Seeing over the top of the hill and around the corners – why leaders understand the principle of line of sight

telescopeTwo of my employees were working out of the shop installing components we had made in the shop. Theirs was not a particularly complicated or difficult job, removing old pieces, installing hardware on the new components, reinstalling them, and painting. They were competent, responsible, and hardworking guys. They made my life much easier and my shop more profitable.

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

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

Because, of the principle of line of sight.

The principle of line of sight says that the lower the level of the employee, the shorter his range of vision. Lowest level employees usually have to be monitored and told almost every move, every procedure, every step. They cannot be expected to see very far in the process. The higher the level of employee, the farther they can see. They can be expected to know, in advance, what they are going to need. They can see far enough ahead to prepare for what lies ahead.

The principle is true in geography as it is in leadership – The higher the level, the farther the line of sight.

The guys mentioned in the start of this article with were on the lower side of mid-level employees in this manner. Through training and experience they came to see farther than they used to, but it was still not very far.

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

Let me say that again. It would be foolish for me to assume they could prepare for the projects with only a summary explanation.

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

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

But effective and enduring leaders do.

General George W. Casey said that “Leaders need to ‘see around corners’ — to see something significant about the future that others don’t see.” Well, I suggest that they also need to be able to see what lies over the top of a mountain.

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

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

By gathering subordinates and associates who can see them and will tend to them. The task of envisioning the future is grand and glorious but no one can get there alone. Take care of the big picture. Do your best to foresee what will be need by whom and by when. Allow others to fill in the blanks and get it done.

7 traits of a great planner

todoIt’s time to become small minded. Visionaries are big thinkers. Planners may make big plans but they think small. They take the grand scheme of things and turn it into smaller steps.

Planners are comprehensive thinkers whose skillset includes the ability to break things up into increments and whose experience has shown them the necessity to be rational and realistic. Fantasy thinkers will soon get themselves into big trouble here so practicality is the keyword.

I want a big thinker to formulate vision and I want that same big thinker to leave the planning process to people who can be real and realistic. Here are the 6 key traits of an effective planner:

First, an effective planner can take a project apart and divide it into realistic tasks, tasks that can be assigned a responsible party and a realistic deadline. They understand that the greatest of structures is put up one piece at a time. And they can install warning points along the way to keep things on track and on schedule.

Second, they function in the “now” and in the “then.” They think and work short-term and long-term. The use whatever tools they need to maintain progress towards the ultimate objective. Daily tasks lists are coordinated with and subordinated to annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly calendars.

Third, they do not wait until deadlines approach to begin. They start early because experience has taught that almost nothing goes off as planned and if anything can go wrong it will.

Fourth, effective planners never work in isolation. They use the considerable skills and insights of others who could be in a position to add insight, understanding, and information.

Fifth, they are good delegators. The larger the plan, the more people needed to fulfill the objectives. Micro-managing will torpedo everything. There will be too much to do. Remember that your circle of concern is always bigger than your circle of ability.

Figure 1
Figure 1


Sixth, effective planners are tenacious but not hardheaded. They know how to focus on target and responsibly pursue it. But they are not so infatuated with their own ideas and plans that they become inflexible and rigid. Plans often need revising so “Plan B” is ready. Effective planners can think on their feet and make revisions as needed without losing sight of the objective or compromising the project.

Seventh, they never promise more than they can deliver. Some workers (and in some cultures) it is considered rude and uncaring to tell a superior or coworker anything except what they think the other person wants to hear. But this is a dangerous practice. Effective leaders never suffer sycophants or yes men. Never! Effective planners never engage in such foolish acts either. Never!

Now, it’s time to be honest. If you meet these 7 criteria, great! If not? Well, you know what you have to do. Find someone who does. The vision is far too precious to risk anything so get the best planner(s) you can find to help you bring it into being.

