Three Ways to Mine Great Ideas

Good ideas are like gemstones. If you have one or two, things seem pretty good. Often leaders need to follow the miner’s lead and dig up good ideas from those they lead.
-Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

We recently finished the annual report for the nonprofit I operate. I say we because it is always a team effort. There were several changes I wanted to make in the annual report to communicate better who we are, what we do, and how well we perform. I wanted to show data in ways that communicated important fact quickly and show off the accomplishments of our team. There is no need for leaders if everyone does their own work, so I leaned on others to make this report the best we ever issued. When I sat down with my team, I pointed out the things I disliked in our older reports, most of which I created. I showed them some ideas from other annual reports I liked and challenged them to find ways to integrate those ideas to tell our FY 2021 story. George Washington said, “When a leader cannot generate important ideas himself, he must look elsewhere.” In order for us to develop a better annual report, I as a leader, had to rely on others for ideas to tell our story better. Here are three ways you can inspire your people to generate good ideas.

Tell them Why

Simon Sinek said it best, start with why. Tell others why the project is important. How does it support the work you do to relieve other people’s pain. Who benefits from the project, not just the intended audience, but your vendors, other teams in the organization, and even the team members. If the goal of the project is to change something, explain why changing is important. Taking time to explain why you are asking for the ideas of others creates a culture of learning. You demonstrate the value of ideas regardless of their origin. You show them you care and respect them enough to listen to their ideas, which reinforces your organization’s principals surrounding integrity, trust, loyalty, and respect.

Ask Great Questions

One great way to inspire people is asking questions. For example, in our annual report project, I showed earlier examples of how we presented data. Originally it was straight out facts: $50,000.00 spent, 29 clients served, 1,200 hours worked, etc. Our next step was better, pie charts, but it was still weak. I asked the team how we could present the data, so people could grasp the important points quickly and understand the importance of those facts. Of course, I also asked if the information we were presenting was really important to our stakeholders? What information could we present that might tell the story better than the key indicators we previously selected? Where would we find that information? If we could not present some of these things this year because the information was not easily obtainable, what changes in the coming year do we need to make to our data collection? How would we accomplish those changes?

Asking good questions to start conversations is important. Listening to answers and demonstrating your listening by asking appropriate follow up questions shows respect and encourages participants to offer more ideas. One of my favorite responses to other people’s ideas is, “Tell me more about that?”

Allow Time to Create

Unlike data entry or parts production, creative endeavors do not fit neatly into time constraints. This blog is a great example. I try to publish around the 15th and 30th of each month. Sometimes the way I try to explain a concept, or my understanding of a leadership theory, is not fully formed. Often the act of writing helps me understand better. It enables me to make connections necessary to implement those ideas in my actual leadership practice. As a result, you may notice I revisit certain ideas again with a different understanding compared to when I first published a post.

Sometimes one has to lie on one’s back to create great ideas or enduring works of beauty. Ensure those you lead have time to develop creative ideas. Doing so encourages hard work & inspires them to stay.
-Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36772

You may have a deadline when you ask others for ideas, but ensure you provide them enough time to think and create. There are times you see someone sitting in their cubical or office listening to music or staring at a screen and it is easy to assume they are doing nothing. Sometimes that is true. More often, the gears inside that person’s head are turning, processing information, making connections necessary to develop a complete idea, and a way to explain that idea to others.

A great example of the hidden creative process appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni spent the better part of his life between 1508 and 1512 on his back. It would have been easy for the Pope to pass through and notice those periods when he did not have a brush in hand applying paint to the ceiling. However, one cannot argue with the results. Michelangelo’s work still amazes visitors 510 years later. Compare that to how long the paint job lasts on your living room ceiling. Creativity takes time. Not all of us are Renaissance painters. Most of our organizations cannot dedicate four years to the development of a product or service. However, recognize that the creative process does take some time. Ensure you allow enough time for it to happen.

Leaders provide purpose though their vision. They provide motivation and direction by creating plans to make their vision reality. Good leaders recognize they must use the good ideas others have to ensure their vision becomes a reality. No matter how good a leader is, s/he does not have all the good ideas. Developing creativity in others ensures there is a pool of talented thinkers with a proven ability to execute when an organization needs good ideas. Looking back to my example of the Annual Report story, as is often the case when I challenge others, my team rose to the challenge and created a great Annual Report. The ideas they put together to communicate key data amazed me. Your people will amaze you if you allow them the time and flexibility to create new ideas for improving processes, creating new products and services, or telling the world your organization’s story. Not all of us have Michelangelo working for them. If you did, under your leadership would he be able to create another masterpiece or be relegated to living with the status quo? Allow your people to reflect, create, and execute. You will be amazed at what they can do!

References and Additional Reading

Gardner, H. (2000). Gardner’s art through the ages. Vol II. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, CA

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why. Penguin Books. New York, NY

The Art of Planning

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Note: June has been crazy. As I attempted to post my end of month blog, I experienced some technical issues. This is a repost from 2014 on planning. Even though the content is from 2014, planning remains an important leadership function. The content is just as relevant today as then. Enjoy.

“Plans are nothing; Planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Planning is one of the fundamental functional areas of management. Leaders at all levels plan. Depending on the event and their level in the organization determines how they plan, but the planning process should remain the same. Whether you want to develop a new vision for your organization, or you are putting together a small meeting for your staff, planning is the process that identifies the needs for what is desired in the future, the resources necessary to accomplish the task, actions requiring completion, controls and guide posts to watch for along the way and a statement of success. One of the reasons planning is valued more than the finished plan is understanding that no battle plan ever survives past first enemy contact, but in the planning process, key leaders have opportunities to evaluate different courses of actions, allowing them to change course as the situation evolves. This topic deserves more than the few hundred words dedicated here, however my intent is to provide readers a general direction for their own planning processes.
The first step in any plan in to identify the objectives. Plans are only required if there is difference between the current situation and what you expect in the future. The purpose of the plan is to change the future. At the strategic level, leaders develop mission statements, share their vision and establish guiding principles. At the operational level, leaders develop work processes, gather resources, train workers and establish goals and task steps.
Once the object is identified, develop alternative actions. Often this is done during brainstorming sessions, although other idea generating activities also work. Ideas do not have to appear practical or traditional. The important action at this stage is developing ideas. You may find that some of what originally appear to be flaky ideas in the beginning, when paired with other ideas, may work the best.
Now that you have several alternatives, take time to evaluate them, whether alone or in a group. Identify their efficiency, alignment with organizational guiding principles, likelihood of success and other factors selected by the group’s leaders. During this stage, you should start to develop the measure for success. As alternatives are eliminated, the better ideas become evident. The completion of this step should involve a completed written plan. The plan does not have to answer all questions, but should provide enough information for those charged with implementing to understand the intent. Remember the old saying, “An imperfect plan delivered on time trumps the perfect plan delivered a day late.”
Action is the next step in the planning process. A complete plan is not required to begin action. The great thing about mission and vision statements are they provide everyone an idea about which direction they should be traveling, even if they lose the directions to the final destination. Once the decision has been made to move towards a certain goal, action can begin. Starting movement is the hardest part of any change. Starting movement is the only way the plan will succeed.
Once things begin to move, it is important to monitor progress. The plan should include specific check points where staff gather to report progress. Like any journey, if you don’t take the time to check your compass and read the road signs, you may find you took a left when you should have turned right in Albuquerque. These controls may include checks on spending, use of resources, percent of quality improvement, number of units sold or any other metric that measures progress.
A final and critical step in the planning process is obtaining commitment from stakeholders. Too many projects fail for lack of this important support. Ensure the key leaders understand the resources requiring commitment for success. Obtain contracts from customers if necessary. Lock in resources from suppliers early.
A finished plan may not be fancy. It may not be complete. What matters is the process used to arrive at the plan. Follow these steps and you increase your plan’s success. Start by determining the objective. Identify alternatives to reach the objective. Evaluate the alternatives, selecting the one most in line with organizational values and vision. Begin action as soon as there is commitment. Obtain commitment from key stakeholders. Check your progress regularly and plan those check-ups. As your project rolls along, you may find success lies off the road you selected to reach your destination, but through your planning process you identified detours and side trips. In the end, you will find your planning helped you make small adjustments along the way and reach your destination.

