A leader's job is to specify goals and set paths. The clearer the goals and paths, the easier time a team will have. The difficulty is that a leader will often set vague goals, hoping to gain clarification as the team progresses. While this can be expected as part of the life cycle, it is not an excuse to avoid providing detailed goals for the team. But how does a leader do this?
The answer is SMART goals. First published in 1981 issue of Management Review, by George T. Doran, and popularized by Peter Drucker's management by objectives concept, the SMART formula has adapted over time, but is still relevant to Leaders today. SMART stands for:
What does that mean? Let's take the formula one letter at a time.
This picture was taken by my lovely wife this summer at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington.
My wife provided me with this meme, after sorting through my library of quotes, and I find it interesting that it should land now. I am in the middle of the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, and coupled with the Eisenhower Decision Matrix post last week, I find myself evaluating how I am using my time. Do I have misspent time? Yes. Am I working to fix that? Absolutely!
Too often we do things that keep us busy, but don't actually provide progress toward our goals. I am guilty of this, as is anyone. As an example, I've spent hours recently moving thousands of gigabytes of data from old hard drives to a new terabyte hard drive. The data in many cases is repetative, and I am trying to clean it up so that I can have one (okay two with a mirrored cloud storage drive, but I digress) source of this information. What drove this? Honestly, I was sick of jumping from drive to drive looking for old files. Does it have an immediate impact on what I am trying to achieve today, tomorrow, or even this month. Not directly. This activity is being done because I ran across a stack of old hard drives and decided to do something with them, rather than just put them in a box and forget them.
Now, I could argue that this is a Quadrant 2 activity (and I believe it is), but there are more pertinent items I could be spending my time on. When did I realize it? When I read this quote and said "Dang!"
So where are you spending your time? Is it the best use of your time, or are you spinning your wheels? Make the decision to work toward your goals, and then focus on the activities that move the ball. Otherwise, you are only spinning your wheels killing time!
As many of my readers know, I have a list called Morey's Laws typically of Project Management, however I've been asked why they don't apply to Leadership in general. I couldn't provide an answer. So today, we meet the item at the end of the list: Don't Tempt Fate... It Can Always Get Worse.
This is one of those laws that is meant to be a catch-all. Like in a bad (or sometimes really good) movie, a leader should know better than to say "It can't possibly get any worse" or some derivative thereof. It is almost always an invitation for fate to prove you wrong.
In Preparing For Battle I Have Always Found That Plans Are Useless, But Planning Is Indispensable
- Dwight Eisenhower
Since we are discussing the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, it's appropriate to share one of his most famous quotes. The irony here is that in the blog post earlier I am telling you that you need to spend more time in Quadrant 2 (Planning), yet now I am posting a quote that says the plan is useless, what gives?
Well what gives is that the action of planning is where the real pay-dirt is. To paraphrase another military general (Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke): "No Plan Survives First Contact." This statement is true, because no matter how well planned, situations change and things will not always go according to plan. As such, a leader needs to understand that plans cannot be final. While planning, (s)he should consider contingencies and "what if" scenarios during planning. Having these contingencies ready when the plan changes will make the team successful, and why planning is indispensable.
When working in project management we call it Risk Mitigation. A significant portion of planning is the detailing of Risk into a matrix which shows the impacts of an event happening, and then details out how the risks will be addressed if the event occurs. I may share the techniques in a future blog post, as it's important to know how to do this during planning of complex projects which could have serious and (sometimes) dramatic consequences if something goes wrong.
As a note, what you are seeing here is a picture I took from the back of a M113 in Kuwait as soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division are about to be briefed on the plan to cross into Iraq and convoy to Baqu'bah in 2003.