Immutable law of leadership #2 – cause and effect

 width=Effective leaders understand both causes and their effects and are capable of dealing with both. In an earlier post I used a story of a manager at Disneyland who encountered a late night situation with tired horses and large crowds of people. You can read about it here.

The immediate concern was the safety of the people and the care of the animals. It demanded a certain hands-on, crisis mode style of leadership. Once the crisis was over, the manager then met with his subordinates to discuss calmly and carefully why the situation developed and what they could do to avoid a reoccurrence.

One style dealt with effects, one with causes. Effective leaders can manifest both because:

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail.

Now, let me clarify that I am not addressing cause and effect in the universal sense. The concept of reaping what one sows, the golden rule, or karma is not within the scope of a blog on practical leadership, as important as is the subject. The principle of cause and effect universally applies and you as a leader with address it a hundred times every day.

  • Effects are usually easier to see than causes. Causes are often underlying, effects are on the surface.
  • Causes are almost always less urgent than effects. If horses are going to trample people, you have to do something now. Once the crisis is resolved, it is less demanding to address the steps that “cause” the crisis. Humans typically give more attention to effects because of their visible, in-your-face, explosive nature. Our lives and work are crowded with tasks, demands, responsibilities, and obligations. Pushing causes to another time is easy to justify, dangerous to ignore completely.
  • One of the most significant tasks and consequently one of the most difficult challenges is to develop the capacity to see cause and effect relationships in the people you lead. Because of the principle of line of sight, experience, position, and wisdom make it simpler for you to see than those who serve in subordinate positions. One effective tool is to be sure to clarify why and not only address what. The crisis on Main Street Disneyland was not necessarily due to misbehavior. It was because the supervisor could see better the potential for trouble than could the others. It became the supervisor’s privilege and responsibility to define the problem and, if he was skillful, solicit from the team solutions. It seldom works to form a committee to research, review, and discuss the resolution to a crisis. If your toddler is crawling out into the street between two parked cars, you pick up the child. Discuss with those responsible later why and what.
  • There is always an effect brought on by some connecting cause. It’s there, you have to find it.
  • Good “causes” create positive “effects”. We typically see cause and effect relationships in negative terms. Horses will trample people and toddlers will get squished by cars. But it works the other way as well. Setting in motion certain conditions, events, directives, actions can reap huge rewards. The up-coming posts on motivation and productivity address this.

So, take a look at your own leadership context and tell me where you had to deal with cause and effect and most importantly, how it worked out.

6 Differences between leaders and managers

photo by Stefan Wagner,



In my last post I mentioned the capacities of insight and outsight, two characteristics which distinguish leaders from managers. Leaders, as set apart from management tasks, are supposed to “see” further and deeper than those who serve under them. It is the “Line of Sight” principle.

Here are 6 differences. There are doubtless many more, but for this elementary exploration, these set the stage. I’d like to here from you on this topic, too.

