Friday, August 27, 2010

Leaders are Necessary

It’s Friday Again,

Just a quick thought on what happens without leadership. You’ll usually hear about how to be a good leader, what that looks like, the results that can be achieved, etc. What happens to your organization when there is no leadership – not bad leadership, everyone’s had to suffer under that at some point, but literally no leadership.

I’ve been watching a show called The Colony on the Discovery Channel (I know it’s cheesy but I find it amusing anyway). It’s a hypothetical scenario where survivors are supposed to try to rebuild in a post-apocalyptic environment. If you ever get a chance to see it you’ll see what I mean. The group that is thrown together, and has been on site for several weeks now, has no leadership to speak. No one rallies the group, informs others of what’s going on, tries to build consensus, or give direction to the group. It’s just a group of individuals living and working near one another.

And the end result is rather interesting. It’s not just lack of efficiency within the group (check), poor prioritization (another check), lack of decision making (everyone seems to make their own), or even insubordination (they’re too timid or apathetic to step up as a leader – so no one’s insubordinate). The real result is confusion. No one has any certainty of what they should be doing or why, if it’s important or not, or what the overall mission is so they may be better able to contribute. What you end up with is rot. The group will rot away bit by bit as it fails to perform at a high enough level to justify its continued existence.

In the scenario on the show this group would not survive, they’d probably all be dead by now (but the show must go on…..). What does survival look like for your group? Your company may be in dire straits right now where survival is just that – the continuation of those paychecks we all enjoy. It may be picking up that new account, eeking out a little more efficiency, or simply successfully completing the next task. Whatever it is, your group needs leadership, whether you’re the one with the title or not. Your co-workers want leadership too, and they need it. You may never hear it (except for the inevitable gripes), but in some ways they know it. Great coworkers will even demand it of their bosses. So, step up, fight the confusion, learn the C4 and apply it.

Wacky Wednesday (Better Late than Never)

I work in an industry with lots of engineering drawings and what is called redlines. These redlines are corrections to the original drawing. When this happens, most (but not all) engineers will place a "cloud" around the item in question to let viewers know that "this is where the change occurred." Here is the problem, it IS NOT an internationally recongized standard. So what happens when a drawing with clouds falls into the hands of a builder who is unfamiliar with them?

What is the lesson here? That a leader must make sure everyone is aware of the standards, and what they mean.


Why do so many people seem to have a problem with finishing off a project? When the last deliverable is delivered, your done, right? WRONG! Once you are done, there is still work to do. I guarantee that the paperwork will still need to be completed; lessons learned compiled and saved in a format you can use the next time; files need to be stored; and last, recognize the team so that they know they are appreciated! So many people will finish the last deliverable for a project or job and start moving onto the next one, but that means you are leaving unfinished work and missing an opportunity.

I can hear many of you groaning already. In fact, I groan to think about it too… but if you can’t think of it as Completing, think of it as setting yourself up for success. The reason I say this is that the lessons learned will help the team learn from a mistake rather than repeat it. The storage of files and paperwork removes clutter, and if properly done, can be quickly accessed in cases of audit, or heaven forbid you find yourself redoing the work after a disaster. Finishing the paperwork provides the same benefits. Bills of Lading, Invoices, shipping documents all need to be processed and cataloged for future references. Do not let these slip unless you want to find yourself digging through reams of paper trying to find a document from 2 jobs ago.

And what about recognition? Once a project/job is done, doesn’t the team at least deserve some “kudos.” I think that the leader should at least hold a team meeting and say “Thank you” for the long hours and work that the team put in. At best, I would hope the leader is hosting some type of event (even if it is just a jaunt to the local watering hole), and is recognizing individual contributions with some type of reward or certificate (a lot of the military does this through “Challenge Coins,” a useful tool to have).

So the next time you find yourself nearing the finish line, take a look at the job and decide if you are Complete. It isn’t easy to do, but you are setting yourself up for success with goodwill from your team, lessons learned to prevent mistakes, and proper paperwork to keep the auditors happy and off your back. How often have you Completed a job?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday's Food for Thought

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
- Lao Tzu

There are many leadership quotes that seem cliche. This is one of them. Another version of this is: A leader's job is done when he is no longer needed. Sounds trite, right? Who wants to be obsolete?