Photo by author

Caring Leaders

Funny thing about leaders…even when they lack a title, they still influence others to become better people and improve their organizations. These leader care about their people so they will achieve the organizations mission. As a result, their followers remain their followers months and years after their formal relationship ends. The best leaders often find themselves providing purpose, direction and motivation to former followers. Many of those followers exceed the leader’s success. Plenty of people smarter than me have filled books discussing how these bonds form and stay strong over many years. This blog will hardly scratch the surface. Instead, I simply seek to encourage readers to evaluate their own leader-follower relationships to find ways to become better leaders.

Take time to read books about leadership. Studying other leaders help you become a better leader.
-Photo by Author

Strong leaders know making an organization successful requires them to hire, develop, and retain high quality people who are dedicated, knowledgeable, skilled, and motivated. They communicate the organizational goals. They provide an inspiring vision for the future that turns employees into fans. In turn, those they lead independently use their skills and abilities to accomplish great things that move the organization in the direction of success.

Once one goal or a set of goals are accomplished, the leader points to the next hilltop. The journey begins again. The workers are ready to proceed because their leader publicly acknowledged their great work and sacrifices to achieve their current successes.

The leader creates opportunities to become familiar with employees, their families, dreams, hopes, and needs. S/he teaches and mentors others to align their personal values with the guiding principles of the organization. As a result, employees feel an increasing sense of success and fulfillment as the organization achieves success. These feeling create a deeper dedication to the leader, the organization, and the mission.

Washington is an example of a leader others followed long after he surrendered his official titles to lead others.
-Painting by John Trumbull – Public Domain

As a leader, you have to develops your own personal style to learn about those who follow you. Learn to communicate how their desires and abilities intertwine with those of the organization. Some leaders throw parties for their employees on their birthdays. Others use group training activities. Some dedicate a few moments each day to speak to their people and ask about important personal and professional issues. In every case, the interaction between the leader and follower is personalized in some way. The follower believes the leader personally cares for them and their situation. If faked the facade quickly tumbles causing major problems for the organization. However, even the most socially awkward leader appears caring just  by going through the motions.

History is filled with examples of leaders who remain engaged with those they led long after their business relationship ended. George Washington certainly sets that example. After the War for Independence, he returned to his simple life only to find those he led in battle and their families still needed him to lead the new nation. Omar Bradley was well liked and selected to run the Veteran’s Administration in part because so many veterans trusted him. Both of these men achieved the difficult tasks assigned them. However, each showed concern for Soldiers individually and collectively. They gained the reputation doing what was necessary to accomplish the mission by being sensitive to the needs of those who would be tasked to actually do the work. They gained life long followers.

Take time to meet with your people so you understand what motivates them, what skills they have, and issues in their lives that may interfere with their work. It shows you care, which makes them care about the job.
– by unknown from pxhere.com CC0

Great leaders have two important concerns. Success of their people and success of their organization. They understand that unless the aspirations of employees are tied to the vision of the organization, neither will be truly successful. Leaders inspire their employees to succeed by learning their dreams, concerns, and desires. Strong leaders find ways to create a culture that cares for people, so those people care enough to make the organization successful. Quality leaders do this by creating a vision of a future that does not exist but appears to those s/he leads.  S/he creates a culture learning, persistence, and innovation by sharing inspiring stories about the successes of teams and individuals.  They align people’s values with those of the organization. Great leaders extend their influence long after formal relationships end because they genuinely care for the people they lead. As a result, those people are more successful and work hard to make their organization successful. Care about your people, and they will care enough to accomplish your mission.


© 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

The Discipline of Leadership

Setting a disciplined example establishes your leadership credentials. People who follow you know you share the burden and rewards.
Photo by Fabian Wiktor on Pexels.com

Leaders talk about the importance of maintaining discipline. As we have seen during the coronavirus pandemic, not all leaders discipline themselves. Reporters had field days with several well known political leaders who failed to follow the safety rules. They lost respect from many when they violated travel restrictions while the rest of us were barricaded in our homes. People watch their leaders. When they say they are going to do something, they better do it. When they tell others they need to do something, the leader better set the example. Setting an example by doing what you tell others to do is the fastest, most effective way one develops character and builds trust.

Setting the example creates humility.

Setting the sample means you understand other’s limitations.

Setting the example means sometimes making a mistake and learning from it.

Setting the example means celebrating another’s success the way you want others to celebrate your successes.

Setting the example means you know you are still learning and so is everyone else.

When you do the things you ask of others as a leader, you bring yourself down to their level. As a result, you can better see the world the way they do. I am not stating that I expect leaders to dig ditches, answer the switchboard, wash cars, or execute data entry all day everyday. I am saying that sometimes it is a good idea to grab a broom and sweep up the floor at the entry to your office suite, answer you own phone when you are able, and let one of your people show you how to process an order for a customer. Doing these things reminds you that those who follow you are special people with unique skills and talent. There may be parts of the organization no one knows better than you. Never forget there are people who know more about important parts of the organization than you will every be capable of knowing. They contribute as much to your success as your own actions. When you remember those who follow you are impressive people, it is easier to be humble.

When you begin doing and understanding the work of others in your organization, you learn both the strengths and limitations of the people, processes, and equipment. Knowing the edge of those limits helps you as a leader create realistic expectations. Turning back to the pandemic, government at all levels ramped up slowly to establish testing sites. As vaccinations became available, many found the challenges for putting shots in arms were not the same as sticking swabs in noses. Sites were scheduled to operate at maximum capacity then ran into problems about a month later as people needed second shots while others were trying to schedule their first. Some places adapted quickly by adding people, locations, and clinic hours. Others dragged their feet. Leaders must understand the limitations of their people, processes, and equipment in order to avoid similar mistakes.

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People make mistakes. Letting those who follow you know you are not perfect and learn from your mistakes means they do not need to hide their mistakes. Open mistakes allow everyone to learn.
Photo by author

Speaking of mistakes, as you wonder around setting an example you will make mistakes. None of us are perfect. Those who are less well-trained, new in positions, or inattentive will make more mistakes. Those with more training and experience make fewer mistakes. Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. However, in order to learn a lesson, you first must acknowledge a mistake was made. We all worked for that leader with the zero defect mentality. Were mistakes made under those leaders? Absolutely! Sadly, it is likely the same mistakes were probably made frequently and covered up. Understand there is a difference between a mistake and deliberate misbehavior. We all recognize the difference between someone knocking the table inadvertently resulting in hot coffee spilling into your lap compared to the person who turns over the hot coffee directly onto your lap. Learning to deal with mistakes so others learn and become better performers is a true test of a leader. When others know honest mistakes result in retraining and forgiveness, people will be forth coming with mistakes so they can become better. You can share those mistakes across the organization after anonymizing the details so others learn too.

Celebrating success is an important leadership ritual. When you share the spotlight, others work harder because they know they will be recognized. Those in leadership positions who never shine the spotlight on others soon find they are working alone, or are often training new people because their good workers keep leaving. Patton once made a comment like, “Soldiers will do incredible things for a little piece of colored ribbon to affix to their uniform.” When celebrating success, make it about the contributions of the team, not you. Make sure the rewards for excellent behavior match the level of contribution. I am sure many readers remember (or not) receiving “Participation Trophies” during their early years of team sports. The problem with recognizing everyone is that you recognize no one. Some people think that doing the bare minimum means they should receive awesome amounts of recognition while others that go above and beyond blush at being recognized. Both people contributed differently. Both should be recognized according to their contribution.

When you continue to learn, others value continuous learning too. If your followers say things about you like, “She forgot more about that than both of us will ever know.”, and yet they still see you learning more, you send the message that learning is important in your organization. I met a person at a training one time that had a really bad attitude about being there. We had lunch together and I asked him why so blue. He told me that obviously he was going to get fired soon because his boss did not trust him regarding the topic of the training. I learned that in his organization, they only sent incompetent people to training to justify firing them. I suspect the organization had lots of leadership problems. People should know when you send them to learn new things it is not punishment but rather a reward for using what they already knew.

Your actions serve as a beacon for others to follow. Your example is the light others use to illuminate their path.
Photo by Casia Charlie on Pexels.com

Disciplined leadership means setting a good example. As you walk the talk, you demonstrate and state your expectations of those you lead. When you do fail to live the expectations you set, you lose respect in the same way political leaders do when they travel during a pandemic. When you live your values, you become known as someone who walks the talk, understands and respects reasonable limitations, expects mistakes and the learning that goes with mistakes ,and establish your exception people are continuous learners. You stay humble because you understand as a leader your success results from the work others do on your behalf. You make better decisions and when you make a mistake, people follow your lead and forgive you too. Do not be like too many of our political leaders. If you establish a rule, follow it too. If it is good enough for those who follow you, it is good enough for you. Your disciplined example is a beacon of character in a world of dark, sneaky secrets. Use your beacon as a guiding light for others to follow.


