The Might as Wells – Letting one thing lead to too many others.

Gustave-Moreau Sirens songI call it sequences, that annoying way of letting a simple task become far more complex. Even Murphy and his sagacious laws (If anything can go wrong it will, et al) has wryly observed that “You can’t do something until you do something else first.”

Sometimes, it is unavoidable…and true. You really can’t do some things until you do something else first and you might not have seen that other thing you need to do until you start doing the other thing.  (How’s that for a twisted sentence?) But sometimes we do it to ourselves.

I usually post a new article on The Practical Leader twice a week but haven’t for about ten days because I took time off to make some needed repairs on our house. With my wife out of town visiting family, it was a good time to tear things up.

Happily and prudently I had a detailed plan of what I needed to get done and made projections about how much time it would take and what materials I would need. But once I got into the project I discovered many opportunities to make the project larger and consequently more complex. I say “happily” because whenever we embark on a plan the “might as wells” pop up. As long as we’re doing this, we might as well do that.

It might be correct. Perhaps we might as well do something else along the way. Unexpected issues can arise that should be dealt with. But some should not. It takes real detachment to become a disengaged and unemotional observer to make the decisions.

  1. Make clear plans and have a focused vision of what you intend to accomplish, in what period of time. The power to focus is the power to excel and complete. Letting a job get out of hand is a sure recipe for disaster.
  2. Just because you can does not mean that you should. “Might as well” is NOT a good enough reason to add a job to the plan. Make sure added tasks are fully justified before taking them on.
  3. Even when you should doesn’t mean you should right now. Efficiency is always a good idea but effectiveness is more important. Stay focused on the objective.

Leaders have to remember that the temptations to veer off course, even if it can be rationalized and legitimized, are like the Siren’s song, luring those on a mission off course and into ruin.

The Year Ahead…and why it’s important to look at the year behind

signs-same-blvd-change-street-square-320x320-160x160American television has begun its annual emphasis on nostalgia. They’ve begun producing and broadcasting programs that take a look back at the year about to end. While most zero in on news events and famous people, some look at the year’s best cars, the year’s best tech products, or those people who are no longer with us.

And things seem to slow down, at least here in the US. Next week, they will slow down even more. With Christmas coming in the middle of the week, little of significance will happen until January 5th. People will gather in close units. Families will congregate as will communities of faith. There will be last minute sales to entice gift-givers to part with more money, but by and large most people are ready for the holidays.

Even I will slow down a bit. Next week and the week after I will make only one post per week on Monday the 22nd and the 29th. You have different things to do than read my wonderings and I do too.

But while we’re in the mood it is a good time to celebrate the past year and anticipate the coming one. In my time management courses I often recommend that at the end of each day we write down three things you have accomplished.  Almost always there will be one or more items that are nowhere to be found on your plans, your daily schedule, or your task list. But they will be accomplishments nonetheless and therefore noteworthy.  The lesson is twofold – your get more done than you think and you get more done than you plan for.

So, if you write down three things every day that you did, at the end of the year you will have a record of 1095 things or more that you accomplished. See, you are a capable person and you are making progress.

But, there are lessons also in looking backward.

  1. Make new mistakes – don’t repeat the old ones. If you’re like me, plenty of things went wrong or didn’t work out. The best advice I ever heard in a leadership conference was not by one of the scheduled speakers but within the invocation offered by a local clergyman who said, “Help us make new mistakes. We are tired of making the same mistakes over and over again. The coming 365 days hold opportunities to try new things, consider new possibilities, and launch new endeavors.
  2. In reality, January 1st is no different from February 3rd. It’s nothing more than a date to which we have fixed significance. But it points to the human need to erect landmarks, to set up checkpoints, to measure and grade progress or the lack of it. We just feel better at marking the passage of time and recording the events time allowed us to experience. January first is usually a day to make resolutions and start anew. But any day works the same as any other day. Each day is the beginning of a new year and therefore a new life.
  3. There is no future in the past. What was, is now gone. What is to come, is where we can excel. Lists of accomplishments give record of what we got done. Let a new year also mark what you can let go of. Carrying a grudge with you into the New Year only weighs us down. It’s time to leave the past behind. If you can…and if you will…the future is brighter and better than ever.

Let me close today’s post with a quote from one of the great innovators and inventors of theTwentieth Century, Walt Disney: “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”


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.

7 ways to know the difference between strategies and tactics

normandyThe vision: Liberate Europe, defeat Germany and Italy, then establish a new world order

The strategy: A cross-channel invasion followed by succeeding maneuvers to push the enemy back, destroy their ability and resolve to wage war, bring about their defeat. The strategy was called Operation Overlord.

