Birds of a feather – why we need to belong

We-have-control-over-the-people-who-we-allow-to-influence-our-lives-Bobby-G-Muse-Jr-Simple-Life-Publishing-Posted-11-1-2014-300x224It commonly happens. Single adults hang out with other single adults. After marriage, couples transition away from their single friends and begin to hang out with other couples. The same occurs after children arrive.

Why? Because we are socially programmed to associate with people who are like ourselves. We find both encouragement and support in being with others who share the same frames of reference. On the job, notice how people who rise through the ranks make new sets of friends. People who move into positions of management find their connections with other managers strengthen and their former associations weaken.


Because we learn from others whose challenges and experiences resemble our own.

Because we find encouragement in discovering that others share the same challenges and face the same dilemmas.

Because we need to be able to talk to people who understand what we mean.  It can be dismaying to think you are alone…and sometimes you are. You may serve in a place where you cannot find others of the same level of responsibility. Or it may just be difficult to build a connection with others because of interpersonal or political dynamics.

Because we tend to become like the people with whom we associate.

So, we’ve made a place.  It’s a free, private Facebook page called The Practical Leader Associates. It is only for readers of The Practical Leader and you can join it by clicking on the picture below or this link

Here’s what you can expect to find there:

  • A growing number of leaders like yourself who will answer your questions, respond to your comments, and support your efforts.
  • A place to ask questions and engage others
  • A platform for you to post relevant content from around the cyber world regarding leaders, leading, and leadership principles and practices.
  • Listening ears and supportive voices.

Click through now and join one of the most useful groups on the net.

TPL Associates banner


5 things you should do to prepare yourself to lead a strategic planning session

indiana-jones imagin how boringEvery company and organization has them…or at least they should if they want to remain relevant and viable. Some conduct strategic planning sessions quarterly, others but once a year or so. There really is no “right” number. We hold them at least once a year, and for most companies that’s probably sufficient. You will need to decide when and how often would be optimal for your company or organization.

But they need to be done and they need to hold significant weight in the company culture. Don’t conduct them simply because they are on the calendar (like most employee performance appraisals – ugh). Conduct them because of their benefit to you, your associates, and to the company or organization’s culture. They keep us on track, point out what works and what doesn’t, and provoke ideas that might otherwise remain locked up in someone’s head.

There are plenty of places around the web that will offer advice about how to conduct a strategic planning session so I won’t belabor the obvious here. Instead, I want to focus on what you need to do to get yourself ready to conduct a successful strategic planning session.

First, decide how you want it to end. What outcome(s) should result that will assure you and the participants that the meeting has been worthwhile and successful? What will happen because you all took the time to meet and participate? If you don’t know that, then anything will do. All planning, all handouts, guides, supporting documents, and activities should be focused on and lead to the expected outcome. I am NOT suggesting that you decide ahead of time precisely what activities will result. The strategic planning session is not the place for you to get them to do what you want them to do. No, it is to discover what to start doing, what to stop doing, and what to continue doing…and to let others come to consensus.

Second, you are the visionary so it is your privilege to articulate, define, and celebrate the vision of your company or organization. Never neglect an opportunity to say it again. Strategic planning sessions should enable groups to avoid the trap of measuring progress by faithfulness to processes and systems. Instead, focus on product, those components that the systems are supposed to produce. I was in a meeting on Monday that provided the dynamics to discuss this critical principle. It is never enough to be busy or even fruitful. It is always important to do the right things that will produce the right results and everyone responsible needs to understand and appreciate the mandate.

Third, stand up, speak up, shut up. Prepare what you are going to say, say it, then get out of the way. A strategic planning session is not the platform for you to pontificate all day. It is the place for everyone else on the strategic team to participate and they can’t do that if you are in the way. Leaders are often in love with their own voices and gifted with immaculate perception (the belief that whatever the leader thinks of must be divine simply because he or she thought of it). This is not the day to do the talking. This is the day to guide discussion, inspire optimism and confidence, and frame the activities to engage everyone.

Fourth, ask questions but refrain from supplying answers. This is an extension of number three. Your role is to keep things on track, provide the parameters for analysis and discussion, and gather conclusions. The vision remains fixed. How your company or organization gets there is not all that precise. There is a context and a purpose for your existence. Once everyone understands the context and purpose, let them loose and leave them alone to come up with ways to realize them.