  • Brooks, D. (2015). The road to character. Random House, New York, NY
  • Covey, S. (1989). 7 Habits of highly effective people, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Sharpening the Saw; Building Leadership Resilience

Building resilience helps leaders lead effectively regardless of the challenges they face and builds a network they can rely on when they need to bend and ear.
Photo by the author.

The field exercise was drawing to a close. I had lost lots of sleep keeping up with the demands of my new position. I was dragging and making mistakes. Mid-morning my boss pulls me aside and asks, “What is going on with you today?” In a gruff voice, he began listing all the mistakes I made so far.

“I am beat and having a bad morning,” I replied. He stared at me, arms crossed, brow furrowed. He was not happy.

“You’re a senior leader now! You can’t have bad days. Even in training, when you have a bad day; people could die!” He was right. We launched bullets a dozen or more miles down range. A small error made the difference between hitting the target or the projectile landing outside the impact area potentially killing or injuring others.

The boss directed me to go back to my area, clean up, eat, catch a nap and then meet him at the command post in an hour. We met at the command post and he spend the next hour telling all the little tricks that allowed him to succeed as a senior leader. He showed the systems he used to keep track of people and property. He told me about the importance of catching cat naps. He shared that when he had my job, checking the perimeter was about more than checking on security; it provided him daily exercise. He opened a green notebook revealing daily entries he said were his reflections on his past performance and adherence to values so he could identify and learn from his mistakes. I learned a lot that morning. Leaders cannot have bad days.

As we wrapped up the hour, he shared a story his father told him. His father was a logger back in the days before skidders and chainsaws. His father started every morning sharpening his saw. That meant to start cutting on time, he had to wake up a bit earlier. There were some men in the crew who would not sharpen their saws daily. They ended up worker later into the day to cut their quota of wood. Because his father sharpened his saw everyday, he was able to cut trees faster than the men who would not. He would finish before them and have time to attend to other matters which allowed him to crawl into the sack a little earlier. He received plenty of sleep each night even though he woke early. He was able to slow down a little bit just because he sharpened his saw.

There is an old maxim that it is lonely at the top. Leaders often shield their followers from certain unpleasantries in order to maintain high morale. It is not that they hide bad things from them. It is more that the Good Idea Fairy stopped by corporate headquarters, sprinkled some Good Idea Dust on the CEO, then left the building. The CEO had a GREAT idea that really was not so great. Other senior leaders stopped the Good Idea before any damage was done. Yet they cannot share their hard-earned victory news with their followers because it will cause more problems by doing so. There are plenty of other battles leaders fight to protect their followers that only they know about. As with any warrior, failing to recognize the stress that accumulates in these battles creates problems. Leaders need to learn how to create and develop resilience by maximizing their whole person fitness.

Let us start with the concept of whole person fitness. We all know about the importance of physical fitness. People measure their physical fitness by watching what they eat and monitoring and engaging in physical activities. Whole person fitness however can be defined in four dimensions, physical, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual. Leaders need to be healthy in all four areas to sustain the resilience required to lead others.

Physical Fitness

I am NOT an exercise or nutrition expert. If you are having health issues, consult your primary care provider. You should also consult with an appropriate professional before engaging in any major changes in your diet or exercise. The examples discussed here are only intended to propose possible answers to apply the basic principles introduced here.

Diet and exercise are the two foundational actions regarding physical fitness. It is important to eat well and exercise often for a given amount of time. There are untold numbers of books regarding both topics. Many require extreme actions. I suggest that diets and exercise programs that encourage extreme changes in behavior such as eating 52 pounds of raw beef daily or running a marathon every morning and evening probably will cause more harm than good and simply will not work for most people. There are some general rules that have demonstrated success for many people. In the nutrition realm, eating more fresh vegetables and lean meats instead of fats, starches, and processed foods.

Learning to deal with adversity helps leaders lead more effectively. Facing danger, adversity, and discomfort help create the emotional fitness required for leaders to remain positive and optimistic.
Photo by mohamed hassan form PxHere cco

Likewise in exercise, walk more; sit less. Many studies show most people require 150 to 200 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Consider a variety of activities that strengthen your muscles, increase your endurance and aerobic fitness, and flexibility. An example of an easy yet effect exercise regimen might look like 15-20 minutes of walking at a fast pace (fast for you), 5-10 minutes of stretching, and about 10 minutes of some sort of strength exercises each day. That works out to about 30 minutes. Do that six times each week and you have 150 minutes.

Emotional Fitness

Emotional Fitness is demonstrated by the ability to deal with problems in a positive, optimistic fashion. You demonstrate self-control in the face of adversity. Your stamina allows you to think well and make good decisions which creates quality character.

Emotional fitness relies on having a steady mind and spirit. Both factors are other facets of fitness. Sleeping, exercising, and reflecting on the greater good all help achieve a level of emotional fitness. Both facets allow you to effectively evaluate your performance. You identify successes and failures which allow you to devise methods to improve. With greater emotional fitness comes the calmness envied by others seen in good leaders during a crisis.

Interpersonal Fitness

Interpersonal fitness is sometimes called emotional intelligence or emotional quotient, EQ. EQ is the measure of how well a person can gauge and respond to the feelings and needs of others. In order to be influential as a leader, you need to understand other people and their emotions. This provides you power to select the right tools of influence to provide appropriate motivation, direction, and purpose.

People follow leaders they like and respect. I know many leaders, including myself, that have said silly things like, “I don’t care if they like me so long as the do what I tell them.” That kind of supervision is not leadership. You can supervise that way for a time but even in the military, people abandon those types. Military members eventually reach the end of their contract and just like in the rest of the world, if they do not like their bosses, they leave the job. Building relationships with others helps you become a better leader and reduces the loneliness at the top.

Spiritual Fitness

One can be a regular church goer and still have poor spiritual fitness. Spiritual fitness involves much more than attending regular religious services. There are plenty of people who never attend services yet experience a rich spiritual life.

Spiritual fitness is all about understanding the things you value. Take time to examine the roots of those values. Learn why those values are important to you. Figure out what areas you claim to value yet act against that value. An important part of spirituality is understanding there is more to the world, more to life than just you. Those who are spiritually fit know with every action they take and every word they speak makes a difference in the worlds of others. They choose to make a positive difference.

Sharpen your saw every day. Exercise. Eat healthy, Reflect and learn. Build strong relationships with others. Do good in the world.
– Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay /cco

A few years after that bad day in the field, I was leading Soldiers in combat. We did have bad days. By then, I started using some of the ways to control those days better. My bad days were those that despite my best efforts to accomplish any number of missions we were given without injuring my Soldiers or the civilians we encountered, people did get hurt and did die. We were expected by both our military and our enemy to perform at high levels everyday and we did. There were days I had time enough to only sharpen a few teeth on the saw. However I pulled out the file any time there was an opportunity to sharpen even one tooth on days like that. As a result, we succeed, not because of any one thing I did. No we succeeded because those who followed me accepted our unified purpose, accepted my directions, and remained motivated.

Keeping your saw sharp as a leader can mean the difference between success and failure. With a sharp saw you have the ability to work faster and accomplish more with less effort. There may be days that taking time to exercise, eat well, consider your values and actions, or build your relationships seems like a waste of time. Those are the days that those activities are the most important. Develop strategies to accomplish each of these important tasks regularly and your will find you are a more effective leader.


References

Covey, S. (2004) 7 habits of highly effective people.Simon & Schuster. New York, NY.

Love, S. (July 14, 2009) Comprehensive soldier fitness. U.S. Army. Washington DC. Retrieved from https://www.usar.army.mil/CSF/

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(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Three Parts of Your Leadership Point of View

As you move up in your organization, your point of view changes. The higher you go, the further you can see. Use your point of view to inspire others to be better and improve your organization.
– Photo by author

As a leader, it is important to create an inspiring vision for the future. Doing so encourages others to follow you; join your organization; and become the people you see that they can become. In order to develop an effective and inspiring vision for the future, you must start with a personal leadership point of view. Your personal leadership point of view establishes the key events in your life that shaped you, those things you value and why, and expectations you have for your personal growth and the professional growth of the organization.