Well to be honest, I agree with the quote. Leadership is empowerment, not just of yourself, but of your team. You provide the direction, but the team provides the action (Bushwhackers, from the previous post?). The team should grow and develop under your tutelage, with the end state being that the team will know their jobs and how to do them without your constant direction. In fact, a good leader will make sure that his/her personnel knows not only their own jobs, but also the jobs of the person above and below them. That way, when somebody decides to move on, there is no gap; no matter whether that person is the one who gets coffee for everybody, or maybe the leader himself/herself. In the Army this can be even more critical, when a person is suddenly no longer capable of performing his/her duties while in a combat situation. In Good to Great,  by Jim Collins, this type of leader is a Level 5 Leader (great book, a must read!).

So, then the question for today would be: What have you done today to grow your team? Ask it everyday.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wacky Wednesday

Ever wonder if you are in a Love-Hate relationship? Well, if you can't quite figure it out, here is an anagram shirt that will at least help you express your feelings.

So, Love or Hate?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Before I get started with this blog entry, I wanted to apologize for my lack of presence the last week. I have a project on-going at work and the hours were consumed quicker than I thought. Well, a Leader admits his mistakes and learns from them. What did I learn? To have a couple of entries in my back pocket in case this happens again!

Jack Welch states that a leader needs to "...Passionately own the vision...." In the previous entries I talked about Conceiving the vision and Communicating it; this is the step that most people equate with leadership, Command.

The Army actually calls it Command and Control, the first 2 Cs, in their version of 4C (see the first blog entry for more on that one). It makes a lot of sense. In any situation you need Command and Control of it in order to effectively navigate it. But, when I looked back, I thought that Control is redundant. You cannot have Command of a situation without having Control. So Control was removed from my C4.

But what is Command? Command is the impact a leader has to make sure things get done and that people are pulling in the same direction. It is setting realistic deadlines for the vision; it is having confidence in the vision; it is making sure that the metrics are not only being met, but they are correct in the first place. And finally, it is ensuring that the team moves in the right direction to execute the vision. Notice I did NOT say that Command is executing the vision. Why? Because executing the vision is what the team (and the leader is part of the team) as a whole is supposed to accomplish, but if you are lost in the execution of the vision, then you are not in Command of the vision. A leader needs a good sense of the details, the execution, and in fact may dictate the exact steps necessary to accomplish the vision. But if the leader is the only one executing the vision, then he/she isn't a leader. That person can be dedicated, growing, developing, and can be considered a super-star. But unless there are people involved (not person), then he/she isn't a leader!

A good example is the story of a group of people cutting brush through a jungle. There are the bushwhackers with machetes, sharpeners to make sure a new machete with a crisp edge is on hand, managers to oversee the whackers and sharpeners, and a leader. Each person has a job to do. You can guess about the first two groups (whackers and sharpeners). But what about the Managers and Leader? The Managers are interested in making sure that there is progress, moving forward. But it is the leader that makes sure that everyone is cutting the jungle in the right direction. Can a manager be a leader? Absolutely. But if the Leader is acting like a bushwhacker or sharpener, then who is making sure the group is on course?

Out of all the categories, this one is probably the most thought of and written about. When an author talks about quarterly reviews, about setting timelines, about building teams this is the part of Leadership he/she is talking about. The important thing to note is that Command exists in conjunction with the other 3 Cs. I do not think you can start without Command, and you cannot finish without it.

As this blog continues to grow and explore, we will continue to talk about specific aspects of Command. For the moment, just be aware that when somebody talks about Leadership, most of the time he/she is talking about Command activities.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Friday's Thought

Happy Friday Everyone,
I was also with Matt over in the desert, but I was in Kadhimyah (Baghdad) rather than Baqubah. During and following the invasion there was definitely a lack of clarity, but it turned out to be a great developmental experience in terms of leadership growth – because that was the only option.

“Know Thyself” – Temple at Delphi, possibly Socrates

“To Thine Own Self Be True” – Hamlet, Shakespeare

Two brilliant minds separated by the centuries with essentially the same piece of wisdom continuing from their time into ours. How can you ever be a great leader if you don’t understand yourself? Just as you would assess an enemy – his capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses – you have to be able to assess yourself. What are your own personal capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses? You have to be able to determine these key facts about yourself before you can expect anyone to follow you – after all, great leadership is about influencing others to follow you of their own volition.

Just like there are many steps to IPE (Intelligence Preparation of the Environment, we’ll get into that sometime later) there are many steps and different ways to determine these characteristics about yourself. To be brief for the sake of the blog, these characteristics cannot be simplified into what you THINK you like/don’t like and what you THINK you’re good at/not good at. I happen to have a particular knack for IT, I pick up programming, databases, web design, etc. pretty quickly and receive lots of praise for my products. Great, that can be counted as a strength, but only because there is some external evidence verifying what I THINK I’m good at. Just because you think you have a strength doesn’t mean you really do: consider the 45 year old busboy who is, of course, not really a busboy but a writer, singer, actor, whatever. He may believe he has a great talent and is really good at it, but the fact that he’s been waiting for his big break for 25 years should be evidence enough to show that his talent probably isn’t much of a strength – even if he continues to think it is. This may be a particularly egregious example but I bet that in less than one minute you can name at least two people you know personally that are participating in a similar suspension of disbelief.

