Why you need FAT people to work for you and with you.

help wantedIn earlier posts I wrote about the three benefits of an effective strategic team; that they will 1) extend your reach, 2) multiply your effectiveness, and 3) divide your work.

Admittedly that is easier said than done. Hiring the right people is not a simple task. Of the many factors that must be considered – competence and confidence, skill and attitude, and experience and education, there are three critical criteria.

Members of an effective strategic team must be FAT – Faithful, Available, and Teachable.

FAITHFUL, although often seen in a religious sense, is referred to here to mean to be loyal and diligent. The loyalty I speak of has two dimensions. The first is obvious. Your associates must have the interests of your company or organization at heart. Yes, I know I have written often about the innate self-interest that captures us all and I am not contradicting that here. I am placing an emphasis now on channeling that self-interest so that is advances the objectives of your company or organization at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive. But there is a subtle priority I think is critical. As important as institutional loyalty is, that is not the top level faithfulness that you need. You need associates who are PERSONALLY loyal. They are there to extend YOUR reach, multiply YOUR effectiveness, and divide YOUR work. Institutional loyalty can foster political ambition which seldom works out well for you. The appeal of power, prestige, and payola can become irresistible for some and they will find ways to work subversively. Read Machaiavelli’s The Prince and you’ll see what I mean.

The second side of Faithfulness is diligence. You have to have hard working people who handle their jobs responsibly. They cannot ever multiply your effectiveness and divide your work if you must constantly wonder whether they’ve shown up today and are exercising resourcefulness. Diligent people are careful to fulfill job requirements, handle tasks professionally, and here’s the kicker, report back to you. Faithful people are accountable people. You do not have to run them down to find out what they did or did not do, they report to you.

AVAILABLE means to two things as well. The most obvious is that they have the time to work for you. They are at hand, ready to serve, willing to participate, enthusiastic about working. Often availability is primarily considered in the passive sense. A car is available to drive – passive,but it won’t drive itself – active. In leadership you can afford very few passive participants. If you must be the starter, everything then focuses on you to get things going. Available people are active. They seek out responsibility. The look for ways to help. They volunteer. They offer ideas and methods

The second meaning hitchhikes on the first in that they are AVAIL –ABLE. Avail means efficacy, the effective use in the achievement of a goal or objective. They can grasp your objectives, marry them, and make them personal objectives. It is the efficacious side of this that you as a leader want to focus on. Remember, the context in which you work is focused on reaching objectives, making accomplishments, producing a visionary reality and AVAILABLE people help you make that happen.

TEACHABLE  means that they are not so insecure or so arrogant that they cannot take direction. Truly great people are truly great learners. There is a vast difference between confidence and conceit. Confident people know what they can do…and what they cannot. See my blog post where I reveal what Dirty Harry has to say about this here.

Teachable people are also ABLE To TEACH. They can bring others along, instruct and tutor others as well. To multiply your effectiveness and extend your reach you want to get beyond the first level. Those you influence must be able to influence another level of participants. You get more done when more things are being done by more people.

So, there it is. FAT people do you good. How have you found FAT people to work with you? What experience have you had with someone who was institutionally loyal (politically motivated) as opposed to personally loyal?

Who do you know that is struggling with working in isolation? Send this blog post on along to them.

NOTE: Today I am en route to Uganda, East Africa, where I will be working for the next six weeks. The internet works there (mostly) so I will be posting on my regular schedule although the time of day may vary. Stand by for leadership lessons from that side of the world.


9 tasks, #4 – Managing – The 4 laws that demand your attention to keep your organization running smoothly

cowFor centuries inventors have dreamed of a perpetual motion machine, one that will run unattended forever. No such machine exists nor can it in this environment. Leaders have dreamed of a perpetual motion company too, one that will run never needing attention. If there is a common failing in novice leaders it is that one. They want to think that once a process or strategy is introduced and put into effect, it will run by itself. Like the fantasy perpetual motion machine the unattended company or organization will never exist.

Why? There are 4 laws that prevent that from happening.

Law #1 – the law of friction.

