge their incompetence or thievery instead they try to shame the owner because they are not more appreciative of the culprit’s hard work, sacrifice, and effort.

Weasels annoy me…big time. I live by the creed that if something is amiss, simply acknowledge it, find a solution, and keep moving. Accountable people exhibit two character traits that add to their keepability.

First, they conduct their lives with a high degree of responsibility. I will explore the traits of diligence and prudence later in this series, but those two traits find a seed plot right here. Accountable people don’t like error or defeat and live so as to avoid it as much as possible.

Second, when it happens, they report it to their superiors and those connected and involved associates before it becomes a bigger issue. They realize that failure is an event and live so that it does not become a way of life.

Throwaway people don’t. They live carelessly, fail to exercise due diligence, ignore prudence, and cover themselves with the slippery film of excuse-making and blame-shifting.

Whenever you are engaged with employing others, you do so because there are jobs that must be done that you, because of time or skill, cannot and should not try to do. I’ve said this so often in this blog through the years that it’s become almost a mantra. We engage others to extend our reach, multiply our effectiveness, and divide our work. We hire others, we delegate responsibility to others so they will solve problems, not create more.

The accountability component is built of the reality that a leader can never give away all his authority. S/he is ultimately responsible for what happens or doesn’t happen. All responsibility and the authority to fulfill that responsibility is released under a carefully determined agreement. Whenever you as leader/manager allow others to participate in the process of work for your company, whether it is one person or dozens or more, a contract implication exists.

By implication in accepting the responsibility the person accepting the job has agreed that if you will grant them the authority to do this job, they will award to you the accountability both you and the task deserve. Whenever an associate accepts a responsibility, they become, at least in that instance, a subordinate. Because authority and responsibility flows much like an electric current, if power is ever going to accomplish work, it must flow within a circuit. Current leaves the source, flows through wires and machinery, and returns to the source. If the circuit breaks, power stops and along with it the machinery. If it short circuits, a destructive fire could result. You as leader/manager release power (authority) to do the job but the circuit must flow back to you. The return trip is called accountability. The power source is you. To maintain a safe and effective flow of power, it eventually has to come back to you.

You have every right to expect that the accountability comes to you. You should not have to go get it from anyone. This initiative is what makes someone a keeper. They find you, make their report, and keep the machinery running. I do want to state that accountability does not only exist when something goes wrong. Accountability is not limited to the times something goes wrong. Perhaps most often accountability need to function when everything goes right.

When someone accepts responsibility they agree to three things:

  1. I will do it
  2. I will let you know as soon as I know if I am not going to be able to do what we agreed to in the time we set.
  3. I will tell you why I cannot meet my obligation and what I will do to prevent it from happening again.

Accountability is a broad topic and I do not presume to have addressed more than one facet of it in this post. However, I do want to include one more piece of the subject.

Some leaders/managers are uncomfortable either holding people accountable or accepting accountability from a subordinate or an associate. If this is you, you’ll need to acquire that ability. The flow of authority and responsibility depends on a system of accountability. Quality control, customer satisfaction, obligations to constituents, the very vision of the business or organization rests on the smooth flower of power throughout the system. Please do not minimize when an employee or associate brings news of a failure. Don’t over-react either. Deal with the issues, leave persons and personalities out of it, move on. Don’t gloss over it when they do well and report a success either. Celebrate the completion of a responsibility and build the bank of good will between your and those you rely on to carry out the many tasks of your group.

Next installment = Psychological security, maturity in action.

Resource-fullness, traits of keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful – #1

A fellow woodworking business owner has a unique and clever way of qualifying applicants for jobs. He brings them into the shop and offers to pay them for one week. During that week they have but one assignment. They can build anything they want in the shop, use the shop’s equipment and supplies under the condition that whatever they build must be planned, started, and completed in one work week.

The shop owner learns a lot during that week. One quality he is able to monitor is resource-fullness. He can observe, before he hires them, if they can learn their way around the shop, plan intelligently, use the machinery, complete something on time, produce commercial grade work, and solve the inevitable problems that arise.

Yes, I am aware that resource-full is misspelled. I did so intentionally. Resourcefulness is a dense word crammed with meaning. Resource-fullness crams in a little more.

In this series I am exploring the qualities that make for exceptional associates and employees; those capabilities, attitudes, and traits that make them keepers. The title says “not-so exceptional” because I believe there are lots of them around. They are all mixed in with everyone else but they are there in large numbers. Just not large enough.

