The one lesson learned in 2014 and what to do about it in 2015

CalendarIn little more than a few hours we’ll turn the calendar on another year. We look back on the year past with a little sadness at its passing and a little more gladness that it’s over. As we launch into a new year, we are forced by calendars and convention to turn the page, as it were, leave what was, and face what will be.

Having done this very thing for a good many decades, there is one lesson that stands out. It that we must leave what was behind if we are ever to partake of what is ahead. There are three cardinal rules that govern my actions. I have written of them before but it has been quite some time ago so they bear highlighting once more. They are:

  1. Build your life only on islands of health and strength. The “health and strength” part applies personally and corporately. Personally it means that by now you should know what you are good at and accept what you are not so good at. Although the opportunities may be many, the options need to be limited. Don’t even consider spending much time on projects or tasks that demand that you leave or neglect what you are good at to pursue things for which you are not well-equipped. Saying no in this case is as imperative as saying yes. The same applies to recruiting and delegating to others. Unless you do run a rehabilitation clinic, your job is to develop capable people not to spend hours in therapy trying to fix broken ones. I know it may sound callous, but time is passing and a new year highlights that more than just about anything else. Focus on producers and producing.
  2. Work only on things that will make a great deal of difference when you succeed. There just isn’t time to waste on the pursuit of the trivial and insignificant. Life offers lots of choices. Learn to evaluate them and select only pursuits that will result in significant changes. Some nice things do not promise enough reward. With limited time and energy, make you minutes and days count.
  3. Work only with those who are receptive to what you are trying to do. Your powers of persuasion and enthusiasm for your job will inspire and motivate many, but some are just not going to go along. Do not even try to convince someone against their will. I simply refuse to fight with someone. If I cannot persuade them, then there are those who are receptive. Oddly, the person you replaced will likely be the least receptive to you, even if s/he picked you as their successor. Your job is to move on which implies leaving what lies behind. The pace of your work is NOT determined by the most reluctant and resistant member. Find those who will buy in to your vision and take ownership of its many components.

If you were to measure 2014 by those three items, how did you do? What will you do differently for 2015? Got it figured out? Okay, do it.


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 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.

3 leadership lessons I learned on board the USS Midway

USS-Midway-0-San-DiegoIn mid-January of this year my son and I spent the better part of a day touring the USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier berthed in San Diego harbor. I’ve been on naval vessels before but none as large as the Midway.

As awe inspiring as the Midway’s war making capabilities were, both Nathaniel and I were particularly interested to learn about the systems for housing the crew and maintaining morale. Accommodations for seamen was Spartan and crowded necessitated by the large number, about 5000, and the crowded confines of the ship.

There were three things that struck me.

First, there were two officers directly in charge of human relations. Those officers’ sole duty was to listen to the crew, answer questions when they could, and be an understanding and reassuring face when they could not. They had to be sensitive enough know when silence was a better response. They spent their days and nights roaming the ship talking to people. There were other officers whose duty it was to make sure the jobs were taken care of. It was their duty to make sure the people were taken care of.

Second, there were chaplains in charge of the spiritual condition of the crew. Their job was not merely a traditional obligation for religious ritual. The long tradition of handling stress in confined duty has proven that people are more than flesh and sinew. There is a spiritual dimension to everyone, even if some are less sensitive to it than others. The chaplain’s role is not conversion but conservation, to preserve the well-being of people whose hard work and difficult circumstances are more than physically draining.

Space is at a premium on board so cabin space is not handed out willy-nilly. The size, location, and amenities of one’s cabin was an indicator of importance and value. Both sets of officers, the morale officers and the chaplains, were granted larger accommodations indicating their significance.

The third thing was procedural. The Captain of the ship had free reign of the ship from bow to stern, above and below. But there was one place he never ventured into without asking permission…and he asked permission of someone below his rank. It was the dining room for the CPO’s, the Chief Petty Officers. Judged by everyone in the know to actually run the Navy, CPO’s had their own dining room into which the Captain never entered without permission. He always waited outside, asked to speak to the ranking chief, and sought permission before entering.

Why do I find this significant? Because more than anything else, this demonstrates a powerful principle – that you never violate the autonomy and sovereignty of people in their appointed role.

When I worked at Lowe’s, the manager of the flooring department showed up in my department, millwork, and began rifling through our file cabinet. With no explanation whatsoever he began removing files. Since I was not in charge, I had no authority to inquire as to what he was doing or to prohibit him from doing it. But it surely did annoy my department manager when she found out.

