How to recognize purpose for yourself

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhy would an economics teacher ask this question?

My economics teacher asked each of us what we thought was the meaning of life. The answers were as varied as were those occupying desks. It seemed an odd question to me for the first class session of the course. I could have understood the question more in a philosophy course. But economics?

Over time I began to see what was behind it. All of life and the actions thereof are transactions. We exchange one thing for another. On a small scale we exchange money or goods for services or goods. We pay the mortgage or rent, keep the lights on and water running, and put food on the table. But the money comes from somewhere, almost always from your job or investments. Wherever the source, it is an exchange.

On a large scale, we spend our time and energy, both in limited supply, on something or some things. We work, we play, we sleep, we eat. Since time and energy are limited to the course of life, we literally do give our lives in exchange for something.

And that is the reason behind the question offered by an economics teacher – what is the meaning of life? Philosophically that question may be answered directly or evaded by proposing and arguing a wide range of pondered responses, all of them the subject of discussions, arguments, and books throughout the centuries.

Add one word and ask another question.

But if the question is asked adding one four letter word, the answer becomes impossible to evade. So, let’s add that word and ask “What is the meaning of YOUR life?”

Some may be confused as to why I include this subject in a blog on leadership. But I stand firm on the question. The series in which this article is inserted is counting the 16 qualities of a superlative leader. There can be no superlative leadership without a superlative leader manifesting it.

Each and every superlative leader personifies the answer by who they are which has demonstrated itself in what they do. Superlative leaders have elevated the meaning of their lives above average folks. They are exceptional in that they are making their lives count for something.

Why and how do we make our lives count?

Why? And how do we know this? I’ll answer the last question first. We know it by the fruit of their existence. They make a difference for themselves and for others.  Their impact is far-reaching. They are people of significance. When they are gone they are missed. While they are here they are respected and regarded.

The “why” part of the question is less easily answered. I’d like to say they are altruistic but that just doesn’t hold up. Indeed, I believe that all actions are self-serving. They are often not selfish, but they are self-serving. They satisfy needs, desires, wants, ambitions, and expectations residing deep inside a person’s soul. Superlative leaders exude purpose. They live lives driven to accomplish and influence. It is part and parcel of their nature.

Can leadership be taught?

I have colleagues who believe that leadership can be taught, that anyone can become a leader. I do not believe that. I believe the gift of leadership is innate; one is born with the skills and attitudes that place them ahead of the pack. I do believe that time, experience, education, and training make the leadership gift more effective. I do not believe, and have never seen, leadership manifest itself in one who does not have the gifts.

Management tasks and skills can be taught. Leadership skills and tasks are honed, sharpened through time, training, and trials. A true gifted leader can do nothing less than lead. S/he will always rise to the top, move to the front, shoulder the responsibility, and make the difference.

It is their purpose in life to lead, to make a difference, to take charge.

People who believe they have purpose in life to lead work harder, accomplish more, and live longer than do their peers. It truly is a calling and I am not speaking religiously. While most will be quite content to go to work, collect a paycheck, and spend that paycheck on flat screen televisions and fun-filled weekends, superlative leaders will not, indeed cannot be content with just that.

They need to feel successful. They need to recognize progress. They need to make decisions, to establish direction, to make things happen.

And they do.

How to recognize purpose.

And here’s how that happens…and why you as a superlative leader yourself, outdistance yourself from mere mortals. You recognize a sense of purpose because:

  1. You have an elevated mindset. Some men lay bricks, you build cathedrals. You see farther. You understand how this act leads to that achievement. You don’t live from paycheck to paycheck. You live from beginning to end, from start to finish, out of the past into the future. The little things you do may appear to be random and incidental to some but you understand that great accomplishments are realized through dozens, perhaps hundreds of small acts.
  2. You think optimistically. I am not suggesting a positive thinking fantasy as is often promoted. Positive thinkers simply reject or discount negative evidence. Optimistic thinkers are quite aware of the circumstances and conditions, good and bad, but they have confidence in their abilities and that of those with whom they have surrounded themselves that obstacles can be overcome, setbacks can be reversed, and bad can be displaced with good and that is will not happen simply because one vocalizes positive words or harbors positive thoughts. Superlative leaders know it will happen as the result of definitive and intelligent action.
  3. You think in terms of accomplishments and achievements not merely tasks and activities. True enough you do lots of things. You check off lists of tasks and you stay plenty busy. But you measure life…and the purpose of it…in terms of what’s been realized, what’s been accomplished, not just how busy you’ve been. Doing lots of things may be enough for some. Superlative leaders do things that accomplish much. You do not ask yourself what you have done nor do you satisfy yourself with being busy. You ask yourself what has been accomplished.
  4. You rephrase and restate your life in terms of what’s important. Your values manifest themselves as consequential to what you do. You may sell furniture but you understand that you are providing others with furnishings that make up a home. Your company may sell windows and doors but you know you are providing security and beauty for people who need protection form the elements and intruders. You may teach a class but you understand that you are giving information and tools to people who can build a life with what you’re teaching.
  5. You can answer 5 questions about your life.
    1. Why do I have a job?
    2. Why must I and my co-workers do our jobs?
    3. What do my customers, clients, or constituents want as a result of my job?
    4. Why is that important to them?
    5. Why does that matter to me?

When you can internalize and answer the above, you have begun to recognize purpose for your life. You begin to realize it has meaning far above what you might have ever thought. Superlative leaders do this all the time. It keeps them going because purpose is the total of life’s experiences and responsibilities, not the end result. It is the journey, not the destination.

Qualities of a superlative leader – Intelligence, part 1

franklinHe was the tenth son of a Boston soap maker. His father intended for his son to enter the ministry but he had money enough for only one year of schooling when the profession required many. So he apprenticed the young man to his brother, James, a printer. The apprenticeship did not go all that well so after years of tedious work and regular beatings from James, at the tender age of 17, young Ben ran away to Philadelphia. Finding work there as an apprentice printer, he so distinguished himself that he began to make his mark in the city.

Using borrowed money he set himself up in business, winning contracts for government printing, and prosperity soon followed. After marrying, he and his wife expanded their business by opening a general goods store, a book store, and by expanding the print shop. In 1729, at the age of 26, he bought the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper. In 1733, Poor Richard’s Almanac debuted. The colonies did not lack for almanacs but filled with aphorisms and lively writing, Poor Richard’s soon climbed to the top of the heap.

In the 1730’s and 1740’s Franklin’s influence extended throughout the city. He helped launch projects to pave, clean and light the streets, began a lending library, started a fire insurance company, and invented the Franklin stove. In 1749, he retired from business to focus on science and inventing. He is the man who gave us the lightning rod, swim fins, and bifocal eyeglasses.

By the 1750’s he would become more deeply engaged in politics, but did not embrace the idea of independence until 1765. Years earlier he had put together a proposal for united colonies as a way to relate to England but now began actively pushing for separation from the crown. Serving as a member of the Second Continental Congress, Franklin served as one of five on the committee to draft a declaration of independence.

His powers of persuasion, his skills of diplomacy, his gifts of creativity and inventiveness, his commitment to hard work and effectiveness places Benjamin Franklin among the pantheon of great Americans, great businessmen, and superlative leaders.

Biographers have revealed that Franklin was not an educated man, but he was, nonetheless, endowed with high intelligence. So, right off I want to disconnect advanced education from this quality. It is mostly true that people with advanced education are intelligent (I’m still not all that sure about some I’ve known). But it is NOT TRUE that if one does not have an advanced formal education one then can be deemed to be unintelligent. Education is one thing. Intelligence is another.

Intelligence as a word and as a quality is not simply defined. It is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—”catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do. Savvy might be a synonym in our application here.