Finally, draw conclusions and enlist participation in the plan. We have all been involved in meetings where wonderful ideas were forwarded but nothing really happened. The real work of the strategic planning session happens after the session. Find participants, make specific plans, set schedules, and prepare to follow up. It is uniquely your job to equip and train, to give your people the information, equipment, and training they need to enact the plan.

Do not allow the ideas that emerged today to simply fade away. And do not take on the responsibility for developing and enacting them yourself. This is one of the most potentially productive days a leader can ever experience if they are committed to developing and releasing others.

Why leadership training programs fall short

file0001625497945The American Society for Training and Development reports that U.S. businesses spend a whopping $170 billion on leadership training programs.  They largely fail or at the very least fall way short of the expectations set for them.


Because you do not train leaders; you develop them. Training does have its place. We can train workers to build things or connect widgets to whatzits. We can inform, the one thing formal education does reasonably well.

But leadership development is more than an informative process. Much more! It is a transformative process.

Back in the days before digital photography, the process of creating an image was far more hands-on. Someone had to compose a photograph and shoot the image with a camera which allowed light to affect film which had been coated to react to it. Then, the film had to be taken into a darkroom and “developed.” There chemicals were applied to the film which revealed the image on the film and produced a negative. The negative was exposed to light which affected paper which was then immersed in a chemical bath which caused the image to appear. The picture was then “developed”.

At the risk of oversimplifying the process, let me draw some parallels between that and the subject of this column today.

Training programs essentially assume that with exposure to the right information, anyone can be trained to lead. This is simply and practically untrue. Many notable business people advocate that leaders are made, not born. I disagree and disagree vigorously.

The exposure to chemicals and light reveal an image that is already there. They cannot create something that does not exist. Leadership development applies light (information and truth to use that word in a philosophical and academic sense) and the right outside forces to reveal what is already there. Leaders are born…then developed over time and experience.

Training focuses on the things being taught but development focuses on the person being developed. While training superimposes a curriculum on a time schedule through which a person must endure, development provides the right sort of components, including but not limited to information, within which a person may grow and mature in their experience.

Finally, training may be efficient and is constructed to be efficient, but development is far more effective. The secret is, of course, the image, as it were, unrevealed but already resident within. No training program can ever hope to impart the nuanced and profound understanding that development does. It takes time and exposure to do that.

Corporations, associations, the seminar industry, and the educational establishment try but fail. Indeed, I propose that these institutions actually work against the effective development of leaders…but not deliberately. And I am not implying anything duplicitous in either their methodology or their curriculum. I think they mean well but continue to churn out graduates who are not equipped to lead. At its worst it impresses a person that s/he is ready to lead when they are not. As evidence I point to a close friend who told me that he was the best husband he had ever met and he made that statement without a hint of sarcasm. He actually did believe he was. When I asked him how he knew that, he pointed to the fact that he had attended and graduated from a marriage training course which, by his assumption and implication, made him a stellar husband. He was legendary alright, but only in his own mind. The mere exposure to information had led him to believe in something that was untrue and to propose that he was something that he was not (I asked his wife).

Most people in the real world don’t believe training is adequate either, that’s why they seek candidates with experience. They know that information and personality must be tempered in the fires of life to sharpen and harden them into a useful instrument.

If your company or organization has training programs, I suggest you take another look at them. If they are intended to impart hard skills like attaching widgets to whazits, then fine. If they are intended to train leaders, well, maybe they deserve a more careful examination and challenge to their presumptions.

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

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

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

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

Could it be you?

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three things you can measure right now that will help determine where you fit as a leader or manager

FindingYourPlaceAt what level do you most often think? At what level are you most often called upon to think?

You have to think about a lot of things. You daily task list may be long and detailed or limited and general. But you have a lot to think about.

Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard conducted research to determine the types of thinking leaders and managers do. Then, once the types were defined,  they plotted them out to determine who did which type of thinking and what that indicated about their roles.

They discovered that leaders and managers think about:

Concepts – understanding the organization, department, or business as a whole. They seek to discover how their work and their role fit into the overall organization. Most importantly, they think about how to keep vision alive and vibrant and to insure that all that goes on does so according to that vision.