Why? What he was doing was preparing for a store audit by regional auditors, something that had to be done every year. I checked around and in every department where he went in and rifled the cabinets he was met with the same antagonistic response by the managers of those other departments.

What should have been done? After all, the store manager did have to make sure the store was ready for the audit. Sending a guy in to remove outdated files of dead sales was an efficient way to handle the job.

But it was highly ineffective. And it damaged his standing with the many other managers inside the building. What he should have done was get on the phone and call each one (there are only 5), inform them of the up-coming audit, explain that he was sending a person around to handle the job, and ask for both their assistance and cooperation.

When he did not do that, he proved that he had little respect for the autonomy and sovereignty of those other managers, a stupid mistake. The Captain of the Midway made no such error. He knew the significance of making sure other leaders knew that he knew their role was significant and took the actions necessary to reinforce it.

  • Appreciate the influence morale plays on overall performance. People are not machines.
  • Acknowledge the spiritual dimension of those who work for you, even when they are not religious. It’s part of the set of values that influence how people make decisions.
  • Never violate the autonomy and sovereignty of those you’ve placed in positions of responsibility.

You get 5000 sailors to do their jobs and do them well by paying the price. It is an off-budget expense but it pays unbelievably huge dividends.

NOTE: This article first appeared several weeks ago in The Practical Leader newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, it’s sent out free of charge at least twice a month. And, you will receive articles normally never included on this blog. Special content, personally delivered, no charge, what could be better? Simply use the subscription form at the top right of this page and in a few clicks your free subscription will be set up.

Viability – lessons from Studebaker

Studebaker_Champion_(Rigaud)They started making wagons for farmers, miners and the military in 1852. Incorporated in 1868 under the name Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, they entered the automobile business in 1902 making electric vehicles. By 1904 they were making gasoline-powered vehicles and for the next 50 years became a major player in the business. With a reputation for quality and reliability, Studebaker produced some of the most iconic cars in America’s Golden Age of the Automobile.

They’re gone now. A bloated and sluggish manufacturing system, poor capital management, and an ill-advised merger finally did them in with the last vehicle rolling off an assembly line in 1966.

But they’re not the only company or organization to disappear from the scene. Blockbuster is gone. So are Woolworth’s, Kresge,  E.F. Hutton, Pullman (plush railroad cars),  Lionel (electric toy trains), Zenith (radios and televisions), Montgomery Ward, and American Motors are but some of the many that were once viable companies. To be viable is to be capable of working successfully. But a company or organization may be capable of working successfully in a shrinking market or for a changing constituency. What worked well back then, may not work so well next year.

Why? Because one must maintain viability.

Viability – the ability of a thing (a living organism, an artificial system, an idea, etc.) to maintain itself or recover its potentialities.

This concept, this definition is precisely why I’ve been hammering on the topic of vision and emphasizing that strategies and tactics MUST follow vision, not the other way around. Viability means your company or organization possesses the following things and does more than offer mere lip service to them.

Relevance – the product you offer, the services you provide must have meaning and necessity to those for whom you provide them. Those people or companies must have an emotional engagement with that product or service. You know that sales are almost never logical. They are almost always emotional.  But even that is insufficient. There must be a need for what you offer. This should be evident in your promotional materials which should, if they are written effectively, describe the benefits your product or service provides. To maintain relevance is to maintain an ability to satisfy the needs of the user. This involves more than the product. It also demands the acquiring experience. Look at the evolution of supermarkets through the years. Today’s prosperous companies have well-lighted stores, wide aisles, and products appropriate to their local customers desires. Just consider the development of online business to see how relevance plays such a critical role.

Relief – there is a pain/promise element to every transaction. The customer or constituent experiences some pain, even if it is minor. They need something. The question is always “do we as a company and do I as a salesman understand what that customer needs?” Companies and organizations that maintain viability are successful at promising to satisfy that need and then fulfilling it. All economic transactions are problem-solving ones. They have a problem, we solve it and get paid to do it. That pain may be multi-level. Someone may be in the market for a car but need transportation and more. They may need to feel the rush of a powerful and responsive driving experience. They may need to feel safe and comfortable, too. Companies that maintain viability offer relief because they understand what their customers and constituents need.

Efficiency – Studebaker neglected to update their manufacturing plants. At the time of their demise, their plant had a break even number at 500,000. The company made no money at all until a half million cars were sold! This is the particular domain of leadership to envision and management to enact.

Effectiveness is gauged by measuring all three – relevance, relief, and efficiency.  A comprehensive vision born out of real world circumstances and cunning prognostication pursued by responsible management of resources and a light on your feet adaptability adds up to a viable company.