The tactics: pre-assault aerial bombardment, land troops, fight the way off the beach, capture ports, establish supply lines and methods, secure beachhead, act rather than react.

Vision ->Strategy ->Tactics or, as it works out in real life Tactics implement the strategy that was carefully planned to deliver the vision.

Operation Overlord began 70 years ago tomorrow, June 6, 1944, with Operation Neptune which was the Normandy landings. The overall strategy was logically assembled of several smaller strategies which were in turn implemented by boots on the ground, planes in the air, and ships in the water.

Sometimes used interchangeably in conversation, strategy and tactics are not the same. To make it easier to define, think of strategy as something that happens with the head while tactics happen with the hands.

Bosses think, staff act. Managers and leaders consider, ponder, and create ideas, employees and associates build, assemble, and enact.

Here’s how strategy and tactics fit together:

strategy tactics chart

14 Ways an outsider can make strategic planning even more productive

outside helpLots of jobs are outsourced these days. With the downturn in the economy a few years ago many companies discovered they could save money by hiring the assistance they needed when they needed it rather than keep them on the payroll all the time. Some jobs lend themselves to this better than others – commercial copy writers, some accounting help are just two.

In something as important as strategic planning, a set of outside eyes and ears can be a big, big benefit to your company. As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I am NOT IMPLYING that you are not capable of developing a strategic plan yourself. But buy-in is imperative and it’s just a fact of group dynamics that a voice other than yours can usually elicit the ideas and cooperation of others more expediently than you, especially if you’ve set aside a period of time to get it done. The development and implementation of vision and strategic plans must be accomplished without a hint of manipulation. None! You want spontaneous and enthusiastic participation here and nothing less than a psychologically sound system to gather ideas and guide development of the plan will do.

There will be reluctance to overcome, skepticism to defuse, and politics to maneuver through. You will encounter associates who want to dominate, ones who have off-the-wall ideas, and those who simply want to dissolve into the scenery. There will be baggage to handle, egos to stroke, and ambition to temper. Without meaning to, we can often trigger unwanted reaction and I’ve already said that you, the leader, want to be a catalyst for action not a point of reaction. So, hire the skilled outside facilitator to cross the minefield. Let her or him take the point. You and your facilitator want the same thing and that facilitator is not going to embarrass you or supplant your position or usurp your authority. S/he is skilled at bringing out the best in others, focusing on the objective, and getting the job done. After all, s/he wants the same thing as you do – an efficient and effective department or company.

Here’s 14 ways an outside facilitator can help you succeed in this task:

  1. Oversee the process while you and your team find the answers. S/he will not provide the answers but s/he will help you arrive at them.
  2. Stay on target. Tangents and red herrings are oh so compelling but your facilitator can keep the process on track.
  3. Educe ideas. Not suggest them (except to provoke thinking) but to draw them out of the reserves within the team.
  4. Engage group-wide and on-going participation. There are always stragglers. There are always those moving more quickly than others. No one should be left behind. No one should dominate the discussion.
  5. Nurture the foundlings. Emergent ideas can be fair game for predators. This is not a survival of the fittest setting. It is a survival of the best. A facilitator can protect emergent ideas. Shooting down an idea right out of the mouth of someone usually has the effect of stifling discussion and compromising thinking.
  6. Put off-target ideas into storage. Shooting them down usually discourages their originator but time can be wasted discussing things that are off-topic, even if they are only slightly off topic. A facilitator knows how to store them until such a time they are shown to be unnecessary, irrelevant, or unworkable.
  7. Sounding the waters to make sure everyone fathoms the discussion.  This takes skill because you don’t want to sound like a grammar school teacher but you shouldn’t assume too much either. Facilitators continually offer feedback into the team to assure everyone gets it.
  8. Say it once, twice, as many times and as many ways as necessary. Rephrasing the objective, rewording the dilemma, restating the objective keeps the process on target.
  9. Force the team to make choices, to set and maintain priorities. There are many paths to the goal. Which one should you take? There are many tasks to be executed. Which ones come first? The facilitator knows that no plan is worth the paper it’s written on unless and until tasks and priorities are determined and scheduled.
  10. Weave together the three strands of an unbreakable cord – understanding, consensus, and commitment. When s/he does this, it becomes a team effort and decision. When you do this, it might be construed as your idea. I think it was General Eisenhower who said that leadership was the art of letting others have your own way. You know that a hard job is better done by someone who thinks it was their idea.
  11. Avoids the “talk but no walk” condition that infects too many groups. Follow-up is vital. Facilitators never leave this step to others. Talk is cheap and highly attractive. If plans are not executed the group is worse off than before.
  12. Maintains a record of achievement, a list of what’s been accomplished, and celebrates them all. Most facilitators create a visible list of what the group with whom they work is going to achieve and checks off each milestone. They know that nothing succeeds like success.
  13. Protect your interests. While individuals have a stake in the strategic plan and a role in the implementation of it, what’s really on the line is the future and viability of your company or organization. Facilitators never forget that, even if they don’t often say it.
  14. Connect individual interests with corporate ones. They know that everyone works for personal gain. Everyone! Even in non-profit, charitable organizations, those who work there, either compensated or volunteer, do so for personal reasons. Facilitators, well, facilitate that. They possess insight into human motivation and can pull all components together and capitalize on the X-factor, that intangible something that ignites the spark of enthusiasm to bring the vision nearer.