When two parts or two people work together the natural and expected result is friction. Friction generates heat. Heat causes components to expand beyond their normal size which will affect working tolerances and will slow the machinery ultimately leading to a breakdown. Careful engineering and attention will forestall, but not prevent, the ultimate need to replace parts. Even then, they need regular lubrication which in this contect means attention from you. Greasing the wheels is a subject too large for this one post, but it means rewards in the form of money, title, prestige, affirmation, and responsibility.

Law #2 – the law of cause and effect means that for every action there is something that causes it and some consequences as the result of it.

Push too hard and risk burning out the works. Ignore your producers and they will eventually run out of fuel. Neglect careful planning and chaos will result. Forego making decisions and anarchy sets in. Fail to keep the vision alive and apathy takes over.

Law #3 – the law of wear and tear

Nothing and no one stays the same. People change. They get tired, they get better offers, they get bored, they get…well you get the idea. Renewal is required for every and all moving parts. The only time wear and tear does not apply is when a piece of equipment is in cold storage. Nothing happening means nothing will happen. Motion means movement and progress (hopefully). Motion and movement mean wear and tear. Wear and tear mean maintenance. Take care of your people and they will take care of you. Neglect them and they will take care of themselves first.

Law #4 – the law of unforeseen events and independent will

When I owned a millwork business in the Caribbean, one of my employees was a retired US Air Force Officer. We would discuss the parallels between military strategy and business…and they are remarkable similar in principle. One that stood out was this law. Regardless of how clearly you envision the future and how thoroughly you plan the strategy and how ccarefully you consider the contingencies, no plan, no system, no directive survives contact with the real worl without some modification because of unforeseen events and the independent will of those who work with you (your staff and associates) and those who work against you (your business competitors and those within you own company who for whatever reason are determined to prusue their own agenda over yours).

The trouble with cows is that they never stay milked. You can select the most productive cows, provide them the most beneficial environment, give them the most healthy food, but if you milk them this morning they will need to be milked again tonight. Leadership requires more than painting pretty pictures with a broad brush. Grand plans demand diligence and detail to execute.  Leaders must manage if it means nothing more than managing your managers. The ultimate responsibility for the smooth operation and productive output of your company or organization is yours.

On Monday, Task # 5 – achieving workable unity.

See you then.

Helping your associates grow

I want a staff entirely populated by trusted associates. Everyone does but hardly anyone has a staff who function at that level all the time. Someone somewhere at some time is unaware, that is to say, they are unconsciously incompetent.

You’ve probably seen this chart but I’ve put it in for a visual reference. Louis, the intern mentioned in the two previous posts, functioned more at that level that at any other, but was blissfully unaware of his incompetence. The operative word here is “blissfully”. Louis was incompetent, did not know he was incompetent, but had never been put up against visible, measureable, cognitive standards of awareness and performance to the point that he could grasp his incompetence.

He didn’t know that he didn’t know and, in that happy state of foggy standards, had appraised himself to be above average.

Effective leaders cyclically expose followers to concepts, skills, ideas, and tasks they don’t already know. This is called growth.

Notice I said cyclically. I did not say continually or regularly. To do so regularly or continually will provoke frustration, anger, fatigue, dismay, and deflation. People need positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment if they are to remain motivated.

But, they also need to be challenged if they are to avoid arrogance and self-righteousness. So, don’t nag, it works against you.

If you have people in your staff at the lowest level – forced laborer, (See the chart here) you should consider either finding a place for them to function somewhere else, or hand them off to a subordinate who can manage them thus freeing you to lead the others.

At the other three levels you can by and large leave people alone to do their jobs unless and until your direct intervention is called for. You, as leader, are monitoring and measuring two critical components – competence and confidence.

What are you looking for? You are looking for the teachable moment, that point when the person you are leading becomes aware that either they are ignorant of a required skill, attitude, aptitude, or insight and need to be instructed or they know of it but need coaching to integrate the skill, attitude, or aptitude.