4 Lessons from a meddling boss

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

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

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

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

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

So why did he do it?

To show us that he could!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 4 Lessons I have pulled from this:

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

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

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

Power Plays – The 4 Dilemmas We Face and What to Do About Them

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnly 4 dilemmas, you ask?

Well, truthfully, leaders and manager face many challenges daily. Some days it may seem like your hours are filled with nothing but.

However, the dilemmas I refer to in the title are the encompassing dilemma that we face in principle. They manifest themselves in the unending stream of challenges and problems that land on our doorstep but their core solutions are critical to our success and legacy as leaders and managers.

DILEMMA #1 – We are responsible for results. We have multiple constituencies we must satisfy – customers, clients, stockholders, superiors, subordinates, boards of directors, and whoever else may hold you accountable for what happens or what does not happen, including ourselves. They, and we, want results. It may be measured by multiple criteria but somewhere somehow there exists an expectation or set of expectations that we are responsible to achieve.

SOLUTION: Define and articulate them. Keep them ever visible to yourself and your associates. Celebrate progress daily, examine and understand the reasons for the progress, repeat what works, find out why it didn’t.

DILEMMA #2 – We are in tension between a desire to be faithful to the forms of management and leadership we are familiar with and may have inherited and the realities of a changing world and it’s lack of response to those forms. The pace of change increases. The demands of the marketplace and the workplace do not remain static. We may have products that few people want any longer or use methods that just don’t work as well as they used to.

SOLUTION: Be married to results, friends with forms. I’ve been watching an excellent series produced by the BBC called Endeavor. It’s about a young detective in Oxford whose methods are a bit unorthodox. The commissioner is continually vexed because the detective has broken free of tradition. The detective measures success by achievement. The commissioner measures success by faithfulness to forms and methods. Whether it achieves the right result is, to him, irrelevant. It must not be irrelevant to us.

Dilemma #3 – We measure success by criteria that have little to do with our objectives. This is directly related to dilemma #2. Mission statements are well and good, but of no value if they do not somehow translate into a measuring device, a ruler by which we live. Daily activities either propel us toward them, leave us standing still, or move us away from them.

SOLUTION: Take a hard and critical look at what is done each day. If it does not advance towards the objectives why do we measure it and then ask why we do it at all.

Dilemma #4 – Human nature often causes is to think short-term, so do profit and loss statements. Anyone who has been in business very long knows that the top line is largely meaningless. It is the bottom line that reveals the true state of the business. The major home improvement store I used to work for would set off fireworks if large sales numbers were reached then moan and groan a few weeks later when monthly or quarterly accounts were in because margins were so thin. They achieved those large sales numbers by deep discounting. It meant bragging rights for the day, but substantial failure towards profitability in the end. In the considerable time I was there they never could overcome it.

Solution: Legacy leaders will never sacrifice long-term objectives for short term-gain. Long-term thinkers handle their staffs differently, approach their customers on a different footing, and build a substantial foundation that makes an unshakeable company.

Leaders and managers are hired to lead and manage. Problem-solving and dilemma fixing is part of the job.  How well are you handling these dilemmas? What solutions have you found and how did you implement them?

The work ethic and common sense of Elbert Hubbard

col001He started out a dedicated socialist although what he meant by socialist as defined in his own writing would not be what the word generally is understood to mean these days. When describing himself as a socialist he said…

“I believe in every man working for the good of self; and in working for the good of self, he works for the good of all. To think, to see, to feel, to know; to deal justly; to bear all patiently; to act quietly; to speak cheerfully; to moderate one’s voice — these things will bring you the highest good. They will bring you the love of the best, and the esteem of that Sacred Few, whose good opinion alone is worth cultivating. And further than this, it is the best way you can serve Society — live your life. The wise way to benefit humanity is to attend to your own affairs, and thus give other people an opportunity to look after theirs. If there is any better way to teach virtue than by practicing it, I do not know it.”

He finished his life an ardent defender and proponent of free enterprise. Elbert Hubbard (not L.Ron Hubbard the Scientologist) was born June 19, 1856, in Bloomington, Illinois. He died, along with his wife, when the Lusitania, the ship on which they were travelling, was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 17, 1915.

He sold Larkin soap products and published a number of magazines and books. But he is best remembered for founding Roycroft, an Arts and Crafts movement community in East Aurora, New York in 1895. There he and his artisans produced handsome, if sometimes eccentric, books printed on handmade paper, and operated a fine bindery, a furniture shop, and shops producing modeled leather and hammered copper goods. They were a leading producer of Mission Style products.