Simon Sinek believes all leaders should understand the why of their organization before determining what and how. “Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfillment comes from why we do it.” (Sinek et al, 2017). One has to understand why one does what one does before they determine what comes next and how to achieve that goal.

A person’s why comes from a combination of his or her values, desires in life, skills, and experiences. Many high school graduates struggle with what they want to do in life because they do not understand these things. Their values are not fully formed. They really do not know what they want from life. They are still developing their skills. They have few experiences to shape them as people. As a result, many choose to take time away from education to gain experience, understand what things interest them, what skills they possess or wish to gain, and how different values affect their choices.

Effective leaders have experienced life. They have been challenged in ways that test their mettle. They stand out from the crowd based on their experiences and the character developed in the forge of life. As you begin to examine your leadership point of view, take time to reflect on those experiences in your life that brought you great meaning. Those stories are not necessary your greatest achievements or defeats. The stories of everyday life are probably more important than those from the extremes. Those are the stories that establish your character and demonstrate things of interest and problems solved through your unique skills. Use these stories to learn what you really value. Remember, your values are the foundation of your leadership (St. Cyr, 2018).

If you exercise regularly, people know you value fitness. Your character is determined by those things you do regularly.
– Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com

How you live your values establishes your character. You might say you value family, but if you always put work first, do you really value your family life? A long time friend often challenged me when I stated how important I felt exercise was. He would invite me to workout with him. I frequently had an excuse to not workout. “You can always tell what is important to someone based on the way they use their time.” he would say, or something like that. He would follow up with something like, “If working out was really important, you would find a way.” He would also pull the same lines when he invited me to go fishing and I had other plans! People know your values from the way you live, whether you profess them publicly. However, professing your values, and your organization’s values are important communication points for all leaders.

Each of us has meaningful experiences in life. Ask me anytime how I am, and you will likely receive a positive response, even on a day I spill my morning coffee, the car will not start, and my computer crashes. I will likely tell you it is a great, or at least a good day. Based on the life experience of being shot at and being blown up, I decided any day you can get vertical and someone is not trying to kill you is a good day. That does not mean I ignore problems that come along in life. I just put them in perspective; it sucks, but no one is shooting at me, so it is not THAT bad!

When I joined the Army, my Godmother told me not to let the Army change me. I promised I would not. At the time, I lacked the experience necessary to know that my Army experiences would change me but that it was my choice about whether I allowed those experiences to make be a better or worse person. No matter what, life experiences change all of us. In my case, I like to think my Army experiences made me a better person and a good leader. Our life experiences mold us. They cause us to reexamine our values. They help us decide what we really want from life. That is why those experiences are so important to our leadership point of view.

Face it, we all had bad bosses and good bosses. Some of us have even had the opportunity to work for great bosses. Each affected how we view leadership. As my children grew, I told them it was important for them to learn how to be good parents by not doing the bad things they experienced from their mother and I as parents. Many a protege has received similar advise from me as they moved on to new leadership opportunities, “Don’t do the things you hated me doing as your boss and leader.” Those who paid attention went on to accomplish some pretty good things. Those who did not, did not last long in their new leadership roles. Every experience is important in shaping us, but only if we take time to reflect on the meaning of each experience.

Our expectations are based on what we learn as being truly possible. The United States first landed men on the moon because we believed it was possible. President Kennedy stated in his inspirational speech that it would be a hard task and that was exactly why he challenged the country to do it before the end of the 1960s. Norman Vincent Peale challenge all of us to, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you still land among the stars.” (I think I remember reading this quote in his book The Power of Positive Thinking which I no longer possess to verify.) We only grow as people by accepting challenges that push us to be better than we are now. We only grow as leaders by inspiring our followers to achieve more than they believe they can accomplish. People more often than not will live up to the expectations we set for them. They will accomplish amazing things if we tell them convincingly they can.

Everyone needs inspiration to help them achieve great things. Leaders provide that inspiration by helping their followers see what the leader sees is possible. That new point of view helps them do more than they thought they could do.
– Photo by author.

Developing a personal leadership point of view helps leaders create inspirational visions for the future. A leader’s vision inspires others to follow them. As more people adopt your vision and work to achieve more than they thought possible, they grow as people and the organization becomes better. To create a leadership point of view, one needs to identify important events in their lives that shaped them, understand what they value, and know what their expectations are of their followers and the future of their organization. Only when all three of these legs are in place can a leader create a truly inspirational vision for others. Take time to reflect on those experiences that shaped you. Understand how they influenced your values. Know how your values create your expectations.

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References

Peale, N.V. (1952). The power of positive thinking. Prentice Hall. Hoboken, NJ

St. Cyr, C. (2018, October 29). Character — The foundation of character [Web log post]. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://saintcyrtraining.com/2018/10/29/character-the-foundation-of-leadership

Sinek, S., Mead, D., and Docker, P. (2017). Find your why. Portfolio/Penguin. New York, NY

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(c) 2021 by Christopher St. Cyr

Leading with Gratitude

First, thanks to all of you who have visited and subscribed to my blog. You keep coming back so I keep writing. I reached 100 posts on February 18th because of your encouragement. I had other posts already so I waited until now to mention and celebrate that accomplishment. I also want to thank you for your patience with this post as it may ramble a bit. Gratitude is an important leader quality. Here are two ways you can show gratitude and humility.

Photo by Marcus Wu00f6ckel on Pexels.com

My mother taught me about the importance of being humble and grateful. Throughout life, I learned there are many things I do not know and cannot do well. I make mistakes just like everyone else. Frequently people apologize seeking forgiveness without really think about what they are asking.

For example, if you promise to arrive someplace by a certain time and encounter an accident. It causes you to be late. You could apologize for being tardy, or you could express gratitude to those you were going to meet for their patience and understanding. When you express gratitude in such situations, you acknowledge your error and you also acknowledge the other person was inconvenienced by your express of gratitude. By thanking the others, you apologize from a position of strength. There is something different about thanking someone for their understanding rather than seeking their forgiveness. It shows you are repentant and grateful.

I used this tactic in my opening paragraph. My life has been very busy the last two weeks. I lacked time to reflect on leadership lessons and write about what I learned. As a result, I have a much shorter post than normal and fail to delve deeply into a topic or lesson. I could apologize for failing to create a quality post, or I can take my best swing and write a shorter, quality post about an important leadership trait and use the post as an example of how to execute the practice. In doing so, I have less reason to seek forgiveness and more reason to express gratitude.

A further example happened recently. I had engaged in a conversation with a person about an issue I found upsetting. I reflected on the problem before the conversation to avoid saying stupid things. I succeeded in that respect but the conversation clearly communicated I was upset. I learned that things were not what I was led to believe. At the end of the conversation, I thanked the person for taking time to explain the situation and remaining a trusted teammate. Had I ended the conversation with an apology, it would have appeared I made the mistake. I lacked all the information required to understand the situation. I only received the missing information by talking to this person. I was grateful for their time. I was grateful for their honesty. I was grateful to learn what I was led to believe was not true. That means I should say, “Thanks,” not “Sorry”.

Gratitude is also important to recognize the good work and efforts of others. Continuing my example of business in the last two weeks, others had to fill in some gaps created because my attention was required else where. That required staff to do some extra work. Like many places of employment, our job descriptions include the phase, “and such other work as may be required.” That catch all phrase is not a bye for leaders to fail to acknowledge the extra work others perform when they are absent. As a leader, my attention was required outside my regular circle. It allowed me to move the organization forward in ways I could not had I not stepped outside my daily activities. Failing to recognize the efforts of those who filled the gaps in my absence is just bad leadership.

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Upon my return, I expressed appreciation to the staff that filled the voids created by my absence. They ensured the lights stayed on and the bills were paid as I prepared for the future. Challenging your people to step up in times of need allows them to develop while also allowing you as a leader to grow. You could not move forward personally, professionally, or with the organization if you did not have those people you count on to run the organization when you are gone. You should be grateful they are willing to do those extra things in your absence. I think it was Napoleon who said something like, “Men accomplish amazing feats of courage for a little patch of cloth.” By that he was referring to the little pieces of ribbon Soldiers wear on their uniforms instead of the medals hung by those ribbons. Medals and ribbons cost the organization little. It is not like giving someone a raise requiring a continued cost. Those little tokens of appreciation, the pats on the back, the recognition at staff meetings for a job well done encourage people to continue to put forth extra effort.