I have compiled a list of a dozen traits that indicate intelligence. I will address four of them today, the others on Monday. Here they are in no particular order:

    1. Self- awareness. Dirty Harry’s catchphrase in Magnum Force was “a man’s got to know his limitations.” That’s true. And he’s got to know his strengths, too. Knowing what you’re good at …and what you’re not… means you are smart enough to know what you should tackle and where and when you need help
      • Smart people know who they are and have come to a place of being comfortable with themselves. They have identified their strengths and their weaknesses, then have acknowledged the former and accepted the latter.
      • Smart people know what they are and are unapologetic about their responsibilities. They have accepted the mantle of leadership and inserted themselves into their role with no need to flaunt it.
      • Smart people understand the power of their actions and their words, realize how it impacts the attitudes and actions of others, and behave accordingly.
      • Self-aware people know that they can neither relate well to everyone nor readily win them over. So they gather around them people who can extend their reach because they know precisely how far their reach, well, reaches.
    2. Other-awareness. Intelligent people are observant people. They have to be to be able see opportunities and avoid threats. Franklin saw an opportunity when he created the fire insurance industry, the profits that could be made in selling Poor Richard’s Almanac, and the ability to provide better vision for the impaired when he invented bifocals. But even more revealing is the skill with which he maneuvered through the turbulent conflicts and stormy personalities in the Second Continental Congress to get to an approved declaration of independence. His powers of other-awareness showed him how to solve the objections of the New York delegation while harnessing the energy and impulsiveness of the Massachusetts representatives.
    3. Self-Restraint. Just because one can doesn’t imply that one should. There is peril here because leaders have tremendous latitude. Followers typically give them a wide path to walk in. Intelligent people know when and how to control emotions, actions, and words. They play their role well, not to deceive or mislead, but to maximize their influence so that the right things get done. General Robert E. Lee said that “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” Smart people know the difference between a wildfire and a controlled burn. They understand the implications of unrestrained behavior in the board room or on the shop floor. Steven Covey wrote that “The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.” Proactive people are people of deliberation, purpose, and intent. They are people of restraint.
    4. Capacity to learn, to learn quickly, to learn from experience. I almost left this trait out, it seems so obvious. But I encounter the opposite so often I decided it warranted inclusion here. The day I graduated from college, one of my professors offered a bit of wise insight when she said, “You have your degree. Now, you’re going to get an education.” She was correct. One student, we’ll call him Carl, who had returned to graduate school later in life, voiced his frustration over many of the other students in the program. He had a decade or so of experience. They did not. They had learned from books almost exclusively. He had the advantage of both classroom and life. They thought they knew just about everything. He understood there was so much more to learn. Indeed, every day there is more to learn. Smart people accept it, embrace it, and look forward to it. Not so smart people have learned just about all they are going to. But there is more. Intelligent people accept the lessons of life. They accept reality as it is, not believe that it is what they think it should be. They never let ideology trump reality. Never. One is fantasy. The other is honesty.

There are 8 more traits but I’ve taken enough of your time. See you on  Monday.

Is doing what you do getting you what you really want?

bumpercars with notationsStart-ups are, in many ways, a lot easier than leading a seasoned company or organization. Once systems, methods, and procedures are in place they can become part of the corporate identity. Indeed, they become you and you become identified as them. If they work, okay. If they move your department, company, or organization toward your vision, fine.

But, when was the last time anyone checked to see if that was so. Forms, I mean paper forms or computer resident ones that need to be completed, can become the reason we do what we do. But there is one question that always must be asked…and answered.

Is doing what you do getting you what you really want?

And how do you know if your answer is correct?

This is where the roles of leader sharply contrast with that of manager. Yes, I know that managers lead or at least they should have at least the minimal skills for leading team workers, but by and large managers don’t lead, certainly not to the extent that leaders do. For weeks I’ve been writing about vision, about inspiration, direction, emphasis, values, and mission. It is the unique and rewarding realm of leadership to address those things, to articulate them and incarnate their presence throughout the company.