Human interaction and motivation – how to best understand the people with whom they work. They know that people are not machines and that each responds to opportunity and challenge differently. Motivation is a purely personal response which demands that leaders and managers possess the ability to discern the dynamics that are at play and know what to do.

Technical tasks and methodology – People need to be trained. They must have certain skills for certain jobs. Job schedules and quality must be maintained while using safe practices and safe equipment. Widgets have to be made from whatzits so someone has to consider how that happens, by what process, and in what order.

Hersey and Blanchard also discovered that the mix and blend of thinking differs depending upon the leader’s or managers position in the organization. Lower level leaders and managers have a greater responsibility to consider technical tasks and methodology. The higher up the scale one progresses the more one’s thinking transitions from tasks and methodology to concepts. Predictably, everyone at every level thinks about the human side of things at about the same amount. They diagramed it like this:

hersey blanchard chart

Where do you fit?

So, we can reverse engineer this to discover where we fit. The more we are responsible to think about concepts and the implementation of those concepts, the higher up we sit on the management scale. So the obvious conclusion is this ‘ what are you responsible to think about and what does that reveal about where you are in the organization? Then, there is one more thing I suggest you consider. That is, where would you like to be? Are you feeling comfortable and fulfilled where you are? If you’re stressed out much of the time, one must ask why? If it is due to a bad fit, if you are a concepts thinker stuck in a technical thinking position, stress will result. The reverse it also true.

Think about this over the weekend. Next week I will discuss how to find your place.

3 types of confidence leaders must measure

confidence catOn the Velocity Channel I watched a reality show about a classic car restoration shop in Canada. In the episode I saw, the owners of the shop had hired an apprentice mechanic. After a few months on the job they considered him worthy of increased responsibilities, so they gave him a project to manage.

As I watched I found the apprentice’s reaction telling. I am reasonably confident he was more than capable of doing the work because the owners of the business have a reputation for high quality work and they are an old and very profitable company. They did not achieve success by being foolish.

The apprentice accepted the project then began the task of examining the vehicle to be restored so as to determine the scope and sequence of the project. For the next several minutes he called in more seasoned and experienced people around the shop, one by one, to look over the project, asking of them a series of questions. Most of the questions were the same ones he asked of the others.

So what was the problem?

Confidence, or more accurately, a lack of it.

It is entirely to be expected given his inexperience and short time with the company. He seemed to be a conscientious person so I am certain his motivation was to fulfill his responsibilities and complete the project on time and on budget. But it was a big jump in responsibility and he needed assurance and reassurance.

I heard the exchange between him and his boss when the boss gave him the project. The producers might have edited some of the conversation out so I cannot be certain I heard all of it. What I did hear seemed reassuring enough. But obviously he was not completely confident.

But there are three types of confidence that leaders must understand.

The first is Self-confidence – that certainty one has of their own abilities, judgment, authority, and standing within the company or organization. Let’s look briefly at each:

Confidence in one’s own abilities – the knowledge of and acceptance of one’s gifts and talents and the level of refinement of them proven by experience. It also implies an acceptance of one’s limitations. For most people, especially younger workers, there may be a large unknown factor here that contributes to a lack of self-confidence. Conversely, one with an inflated self-opinion may be over-confident because of a lack of confrontation with challenges in life.

Confidence in one’s own judgment – job satisfaction and happiness with life choices play into this. It is impossible to keep personal and professional lives entirely separate. We are what we are and what happens outside of work affects how we feel which affects how we perform on the job. If people have made good decisions they are confident of making more. If not, well then, their abilities to pull the trigger on hard choices will be affected. Whether on the job or off, decisions one has made either build self-confidence or erodes it.

Confidence in one’s own authority – This has to do with how well a person has been backed up by superiors when they’ve had to make decisions. The right to make decisions and pursue actions is critical to developing capable people. People need to know…and be confident or…the power that have to do the job. Keeping folks on a limited power budget (limiting their right to make independent decisions) indicates a lack of confidence (this may be perfectly called for. I am NOT suggesting that you give complete autonomy to anyone unless you have complete and utter confidence in them.) I am suggesting that most employees and associates know there are limits. Not knowing can promote a lack of confidence. The unknown, in any realm, almost always provokes fear and fear promotes caution and slows the pace.