  1. Effective leaders think longer term while managers are unit thinkers. Managers process steps, checklists, charts, systems, and diagrams. Please don’t think I am maligning managers. Managers are absolutely and comprehensively necessary to the efficient function of a group. But their responsibilities are different. Managers exercise leadership to some degree but of necessity limit themselves to units of time, quantities of product, and/or scheduling of events. Leaders, at least the effective ones, have a knack for considering the long-term effects of the processes managers must manage.
  2. Effective leaders look beyond the unit they are heading and grasp its relationship to larger realities. They are able to connect the pieces and see how one unit plays into another then joins with yet another to create the desired result. Managers continue to focus their attention upon processes even if those processes no longer contribute to the end objectives or their validity has been lost. When I lived and worked in the Caribbean, I learned that it took a great deal of effort to get a driver’s license. There were endless papers that had to be completed, medical exams that had to be passed, and you had to find someone to take two passport-size photos so the license bureau could laminate them into your license. The island government finally decided to join the modern world and purchased computerized equipment that enabled them to take a photo at the window and produce a driver’s license on the spot. For many months following the introduction of these machines, applicants still had to bring with them two passport size photos. Clerks would collect the photos and staple them to the application, then ask the applicant to stand still while his or her photo was taken by the computer for the license. Finally someone asked why two passport photos were still required when the computer took the license photo? The response? “Because it is on the checklist and the manager says we have to follow the list!”
  3. Effective leaders reach and influence constituents beyond their jurisdictions. Managers are limited by geography and focus to their particular place in the organizational plan. Leader’s see up and out, but manager’s focus down and within. The effects of effective leadership are usually far-reaching. Decisions and supporting actions change the nature of business, politics, culture, and life. Managers, on the other hand, are committed to keeping systems running as they are. When leaders lead they build recognition. Their renown spreads. Others see what they’ve done or hear about it and success promotes emulation. This is the “tide effect.” When the tide rises, all boats float higher. Effective leaders bring success to everyone in the group, to any associated groups within the company or organization, and to some extent, to the competition in business. How? Departments win or lose as units. Companies succeed or fail entirely. Along the way, those leaders responsible for segments of the operation can inspire others to action. Competition provokes imitation. When another’s group does better than ours, we are prompted to overtake them. The reverse is true, too. When my company does well my competitors don’t just roll over and give up. They respond by improving. Look at McDonalds and its many imitators. Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, and more continually practice one-upmanship. McDonalds set the standard and they keep raising the bar. Apple Computers does the same.
  4. Effective leaders put heavy emphasis on the intangibles of vision, values, and motivation. They understand the non-rational and unconscious elements that characterize and influence interaction between leaders and their constituents. This is where leaders really shine. They don’t have to be very specific. Painting with a broad brush attracts the widest audience. Followers love to hear of grand and sweeping vistas yet to be realized. Presidents Reagan and Obama were very gifted at this. They both spoke in terms that resonated with listeners but avoided being very specific which allowed those listeners to draw their own conclusions about what the speaker was promising. That the interpretations might have had little to do with what the leader could actually do was, at the point of speaking, irrelevant. It is the very act of inspiration that matters. Managers usually don’t even attempt to do this. They just get through the day getting the task list completed.
  5. Effective leaders have the political skill to cope with conflicting requirements of multiple constituencies. I confess that is much easier said than done. Leaders are a great deal like kings or queens trying to unify heretofore competitive fiefdoms so as to join them together to participate in a common vision. Lee Iacocca reported that the condition that nearly brought the Chrysler Corporation to ruin was competing constituencies within. While it is critical that leaders focuses forward and outward, failure to pay attention within may render their entire visionary acumen meaningless. Conversely, it is the skill of the leader in selling his/her vision that can unite competitors and turn efforts toward the future. Inability to inspire and unite, or the refusal of constituents to participate in your vision as leader while pursuing their own vision is to permit, perhaps even promote two (or more) visions. This is di-vision, the condition wherein attention and effort is incapable of focus. Division will destroy any company or organization. I address this very critical skill in my book “What You See is What You Get.” 
  6. Effective leaders think in terms of renewal. Managers, by virtue of their role and responsibilities, are like maintainers. They oil the machinery of organization and operation keeping its schedules and procedures running smoothly. They tend to become protective of those schedules and procedures and consequently resist change. Leaders understand the times and know that the times always change. History is cluttered with the bones of once glorious nations, companies, and organizations that simply failed to adapt to changing times. Renewal is not a fresh coat of paint. Renewal is to make new, not just makeover the old.

What differences have you noticed? What similarities do you see?

4 ways to get clutter out of your in-box and off your desk

 width=Every professional soon discovers that his or her name resides on dozens, maybe hundreds of mailing lists. Not only does the normal flow of correspondence find it way to you, so does tons more: catalogs, flyers, sales offers, opportunities to win $10 million, newsletters, magazines, newspaper clippings, contracts, receipts, bills, memos, notes, legal documents, and most of the same electronically too. It can become an impossible heap to manage. We can spend many minutes a day moving the stuff around. If it is real paper, we pick it up, look at it, put it down in another stack, pick it up again, and move it here or there. Tomorrow we’ll move that same piece of paper to yet another stack and add more on top. In a few days we might lose it altogether and, when we discover we need it, spend way too much time trying to find it again. If it is electronic, we do the same or leave it where it was, cluttering up the inbox of our email programs. Time, efficiency, information, and effectiveness are soon lost.