Keepers – Trait #6 – Organization

lumber storageA woodshop in the Caribbean uses a lot of mahogany. Lots and lots of it. In my business, Dunigan Designs, (I sold the business a few years ago but you can check out the website here). Since we made doors, windows, custom furniture, closets, kitchens, and molding, we accumulated a lot of cut-off pieces called shorts that could be used in other projects.

Often there are several small pieces in a project so using a cut-off that would have been waste means a slightly higher profit margin. Over time those pieces piled up here and there around the shop. They needed organization.

So I asked one of my employees to find a way to recover the assets lying on the floor. 4 hours later he had built a rack, sorted all the wood lying around, and stored it by size. Now, when gathering resources for a project we could readily see what we had available that would have been scrap.

This is what organization does:

  1. It creates more out of less.
  2. It creates something out of nothing.
  3. It recovers resources and adds digits to your bottom line.
  4. It puts first things first, second things second, and establishes the logically ordered flow of work.
  5. It pulls reason out of chaos.
  6. It adds efficiency and economy of effort and resources.

Not everyone has the ability. At the same time, I had another employee who was patently disorganized. His workbench was always cluttered and piled high with tools, scraps, papers, and projects in process. When his bench was full, he would proceed to clutter up any available bench space and ended up too often working on the floor. I had to regularly stop him from working and make him clean things up.

Organizers are keepers because they do nothing but make life and work better, faster, easier. Organizers facilitate plans and planning. They create budgets and find the means to stick to them. They think ahead, a subject I cover later in this series.

Keeper trait #7 is diligence. See you Monday.

Management 101 – Part 4 – Control

steeringThe first three installments in this series covering management’s most basic principles addresses Planning, Organizing, and Training. Once those have been done, or more realistically, once those are being done, the final principle is that of controlling action.

If nothing is moving, the first challenge is to get things moving in an orderly manner. One that happens, the next logical addition is to control what is moving; minimize waste, maximize efficiency, and focus efforts.

Control happens when movements are contained within certain parameters. In engineering those parameters would be called “tolerances” because a certain degree of latitude is allowed. In retail businesses, they control inventory by budgeting for shrinkage, which is the loss of inventory, through breakage and theft. In manufacturing, control is exercised by managing time, predicting and planning for the supply of component parts, and monitoring specifications.

In all applications of control, there has to exist a standard from which all variance is measured. Here it might be helpful to borrow a term and concept from surveying. When new territory is being plotted, surveyors lay a base line, a straight line running a fixed length along which all other measurements are to be made. When the original settlers of the San Bernardino valley laid out the city their base line, now a busy street, ran for many miles. All other streets and the plots of land that would be parceled out to settlers were measured from that on line.

Management and leadership uses the same principle. A standard is established which becomes the target for measuring performance and therefore a basis for controlling action. Corporate run restaurants establish the target number of diners and their average purchase amount and they control costs by carefully controlling portions in both recipes and servings.

Corporate run casinos know how much money the average gambler will lose at a blackjack table per hand that is dealt. They also set the standard for how many hands the dealer should deal per hour and thus can predict with reasonable accuracy how much the table should earn. They then monitor the take from that table and can see where it deviates from the base line. If a regular pattern emerges, say one particular dealer is earning less than those who precede of follow him, the house begins to look for the reason why.

Base line control works just about everywhere. It was Peter Drucker who said that “if you cannot count it you cannot control it.” So the concept and practice of control is a counting action. Leaders do not do so well at this because the nature of leadership is less specific and more inspirational. However, if inspirational and motivational influence does not somewhere and somehow translate to measurable advances, leadership is relegated to platitudes and concepts. They’re pleasant but produce little in the way of lasting effect.

Control is a concept many people are uncomfortable with because it requires them to hold people accountable for results. We live in an age of fuzziness where we confuse feelings and attitudes with genuine advancement and progress. HR people and social scientists have proposed that we focus on the feeling side of work which can have a counterproductive effect if not balanced with real control targets. Your role as manager is to place the right people in the right positions so they can do the right job at the right time and produce the right results. Feeling good, loved, accepted, and fulfilled has value as long as that focus does not override the objective – to produce results.