Finally there is confidence in one’s standing within the company and relates to authority. In the case I wrote of in the beginning – the apprentice was assigned a complete project – his challenge was to understand the extent and limits of his authority and what he can and cannot do. And he needs to know what the company will do if something goes wrong and how they will reward him if it goes right. If he suspects he is being set up or manipulated, confidence will drain away quickly.

Self-confidence, in the context of the workplace, directly impacts Task-confidence, that certainty one may feel about their ability to complete the job. I am convinced that most employees and associates really do want to be successful and do a good job. Indeed, a study of Millennials here in the US has shown that job satisfaction, the feeling one gets from doing a good job in a position that matches personal values, is as high on the scale of importance as is monies earned. An otherwise confident and self-assured individual may become quite quivery when they are asked to embark in a new and untried area.

Company-confidence is the certainty one has that the company will not surprise them. No one likes surprises. Leaders don’t like them. Employees and associates don’t like them. It is best to be completely frank in the very beginning about expectations and dangers.

So, what about the apprentice and his many questions? Well, his response is clear evidence of a lack of confidence. Since I was not there when the project was given to him and I will assume that the producers edited everything for time and content, I cannot know for sure what was said. What I heard sounded good enough. The boss sounded like he had confidence in the young man. But there is always a need to consider how we communicate and reinforce confidence in our charges. We must be explicit and say precisely and completely how we feel.

Words mean things. Words are absolutely critical. When you are handing of a responsibility to someone, say exactly what you expect, when you expect it, and what you will do or not do.

But implicit expressions are very important too. How you conduct yourself after the hand off, whether you are meddling, inquiring, or pestering them or whether they feel abandoned, or whether they know you are a resource for them communicates how you really feel.

Developing people is your major job. Measuring the confidence levels of others is an oft-employed skill. How do you do that? I’ll tell you on Monday.


Leadership Challenge #1 – The Customer Service Fail

customer serviceYou are the owner/manager of a retail department store. Your store is busy so high sales volume also means a lot of returns. One of the new employees is tasked with handling the checkout register and for restocking items as they are returned when checkout traffic permits. The employee has gone through the company’s orientation and training but has been working the floor only for a few weeks.

You are working the floor, walking the many departments to watch for problems, help where needed, and answering questions. You see a customer browsing the rack of trousers in the men’s wear department. The customer has focused in on one garment and has pushed surrounding garments aside so he can look more closely.

The new employee approaches with an arm load of clothes to restock. She approaches the customer looking at trousers and says, “Excuse me.” Then without waiting for a response from the customer, she pushes the trousers he was looking at back together, spreads others apart, inserts the ones she is carrying, and walks off.

You see the customer’s look of surprise. As the employee walks away, the customer turns and leaves too without selecting a garment for purchase or even looking further.

What would you do? And most importantly, Why?

I will answer this on Thursday and I want to hear from you. I’ll select from the answers I receive and post them along with mine. This is NOT a test so there are no right or wrong answers. It is an exercise in leadership training and discussion is the name of the game. Send your answers to me at

4 Lessons from a meddling boss

fasten seat belt signThe hour was late, quite late in fact, somewhere around 8 p.m. The office had technically been closed since 5 but I was still there working with two volunteers. I was tasked with the job of preparing registration packets for the 1300 or so incoming guests at a conference. The sponsoring organization had contracted with me to coordinate the conference which required me to spend some time at the main office.

I had the situation well in hand and my team of volunteers and I were well on our way to getting the packets completed and in the mail except for one persistent and annoying person – the CEO of said organization. All day long he kept leaving his office and invading our work space.

It would have been fine if he merely came in to check on progress or came at our invitation to solve a problem (we weren’t having any). But he felt he needed to make a contribution to the effort so he kept coming in to do things. One particularly annoying interference came when he suddenly decided that the font used to print out confirmation letters should be changed.

Now, this was back in the 1980’s when changing a font for printers was not nearly so simple as it is today. Nowadays all we have to do is highlight the text, select a new font, and press the enter key. Back then it involved inserting code before and after the text to indicate the section of text to be changed and the new font. Inevitably, changing fonts also changed spacing and formatting which required, for our well-intended but misguided assistant at least, monkeying around with the paragraph and line length formats too.