A similar paradigm works when assessing your weaknesses. For capabilities though, you need to go a step farther. I may have a natural knack for computers and IT, but I HATE working on that stuff all day, and could never make a career in that field without ending up on the evening news. A capability has to be a realistic assumption of how strengths and weaknesses may be utilized based on the viable options open to you. Any career that involves me wading in IT problems constantly is simply not viable. It may be a strength but it ends up counting more as an ancillary skill than a true capability.

So go back and take a look at your last resume, which of the strengths are on there because you thought they would sound good? How many do you loathe actually doing? When was the last time you received meaningful positive feedback on one of them, not just an ‘atta boy’?

Dig a little deeper to find your Terra Veritas, and then you’ll be in a much better position to lead others.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wacky Wednesday

"Patience is a virtue" is often quoted when somebody is too busy to take kindness into consideration. When you are working with your teams, it is important to make sure you treat them with the respect that another human being deserves. You can have arguements, and heated debate within a team; but don't let the conflict seep into the way you perform or work with somebody.

Here you see what happens when a person is impatient and treats another human being with disrespect. Do you think he got what he deserved?

Come back on Friday for our first guest blogger!

Monday, August 2, 2010


Out of all the word choices, this I hope is the most obvious, and yet I find that it is often the least followed. Communication is an absolute necessity in leadership. How will your team know what the plan is without some form of communication? This should be constant throughout your leadership cycles, in every stage.

Once a plan/goal is conceived, it needs to be communicated. Initially with trusted staff and advisers, to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. After that it needs to be communicated to the team so that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Once it is communicated down, the results need to be communicated back up the chain in order to make sure that the plan is being properly implemented and that the results are what is expected. If the results are not what is expected, then you need to conceive a modification (or in some cases an entirely new plan) and communicate it back down. Then the cycle continues. And finally (and perhaps the most forgotten step) a leader should communicate to his/her team when they did a good job.

Of course, communication gets more difficult the more people involved. The Project Management Institute has a formula for determining how many channels of communication exist in a given project. It can be found online or in the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK, now in its’ 4th edition). The formula is N(N-1)/2. N represents the number of stakeholders involved in the project. identifies a stakeholder as “A person, group or organization that has direct or indirect stake in an organization because it can affect or be affected by the organization’s actions, objectives and policies.”

Why am I bringing this up? Because as a leader you need to worry not only about your team (who are stakeholders), but also about anybody/anything else that might be impacted by your decisions. You need a communication plan, and that starts with the above formula. Once you figure out how many channels of communication you have, then you can start planning to deal with them. Until then, all you are dealing with is guesswork (a topic for a future blog?).

So Communication is vital throughout the cycle for a leader and his team. I don’t think there is another “leadership expert” (if I can claim to be one), that would argue against this. It rightly deserves a spot as one of the C4’s, and arguably may have the greatest impact. Next week we will talk about Command, and to use the quote from Jack Welch why it is important to: “Passionately own the vision…”

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Friday's Food For Thought

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves”
- Eleanor Roosevelt

So often a leader is thought of as the beacon on the hill, guiding the others toward action. That one person who through shear presence can influence people to move in the direction he/she wants. As odd as this may sound, he/she is only a good leader.

What is the difference? The difference is that a great leader will build his/her team, ultimately to the point where the team doesn't need him/her anymore. In Good To Great Jim Collins writes about Level 5 leaders. I won't go into the details here, because the book is worth the read; but one of the main characteristics of a Level 5 leader is training/preparing your team (after finding the right people in the first place), as well as finding and grooming your successor. In this day and age, many may think that this is suicidal for your job prospects; but the truth is, how can you move on to bigger and better things until your team is ready to work without you, and your replacement is on-hand and ready to take over?

A great leader grows his team, working with them to expand their interests and provide the motivation to try new things. If you aren't doing that, if you are pointing fingers and telling people "go that way" then you are only a good leader. Take a look around you, find out what your team wants/needs to grow into, and start providing the opportunities for them to do just that. Then you will be a great leader.

Also, I apologize for this blog post being late. I hope that the topic is enjoyable.

P.S. I found out that last week's quote actually came from John Quincy Adams. My mistake.