That’s why I said in the first paragraph that start-ups are easier. When everything is new, when there are no systems in place, you and your team of associates and managers can create them. But somewhere somehow in all you are doing, you need to know if what you do is getting you where you want to go.

There is a tyranny of systems that takes over. The very presence of forms and reports bring bondage. They must be completed. Numbers must be recorded. The act of action itself becomes its own validator. We do things so often for so long that we either lose sight of what they are supposed to accomplish and find the work itself to be its own criteria for success. But leaders can…and must…evaluate the numbers they so diligently collect and process.

In my now famous diagram (below), see how it plots out. Management typically oversees the implementation of strategy. Butbasic diagram leadership monitors all three – tactics which should support the strategy which should lead to the fulfillment of vision. There is a difference between monitoring and managing. Monitoring is to oversee and evaluate. Managing is to fine tune, repair, and keep running.

The evaluation loop must run continuously. Every action, every system, every procedure must be regularly and frankly evaluated. Managers strive for efficiency. Managers make sure things are done and that they are done correctly. Leaders ensure that first and foremost the correct things are done. Making good time is of little use if you’re on the work path. Your goal as leader is to insure efficiency AND effectiveness.

jet drill team with notationsNow for the hard part. I’ll be back on Thursday with another post. Between now and then, schedule time to inspect at least two systems in your organization. Evaluate their effectiveness in implementing strategy through appropriate tactics that move the organization along toward fulfillment of its vision and let managers report to you on their measure of efficiency. Then, decide what your response should be.

The hidden cost of meetings and why hiring someone to facilitate can be a great idea

parking meterThe scene: Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the Navajo Nation.

The participants: A group of educators representative of several organizations and agencies.

The Purpose: Develop an vocational training program to enhance the skills of leaders already in place throughout the tribe. The plan had to satisfy the practical needs of skill development and the intangible need for a sense of credible achievement usually accompanying a college or institutional degree.

We had met before and this meeting was to be the one where the system we’d been working on started to gel.

But it didn’t.

We spent the entire day and by 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, nothing concrete had yet emerged.

In frustration, I intervened and asked?

“Has anyone here considered how much this meeting is costing?”

Someone replied an incredible, “Almost nothing. The meeting room is free. We all paid for our own lunch. So it cost nothing.”

“Wrong,” I objected. “Here’s what I want us to do right now. Each one of you write down your annual earnings paid by the organization or agency that sent you. The divide that by 2080, the number of work hours in a year. I know that most of us work more than that but let’s be systematic and used that number. How’d I get it? 40 hours a week times 52 weeks comes up to 2080. Figure it out.”

“Next,” I added, “multiply that by the number of people in this room. Some will probably make more, some less. Then give me the total you came up with.”

I collected all the totals and divided it by the number of answers to get an average. That meeting, held back in the 1980’s, cost well over $3000 just in salaries. I asked them to factor in travel costs, meals, and if they hadn’t already, proportionate amounts for benefits and the number grew a good deal larger.

Budgets are always an issue. Finances need to be accounted for and expenditures planned. The flow of funds must be scrupulously managed to satisfy the needs of the enterprise and your constituents.

But money is not the only resource that needs your careful attention. Time does too. Just consider the story above the next time you schedule a meeting. It costs someone – you if you’re the owner, the owner of your company if it isn’t you, the constituents, someone pays for the wages, salaries, and benefits consumed for the meeting. Add in planning time, travel there and back even if it is just a walk down the hall, meals if any, incidental costs like copying, broadband access, on-line fees if you’re using GoToMeeting or a similar service, the wages paid support staff to prepare for the meeting, and the time of everyone spent to follow-up.

Now, is the meeting really necessary? Does everyone have to gather or can the same thing be accomplished by conference call or other service? If everyone must gather, and sometimes this is indeed the case, then how can you expedite the process saving everyone’s time (yours included) and the company’s money?

One way is to hire the services of an outside facilitator. Yes, they cost money, but they save a lot of time. Lots of time! How?