I put resource-fullness at the top of the list because it is the most important trait by far when I look for associates. I want someone who can garner the components necessary to get the job done. Resource-fullness is both internal and external, that is a resource-full person has certain attitudes that always find expression in certain actions.

Inward Attitudes:

A Can Do spirit. One of my favorite movies in In Harm’s Way starring the Duke, John Wayne, and Kirk Douglas. In the opening segment, Wayne’s heavy cruiser is torpedoed and has gone dead in the water. A nearby destroyer pulls alongside to help. Wayne asks the destroyer’s captain if he can rig a line for towing and send over some pumps. The answer to both was, “Can do, sir.” Interestingly, the “captain” was not the ship’s captain at all but a Lieutenant JG. The captain had been ashore when the ship sortied to leave the harbor. You’ve probably guessed that the date was December 7th. The same Lieutenant JG soon found himself promoted, the result of his ability to get things done.

A Never Say Die tenacity. Resource-full associates just refuse to give up. If they don’t know the way, they find a way. If they don’t know the way to find a way, they find the way to find a way. Associates who are easily defeated are not keepers. Your work and that of your organization is too important to be placed in the hands of those who are easily stopped.

A High Capacity Server. I am borrowing here from today’s dimension of technology. If bandwidth is narrow and the number of users is high, connections are so slow. Some people are like that. They’re nice enough people, but way too slow on the uptake. Hint: If things have to be explained, and explained, and explained again, you are not talking to a high capacity user. Clichés become clichés because the meaning is so universal that the expression gets used and then over-used. One such is “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Well, it is. Resource-full people catch on quickly. Just a word and they get it, And then that run with it.

An almost paranormal intuition. Resource-full people are people who know. They can’t always tell you how they know. They may not even understand how they know. But they know. They possess a keen insight into the dynamics of how things work and can interpret that into what needs to be done. Resource-full people are not bulldozers, simply demolishing any impediment or opposition. They know the way through. Sid was working for a company in the middle of a giant relocation project. It was not a particularly large company but it had been in the same facility for many, many years and had spread over several buildings. They were downsizing and had to move. The deadline for vacating the property loomed and there remained yet lots to be done. The director had run out of options and was near panic. Sid called the local high school and asked if there were strong young men who wanted part-time work. Soon a squad of muscle arrived and the move finished off on time.

External Capabilities:

An Action Focus. Resource-full people move. They move forward, sideways, round about, but they move. They hate meetings, grind under the thought of a committee, and write reports only as part of the job. They love action. They are take charge and get it done people.

A Cadre of Contributors. Being full of resources, one depository of those resources is a band of others who know things to. They know suppliers, workman, technicians, counselors, and information people. They are able to tap into the best minds and warehouses available because their experience and personality has put them in connection with them.

Powers of Persuasion. They are skilled negotiators and persuasive managers. They have a natural authority and a command presence. In short, they are leaders just like you are.

Life is a problem solving venture. So is business. Daily, sometimes hourly, oftimes it seems momentarily we are confronted with something that doesn’t work, a system that has failed, a component that is out of stock, a machine that has broken, a person that is being contrary, a problem to solve.

You hire people to solve them, not create more. Resource-full people are those people. When you find them, try not to run them off (Hint: That is my next series – The ways we drive away our best people.)

The next installment in this series is aggressive accountability. Coming up Thursday, April 18th.

Keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful

employeeShe was a hidden gem. A degree in Business Admin, she had taken a job as a server just to get a job. In the economy of her city, jobs were not that easy to find and even though she was way over-qualified, she took the job. For several months she worked, showed up on time, handled her duties diligently, and said nothing while her superior bungled his.

Eventually top management gave up trying to educate and train that manager to handle the minimal demands of the job. When they let him go, they asked her if she would accept the position. She did and grabbed onto it from the first moment. Within hours the top management saw that their choice had been the right one. Now, quite some time later, the positive report holds up. This is a true story, by the way.

So this event provoked me to consider just what it is in certain people that make them stand out, that make them valuable assets to a company or organization. I came up with the following list which I will discuss deeper and post, one at a time, over the next several days.

Here is my list of 16 personal qualities found in people you must keep around you. The series begins tomorrow.

  1. Resource-fullness
  2. Aggressive accountability
  3. Psychological security
  4. Loyalty (personal & institutional)
  5. Creativity
  6. Organization
  7. Diligence
  8. Prudence
  9. Sensitivity – they understand what is important to you
  10. Skills appropriate to the position
  11. Truthfulness – no sycophants need apply
  12. Stewardship
  13. Learn-able
  14. Teach-able – can bring others along
  15. Volunteerism (Initiative)
  16. Polite