It is here that he wrote what has come to be considered his best work, a short story called “Message to Garcia” extolling the virtues of personalcover resourcefulness and responsibility. I have produced a copy of that book available here free of charge with a catch. You will also be signing up for our FREE newsletter. If you already subscribe, you can still get “Message to Garcia.” Just sign up anyway, you will not get duplicate newsletter deliveries. And you can unsubscribe at any time. The link is just below.

The book is a PDF file and includes another Hubbard classic “Get In or Get Out of Line,” an essay based on a letter written by President Lincoln to General Hooker in 1863. I’ve read them both, had them in my library for many years. Those of you who have been reading my posts here or been in any of my workshops and seminars will doubtless see the “family” resemblance. Enjoy this special edition of Hubbard’s most remembered works.

Free Message to Garcia Download

Power Plays – Getting the job done

Power Lines diagram functionA friend once remarked that “It is amazing how much you can get done if you just do it.” A look at a jobs offered column on line or in a newspaper will inevitably turn up several with the qualifier “Must be a self-starter.”  Why? Because you hire people to extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work. You do not, or at least you should not, hire people who make your life and job more difficult or complicated.

I’ve been writing about the flow of power within your department, company, or organization. If you’ve been following along, you are familiar with this diagram. The flow of power starts with and returns to you, the leader and/or manager. You’re the one to get things going, to set things in motion and ultimately to qualify their success.

The act of delegation, discussed in this post, passes a job off to a subordinate or associate.

The key is to pass off a responsibility, discussed here, not simply place someone in a position. The title is not the central focus. The responsibility is.

When the responsibility is defined and assigned, commensurate authority is assigned. In the article I wrote here, I explain how authority is conditional even while it grants some degree of autonomy.

Next, in this post, I discussed how you and those who work with you will define and describe precisely what terms by which the job and their performance will be evaluated. It is very critical that this step not be neglected. Institute a “no surprises” habit. You don’t like being blindsided, your associates don’t like it either.

The reason for and method of accountability comes next. The circuit, the flow of power starts to cycle back to you here. The mechanisms for reporting may be formal such as in written reports or informal such as a verbal report or both, but they need to be there.

Then, once you have defined what you are going to hand off, the person or persons to whom you will assign that responsibility is defined and solicited, the responsibility is defined, the authority is assigned, the evaluation criteria are agreed, and the method of accountability is contracted, then, and only then, do you hand off the task.

Function begins then. Admittedly some associates are well dialed in to what needs to be done and their responsibility in getting it done. Over time you develop levels of experience and trust that can leave some of the above steps implied simply because you’ve covered that ground with that person enough that everyone knows what’s what.

But for new people and new situations, you’ll need to make a judgment call about how much to define. My advice is to err on the side of caution at first. I will discuss how this can become annoying and irksome to trusted people in a future post.

The circuit, necessary for the safe flow of power, is complete. And it repeats itself over and over as you hand off more and more.

Why do you hire someone? Because they possess the skills and personality to do a certain task or set of tasks. Then let them do their job. Meddling is not managing. Pestering is not conscientious oversight.  Leadership is bringing people willingly to a place of growth, contributing to that growth when necessary but allowing those you lead the experience and satisfaction of doing their job. Most people want to do a good job.

But some employees and associates find it difficult to focus. They are easily distracted. They could be eager to please and over-responsible so they get drawn off into another job to help you or someone out. Then they are drawn off into another one, then another and never get back to their original responsibilities. This can be understandable because we all know that we cannot control every minute of the day. There are inevitable interruptions and at least some of our time is at the mercy of someone else.

Or they could be lazy. I worked with someone once who spent huge amounts of time figuring out ways to get out of doing his job. Or they could be in the wrong spot. It might be they don’t have the skills to do what they need to do and are either need more training or to be assigned somewhere else.

But all of that should either be discovered and discussed in the beginning or very shortly thereafter. If they can’t do the job, find someone who can. Remember, this is not personal. It is business. I hired a young man to work as a semi-skilled assistant in my shop. It became evident to me early on that he was not going to be a good fit. A visiting friend  of mine suggested that the poor fellow had a bad family life and needed a father figure to guide him in life. I reminded my friend that I was not a therapist and my shop not a therapy center. I had orders to fill, work to be completed, and hours to bill. If the fellow couldn’t cut it he couldn’t cut it. Nothing personal . Everything business.

The next articles in this series address power systems – how power is wielded, both properly and improperly. See you Thursday.