I’ll show you at least a dozen ways on Thursday.

7 Things you can do right now to enthuse your associates and employees with hope

EncouragementA few days ago I shared 5 reasons why hope is not an effective strategy. In that same article I also emphasized that hope is nonetheless an essential attitude.

There is a difference between hope and hope so. The former is certain, expectant, optimistic. The latter is tentative, doubtful, and pessimistic, at least to a significant degree.

Hope is an energizing and invigorating force. It is often the difference between success and failure. It provokes effort, creativity, and positive feelings of value. This intangible asset is a by-product. One cannot get it by demanding it of others. One cannot maintain it without a continual source of fuel. The things you do and do not do directly impact it.

Hopeful people show up for work excited about prospects, bolstered by past successes and future opportunities, and energized to address the challenges of the day. The path to the fulfillment of vision is long, takes unexpected turns, and encounters setbacks. Hope as a strategy ill-prepares a team to address those difficulties. Hope as an attitude adds horsepower to the engines of enterprise so that obstacles are overcome and barriers are breached.

Stress (often recognized as distress) is the negative force that dulls thinking, drains energy, and allows us to consider defeat as an option. Eustress is the positive force that sparks enthusiastic participation, ignores fatigue, and never considers defeat an option. The difference between the two is the attitude of hope.

 7 Things you can do right now to enthuse your associates and employees with hope:

  1.  Be decisive even if you’re not always absolutely certain. Indecision and its brother inaction can influence a group’s desire to win, even its will to survive. Leaders lead. That means they have ideas, know what to do, give direction and take action. People follow leaders. They equate strength with decisiveness – rightly so. They abandon leaders who cannot or will not lead.
  2. Be confident, even if you don’t feel very confident. Sometimes bluster is necessary. Not bullying or abuse, but that swag that comes with assurance. You as leader must be comfortable with and confident in your position, your authority, your right to lead, and your responsibility to make things happen.
  3. Smile even when you feel like scowling. Hope as an attitude is an intangible quality influenced and demonstrated by subtle markers. Look positive, sound positive, act positively. Optimism breeds optimism which births enthusiasm and energy.
  4. Be nice even if you’re angry. Bluster and BS may make you feel better and you may think it produces big results. But those returns are only short-term. You get much farther, succeed much quicker, and exert far more influence when you act in a gracious manner. Some months ago I wrote about the two major leadership styles – X & Y (You can read about it here.) Well, there’s a third. It’s the SOB style and we’ve all run into that one. If you are one, you can change. You cannot impart hope by screaming or shouting. Cannot be done!
  5. Acknowledge setbacks and failures but celebrate successes. Your associates are not stupid. They know when something has gone wrong. Admit it, address it, deal with it, and move ahead. Don’t be positive to the point of being insensitive. When one major American corporation changed its pay policy, it negatively impacted several thousand employees. Some of them experienced a $25,000 drop in annual income overnight. Local store managers tried to put a happy face on it by saying it was a “positive move going forward.” For the company it might have been positive. For those employees who experienced a loss, it most certainly was not. Don’t be insensitive. Hope is born out of understanding of circumstances and the people who must deal with them. Anything less is hot hope. It is pure fantasy.
  6. Impart confidence in your team and in their ability to meet the challenges they face even if you have secret doubts and reservations. Don’t interfere with their sovereignty. Don’t butt in unless it’s absolutely critical. That’s called meddling and it only provokes annoyance and dismay. If you’ve done your job well, if you’ve recruited and hired competent people, let them do their job. You do yours which is to lead and we all understand that leadership is an inspirational function primarily. Stay out unless and until you’re needed and then tread carefully.
  7. Give away credit when victories are won, objectives are surpassed, and milestones are reached even if there is still a long ways to go. Every week, every two weeks, or once a month, money shows up in our bank accounts. Pay periods happen often on most jobs. Why? Because we have bills to pay? Well, yeah, but it is the periodic reward made in exchange for our work that keeps us coming back. Here’s a hint: The higher up the pay scale someone is, the more critical it is that rewards be more than monetary. There is the sense of satisfaction, the feeling that effort and talent have meaning that encourages us. Hope comes when we feel that we are making a difference. That cannot wait until the job is completely finished

