Tag Archives: leadership

Successful Leaders Don’t Focus on All the Details

4 Sep

What if a leader’s job is to look at most things out of focus?Leaders Don't Focus on All the Details

Typically, we think leaders should have a strong vision, focus on that vision, and help others focus on that vision.

But what if a leader’s job is to keep most things slightly out of focus?

When we hear words like micromanagement, isn’t that an indication that the particular leader doing the micromanagement has gotten too focused on some particular details of the organization? This leader would better serve the organization by bringing a situation slightly more into focus but not making it crystal clear. She or he should keep most things at an arm’s length, slightly out of focus.

This does not mean that someone else in the organization shouldn’t be focused or even hyper-focused on any particular situation’s details. This is why you have many people serving in different roles in the organization. Everyone is paying attention to different details.

Key Differences between Successful and Unsuccessful Leaders

But leaders need to separate the details important to them from all the rest. Leaders need to become comfortable with letting others manage details in areas out of the leader’s focus.

I suspect this is a key difference between successful and unsuccessful leaders. Successful leaders focus on only the most important details and let others manage the rest. Successful leaders have mastered the art of being comfortable with viewing many parts of the organization slightly out of focus.

The Wisdom of Not Knowing

17 Feb

What does knowing bring us?The Wisdom of Not Knowing

It often brings us comfort. We think that knowing gives us power, control, even wisdom.

But knowing is a false state of mind because what we know pales in comparison to what we don’t know.

What we don’t know is what makes life interesting. What we don’t know, especially about others, is what necessitates empathy.

The opinions we form based on what we know should forever change based on what we find out we didn’t know.

This is why we often think of God as infinite wisdom, this ability to know everything.

And yet we act as God, thinking that our limited knowledge gives us space to create absolutes.

Instead, we should live open, open to the unknown, open to the expansion of our knowledge.

This openness gives rise to wisdom. Not a wisdom of knowing everything, but a wisdom found in being open to living.

Be wise.
Be open.
Be alive.

Vision Creation Theory of Leadership

9 Feb
Vision Creation Theory of Leadership

Visions are created through a process of constant decision-making.

Leadership is often made synonymous with vision creation. Strong leaders are assumed to have a strong vision. But I don’t think that is quite right. Leaders may have strong boundaries on their vision, but that doesn’t mean they hold every detail in focus. Instead, strong leaders know they must trust the people carrying out the vision. They must trust these people because only through them is every detail attended to.

Leaders should focus on making the best decisions on questions within the scope of the vision they have broadly defined. This is an essential task of leadership: to determine what questions are within the realm of the vision. This doesn’t mean that leaders will answer every question. No, instead, they will rely on others with more knowledge of the details to make decisions.

How Many Decisions Do We Make Each Day?

How many decisions does a person make in each day? We make at least 200 food decisions alone every day, on top of the thousands of other decisions. These daily decisions create the story of our life, whether we realize it or not.

So what about organizations? How many decisions does an organization make each day? If we assume 1,000 decisions per person per day and assume that maybe 1/3 of those decisions are work related (probably more), then we could take the number of employees times 333. For an organization of 100 people that would be over 33,000 decisions each day! No leader could handle making that many decisions. It is  obviously not realistic, desired, nor would it be productive.

Employees make thousands of decisions each day without the oversight of a leader. So how does vision creation work in this context?

Vision Creation Theory Diagram

This simple illustration gives an idea of how visions are created through leadership and the decision making processes.

Vision Creation Theory of Leadership

Though obviously more complex, decisions are broken into small and large decisions. Small decisions happen all the time and may or may not help better define the vision. Choosing which color pen to use will not affect the vision.

On the other hand, there are many other daily decisions that will affect the vision. Employees will handle many of these questions themselves. But there will be decisions that need more thought and this is where leaders often step in.

Six Key Roles of a Leader in the Vision Creation Process

Here are the roles of the leader in this model of vision creation. Leaders:

  1. Help create and refine the vision.
  2. Keep the scope of the vision in balance.
  3. Determine whether or not a decision is within the scope of the vision.
  4. Make decisions or give space to make decisions on important questions that the define the vision and scope of the vision.
  5. Listen – this topic is so important it warrants its own bullet points.
    1. Leaders listen to bring pieces of the vision into focus. Leaders also listen to help individuals place their contributions into the broader context of the vision.
    2. Leaders listen to better understand why the vision and pieces of the vision matter to people.
    3. Leaders listen to let other know that their participation and work within the vision matters.
  6. Delegate decisions to others so that the vision creation process is participatory and so that they can focus on only the most important decisions defining the vision.

None of this is to say that decisions that aren’t made by leaders are not important. Instead, I am suggesting that a leader’s most important work revolves around the constant vision creation process and the decision-making process used to get there.

What decisions have you made today? What visions are you creating?

What Is a Persistent Optimizer?

15 Oct

What Is a Persistent Optimizer?