If you try to intervene when a person is confident and competent your intervention will be regarded as interference and provoke resentment. If you try to intervene when the person is unconsciously incompetent, you will confound them.

I am not suggesting that you simply leave people alone to flounder around until they get so frustrated they ask for help. I am suggesting that you lead, not ignore. Remember the three essential skills of effective leadership?

  1. Understand what’s going on all the time everywhere.
  2. Know what needs to be done.
  3. The ability to influence those you lead to follow your leadership.

So, your role is to:

  1. Know where you want to go with the person you’re working with.
  2. Know where you are.
  3. Know what steps to take to get from where you are to where you want to go.
  4. Do that over and over.

The function of development is cyclical. It should get easier along the way because you build confidence within the person(s) you are leading and you strengthen their confidence between you and them so they more comfortably respond to your leadership. They develop confidence in your competence while they deepen confidence in their own competence too.

How to Multiply Your Effectiveness – 2 critical assessments you must make

4 levelsJeff does not enjoy performance appraisals. His lack of enthusiasm for the task stems not from any reluctance on his part to scrutinize and identify strong and weak places in his staff’s performance nor does it arise from apprehension over the need to make corrections if needed. Indeed, Jeff’s lack of enjoyment comes from his opinion that most people suffer at least some delusion as regards their performance on the job. In the previous chapter I recounted Phil’s incapacity to see how others perceived him. Jeff considers that capacity for self-deceit, sometimes to the point of delusion, to be nearly universal. So do I.

Jeff set an appointment with a young man we’ll call Louis who was serving as an intern during his summer break from classes at college. He was and is a very pleasant young man. He’s gentle-spirited, easy-going, and willing to work hard, but he’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Being young and inexperienced Jeff did not expect him to understand the scope of the organization or the many tasks that had to be performed. Jeff’s typical approach to performance appraisals is to ask the worker to first appraise his own performance because…

A person’s ability to discern and accept his own zones of competence and pockets of incompetence is key to successful personal growth and improvement.

Associates and workers with the capacity for accurate, unenhanced self-assessment are the safest and most reliable building blocks in your organization. When you ask someone, “Can you do this?” you have to be confident their answer is based on your powers of evaluation and their capacity for reliable self-assessment. Why? Because you are committed to extending your reach, multiplying your effectiveness, dividing your work, and quickening your pace and you must achieve those objectives through other people.

A responsible person is one who is response-able.

Response-able associates can both understand just what it is you are asking of them and know whether it is within their capacity to meet your expectations. A response-able worker has the capacity to return the assignment to you completed on time, brought in within budget, and finished at the level of refinement required by the job criteria. This means there are two factors that must be measured.

Competence – the expertise, skills, talent, and capacity necessary to fulfill the objectives of the assignment.

Confidence – the motivation, commitment, and capacity to work independently, even at a minimal skill level.

Jeff had experienced some challenges in work assignments given to Louis. Jeff had found Louis needed almost constant supervision and tasks assigned to him had to be broken down in small incremental actions if he was ever to get through them. As the performance appraisal interview progressed, Jeff asked Louis to rate himself on the scale found in figure 2. How did he rate himself?

Find out in the next post Monday. Thanks for dialing in.

Line of Sight

Two of my employees are working out of the shop installing components we made. Their’s is not a particularly complicated or difficult job. Removing old pieces, installing hardware on the new components, reinstalling them, and painting. They are competent, responsible, and hardworking guys. They have made my life much easier and my shop more profitable.

Twice last week they telephoned me at the end of the day to tell me they needed a small part or tool replacement.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 have tried to educate them about letting me know as far in advance as possible with only modest success. I instituted some inventory control procedures that have helped somewhat. But, in reality, I don’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 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. Conversely, the higher the level, the farther the line of sight. The guys mentioned in the start of this article with are on the downside of mid-level employees in this manner. They see farther than they used to, but it is still not very far.

In my shop right now we are preparing to build two quite complex projects with a great many component parts. I have 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.

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 whet they saw is what I saw. Then I create the detailed drawings and take-off lists (lists of each and every component part). Next I check our inventory against the required parts lists. Finally I source the needed components and order the parts so they will 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 cause a change in perspective, it will not usually increase a person’s ability to see farther down the road.