5 reasons why hope is not a valid strategy

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

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

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

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

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

Why hope cannot be a strategy:

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

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

9 things your associates and team absolutely need to make the journey towards vision. What Lewis and Clark shows us about effective leadership and the pursuit of vision.

lewis-and-clark-paintingUndaunted Courage is one of the great stories in American history. When Merriweather Lewis and William Clark departed St. Louis in May, 1804 on what was then called the Corps of Discovery Expedition, they actually failed in their stated purpose. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to find “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce” their 2 year journey did not find a contiguous water route across the continent.

Nevertheless, their expedition can be regarded as successful because they did find much more and they did extend the sovereignty of the fledgling United States government over the continent. They made the trip to the Pacific Ocean and back, gathered information about the resources included in the Louisiana Purchase, and made notable contributions to science. Their skills as leaders are beyond question and their accomplishments as explorers and emissaries of the President are beyond question.

It is their ability to handle the unknowns of the journey that concern us here. Lewis and Clark were highly competent strategic planners. A close examination of their journals and the testimony of those who accompanied them attest to that. The embarkation into the unknown, to boldly go where no one had gone before, testify of excellence in the entire team, leaders and followers.

The very word “leadership” implies going somewhere, doing something. If vision is the ultimate destination planning is the key to a successful journey. Travelers need the following 9 things.

  1. They need an idea of where they are going and that it makes sense. It must connect in some logical manner with the overall business one is in. A commission from the President helped, but that alone is inadequate. One must connect the dots, to employ a tired phrase from the vocabulary of consultants. The trip must make sense.
  2. They need a reason to make the trip with you, preferably more than one reason. “Because” is not good enough. Neither is “I said so.” This is the first step into buy-in, that intangible bot oh so real element of voluntary cooperation and energetic enthusiasm.
  3. They need to know that the journey is not a trip to fantasy land. Always deal in facts not opinions, in truth not speculation. The unknowns hiding in the future are threatening enough. The assurances found in the familiarity of past patterns and manageable surroundings are sticky. Breaking free of them demands that something desirable and real lay within reach.
  4. They need to know what to expect along the way. Even if you don’t know, they need to feel like you can handle it. Effective leaders never let on they are in the dark or without answers. Their fears will probably be bigger than real life. Fear and anxiety magnifies the unknown and you can bring it down to manageable size.
  5. They need an answer to the question “Are we there yet?” The enthusiasm found in launches of new ventures soon wears off. Celebrate incremental progress. It helps cut the journey into manageable into pieces.
  6. They need sustenance on the journey. Your input here is absolutely critical. Stay connected. Stay communicative. Stay engaged. Stay positive. Stay optimistic and expectant.
  7. They need courage and motivation to continue the trip. See #’s 5 and 6. Weariness sets in. Don’t press too hard or too much. Allow downtime and recreation which “re-creates” the initial feelings of excitement and renews enthusiasm.
  8. They need assurance that the trip is worth the effort. If you’re not sure, if you’re discouraged, and you transmit that to your team, they will be discouraged and uncertain, too. Keep the vision foremost in your thinking.
  9. They need a reasonable expectation that it will be successful. No one likes a lost cause. Participants in suicidal missions are hard to find. Everyone needs to feel significant and that the things to which they give their lives and efforts need to be worthy of their best efforts. If the objective is not, don’t even bother. Give yourself only to things which will make a great deal of significance when you succeed. Don’t ask others to do anything else.
  10. They need to know that you can handle surprises. You do this based on your history with them and, if you’re new, by pulling off wins. If you exaggerate, if you fail early on, the journey will be even more difficult, perhaps even impossible.
  11. They need to know they can meet the milestones set for the itinerary and why they are missed. Don’t be over-optimistic here. Your staff functions in the real world, or at least they should, and so must you. Use your experience to set reasonable and realistic goals remembering that if anything can go wrong, it will.