Gratitude is an important leadership trait. Reflect on all the things your people do everyday, often without your supervision. Think of the times others suffered, even just a little, because of a mistake you made. Be thankful they put up with you. Instead of apologizing, thank people for their patience and understanding. Take time to notice the amazing things people in your organization do everyday without prompting. What does it really cost to say, “Thank you” in front of their peers, or to recognize their good work with your peers? Nothing. While the investment is small, the dividends of showing gratitude are large. Remember to thank those who make your life as a leader easier.

Leadership Reflection: 3 Ways to Increase your Influence

Another Friday arrives and ends. As you clear your desk, you think back to the week. You wonder, “Where did the time go?”. Even great time managers find themselves at the end of a busy week thinking about missed opportunities to help someone grow, provide a word of encouragement, or recognize someone’s good work. Developing a daily habit of leadership reflection helps leaders identify and learn from mistakes, make course adjustments, and anticipate threats and opportunities. Learn three simple ways to develop the habit of leadership reflection.

Taking time to reflect is a habit used by many successful leaders.
Photo by Kilian M on Pexels.com

I first learned about the importance of reflecting as a leader during an executive development class provided by my employer. We were introduced to Aristotle’s idea that an unexamined life was not worth living. The instructor provided an exercise for each of us to create and use a daily leadership journal at the end of the work day. Several years later at the US Army Sergeants Major Academy (USASMA), I was introduced to the book, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease. USASMA use the results of this program to demonstrate how hard it is for people to change habits. I read the book over a vacation and learned about meditation as a way to reduce stress and as a reflective habit for leaders. A third habit I learned was to take time daily and just sit in a quiet space doing nothing. Just think. You can seed these sessions with a short prompt like a poem or a short reading from a book like Patton’s One-Minute Lessons. As you begin practicing one or more of these reflective habits, you will find you are more mindful of sharing words of encouragement, using some time to recognize good work, and develop others into good leaders.

An important facet of reflective leadership is setting aside time each day to reflect. Try to make it the same time every day. Many successful people have a morning habit of reflecting shortly after waking but before the frenzy of the day begins (no single citation for this factual statement. After listening to many Tim Ferriss podcasts in which he interviews successful people with a standing question about their morning routines, reflecting, meditating, and journaling were cited by many as a ‘must-do’ activities). Others schedule it at the beginning of the work day or just before bed. The one constant is that successful leaders set aside and protect time to reflect.

Journaling

There are many ways leaders can use a journal to reflect. Typically my time is used to memorialize some event that seemed important in my life, reflect on a topic, and express gratitude. This practice is my version of what I learned from others. Reflection takes time so set a realistic amount of time to be effective in your reflection. We write much slower than we think. That requires us to slow our thinking so we can write. The quiet mind is like a quiet information network, it works faster and better.

When you start to journal, you may find your mind is blank. There are a number of questions you may ask yourself to use as writing prompts. Examples include:

  • What did I learn that makes me a better leader?
  • What must I do achieve my goals or the goals of my organization?
  • Who did I develop to become a better performer or future?
  • What strengths did I use to make my relationships better?
  • What am I feeling and why?
  • What is going well and why?

These prompts are just examples. With practice, you will develop your own questions to answer as you write. You may find that some days you just want to open your journal and write what ever comes to mind without using prompts. Do what works so that you reflect on your leadership effects on others. The point of the activity is to help you develop as a leader. No one will be grading or critiquing your writing.

Meditation

There are a variety of ways to learn to meditate. I am by no means an expert although I have practiced meditation for several years. Dr. Ornish introduces mediation in Chapter 9 of his book. Dan Harris has two good books and a smart phone app to learn to meditate. Two apps I regularly turn to are MyLife and Oak (I receive nothing except a feeling of satisfaction of helping others if you try either app).

Meditation helps leaders reflect by teaching them how to settle their mind currents, learning the practice of mindfulness, identifying emotions and how to detach from them, and by becoming mindful of the present moment. Leaders frequently deal with many problems. Only one of them can be a priority. Meditation helps leaders sort out thoughts like currents that run through rapids in a river. Your boat can only follow one path. Meditation helps leaders focus on one thing at a time making it easier to establish what is important now so they can communicate that to others. When others understand what the leader considers important, they can go forth and make decentralized decisions to support the leader’s intended direction.

Writing in a journal, meditating, and thinking quietly are all reflective practices leaders use to better understand themselves, others, and problems they face.
Photo by Kelvin Valerio on Pexels.com

A simple practice involves setting a timer and focusing on your breathing. Even 60 seconds is beneficial. Close your eyes and breath. Notice the position of your body; where the weight rests. Identify where you feel your breath the most. While breathing, relax each part of your body from head to toe. When a thought, sound, or sensation arises, acknowledge it, let it go, and return your attention to your breathing. It is okay if you realize during the exercise you have followed a thought rather than letting it go. Simply begin again. Two additions to this practice to help you focus are counting your breaths to 10 then starting over, or saying to yourself, “In” as your breath in and, “Out” as you breath out. You may do this with your eyes open. Practice before a meeting to develop focus.

Quiet Thinking

Similar to meditation is quiet thinking. Instead of letting thoughts come and go, you focus on a thought and analyze it. You may sit quietly and wait for a thought to enter conscientiousness or start with an issue of concern. The issue may be something you have done and wish to evaluate your performance, or something about to happen and war-game options. As you reflect on the issue, you may find your mind wanders. Like meditation, simply let the extraneous thoughts go and simply return to your issue and begin again.

There is no right or wrong way to think about an issue. A formula you may use might be to start by identifying the problem. Look at the situation from the perspectives of others. This is not as easy as it sounds because we often project how we think others would view the problem, not how they actually do view the problem. Figure out if others have used possible solutions for similar problems. Remember, you are not your thoughts. Not all thoughts are good thoughts.

Remember that even as you try to view situations from the points of view of others, your point of view still influences what you thing other people see.
Photo by C Technical on Pexels.com

A little story on perspective. James Comey, former Director of the FBI, tells a story about how he once addressed a community group about crime. He said he wanted to help the community cultivate their neighborhood by weeding out the bad actors and planting seeds for growth. Word reached the President about his statements from angry community members. The President asked Comey if he realized that the bad actors he referenced in his chat were family members and neighbors of the group he addressed. The President asked Comey how he would feel if someone from the government came into his community and said he wanted to weed out his family members and friends. Weeding and seeding seems like a good idea but it does depend on who is weeding and who is being weeded. Comey said he carefully reflected on the words he wanted to use when addressing this group. He admits he failed to connect with his audience despite his best effort because he failed to truly see the other person’s perspective. Reflective leadership doesn’t guarantee 100% success (Comey, 2018).

Good leaders set time aside to reflect daily. Reflection allows them to process the lessons they learned, consider courses of actions for problems, how they are feeling, and identify important issues requiring their attention. There are a number of ways leaders can practice reflection. Three common and effective methods of reflection include journaling, mediating, and quiet thinking. Each allows leaders important alone time to learn and process. Block out time on your calendar to reflect and become a better leader.

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References

Brown, J. (2008) A leader’s guide to reflective practice. Trafford Publishing. Bloomington, ID.

Comey, J. (2018) A higher loyalty. Flatiron Books, New York, NY.

Horton-Deutsch, S. (2013). Thinking it through: The path to reflective leadership. https://www.myamericannurse.com/thinking-it-through-the-path-to-reflective-leadership/. Retrieved 3/12/21

Inam, H (2017). To be an effective leader keep a leadership journal. https://www.forbes.com/sites/hennainam/2017/04/02/to-be-an-effective-leader-keep-a-leadership-journal/?sh=7dc64dfc3b4d. Retrieved 3/14/21

Swaffield, S. & Warwick, P. (2004) Re-conceptualising reflective teaching in the 21st. Century: How do ‘Fast Track’ trainee teachers begin to link ideas about reflection and ideas about leadership?. British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester.

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(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

The Three Legs of Managing Leadership; Be, Know, Do

Leading from the front builds character and trust. To be up front, leaders must know the way. Their example shows they know where to go and what to do. Photo by form PxHere

This is the final topic in my series on managing as a leader. While it might seem odd to discuss leadership in this series, there are some basic leadership principals all managers must possess. Successful manager lead even if they lack direct reports. Possessing leadership skills ensures your ability to influence others to accomplish what needs to be done. An example of someone without direct reports is a project manager. You lead teams that may be working on other projects. None may report to directly to you. Project managers still influence team leaders to complete projects appropriately.