On the other hand, too much control can result in friction (see my post here about that subject). If things are functioning smoothly and on track, a different kind of control is called for. MacGregor’s X and Y management styles addresses this and I will too in future posts (this is also the subject of my next book “How To Light A Fire Under Almost Anyone Without Getting Burned”) so be informed that that this subject is by no means exhausted here.

In summary, here are the 7 key components of the principle of control:

  1. Management is a game won or lost by numbers. To be able to control is to be able to count.
  2. A base line needs to be determined and laid out so EVERYONE who is accountable to it understands it and what it means. It is unfair to hold people to standards they are not aware of.
  3. Ineffective managers keep moving the base line. This inevitably causes confusion and resentment. If you arbitrarily move the baseline to put more money in your pocket while taking money OUT of the pockets of the people who work for you, count on your best and most productive people moving on.
  4. Ineffective managers have no baseline going in or they refuse to reveal it to their associates. People respond best when they know what is expected of them. If you are going to hold people accountable for numbers make very sure they know what those numbers are.
  5. Monitor deviation from base line numbers and find out why before jumping to a conclusion. There can be more than one reason why numbers are not met or exceeded.
  6. If you move numbers higher because of better than expected results make sure it is a joint effort and a reasonable one.
  7. To control results you’ll need to coordinate efforts. Until you have clear evidence otherwise, you may assume that most people want to do well in their jobs and will continue to do so if given the right tools and competent management. Demanding more with less will doubtless provoke resentment, grumbling, and plots of rebellion (just ask an ancient Pharoah when he demanded his guest workers, the Israelites, to make more bricks with less straw).  It takes lots of fuel and gear grinding to get a vehicle moving, but once it is on the road, a different type of control is necessary. You can let the machine do what it was designed to do and simply keep a supply of fuel, lubrication, and guidance to keep it on the road an on the way.

The first three installments of Management 101 are available here:

Part 1 – Plan

Part 2 – Organize

Part 3 – Train

I am yet in Uganda, East Africa. I spent the last two days on the road travelling up-country arriving back in Entebbe last night to discover that my internet access was no longer functioning. As of mid-day today it is still out. I have a wireless modem used here through the mobile phone providers but it is so slow I hesitate to use it. Nonetheless I have. Even getting airtime is fun. A trip downtown to the currency exchange office to but more shillings, then a walk down the street to the mobile phone office, a wait in line, then it’s my turn. Select the number of gb’s I want for a month and pay the fee while the tech retrieves the SIM card registration, gets the airtime and downloads it onto the stick. I am using the stick modem now. Thanks for your patience.

Management 101 – Part 2 – Organize

organizing calendarWhether you’re planning a meeting with your associates or the launch of a new product, the plans are doomed unless and until things are organized. Plans may make us feel better and plans do give us a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

But plans, in and of themselves, will remain locked in and of themselves. Organization must logically follow. It must be determined:

Who will do what.

When will it be done.

Where will it take place.

How will it be accomplished.

What will be required to get “it” done.

Who will get the stuff that will be required….and on the list goes.

The only why that should be asked is to validate the component pieces, i.e., why is this person or that thing needed at this time?

Organizing includes:

Specialization of participants and resources – This is the ability to focus on the tasks at hand and the  objectives those tasks are supposed to bring about.

Division of work – An organizer recruits or assigns personnel to the tasks that must be done, hands off work to them (delegation) and makes assignments requiring measureable results. By definition and implication organizers are precise not vague and they clarify not obfuscate.

Forming tasks and workers in logical and sequential order. – To organize is make lists, assemble resources, arrange components, and sequence tasks.

Organizing can be simple or complex depending on the size of the project and the skill and experience of those involved. Inexperienced personnel will need greater detail. More experienced people can get by well with more generalized plans.