There is an easy and inexpensive way to handle this. For dealing with real paper stuff you will need only a few manila file folders, a calendar, and a trash can. For electronic files you need the equivalent – folders on your hard drive, your schedule either paper, electronic or both, and the delete button. There are four, and only four things to do with each and every piece of paper or electronic file you receive: Do, Delay, Delegate, or Dump.

  1. DO – Some things need to be handled immediately. This you put in a “DO” place to be processed right away. You may not tackled it right that moment (although you probably should), but you will in the next several minutes. These are top priority items that demand immediate attention. You can create an electronic directory on your hard drive for those e-items and a file folder on your desk for the same in paper. Mark the folder “ACTION” and put all the “do” stuff in it, and then handle each item as soon as you are done sorting. Make sure every item is processed BEFORE you go on to anything else and I mean ANYTHING.
  2. DELAY – some items are important but not urgent. You need to do something with them, just not right now. Perhaps you need more information, have to wait for a response from someone else or it isn’t due today. You can delay processing it until another time. Don’t put it back in the stack of mail; don’t just leave it in your inbox. If you do that, you’ll only have to re-categorize it once more without making any progress toward completing it. Instead, for paper items, you should have tickler files, a set of specially marked folders in a file drawer (I’ll address what to do with electronic docs later in this section). You will need at least 12 folders. If you want to be even more precisely organized you will need four or five more. Label folders by month – January through December. You can add more folders – Week 1 – Week 4 if you want. Then take the document you want to delay and place it in the month ahead. If you are using weekly folders and the document needs attention this month, put it in the appropriate week. Now, the imperative is to always check the folder for items needing attention. E-mails are easier, depending on your email program, you can usually set a reminder and your computer will let you know. Other electronic documents can go into a folder then you can set a reminder for yourself in a task management program (Outlook has one) or an on-line program like Google Calendar to remind yourself when to deal with it. Don’t just leave it where it is! Make certain it is delayed not neglected.
  3. DELEGATE – Some items should not be handled by you at all. They belong somewhere else – with an associate, a secretary, a sub-contractor, a subordinate, or in a file (not a tickler). Don’t put it back on your desk or leave it in your inbox. Give it away to the proper person to handle it. Make it someone else’s problem not yours. If it is something you need to see again or review before it goes past your delegate, make a note in your calendar to follow up and notify whomever you send it to that you want a follow-up. I don’t know what system you might have in your office or if you even work in one. If you do, there should be a central place where all in-transit correspondence or documents pass. I generally discourage people placing things directly on my desk because they are too easily misplaced. A desk or work table is a work place not a mail box. Just be sure everyone knows where it is and uses it. For documents I’ve delegated out, I place a copy in a file called “Correspondence in progress” which tells me the process is not yet done. When it is finished, move the paper out and place it where it needs to go in a master filing system or the trash. Catalogs are a bit easier to handle these days because more and more vendors have gone to on-line ordering. Pertinent vendors can easily be stored in folders in your browser’s “Favorites” function. Paper catalogs need to be regularly updated. Discard or recycle the obsolete ones, keep the new ones, store them all in the place where they can be accessed by the people who will need them. Magazines are handled the same way. Newsletters, clippings, magazine articles you might have copied I put in a temporary file marked “READING.” I can grab the file when I’m waiting for someone or on a trip and read through them. The article then gets “delegated” into a file for research or it gets trashed. For electronic “clippings” I use OneNote. Some have used Evernote too.
  4. DUMP – If paper or e-files don’t fit anywhere else, dump them. Don’t move it to another stack or leave it in your in-box, get rid of it. Think of your trash can as a circular file. When you pick up a piece of paper or open an e-file, ask yourself “What will happen if I do nothing with this, if I make no response?” If the answer is nothing, then dump it.

So, there it is four simple steps – Do, Delay, Delegate, Dump – if you follow them your files…and your life, will be much less cluttered.