Coming tomorrow!

I need your input. I am developing training courses and want to know what’s important to you. If there is an itch somewhere, I want to know where to scratch. On Friday, I will put up a survey and I’m asking for your input. It won’t take more than two or three minutes and every choice counts. Thanks for your participation.


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.

4 Reasons why you probably shouldn’t try to develop a strategic plan by yourself

no DIYHe walked into my shop then into my office. “I need a hatch cover for my boat,” he stated.

“Well, we can make you one,” I assured him.

He went on to tell me that his boat, no mere rowboat, was stored in a yard not far from where we stood. Someone had breached the fence and broken the hatch to plunder through the cabins and compartments  so he needed a new hatch cover.

For several minutes we discussed the design, size, and materials of which the cover would be made. After coming to an agreement on the specs and price, he turned to leave and said something I found remarkable.

“I could make it myself, you know. I just don’t know how.”

Well, duh. I refrained from making the snarky comeback and assured him, “That’s why we’re here. We do know how and we can do this for you letting you get on with your business.”

You’ve seen the disclaimer, usually in tiny type at the bottom of the screen that says something like “Professional driver on a closed course. Don’t try this yourself.”

There are things you can…and should … do yourself. But there just might be others that you shouldn’t. I’ve long emphasized that our time is limited as is out energy. Therefore we need to focus on those tasks that only we can do and get others to do everything else. But that’s another article I’ll reserve for another time.

What I want to propose today is oriented to the task of imparting vision (something usually done only once), developing a strategic plan (something done more than once), and implementing tactics (something done often…very often). I’ve been writing for several weeks about this and for the past several posts about strategic planning.

But I want to suggest that perhaps strategic planning could best be served by engaging the expertise of an outsider. Unlike my boat owning client above, you actually can do this yourself and probably know very well how to do this. But that should not automatically infer that you should.

Now I am NOT suggesting that you hire an outsider to develop your strategic plan. No, I am suggesting that you get a pro to help YOU AND YOUR TEAM develop your strategic plan.

Here are 4 reasons why you should get an outsider to facilitate the development of the plan:

  1. Defuses top down thinking. Mandates might be essential in a crisis “X” management circumstance. If danger looms, no focus group can move fast enough, no planning committee is nimble enough to address the crisis. But strategic planning is a careful, thought-intensive process. The last thing you want is to issue a memo informing everyone what the new plan is going to be. You need buy-in, the participation and engagement that causes everyone to feel like it was their idea. I don’t need to tell you that motivation is intrinsic, that you cannot demand others to be motivated. One device is to engage and participate. An outsider becomes the focus of engagement and participation, not you. No competent facilitator ever disputes your position, challenges your authority, or minimizes your role. Their skill as a neutral voice emphasizes the plan. It does not diminish the critical role of everyone in it, including you.
  2. Frees the process from organizational biases that always exist even if they are benign. All organizations possess culture and prejudices and I mean that in a non-racial, non-sexist sense. Over its history a company or organization takes on the personality of those who occupy key roles. They aren’t necessarily good or bad, they just are. The personality and the history of the way things are done almost always get in the way of clear thinking. Prior commitments and past successes and failures taint the lens through which you see the present and the future. An outside facilitator comes in free of them, can offer a fresh voice and an unbiased perspective.
  3. Sees things in the organization and the environment is has created and within which it functions that others cannot readily see. You know the “can’t see the forest for the trees” cliché. Well, it became a cliché because it is so often true. Some things your company or organization does may have had a valid and necessary reason sometime but it may no longer be so. The outsider sees all, questions everything, takes nothing for granted.
  4. Asks the hard questions and is more likely to get honest answers than you are. It’s sad and somewhat discouraging, especially if you’ve worked hard at creating an open and informal workplace culture. But think about it. If the implementation of a new and compelling vision and the development of a comprehensive strategic plan means serious analysis of your companies systems, processed, policies, and procedures, who do you want to be on the hot seat. You or an outside facilitator? Someone just might have to ask what would be an embarrassing question or point out a serious flaw. Why not get the outsider to do the deed instead of you. Effective leaders understand that they want to be the catalyst for change and action not the focal point of reaction. You be the good cop, let someone else be the bad cop…and never forget that you both want the same thing.