Lewis and Clark pulled it off. You can too.


The magic word – planning

Abracadabra_fullWhat’s the magic word?

The guest speaker was seated on the stage, ready to deliver his keynote address. On his right sat the coordinator of the event, the person responsible for pulling all the many strands together to create a worthwhile encounter for speakers and participants alike. On his left sat one of the other speakers, a man who was known for his mystical, creative nature.

For several minutes the guest speaker engaged in close conversation with the coordinator who, without complaining, detailed the challenges he’d faced as administrator. He listed the many decisions to be made, the many components to secure, the many people to manage. As he concluded, the keynote speaker turned to the man on his left, the mystical sort of fellow.

“Isn’t this just wonderful,” he said, “how these things just magically come together.”

Two entirely different perspectives, one from a leader and manager, the other from, well, from someone who obviously is not a manager or leader.

All who lead, all who work in the trenches, wish there was a magic word, an abracadabra sort of word we could pronounce that would take what we’ve spoken and make it a reality.

The etymology of “abracadabra” is by no means precise, but in the Hebrew rendition of the word, it means “it came to pass as it was spoken.” The Aramaic root is quite similar. So, for the purposes of the topic under discussion today, something in that general meaning will do.

I’ve been writing and emphasizing the leader’s role in defining and articulating vision for the group. It is incumbent upon the person in charge to speak forth what the future will be like. This is the very incarnation of “vision.”

But there is no magic work to suddenly and effortlessly make it “come to pass as it is spoken.”


But there is a magic word to make it happen; one word that will indeed make your vision a reality.

That word is “planning.”

The first in the POTCC mantra – Plan, Organize, Train, Control, Coordinate – planning is the one thing that keeps a vision from being nothing more than a fantasy.

I could compose my own definition of the word, but the one offered by the works very well.

“A basic management function involving formulation of one or more detailed plans to achieve optimum balance of needs or demands with the available resources. The planning process (1) identifies the goals or objectives to be achieved, (2) formulates strategies to achieve them, (3) arranges or creates the means required, and (4) implements, directs, and monitors all steps in their proper sequence.”

Remember this illustration?basic diagram management highlighted

See how the role of leadership takes on the requirements of management in the implementation of strategies and their supporting tactics in order to reach the vision. So it is with your job. Leaders lead but they manage too.

To believe that “these things just magically come together” is to lapse into the world of illusion, delusion, fantasy, and to be negligent of your duty and responsibility to yourself, your company, its customers and constituents. It won’t just magically occur because you say so.

But it will magically occur because you do so.

I once told my son that consultants and coaches are often regarded as wizards because they know things that mere mortals don’t. Often we look for magic formulas or shortcuts but in truth the “secrets” are as old as life itself. So, what are they? What do I need to do to make my vision a reality?

Those secrets come on my next post. Okay, maybe those secrets are not so secret, but they are processes most successful leaders do intuitively. I’ll list, define, explain, and review them next. See you Monday.

5 phases of your role as leader

Illus 1
Illus 1

The expectation that leadership can be a singular role is unrealistic. We wear a lot of hats. We manage, we motivate, we correct, we monitor, we inspire, we facilitate, we coordinate, we focus, we bark, we growl, we whisper, we articulate, we define, and we execute.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about our position of responsibility at the top of the organizational system. Then I wrote about our place out front, the visionary whose outsight provides direction and focus to the energy and the efforts of the team, department, business, organization, or company.

Earlier in this series I’ve written about strategies to implement the vision and the tactics that provide tasks lists and daily objectives for everyone. This is where the majority of our work will take place.

Check out illustration #1 again. Your oversight takes on two dimensions. The inspirational and motivational side of your work depends upon the capacity of those who work with you, your associates and employees, to grasp the purposes of your business or organization. If they had the vantage point you have and the understanding you possess, your job would be simpler and easier.