With all that said, regular readers know this post could never cover all the details of leading. Scores of books, articles, and classes are done every year on leadership. I have been a leader for a long time and I still read books, articles, take classes, and practice.

At my first leadership class in the Army, I learned the three legs of the leadership stool are Be, Know, Do. Decades later, Be, Know, Do remain the core of Army leadership doctrine. These three principles apply whether you are an Army leader, CEO of General Motors, or president of the local Lions Club.

The foundation of leadership is character. It is the Be in Be, Know, Do. The cornerstone of that foundation is trust. Every action you take determines your character. If you are always late to meetings you become known as a tardy person. If you yell at others anytime you are stressed, others think of you as an angry person. If you effectively use resources to achieve quality results, people judge you as reliable.

Trust is the cornerstone of character because every other character trait rests on trust. Using the examples above, setting a meeting time means that you trust others to show up at that time and place. In order to avoid stress and become angry, you trust others to complete tasks as promised. When you trust others to use resources effectively they do. Every other character trait relies on trust.

When your actions are aligned with your values, it is like turning any gear in a series of synchronized gears. When one turns, they all turn. Aligned actions and character create the synchronization required to accomplish quality work and lead others.
Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

Aligning your actions with your professed values creates a state of virtue. That becomes your character. When you say one thing and continually do something else, others view you as untrustworthy and a hypocrite. The hard part for everyone in this daily struggle is living up to the values you profess requires examination and reflection of your actions. People justify when their actions run contrary to their values. Find someone you trust to hold your mirror as you reflect on your actions. That second person provides perspective to your reflective observations.

My friend Gerry Berry used to say you could tell what was important to someone not by what he said, rather by what he did. He used that line with me every time I feed him an excused to not work out or go fishing with him. Gerry is gone now, so working out with him and joining him on the lake are no longer possible. When acting, recognize what really is important. Gerry held my mirror for many years which helped me see how my actions were often contrary to my values.

Some people say leaders are born and not made. I disagree. Leadership is like any other activity. Some people are born with natural talents. Talented people who work hard improve their skills becoming excellent. Others with less talent but a great desire to learn coupled with discipline outperform those talented people who choose not to improve their natural talent.

Think about someone you knew in high school who had a natural athletic ability but only played JV and the person who had less talent but always made varsity. The difference was work. It is the same with leadership. Some people are born with a natural charisma, yet they cannot lead a group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Others never have many friends yet lead important organizations. People choose to follow that person because the leader knows how to use power to ethically influence others by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. Together they can accomplish great things and make organizations better. Those unnatural leaders learn the process through education and practice.

Good leaders understand the process of leadership. It starts with a clear idea of what needs to be done and why it is important. That is the purpose. They clearly, continually, and consistently communicate that message to group members. They motivate. They assign each team member a role explaining why what they do is important to the greater good. That is direction. Leaders focus on building their followers skills and abilities in order to provide the best product of service possible with the available resources. As a result, the organization becomes better as they strive to accomplish their mission.

Leadership is a process that can be learned.
Chart by author

Leadership is a process. People can learn processes. Teaching people the leadership process provides the opportunity for them to adapt behaviors and become better leaders. Leaders use processes and people to produce results. Leaders DO things like teach, inspire, motivate, and learn.

To become a good leader, one has to have some knowledge and desire to learn. Leaders need to know about people, what motivates them, how they work together, understand how personality affects their perspective, and how to use the strengths of each individual well. Leaders know something of the work to be done or how to hire knowledgeable people to supervise the work. Leaders learn about the people they lead. Leaders combine prior knowledge and current learning to create new ideas and better ways of accomplishing things. Leaders learn about their strengths and weaknesses, biases, and habits. That learning allows leaders to grow and create change in themselves and others. Leaders never stop learning.

The process of leadership requires people to possess character; creating action through the efforts of others; to learn and know about the job, leading, and people. Character is developed every day with every action you take. You become known by your actions, not your words. Ensure what you say is what you do. Learn more about your job, people, and leadership. Learning helps you think better because you have more information to create effective solutions to problems. Develop and work processes that inspire others to achieve. Motivate them to create the world envisioned in your organization’s mission statement. Your actions improve your organization and create a better world by influencing others to make a difference. Manage your leadership actions using the three legs of the leadership stool. Become a leader others choose to follow; BE, KNOW, DO.


Post Script

Little Leadership Lessons provides ideas and insights to become a better person and by extension, a better leader. You may notice at the top of each page there is a link to a training page. Little Leadership Lessons is published by Saint Cyr Training. We provide virtual, in-house, and off-site training opportunities for progressive organizations that understand the need for high-quality, well-rained leaders. Click here if you want to learn more.


References

  • Kinicki, A. & Williams, B. (2008). Management: A practical introduction (3d Ed.). McGraw-Hill Irwin. New York, NY
  • Sinek, W. (2014) Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. Portfolio/Penguin. New York, NY
  • Wickham, J. (1983). Military Leadership: FM 22-100. U.S. Army Adjutant General Publications Center. Baltimore, MD.
  • Willink, J. & Babin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS lead and win. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY

A Plan without Execution is a Novel: Five Principals to Begin Action

What is a plan? Simply a fictional story about a possible future. Execution is the action required to create a new reality. Every year around January first lots of people plan to change their lives. Some actually achieve their desired result while most start strong, hit a roadblock and quit. Successful execution requires a workable, organized plan; a clear vision with supporting goals; understanding of key indicators and how to measure them; leaders trained at every level to execute; and relentless, persistent action.

The difference between a masterpiece and blank canvas is execution by the artist. The worse painter will sell more than the one with talent who creates nothing. Execution is the difference.
-Photo by form PxHere

The first step in the planning process requires a leader to figure out where s/he is and where s/he wants to be. If they are different, then the leader develops a plan to create change. Identifying the difference between what is and what you want it to be is the vision. Leaders need to describe their vision in a compelling, detailed way, so it comes to life for the leader and others. When you create a vision for the future that is so clear it attracts people that want to join the journey.

In order to reach your vision, you need to develop goals as part of your plan. Work with your team to develop written SMART goals. State what you want to achieve, include basic directions to complete the goal, and provide measures of success in performance and effectiveness. Effectiveness is measured best by how close your achievement matches your desired end state. See this blog for more on setting goals.

In January 1994, William Bratton was appointed Police Commissioner of New York City. At the time, crime was out of control. Bratton adopted the broken windows philosophy of James Wilson and George Kelly which said that if there is a broken window in a building, others will break more windows and the disorder of that building spreads to other nearby buildings. The best way to fight crime was to fix disorder. Take care of the small things and they never become big things. Bratton’s vision for NYC’s future and was to make sure every police employee focused on little disorders.

Planning and organizing may occur simultaneously. These parallel activities ensure support for your plan. In your planning, you learn what processes to complete and how long it takes to complete them. In organizing you identify the best ways to complete tasks and formalize those processes.

Every part of execution is linked to the other parts. As a result, if you cannot ignore weak links that will result in failure. A leader cannot be strong in all areas so s/he needs to rely on the strengths of others to create a strong chain of executed tasks.
-Photo by form PxHere edited by the author.

The next step links your planning and organizing with operational execution. When you connect the right people with the right process you create an execution framework. The framework supports the tasks required to meet goals and arrive at your desired end-state. The best way to match people to process is hiring the right people in the first place.

If you hire people with some basic work skills, values aligned with the organization, and a track record of achieving results you will consistently execute better. Too often organizations seek people with the skills necessary for the job to reduce training. It is easier to teach someone with aligned values and proven ability to do a task, than to try and force someone to adopt your organization’s principals and values even if they are highly skilled in the task.

I lead a small non-profit. Employees often work unsupervised due to the nature of the work. It is important the people working for me value trust, and balance working independently and as part of a team. There are requirements for data entry, writing, and general office work. I could hire someone who has office skills and hope to teach them how to be trusted to work as an independent team member, or I could hire someone who has demonstrated the ability to be trusted working as an independent team member and teach them how to answer the phone, file papers, and enter data. My organization’s filing system is unique. It looks like no other. I teach new people our filing system.

When driving a car, watching the road is important. However keeping track of what is behind you is also important. That is why cars have rear facing mirrors. Measuring systems serve as review mirrors. They let us look back to see what happened while keeping our eyes on the destination.