In my nest post I will list the ways an outside facilitator assures success for you and your team. On Monday I’ll be flying home from San Diego. My son is graduating from the University of San Diego with his PhD this weekend and I’m flying out tomorrow for the celebration. So my Monday post will actually appear on Tuesday. Have a happy and safe holiday weekend.

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.

The Battle of the Bulge and you, what bungled intelligence gathering means for your business

battle-bulge-500-35I watched an enlightening program yesterday on the Battle of the Bulge. After successfully breaching the “Atlantic Wall,” as the Nazi defenses were called, Allied forces had the German army on the run. By December, 1944, things were going very well for the Allies and very badly for Hitler. It was the concerted opinion of Allied commanders that the German Army was incapable of mounting any kind of major offensive and it would be a matter of days before the war ended.

Aficionados of the intelligence game like me find what happened fascinating. The Battle of the Bulge should not have surprised anyone. There was plenty of intelligence to point to a major German offensive and to locate the place along the front where it would occur. Bletchley Park, the British code breaking unit, captured plenty of coded radio traffic and decoded it. Intelligence analysts interpreted the gathered data and concluded that a major offensive was in the works.

The generals, Eisenhower included, decided that the intelligence was wrong and that the enemy was incapable of an offensive of that size.

They were wrong.

For weeks I’ve been writing about vision and strategic planning. The third element in the process, tactics, will come up soon.

Strategic planning does no good if you won’t listen to the intelligence. The people around you, the consultants you hire, the analysis you pay for, the statistics you gather are a waste of time and money if you can’t trust what they say or refuse to acknowledge that what they tell you runs counter to what you want to believe.

Success is its own best validator and its own worst enemy. Generals Bradley, Montgomery, and Eisenhower all had significant and sufficient resources warning of what was coming. All of them ignored it, discounted it, and/or refused to believe it.

“Okay,” you say. “That’s all well and good, but that’s the military. I run a business.” If you’ve been reading my posts for awhile you’ll know my affinity for hiring military people to work with. They’re mission oriented and strategically trained. Those skills are imperative for business.

I have another favorite show I’ve watched often. It’s called Bar Rescue. An experienced bar business consultant responds to a bar owner’s call for help with his/her failing bar business. The bar rescue guy sends in undercover people to gather what? That’s right. Intelligence! Why? Because if you want to know what to do you have to know what is being done. Incredibly, many of those bar owners discount or dispute the evidence found by the consultant even though their businesses are failing. If you want to know what will be you must know what is. Effective leaders are not blind to intelligence nor do they blindly follow intelligence. Intelligence can be misleading or incorrect.

But not very often. You’re a smart person. If you can’t trust people you’ve hired to be smart, insightful, and honest, replace them with those who are.

Gather intelligence. Find out what’s what and who’s who.

Decode and decipher intelligence. Let your experience and education show you what the data means.

Validate intelligence. Be careful about single-source information. Check things out. Never ever listen to one side of a story, one side of an argument, or one person’s opinion. Get the facts, all the facts. Never hire a financial advisor with anything to sell. Find out if anyone who’s talking to you has an agenda.

Act on intelligence. And do so intelligently. I’ll wager Eisenhower, Bradley, and Montgomery wished they would have.

So why didn’t they? Because the better things are going for you, the less you feel you need to do those things that made you successful.

Odd isn’t it? The better off you get the worse off you think. Amazingly it isn’t an isolated condition. Too many leaders relax too soon. They get sloppy, arrogant, over-confident. In their case, the space between success and catastrophe is only a hyphen. If you’re doing well now, what skills and attitudes have brought you here? If things aren’t going so well, what do you need to do to change them? Intelligence is more than the facts one gathers, it’s also the response one should make.

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.