Leadership principles are universal

Without apology I will warn you now that I will from time to time, use references to the Bible in this blog. You may be certain I am not a Bible thumper and I am NOT trying to convert the reader to any religion! But I spent a quarter of a century training leaders of non-profits, including a good number of mission organizations and churches. Of one thing I am certain,

The principles of leadership are universal.

They apply in every era, in every culture, and across language barriers. They were true yesterday, true today, and will be true tomorrow. In fact, the test of a valid leadership principle is its universal application. I will go so far as to say that

If a principle does not have universal application it is not a principle at all.

It may be a leadership practice. Leadership practices must change from place to place, time to time, setting to setting. Effective leadership practices evolve from and are rooted in sound leadership principles. For example, every culture has an “on time” meaning. In the United States in the business world, on time means on time. In other cultures within the US and in other parts of the world, on time can mean as much as 2 hours late. Being punctual is a principle, being precisely on the clock is a practice.

So, references to the Bible, or for that matter any body of literature, have their place in this blog and in our lives inasmuch as we can extract from them universal principles by which we can direct our intentions, order our lives, and measure our progress.

The principles of leadership are foundational.

They are the truths upon which effective practices are built. A solid leadership experience must have a solid foundation. Effective leadership must be built on truths proven in real life, refined by challenge, and tempered by experience. They are not theoretical. They do not emerge from academia except that analysts have identified their use in real life. If you build and implement your leadership practices based on techniques without understanding the principles which birthed them, your effectiveness will be limited to a specific setting or culture. Practices that work in the board room do not necessarily translate well to the shop floor, but the principles that spawned them do.

So, beginning with the next blog entry, I want to examine the 4 Key Indicators of Effective Leadership. These 4 reveal foundational principles that not only define leadership as a concept, but diagram leadership as a practice. I can say without apology, the 4 principles upcoming form the framework of ALL LEADERSHIP PRACTICE.

Stay tuned, entry #1 will be up soon

Paid to Produce

I don’t think I could ever work in a government agency. For the first 25 years of my career I was a trainer and consultant. One of my clients in those days was the Navajo Tribe in Arizona. I worked with the tourism office consulting to the assistant director and director of tourism. I quickly learned that the people who directed that division got paid to talk, or more correctly to talk and write.

There were endless meetings where great ideas were discussed, analyzed, refined, and critiqued followed by voluminous reports in which everything that was discussed, analyzed, refined, and critiqued was restated with footnotes. Then, nothing happened. Plans were drawn up but no plans were implemented. Strategies were formulated but no strategies were employed. Task lists had been meticulously drawn up but no tasks were assigned except to schedule more meetings to discuss what had transpired since the last discussion.

It was maddening! I encouraged, exhorted, admonished, and tried my best to get them off the dime and do something, ANYTHING! The assistant director was somewhat motivated, but claimed his hands were tied by the director. Eventually the assistant director became the director, however nothing changed. The entire system was built around talking and writing, not doing.

The process was more important than the product. Really, the process was the product. Making something happen was scarcely important at all. Planning, discussing, reporting, discussing, meeting, those were important and the product by which they validated themselves and the existence of their agency.

They felt successful because they held,and reported on, a continuing stream of meetings and evaluations. They even discussed the need for action and got bogged down analyzing why no action resulted from their meetings. That analysis of failure became a mark of their success even though the failure, and the system that promoted it, remained unaltered. It was, however, well scrutinized.

Leadership, practical leadership, is predicated upon and committed to action. The one government entity that differs from the one I described above is the military in time of war. Everything, I mean everything, is focused on getting something done.

Leaders are paid to produce. Those who pay you will not long settle for talk alone.If you are self-employed, your business will not survive on talk. Something useful must be produced and sold to someone who considers your product an object of value and are willing to pay for it. Practical leaders earn their worth and consequently their pay by producing.

Get something done! Today, right now! Go ahead, the time for talk has finished. Do it!

Line of Sight

Two of my employees are working out of the shop installing components we made. Their’s is not a particularly complicated or difficult job. Removing old pieces, installing hardware on the new components, reinstalling them, and painting. They are competent, responsible, and hardworking guys. They have made my life much easier and my shop more profitable.

Twice last week they telephoned me at the end of the day to tell me they needed a small part or tool replacement.They could have seen the need for those things at the beginning of the week or even at the beginning of the day. But no, they saw the need and then asked me for them right at the last minute. So I had to round up the pieces and get them to the job site by the time work started the next day.

I have tried to educate them about letting me know as far in advance as possible with only modest success. I instituted some inventory control procedures that have helped somewhat. But, in reality, I don’t expect it to improve all that much. Why?

Because, of the principle of line of sight.

The principle of line of sight says that the lower the level of the employee, the shorter his range of vision. Lowest level employees have to be monitored and told almost every move, every procedure, every step. They cannot be expected to see very far in the process. The higher the level of employee, the farther they can see.They can be expected to know, in advance, what they are going to need. They can see far enough ahead to prepare for what lies ahead. Conversely, the higher the level, the farther the line of sight. The guys mentioned in the start of this article with are on the downside of mid-level employees in this manner. They see farther than they used to, but it is still not very far.

In my shop right now we are preparing to build two quite complex projects with a great many component parts. I have spent several days creating detailed drawings and parts lists. My experience in building such pieces has yielded the capacity to know what’s coming and prepare for it. The men who will build these items have far less experience and it would be foolish for me to assume they could prepare for the projects with only a summary explanation.

I spent quite a few hours with the clients gaining an understanding of what they wanted, putting concepts to paper, creating sketches, and verifying that whet they saw is what I saw. Then I create the detailed drawings and take-off lists (lists of each and every component part). Next I check our inventory against the required parts lists. Finally I source the needed components and order the parts so they will arrive BEFORE they are needed.

Line of sight cannot be created artificially. You can’t simply promote someone to a higher level and expect that an increased line of sight will automatically come. Actually, an increased line of sight comes BEFORE a promotion to a higher level. This is not the same as driving to a hilltop. If this were a natural capacity, simply climbing to a higher level in an organization would do. While rising in the ranks, so to speak, will almost certainly cause a change in perspective, it will not usually increase a person’s ability to see farther down the road.

Increased line of sight usually increases with experience and knowledge. The longer someone works in a particular field, the greater should be their understanding of what is, and will be, required. This is because their knowledge of the job deepens as well. They know, often by failing to be prepared and suffering the consequences, what will be needed and how to think ahead. The best higher level employees are most often those who have come up through the ranks. It is their work at ground level that prepares them to see the scope and sequence of the bigger picture.

Conversely, the higher the position one holds, the less likely they will be able to see the smallest details. This is not usually due to anything other than an increased load of work crowding out everything else. You just have too much to do to be able to monitor small details. How does one handle this? Stand by for another blog article. I’ve said enough in this one.