Once I get a big question in my head, it doesn’t leave. I will drive in to work thinking about insights and answers, spend all day working on solutions, drive home thinking, and then spend my most productive evening hours working on solutions. I will read voraciously the best material I can find about the issue. I will find the experts on the issue, talk to them, and read what they have to say. I will start to zoom in on the large themes and connections I see and develop my own unique response to the question or problem at hand. Though intense, this is fun for me! Finding big answers to big questions is where I gain the most energy.

Persistent Optimization – A Story

In 2007, six months into my current job, I saw that our manual CRM and registration system was not adequate for the future. I saw the trend that people were going to increasingly register and purchase goods and services online. I spent an extra 100 hours outside of my normal work hours in the month of January 2007 analyzing our customer and staff needs, researching potential options, talking to experts, and eventually designing and developing a custom registration and CRM application, from scratch. This was a big and complex problem that was quite fun to solve. We went from 0% online registration to 70% in just one year. We increased our attendance over 30% in the next five years. I estimate that we saved 4-8% in personnel costs, and we drove our mailing costs down to $0 through the use of automated emails and CRM communication functions.

My Strengths

Deep understanding of how to bring value to an organization

I seek out root causes and hate to see surface solutions stall the discovery of root change. I also love data because it gives one important piece of the puzzle when determining whether or not some solution is successful. Data helps you focus on the right things. I know that value is best-measured with supporting data. I bring the highest value to any work because I revel in measuring the details. I design and implement human performance solutions and systems that solve root issues.

Focus on human performance and solutions

I pursued and completed graduate studies in leadership not to simply lead but to discover ways to allow people to perform at their highest levels. I discovered early on in my teaching career that the social and emotional  dimensions of people’s lives are just as important as the cognitive and pyschomotor components. I work to bring good change to people and organizations.

Instinctive ability to work at the highest level

I also love to learn myself and pursue topics of interest as deeply as possible. I am well read across diverse disciplines and am able to walk into any given organization and discern issues and areas of opportunity very quickly, by both observing processes in motion and by talking with leaders, workers, and customers. People want to work with me because they know I am trustworthy and support their success.

What is Organizational Leadership?

15 Oct

I completed a Master of Science degree in organizational leadership in 2011. I have been asked more than a few times, “What is your degree in?” I found that many elements distinguished my experience and I wanted to share what this study of leadership really meant to me.

The organizational leadership program focused a great deal on ethics. This was a program to learn not just to lead, but to lead in a way that was good, just, and right. These are lofty ideals, yes, but have an urgent importance. Organizational cultures are created by big decisions and influential events, but they are also created by the decisions people make all day, every day.

“Our Small Decisions as Leaders Have Great Effect on the Future”

Our job as leaders is to be conscious of the effect both our large and seemingly small decisions have on the people around us and the organizations we lead. It is easy to forget that today’s decision has effects far into the future. Double this with the short-term success pressures one often faces and it is even harder to make the right decision for long-term success.

One thing leaders can do to combat these pressures is to recognize their own tendencies, personality traits, and needs. What we do under pressure can be very different than what we might do in a less intense situation. Knowing what literally gets our blood boiling is very helpful. Recognizing the potential for a situation to upset us and bring out our fallback responses allows us to prepare better to make better decisions that reflect our better selves.

I also learned that leaders must recognize the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of those they lead. The situational leadership theory we studied was one of my favorite theories and suggested we give a great deal of attention to those we lead. We increase our reach as a leader by empowering others to do great work.

I covered these topics at various levels of detail and through various disciplines within the organizational leadership program. The program gave me the experience of looking critically at myself and reflecting on the decisions I make every day. It enabled me to recognize the important ways leaders affect those around them and how that affect helps bring success or failure.

See also, “The Three Leadership Essentials I’ve Learned”.

Sometimes the Best Way to Lead People Is to Be Unavailable

15 Aug

Availability is different than visibility. You can be visible but unavailable. And good leaders are often very visible. They make their presence known. They let their people know that they are on top of things and present to the organization.

Good leaders are also very approachable but, again, being approachable is different than being available. If you are approachable it means people trust that you will be a good listener, provide insight, compassion, and direction where needed. People know that they can approach you because you have their best interests at heart.

But good leaders are not always available. Good leaders are sometimes away from the day-to-day movement, problems, and successes. Good leaders spend their time thinking through and working through the current big-picture trends. Good leaders step away to reflect. Good leaders step back and make sure they do not have to do any crisis management. They know crises can become addicting. Leaders understand the perspective they gain by stepping away.

Good leaders also know that being too available does not give people a chance to problem solve on their own. Good leaders do not train their people to come to them with all of their problems; some problems, yes, but not all. Good leaders know they must trust their people to solve their own problems.

Good leaders also know that stepping away allows other leaders to emerge. It allows people space to think in a different way because no matter how approachable and helpful a leader is, their words and actions tend to stifle creativity and emerging leadership if always present in problem-solving situations.

When is the last time you led by being unavailable?

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