But they don’t.

And they shouldn’t. Indeed, they can’t.

Your position at the top and out front equips you for your role at the bottom. Yes, you do have the enviable place of prestige and visibility as the “head” of your department, company, or organization. Yes, you do have the visibility that comes from being the point man (of course, I know that you very well might be female but the term point person seems unwieldy so permit me the non-sexist use of the humanitarian “man.” If point person makes this more palatable, then please read it as such.)

But I can tell you from experience that most of your time will spent in the execution of the strategic plans at the tactical level. And therefore much of your roletriangle leader function version 2 as leader may indeed be consumed by managing the people and the things they do, the things they should do, and the things they do that you don’t want them to do. Who would of thought that your climb to the top places you most often at the bottom?

The principle at play here is:

“To get what you EXPECT you must be faithful and diligent to INSPECT.”

How that is done is the subject of much we talk about in leadership circles and the next topic on the horizon here at The Practical Leader. This diagram illustrates where your role works itself out in real life.

Yes, you and those who serve in management do indeed need to control process, contain expenses, and monitor progress. Yes, you do need to engage your top-level people and focus on the producers within your organization. But because your circle of concern is always greater than your circle of ability (what you want to see completed is more than you can do yourself) you must employ others both in the “Let’s hire some people” sense and in the “I’m overwhelmed and need to learn how to delegate better” sense.

The director of one organization I worked for followed his mantra of POTC – Plan, Organize, Train, Control. It worked for him, somewhat at least, but he was highly suspicious of the competence of anyone and everyone he’d hired so he spent most of his time and energy controlling. The work suffered because he simply could not leave anyone alone and it bottlenecked at him who had to assign, monitor, and approve almost everything.

But control is necessary to an extent and only to an extent. If you are a control freak I can predict that your organization will stifle and suffer. I want to add two more letters to the POTC mantra…another C and an F.

POTCC – Plan, Organize, Train, Control, Coordinate and Facilitate.

Effective leaders know very well how to coordinate and facilitate the efforts of those who work with and for them. They know how to light a fire under almost anyone without getting burned (BTW that is the subject of my next book due out later this year).

Those five letters P –O –T –C –F outline the next several posts. Planning is up on Thursday. See you then.

Lead, don’t push, harangue, or shove

triangle leader vision version 2“You can buy a person’s time; you can buy their physical presence at a given place; you can even buy a measured number of their skilled muscular motions per hour. But you cannot buy enthusiasm… you cannot buy loyalty. You cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds, or souls. You must earn these.” Clarence Francis

Vision is not something one gets from polling focus groups. While you need consensus, you cannot and should not try to determine vision by consensus. It is not something that you devise by asking around what others think. Businesses, organizations, and companies are run badly when they are run with multiple heads. Even corporations have a CEO, churches have a pastor or priest, and organizations have a director. True enough, they do not act in isolation, at least the successful and most effective ones don’t.

However, leadership is primarily a singular responsibility that manifests itself through multiple outlets. There needs to be one voice and all who speak in positions of authority need to speak as one. Successful military campaigns are devised and managed by a commanding officer. But under him are multiple other layers of leadership. All of them have bought in to the objective and are duty bound and honor bound to make sure the vision is fulfilled, the mission is completed, the objective is reached.

But you will want to know what others do think, not to decide on what you should do but so you know what needs to be done, what powers of persuasion will be needed to inspire and motivate your team to get on board with the vision.

Effective leaders begin where the people they lead are not where it is that they want them to be. You are indeed heading somewhere. But every journey begins somewhere else.

And that’s where you come in as leader. You stand up top in a position of responsibility. But you stand out front in a position of visibility (See illustration #2).

You do need to gain consensus and that requires skill on your part as leader – powers of persuasion and inspiration.Vision comes from your but it must spread to others. Don’t even think about mandate or edict. Simply ordering people to embrace the vision never works. You lead. You do not push, harangue, or shove.