Think of performance data like navigating with your GPS. When you first start, it may not be oriented correctly. After you travel a short distance it provides feedback about your direction and route. In turn, you adjust if you find you heading the wrong way. Having measures of success in processes and effectiveness provide feedback so you know people are doing the right things, the right way, and moving closer to your goal.

In a recent conversation with a peer leader we discussed execution. She stated one of her goals for the coming year was to improve her execution because it was clunky. I replied that clunky execution is better than no execution. If you start something, even if it is not polished, you have a greater chance of accomplishing the goal than the leader who talks about great things but never moves forward.

Clunky execution is the result of lack of experience. It is better to learn how you to do something better than sitting in your office doing nothing perfectly! Your execution improves as you accomplish goals because accumulate data as you measure improving future decisions and course corrections. You cannot adjust your course from the starting line.

You have to start before you can make adjustments. It is unlikely the race will go as planned. You are sure to lose if you do not start so move forward and make adjustments along the way.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Action is at the heart of execution. After all your planning and organizing it is easy to wonder what you should do first. Think of your drive to work. Does it really matter whether you start the car right after inserting the keys in the ignition or buckle your seat belt? Probably not. You do have to unlock and open the door before you can make that choice. There are some actions that must be completed in order. The order of other actions matters little.

The US Army uses a process called Troop Leading Procedures to prioritize work. The first few steps parallel the steps discussed in planning and organizing. The next step is the most important for effective execution, Start Necessary Movement. The procedure does not specify what movement is necessary. The leader still needs to decide what to move first. Start moving something. As things start to move, you revise your plan and tell people about the revisions.

Military commanders issue to begin execution. They live by the maxim, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy. ” (Farlex). The enemy always has a vote. Your competition, vendors, customers, boards of directors, and employees all have votes. The military compensates for these changes by issuing a fragmentary order or FRAGO for short. Common practice is to issue a FRAGO daily. Depending on events they may be issued more or less frequently. Likewise, you need to evaluate the progress of your plan, adjust, and tell people about the adjustment.

Execution is the step that makes plans reality. Without executing plans, people and organizations fail to complete anything becoming stagnant and irrelevant. Execution is the discipline of action. Execution is movement. Execution is taking the first tentative step in any direction. After the first few steps, you can always adjust your course. You created a plan. You have organized your people and processes. Your organized plan is a fictional story without action. Make your story non fiction by initiating action, taking those first steps, moving forward, adjusting as you go. Execute!

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References

Bossidy, L. & Charan, R. (2002) Execution: The discipline of getting things done. Crown Business. New York, NY

Bratton, W. & Knobler, P. (1998) Turnaround. Random House. New York, NY.

Farlex. (2021) no plan survives contact with the enemy. The Free Dictionary. Retreived from https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/no+plan+survives+contact+with+the+enemy on 2/13/2021

Henry, V. (2003) The COMPSTAT paradigm: Management accountability in policing, business and the public sector. Looseleaf Law Publications. Flushing, NY

Shinseki, E. & Tilley, J. (2002) The Army noncommissioned officer guide, FM 7-22.7. HQ Department of the Army. Washington, D.C.

Willink, J. And Babin, L. (2015) Extreme ownership: how U.S. navy SEALs lead and win. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY.

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(c) 2021 – Christopher St. Cyr

It’s All About Resources

We the willing, led by the unqualified are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We accomplished so much for so long and so little that we are capable of doing anything with nothing.”

I first heard the above sentiment decades ago. An older co-worker lamented how easy it would be to mop the floor if the boss would only buy a new mop head for the mop and detergent to add to the bucket. I found myself in the boss’s shoes not so long ago after taking over a nonprofit operation in it’s sixth year. My predecessor did a great job of finding funds to provide adequate technology to start operations. Like much technology, it had a useful life of four to six years. In my first year, everything started breaking. There were no plans or funds for replacements. I found myself buying lots of bubble gum, duct tape, and bailing twine to hold the place together. I developed a plan to replace technology and other high end resources on a staggered and regular basis.

Resources were limited on both sides in the Battle of the Bulge. The allies stronger supply lines allowed them to over-power the German offensive. Without an infusion of those resources the battle may have ended differently.
-U.S.G. Photo

In the movie “Battle of the Bulge” a junior officer presents a crumbly cake to his superior officer. He tells they officer the cake is evidence that Germany will lose the war. The senior officer protests. The junior remarks that if the allies have lift capacity to deliver baked goods to the front lines from their homes in America there is no way Germany can provide enough resources to fight them. Read any commander’s account of war. You will notice they rarely worry about whether or not their troops will be able to successfully close with and destroy the enemy. They worry about whether or not they can maintain open lines of communication and supply to continue the fight.

Ensuring people have necessary resources is a critical management function. Leaders learn early that when they ensure people have what they need to do a job, they will do it well with the right guidance. In those times resources are scarce, they will continue to work knowing that the leader is fighting to find and provide the necessary resources. Only when workers feel their leaders do not care enough provision their work will they quit. Good leaders provide the physical, human, intellectual, and financial resources necessary for the job. Identify and provide resources by analyzing the needs, obtaining the required resources, mange them appropriately, and ensure controls are followed.

Types of Resources

There are four broad categories of resources; places and things, people, skills and knowledge, and money. Physical resources are easy to understand. They include things. They are the buildings or land where the work is conducted, the tools required for the work, materials to create and manufacture, and the less tangible things like power, water, and internet. It is hard to take a picture without a camera. It is hard to write without paper and pencil or a word processor on a computer. Physical resources are all those things.

Most people know about human resources. That is the office where all the people gather that have nothing to do with the mission of the company. They are the people that bug you about the overdue evaluations and ride you when your payroll is late. If you really that think about your Human Resource department, give up your leadership position now. With the right people, doing the right jobs, the right way, your life as a leader is easy. HR ensures you have those people. They are supposed to be people experts. Their knowledge about labor law, health insurance and everything else is a bonus. Without people to follow you, you are not a leader even if you are the CEO. CEOs without people are called solopreneurs. If you want to be a leader, you must have people who want to follow you.

Knowledge and skills are important resources. Today’s computers are smaller, faster, and easier to use but training people to use YOUR system is as necessary now as it was then. -By Unknown author – U.S. Army Photo, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55124

You might have great people and wonderful tools located in a state-of-the art facility. People without skills and knowledge have little value. Organizations should seek out qualified people. It is unlikely that most of the people hired will have all the skills and knowledge necessary to do their jobs. Most require additional training. An example is using databases. The concepts of databases are pretty universal. However NCATrak, Spillman, Catylist, Hubspot, and Spire are all databases that track stuff different ways. The interface for each is different. Workers require training to use them. I know some of you are thinking, “What happens if we spend a bunch of money on training and people leave?” The best answer to that worry is, “What happens if we do not train them and they stay?” Provide your followers with the skills and knowledge they need to do well.

Financial resources are an easy metric to track. Without money, your organization will not operate at its full potential. However, even the largest companies rarely have enough money to execute every idea that comes along. Using your available finances well determines the quality of outcomes. Spending money on the right things at the right time in the correct amount makes the difference between success and failure. The story at the beginning about things breaking at the same time is an example. Use your money well.

Resource Planning

Planning resources is an important management skill. The first step in planning is analyze. Find the answers to questions like:

Planning for resources ensures people have what they need when the need it to complete work. Planning to have the right people in place means other resources will be used as expeced. Leaders must provide necessary resources to succeed.
-Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com
  • What do we want to do?
  • What materials are required to do it?
  • Where are those resources available?
  • What will they cost?
  • How will we store them until needed?
  • What skills and knowledge do we lack?
  • Where can we find people with those skills and knowledge to either hire or train us?
  • What tools do we need?
  • How can we get them?
  • How can we protect our resources to ensure they are available when needed?

Do not over analyze. Ask some simple questions and find the answers. Seek out others who have done the work before you. There is a post in this series on planning. You can find it here.

Obtain the resources required for the project. You do not need everything at once. Plan arrivals to reduce the cost of storage. Obtain it when you need it. Space is not free and drains your finances. Learn how to have what you need when you need it to reduce storage and handling.

Now that you have stuff, learn to manage it. In an earlier article, I discussed organizing. Part of that section deals with identifying processes for work. When we talk about managing resources, they are useless unless the people that need them have access to them at the right time. Figure out a process to make sure that happens.