Here are 7 Benefits of ORGANIZATION:

  1. Efficiency – To organize is to gain the most productivity from the least effort and hassle. Organization minimizes waste or eliminates it entirely. Duplication of effort is reduced, multitasking can result, or unneeded items can be eliminated from the budget.
  2. Fluidity of movement – Organized efforts avoid whiplash of the attitudes. Poor organization produced false starts, abrupt stops, and wild changes of direction.
  3. Economy – An organized manager/leader realizes the most expedient use of the resources at hand saving the company money and himself effort.
  4. Humane consideration of your associates – organizing gives evidence of planning which is the result of care. When you care about someone or something, you plan for them or it. When you are concerned about the outcome you pay attention to the in-between events that take up the space between the idea and its manifestation.
  5. Organization defines structure clearly, reveals how things fit together, and diagrams what relates to what, who relates to whom, and who cares for what. The entire organizational system might be in your head or it may be revealed in organizational charts. Whatever the depository, it should be shared an known by everyone who works within ints structure.
  6. Organizing enables managers and leaders to see where responsibility resides, where and how authority should flow, and from where accountability should come. See # 5.
  7. Organization builds the channels within which delegation functions so that power, the authorization to act and the releasing of resources to act, can flow more freely.

Remember the three fundamental objectives of effective leadership? To extend YOUR reachmultiply YOUR effectiveness, and divide YOUR work. The product of organizing is not more work for you, but to create less, to enable you to get more done by empowering others to execute plans that will accomplish your goals. Some managers and leaders are not naturally gifted organizers, and they do accomplish things, but at great labor, often much frustration, and a good amount of wasted effort.

Almost anyone can learn the basic skills of organization and many tools exist to help us.  The simplest is the venerable task list. I’ve tried the task list in Outlook. I use OneNote and Evernote. I’ve tried Google’s Calendar. All of them have been some help. None of them have been as handy and readily available as a pad of paper and a pencil.

Complicated projects require more planning and therefore more organization. You may have built in organization where you work. The chain of command, reporting procedures, and audit systems can be helpful when you understand them and work with them.

Tight organization may be required when risks and consequences are high. Looser organizational systems may work well when participants have a PROVEN record of responsible behavior, careful accountability, and mature use of authority.

Every effective manager is a competent organizer. Many effective leaders are not. Management’s specific domain is that of organization and implementation while leadership is to inspire and project. However, effective leaders recognize this and soon employ the assistance of capable organizers.

The first lesson in this series is Management 101 – Part 1 Planning. The next lesson is T = Train. Who is the most effective trainer you know? I have two more lessons in this series before beginning another. What would you like to see covered here? Drop me a line or leave a comment.

How to multiply your effectiveness – the 4 levels of ability in your associates


NOTE: This post is a continuation of a topic I started last week. If you haven’t read it already, I suggest you begin with “How to multiply your effectiveness – 2 critical assessments you must make.”

4 levelsI ended the previous post with a promise to disclose how Louis rated himself. But before I do let me ask you?  What would a person with the experience and insight you possess predict would be Louis’ self-appraisal?

Where on the scale found in figure 2 do you think he would place himself?

Before I tell you where Louis placed himself, let me define and explain what those four descriptors mean.

 At the highest level is a trusted associate who can grasp the essence of your vision, your objectives, and your purposes and find ways to make them reality with as much vigor and dedication as if they were his or her own. We all hope we can find these rare individuals to work for us because they need almost no input from us. There is a fire within them that needs no kindling, no stoking, no ignition. They possess such insightinsight understanding and understanding they can perceive what is important to you, define a number of processes to complete your objectives, garner the resources towards those objectives, and voluntarily come to you with a full accounting of what they’ve done.

 If you’ve ever dined at a fine restaurant with exceptional service you know what I mean. The server anticipates your every need. Glasses are filled before you ask, the food is prepared as you like it because the server knows you and wants to make the meal an event – for you.

 As much as you may want those who work for you to be fulfilled and challenged, in the end it really is about you, your vision, your objectives, your profitability, and your circle of concern. Trusted associates know that, accept that, and do everything in their power to achieve that. This is not as true with the others on the scale.