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 suffering 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? Stand by for another blog article. I’ve said enough in this one.

Making Good Decisions

Making Good Decisions:

When a recent graduate joined a prestigious firm, his ambition to succeed and advance drove him to cultivate a friendship with one of the firm’s principals. After a few weeks he felt comfortable enough with the man’s friendship to ask, “How do I get ahead in this business?”

“Make good decisions” he replied.

“But there’s so much to learn, how do I learn how to make good decisions?”


“How do I get experience?

“Making bad decisions!”

Well, I have plenty of experience, enhanced by bad decisions. I can report, nonetheless, that the result is good decisions.

I first started in a position of leadership and responsibility in 1972. The morning I started in my new job, I remember saying out loud to no one in particular, “I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

Did I have a college degree? Yes.

Had I been promised my college education would prepare me for my profession? Yes.

Did they? No.

Why? Because leadership is a practical art more than it is an academic science.

So, I welcome you to this blog and the development of a corresponding web site. I’ve learned a few things about the practice of leadership and I believe I can help you become an even more effective leader.

Loser’s Limp

 width=It was probably in the last year or so of junior high school. I was waiting for my race during  practice for an upcoming track meet. Standing near the coach, we watched the final moments of a sprint. The runners crossed the finish line running in dead earnest. The final runner, several seconds behind, limped the last several yards, slowing his pace with each struggling footfall.

I thought we should help him. Surely something was wrong. An injury must have compromised an other wise promising start. Then I overheard the coach tell his assistant. “Look, that’s a loser’s limp.”

When the runner saw that his performance was no match for others in the race, and it became obvious he was going to lose, his dedication and enthusiasm quickly drained. Rather than pour it on and finish strong, rather than do his best and accept his defeat with openness and inquiry, he limped across the finish line. “After all”, limping losers think, “who can blame them for losing when they are injured.” Even if the injury is fake, it isn’t particularly difficult to fake the fake.

Loser’s limps are everywhere. And it isn’t only present in junior high track star wannabes.

Fidel Castro says his economic woes are the fault of the economic embargo in place by the United States. The truth is there are hundreds of other nations with whom to trade. For years his regime was propped up by the Soviets, yet the severe living conditions persisted.

This one indicator is more revealing and more damning than almost any other act. It is here that the talent and character of losers and winners is so very, very evident.

  • Winner’s, and potential winners, accept losing and figure out why.
  • They do not engage in blame-shifting, whining, or finger-pointing.
  • Winner’s run every step of the course. Even if loss is certain and obvious, they do not limp across the finish line. This one facet is a certain indicator of the fiber of a person’s character. (In a related application, I meet people every day who have purchased homes lost by previous owners to foreclosure. In every case but one, those who defaulted on their mortgages did their best to destroy their homes as they moved out. They ripped out kitchens, removed air conditioners, took down garage door openers, took hammers to the walls, ripped up carpets, and broke the windows.)
  • As embarrassing and distasteful as it is to face rejection and loss, winner’s do so with dignity.
  • Winners do not whine. They man up. They grow. Loser’s, when they limp to cover loss, let self-excusing behavior stifle understanding and growth. In so doing, they become even more pathetic. The result is to engage in even more mediocre behavior to prove the limp is justified. It becomes a downward spiral as bad performance leads to worse performance. Tragically, losers usually demonstrate and validate why they were, and are, losers.

Effective practical leaders have usually learned the hard way. Loss is a good thing if it provokes self-assessment and growth.

Winners who have never given in to the loser’s limp can truly inspire the rest of us to work our best, try the hardest, focus the most, and live to the highest standards.

So you don’t run real footraces much these days? But each and every day you do face a course that will challenge you. It is called life. Hope you’re not limping across the finish line every evening! Mediocrity is a pathetic label to acquire and a miserable creed by which to live.