Have you found a way to handle paper and files you can share with us? Let me hear from you.

7 Keys to lighting a fire under your employees or associates

 width=Jeff (not his real name but this is a true story) is one of the best in the business. He works for a big box store selling appliances and has been there for ten years. We were having lunch when he told me how unhappy he is at his job and that he is seriously considering leaving. One recent incident he found especially problematic.

It was a Friday, the end of the corporate accounting week. Jeff had sold in excess of $35,000 worth of appliances already that week, an outstanding demonstration of skill as a salesman made more significant considering the general economy and the serious competition from other appliance outlets.

The phone at his desk rang. It was the store manager. “We’re a little short in our overall sales budget for the week,” he began. “I see you have some estimates in your action file, why not give them a call and see if you can’t bring those sales in before we close tonight.”

That was it – a challenge to do more. What annoyed Jeff is that the boss did not say one word about the $35000 week Jeff had already had. Not one thank you, not an “Atta boy”, not even a simple acknowledgement of Jeff’s success.

“It doesn’t matter how well you have done,” Jess complained, “they always want more…and more…and more. There are lessons for leaders in this simple incident.

  •  Far too often managers forget that it is people who produce numbers, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Leaders do themselves great harm when they forget this. This is neither an isolated event nor an unusual attitude.
  • We manage people first, numbers later. Unless you as a leader or manager work in a completely isolated environment running only robots or automated machines, your first level of responsibility is to people. Your boss may hammer on you for numbers but even he is dependent upon you, a person, to make those numbers a reality. So are you. Never, ever forget that.
  • Reward those who produce, invest in those who have potential but need development, ignore those who consume. I address this much more in an upcoming book – How To Light A Fire Under Almost Anyone Without Getting Burned – but it needs to be said here. In one of our businesses we hired a supervisor who left a similar business to join our team. He has proven to be an outstanding hire and is exceptionally well-suited to the job. His former boss showed up and offered to double his wages if he would return. He responded that “It is not just money.” Then he told us, “In three years at the other job I only remember being told thank you one time. One time! You all (speaking of us as his present employers) have shown your appreciation many more times every day than they ever did in the whole time I was there.” FYI, we pay him less than they did in actual money. Acknowledgement of an employee’s or an associate’s skill goes a very, very long way. And it costs you nothing.
  • The spark of motivation is personal, relatively small, and required often, but it is what powers the engine of success. Under the hood of your car sits the power source. It is a complex machine and many parts and process must work in sync. For the sake of this topic let’s focus on just the spark plugs. They are small, cost almost nothing, and are absolutely vital. If they are not fired up at the right time, the engine sputters. Do yourself a favor. Find out what drives the people who work for you and make sure you keep it fired up. Your engagement with your associates must be personal. For God’s sake, do not send a general email when you should send a personal one. Better yet, don’t send an email at all. Get up out of your chair, walk out of your office, leave you normal range and go over to that person, look right at them, and tell them yourself.
  • Don’t just quote facts and figures. Knowing how short the numbers are against the week’s goals never pushed anyone’s button. Knowing how much you notice how well that person has done works wonders. It is the spark that fires the plug that energizes the engine that moves the gears that drive the wheels that get the car to its destination.
  • Celebrate each and every win. Be careful about the “Did you do this too’s?” How easy it is to kill the enthusiasm. It goes like this. One of your salesmen sells a whole house appliance package and the first words out of your mouth are, “Why didn’t you sell the extended warranties too?” There is no way to walk that back. You’ve said it, it has conveyed the message that you disapprove and that the salesman should have done better.  This is ineffective leadership at its worst. You have just turned a win into a loss. If you must, find some other way to talk about up-sales some other time.
  • It is entirely possible to be efficient while eroding effectiveness. A focused approach to sales and numbers may demonstrate your grasp of charts and quotas, but in the end, those who are the most productive will slow their efforts, reduce their productivity, and find a way out. Effective leaders are committed to releasing energy and ability within the people they lead. Managers tend to look at processes and statistics first and foremost.

What about you? What ways have you found to fire the spark? What have you seen or even experienced yourself that neutralizes motivation and productivity?