 Next level down is a reliable assistant who is nearly as valuable and capable as a trusted associate with one major distinction. They are slightly less confident in their capacity to understand what needs to be done so they interact with you more. These are highly capable people who can garner resources and make things happen if and when they understand what to do. They will come to you for clarification, check with you for verification, and look to you for validation. It won’t take much to get a fire going under reliable assistants nor will it take much involvement on your part to keep the fire going.

 The next two down the scale are defined by one distinctive character trait that sets them apart from the first two. Neither hired hands nor forced laborers have you, your vision, your objectives, or your circle of concern as their primary concern. They are most consumed with themselves. They work for wages. They labor for what the job pays them and have little concern for what they contribute to the job beyond what is earns them. Their investment in your career extends only to the next paycheck. Some cannot think even that far ahead.

 Before you object that everyone, including trusted associates and reliable assistants works for pay, let me counter that while it is somewhat true, it is not the primary motivating force for trusted associates and reliable assistants but it is for hired hands and forced laborers. The vested interest of hired hands and forced laborers in their jobs is not the satisfaction of tasks well-performed, it is in the paycheck quickly cashed…and just as quickly spent.

 A hired hand will do what you tell him to do in the manner you tell him to do it, to the extent you supervise his performance. For him the adage is true – You don’t get what you expect, you get what you inspect. Most manager/leaders, who encounter the hired hand more than any other type of worker, soon realize the amount of time and energy they consume will be substantial, and give up. However, many hired hands have the potential to become more productive and can become even more valuable assets to your team. They can work hard and with some training, free you from routine tasks.

 Forced laborers are hired hands who have to be coerced into action. They consume vast amounts of energy both in the effort it takes to find them and make them work and in fixing the mistakes they make. These bottom feeders can say the right things and mask their consumer mentality. If you encounter one, you will soon discover you are expending way more resources than you are getting out. The best thing to do is cut them loose. They do not possess the potential to improve so they will not be potential producers.

 “You cannot multiply a positive factor (that’s you) by a negative factor (that’s a forced laborer) and expect a positive result.”

You know who said that?

I said that. How often have you tried to do just that? I am certain I could redeem a year or more of work time if I could get back all the hours I’ve wasted trying to motivate the inert. There are no magic methods to turn a black hole into an energy resource. You can multiply your effectiveness by passing off responsibility only to those with the potential to shoulder it.

 4 levels plusYou multiply your effectiveness by handing off responsibility to people who will fulfill it as if you were doing it yourself.

 The energy you expend to work through a trusted associate or reliable assistant pays big dividends. The energy expended working with hired hands can often be an equity trade – equal parts in to equal parts out. The effort spent on forced laborers is always misspent. Too much time is required on your part, too much effort, to much supervision, and too much management. They divide your effectiveness, not multiply it.

 I began this chapter with an account of the performance appraisal Jeff made of Louis. Louis was, at that point in his development, a hired hand. When asked where he would place his performance, he incredulously pointed to the top level – that of trusted associate. How should Jeff respond? How would you respond?

 The operation of multiplication requires two integers. In its simplest and most used form, one integer is made greater by the other. In our specific application here, you and I are made more effective by the participation of another person. In the aforementioned interview, Jeff had an opportunity to increase his effectiveness as a leader and manager by what he said and what he did with Louis.

 He could have played out the summer without doing anything. Louis would go back to school and nothing would happen. But that is in itself not the most expedient thing. Even if Louis made no changes, even if he did not grow as an employee and associate, Jeff could increase his skill as a leader/manager, thus becoming more effective.

 There is the possibility that Jeff’s actions could make a difference in Louis’ performance for the remainder of his term and become more productive. Then, Jeff would multiply his effectiveness.

 Here is the problem. Louis suffered from incompetence in certain areas. He was lacking in certain job skills and he was out of touch with his true value as an employee. He was incompetent but didn’t know it.

 On Thursday’s post I will address the critical place of the teachable moment. See you then.