For about an hour work came to a stop while he fiddled with this!! It was a completely unnecessary interruption. We had been using a highly readable font, the one they had used at the previous conference. So, changing the font was not a necessity brought on because the font in use was unreadable.

So why did he do it?

To show us that he could!

It seems incredible but I assure you it is true. This particular person, male in this case but the problem is universal, wanted everyone to know just who the boss was and how technically superior he was to us mere mortals.

What’s more, he found it necessary to demonstrate that he worked harder and longer than anyone else. Because he had invaded our workspace so often, we were behind. We broke for a quick supper then took our places again on the line processing letters, stuffing envelopes, and preparing the packets for registered guests.

But he would not give up. He kept coming in, stopping the flow of work, making unnecessary adjustments, and then retreating to his office. I had expected that by 5 he would go home and leave us in peace. I had keys to our work area, had been tutored on how to set alarms and the lock up procedure. Not him! He remained there and continued his regular incursions.

Finally about 8 or 8:30 it occurred to me that he was not going to leave because his ego was so big he absolutely had to be the last man standing.

So I gathered my team and quietly explained what we were going to do. We gathered our things and headed for the door.

“Good night!” I called out. “We’re going to finish this up later.”

We exited the door and hid, hid mind you, behind hedges near the entrance. In less than 90 seconds our superhero was out the door and in his car. I disarmed the alarm, opened the door, and reentered the office where we finished our work in peace.

Now, I want to assure my readers that the work we were doing matched the standard required by the organization. We were not trying to make short-cuts or compromise the integrity of the process in any way. My biggest challenge in the entire conference coordination contract was fending off constant interference from the CEO. He just would not leave well-enough alone.

I had listened to him extol the virtues of his own work ethic many times before and heard him make less than positive comparisons of himself with those many unfortunate souls he had been gracious and generous enough to employ through the years.

I call guys like Mr. Wonder campfire legends. They sit around board room conference tables and pepper the conversation with thinly veiled PSA’s (my acronym for Praising Self Announcements). Those unfortunate enough to endure them or sycophantic enough to adore them will be regaled with tales of how the hero had to step in at the last minute or those morons would have sent out those letters with the “wrong” font!

Here are 4 Lessons I have pulled from this:

  1. An overly-engaged boss can create self-induced turbulence. The condition is most often seen in pilots whose grip on the controls of their plane is so tight and unforgiving that they prevent the plane from responding smoothly to the natural flow of physical dynamics thus inducing turbulence. In leadership and management, nothing works with 100% efficiency. Nothing! The more effective bosses know this and, while maintaining control in general, allow some latitude in how things are done. This accommodates the natural flow of human dynamics. So lighten up and loosen up whenever and wherever you can.
  2. Meddling is not managing. Some managers, like Mr. Wonder above, do not understand this. To meddle is to interfere officiously and unwantedly. To manage is to direct, govern, or control. Managers and leaders, at least the effective ones, know when to engage…and when not to. I
  3. Intervene only when you must. Sometimes it is called for. Sometimes it is imperative. But save up your interventions for times of crisis and for the teachable moment. Your job is more than getting the work done. It also involves developing capable people. You risk compromising your ability to do that when you interfere too much. Think Felix Unger of the Odd Couple, so obsessive over process he often sabotaged the product.
  4. Meddling corrodes your power connection. Leave a charger connected to a battery too long and you risk fouling the plates inside or recharge the battery too often and you diminish the battery’s capacity to store energy. The end result is LESS POWER not more!

The Mr. Wonder I reference above has a long, long history of failure to attract and retain independent people who would make his work easier and more productive. Instead, his constant need to meddle and incessant desire to be able to assure his board that were it not for him the organization would have collapsed long ago perpetuates an atmosphere of dependency and weakness. Independent thinkers leave in frustration while those needing constant intervention remain. This feeds the frustration and fuels more war stories about how no decent employees are ever available and everyone must be constantly managed and how there’s always constant pressure and…well, you get the idea. Mr. Wonder created the problem and it is in his personal interest to maintain the problem.

How well are you doing? Can you be confident you are intervening only when needed? Are you developing capable people or perpetuating an environment of weakness?

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.



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.