Controls are simply the rules used to manage resources. Controls are another important management function that they are also covered in another post. Click here. Some controls are pretty straight forward like balancing accounts. Controls should be written and communicated so people know, understand, and follow them. Effectiveness is important. If a control is in place but it does not prevent the loss of a resource it is time to find and implement another control.

Managing resources is an important leadership skill. Leaders who fail to plan for resources set their teams up for failure. No matter how skilled, well trained, and motivated people are, without stuff there is little they can do to accomplish the mission of the organization. There are four types of resources and four steps leaders use so people have what they need when they need it to do their job. People need access to physical resources, other people, knowledge and skills, and money to accomplish work. Leaders plan for those resources by analyzing needs, obtaining stuff, and developing processes to manage and control resources. Resourcing is not necessarily the most glamorous part of leading. Without resources there is nothing to be done so there is no one to lead. Learn to provide appropriate resources and people will follow you.

References

BCcampus (ND) 11. Resource planning. Project Management. https://opentextbc.ca/projectmanagement/chapter/chapter-11-resource-planning-project-management/. Retrieved January 25, 2021

ProjectManager.com (2021) What is a resource plan? https://www.projectmanager.com/resource-management. Retrieved January 25, 2021

NCATrak, Spillman, Catylist, HubSpot, and Spire are all brands controlled by their owners. Inclusion does not serve as an endorsement.

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Organizing: the Art of Systematic Functionality

Organizing can be a daunting task. We all know people who are so organized that if one thing is out of place they are unable to function. You know the types, the left shoulder of every shirt in their closet is closest to the door, any papers related to money are placed in green folders, or that on any given Saturday night at 8:15 they will be doing laundry. These habits help people become organized. Organization is an important management and leadership task. Leaders take habits like these and use them to create organization in the groups they lead.

Like an organized closet makes finding what you want to wear in the morning makes life easier, organizing your team makes operating easier.
-Photo by form PxHere

There is a reason softball teams, boy scouts, companies, religious groups and similar blocks of people grouped together for a common cause are called organizations; they have some level of, well, organization. All have common traits or organization. Sometimes the organization occurred accidentally, sometimes by virtue of the way the work to be accomplished, or because there was a law requiring a specific process. Responsible leaders ensure current the current organization of the organization best meets of required functionality to accomplish the group’s mission. There are three basic areas leaders organize, teams, structure, and processes.

Before we dig into those areas, let us start with a common understanding of the art of organizing. Organize means to arrange parts in a systematic fashion to create functionality to accomplish a desired outcome. You may notice I do not cite a dictionary resource for my definition. That is because I read lots of definitions preparing for this article and found none that really described organize for leaders.

Hasbro makes a game called Mousetrap. It comes with lots of parts. When assembled correctly, players can catch the mouse token of other players and eliminate them from the game. Assemble the parts incorrectly and the mouse trap fails to work. The game is like the organizing function of leadership. Like the game, organizations have many moving parts. If you organize them well, you will catch the mouse.

Teams

Teams are the most important part of the organizational mouse trap. In his book, Good To Great, Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the bus and then putting them in the right seats. Early in my leadership studies I read or was told that it is better to hire people with the right attitudes, values, and potential than the right skill and experience. The training indicated that if you hired someone whose values aligned with the organizations, had some demonstrated potential to master the required task either through work, volunteering, or learning experience, and had a can-do attitude, that person would be more successful in the long run and make the organization more successful than a person with knowledge and experience.

After a few times of going through hiring processes I found this to be true the hard way. As a young leader, I supported candidates that had skill and experience. Not all have values aligned with my organization and they did not last long. One time I recommended a young person right out of school who lack experience but seem to have the right attitude, values, and desire to learn. That person worked out very well. We were able to mold the person into the kind of employee the more senior people in our organization wanted working with clients. After that, I always recommended the person who had desired values, attitude, and demonstrated potential.

Structure

Another important aspect of organizing teams is determining how to structure them. The most important aspect is span of control. Every team has a captain who provides the vision, establishes priorities of works, and sets standards. Depending on the complexity of the task, the captain may only be able to adequately supervise two or three people or a dozen people. Complex, and highly skilled tasks require a smaller span of control. Tasks that are simpler and require less skill allow the captain the ability to supervise more people. In the work place, the captain might be called a supervisor or manager.

Structural organization determines spans of control, who belongs to which group, and who reports to whom.
-Chart by author.

Likewise, the person overseeing the team captains has a limited span of control. During the 1980s there was a trend to flatten organizational pyramids. Not all attempts worked. Much of this has to do with the span of control and the complexity of the work to be done.

Geography is another limitation. If parts of the organization are spread over a large area, the senior leaders may find it necessary to create geographic regions to improve planning, resourcing, controlling, and leading. Leaders who have the ability to stand in one spot and observe everyone they lead have an advantage over those who may have to go from one place to another to observe. As that distance grows, so does the time required to provide adequate supervision and leadership.

I use both supervision and leadership when discussing spans of control. Both activities are important management skills but they are different. Supervision is a process of observing the work of a subordinate and providing reinforcing and corrective feedback to performance. Leadership is the process of influencing others by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish something even in the leader’s absence. All supervisors are managers and leaders. Not all leaders are supervisors or managers. The differences between the three will be examined closer in the leadership post.

Processes

Processes are the repeated actions required to achieve a predictable, repeated result. Ideally they should be simple and easy to understand. Of course that means simple to understand for the intended audience. For example, the process to start up the particle accelerator at CERN would be completely impossible for most people. However, to the people who work at CERN, the process is simple. Many of you have had fun purchasing something with the phrase on the box, “Some Assembly Required.” Some of you tossed the directions. Others called tech support because you could not figure out why tab A did not fit into slot B! That is why it is important to provide simple, easy to understand directions in processes.

Processes need to be thought out and though through so each step makes sense. I heard a yoga teacher trainer suggest that teaching a new yoga teacher required teaching them to think about telling someone how to walk. Because wannbe yoga teachers have been doing yoga for so long they no longer think about how to do yoga any more than most people think about how they walk.

Creating well organized processes helps people figure out how to put together the puzzle. Each piece has a place. The process provides the guidance to take a bunch of stuff and make it a whole picture.
-Photo by author.

As you work through your processes, periodically stop and test. Have people who are not familiar with the work follow the directions provided in your video, slide deck, or written instructions. If they produce an acceptable product it probably means you created a good process.

At various times in life, I found many tasks I needed to repeat for work that were sometimes only needed to be done occasionally like creating an annual budget, or completing annual tax forms. I found that by creating checklists for myself to follow on these types of tasks, I was able to complete such tasks faster and more accurately. When it came time to teach someone else how to do that task I had the beginning of a process to share with them. With a little work, I could take my checklist and create instructions about how to do each task. As a result, rarely have I been indispensable which means I was always able to accept a new role. My successor was set up for success. I could spend minimal time with them which allowed me to focus on learning.

Organizing is an art. Leaders figure out how to take all the parts required for a job and arrange them into a functioning system that achieves repeatable, predicable results that achieve the mission. Organizations rarely think about the organization of their organization. As leaders it is important that the teams, structure, and processes we supervise are arraigned to create a system of functionality. Ensure you have the right people on the team. The right person will learn the skills they need to do the job if their values are aligned with the team’s. See that the structure allows supervisors the ability to provide purpose, direction, and motivation to followers by developing reasonable spans of control. Create processes that are easy to understand by the intended users. Seek ways to improve your organization. Groups of people who share a common vision of the future and are part of well organized teams, that are well leadership, and execute appropriate processes will eventually succeed. Be the leader your team deserves by organizing well.

References and Additional Reading

CERN (2021) Seeking answers to questions about the universe. https://home.cern/about/what-we-do/our-research Retrieved 1/18/21

Collins, J. (2001) Good to great. Harper Collins. New York, NY www.jimcollins.com

Hilgert, R. Leonard, E. & Haimann, T. (1995) Supervision: Concepts and practices of management.(6th ed.) South-Western College Publishing. Cincinnati, OH (Particularly Part 3, Organizing)

Kinicki, A. & Williams, B. (2008). Management: A practical introduction. (3rd ed.) McGraw-Hill Irwin. New York, NY. www.mhhe.com

Raghunath. (2020) Men’s 30 day yoga challenge. DoYouYoga. https://www.doyou.com/creators/raghunath/programs/ (not able to find the particular video he made the comment)

(c) 2021. Christopher St. Cyr