Paid to Produce

I don’t think I could ever work in a government agency. For the first 25 years of my career I was a trainer and consultant. One of my clients in those days was the Navajo Tribe in Arizona. I worked with the tourism office consulting to the assistant director and director of tourism. I quickly learned that the people who directed that division got paid to talk, or more correctly to talk and write.

There were endless meetings where great ideas were discussed, analyzed, refined, and critiqued followed by voluminous reports in which everything that was discussed, analyzed, refined, and critiqued was restated with footnotes. Then, nothing happened. Plans were drawn up but no plans were implemented. Strategies were formulated but no strategies were employed. Task lists had been meticulously drawn up but no tasks were assigned except to schedule more meetings to discuss what had transpired since the last discussion.

It was maddening! I encouraged, exhorted, admonished, and tried my best to get them off the dime and do something, ANYTHING! The assistant director was somewhat motivated, but claimed his hands were tied by the director. Eventually the assistant director became the director, however nothing changed. The entire system was built around talking and writing, not doing.

The process was more important than the product. Really, the process was the product. Making something happen was scarcely important at all. Planning, discussing, reporting, discussing, meeting, those were important and the product by which they validated themselves and the existence of their agency.

They felt successful because they held,and reported on, a continuing stream of meetings and evaluations. They even discussed the need for action and got bogged down analyzing why no action resulted from their meetings. That analysis of failure became a mark of their success even though the failure, and the system that promoted it, remained unaltered. It was, however, well scrutinized.

Leadership, practical leadership, is predicated upon and committed to action. The one government entity that differs from the one I described above is the military in time of war. Everything, I mean everything, is focused on getting something done.

Leaders are paid to produce. Those who pay you will not long settle for talk alone.If you are self-employed, your business will not survive on talk. Something useful must be produced and sold to someone who considers your product an object of value and are willing to pay for it. Practical leaders earn their worth and consequently their pay by producing.

Get something done! Today, right now! Go ahead, the time for talk has finished. Do it!

Activity is one thing, Accomplishment is another.

When the Crystal Palace Exhibition opened in 1851 crowds flocked to London’s Hyde Park to behold its marvels. One of the greatest new technologies back then was steam power. On display and demonstrated at the exhibition were steam plows, steam shovels, steam locomotives, steam looms, steam organs, even a steam cannon.

Of all the great exhibits, the first prize winner was a steam contraption with seven thousand parts. When steam was applied, its pulleys, whistles, bells, and gears made lots of noise, but ironically did not do a thing. It produced nothing but amusement. Seven thousand parts moving this way and that, making a lot of commotion…but having no practical use.

These days we have lots of high-tech contraptions too. I-phones, computers, printers, data transfer devices of all types, messaging devices and social network systems. For all their use I must suggest it is too easy to confuse activity with accomplishment, to be fooled into thinking all the flurry of activity indicates something important is actually being done. Are there hundreds, maybe thousands of little parts whirring, buzzing, chiming, and clicking but you get the sense very little movement is made towards anything meaningful? I mean just because you send and receive a hundred messages it doesn’t mean that anything productive actually happened.

Busyness can be a comfortable alternative to the harsh reality of achievement. Busyness can, and often does, get in the way of actual productiveness. Poor time management skills, poor paper management skills, poor organizational skills can contribute to busyness but inhibit actual productiveness. So much time and effort is consumed by repeat efforts, missing papers, inefficient systems that is seems like you’re getting something done.

One Professor Huxley was attending a convention of scientists in Ireland and was late for the morning meeting. He hailed a carriage and commanded the driver, “Drive fast, I am in a great hurry.”

The driver took a mad pace and sped off. After a few minutes, the Professor asked, “Do you know where I want to go?”

“No, yer ‘onor,” he answered. “You didn’t tell me where to go but anyway I’m driving fast.”

Managers must consult the clock. They measure progress by the efficient application of activity against a set of quantitative criteria. Practical leaders do not. While time and efficiency are important to them, effectiveness is the only true standard. Quantity is important, quality is more so. Productive action must guide the practical leader. Being busy may be deceptive. Practical leaders want to get things done, but they make certain they get the right things done.