Leaders Who Get the Most Margin – Handle It Once

If you think most good leaders are extraordinarily busy, think again. The best leaders might have a tight schedule or calendar but they also maximize their efforts to maintain margin for opportunities and situations that come up. They know well that being available is critical for the forward motion of the company and success in staying in tune with those ever-present changes that can happen in a competitive market.

One basic rule good leaders follow is “Handle It Once.” In almost every assessment center battery of challenges there is always one, or even several, exercises that rate a candidate’s ability to prioritize and handle the onslaught of information that is thrown at him or her. This also tests the candidate’s ability to perform under stress. “Handle It Once” involves individual assessment of information, dealing with it, and moving on. Anything else is a waste of time. There may be some circumstances where several pieces of information might be linked, and therefore, require the ability to connect the dots and deal with the situation in an appropriate manner. For instance, an Inbox note from a subordinate several tiers down might leave a memo requesting a personal conference regarding clarification on the organization’s sexual harassment policy. A voicemail message from the same subordinate’s immediate supervisor indicates his request to see you regarding this same employee with an unspecified topic. Clearly, before responding to the employee the supervisor needs to be contacted first. Most prioritization exercises only require the channeling of action to those who can take immediate action, i.e. day off/vacation requests, training requests, etc.

Leaders can easily get bogged down with a myriad of details and need to address situations immediately and then move on to those things that advance the mission so the organization can be successful and/or profitable. “Handle It Once” is another tool in the leader’s toolbox that helps ensure margin is maintained. Show me an organization that has leadership from within that has margin for situations and practices simple exercises like “Handle It Once” and I’ll show you a leadership team that is one step ahead of the less organized competition and has longevity in the field.

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Making Choices in Leadership

Everyday we make choices. It is not on one particular choice that our success rises or falls. It is the sum of the choices we make beginning one moment at a time and extending into days, weeks, and months. The beautiful part of all this is that at any given time we can make choices that will send us in a direction that will change our lives for the better forever.

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The Concept of Change to Start 2015

Change is possible! Change is also a journey and not a destination.

The start of a new year is always a time of reflection and introspection. I think it’s our nature to be the best we can be or at least want to be the best we can be. From where does the strength come to not only break old habits but continue on with good ones? It is not selfish to take time for one’s self in the pursuits that make us better people not only for ourselves but for others. Getting in shape, having more control of our finances or relationships, or advancing one’s intellectual and spiritual pursuits are usually at the top of most new year’s resolution lists.

I’m a firm believer that any behavior or resolution can be sustained through the inherent belief there is a greater power that wants the best for us but gives us choices. Look to those people who succeed with their dreams. They struggle and they persevere but they are successful and they are better people for it. I so understand this because through the decades I watched and learned from those who were successful in achieving their goals.

I can only speak from my experience alone but what sustains me is a relationship with God. My God is the God of second chances and, in my case, third and fourth chances and that goes on. It’s knowing that no matter how much I screw up I can learn from whatever experiences or situations occur and start over to do it better. God knows my heart and He also knows yours. At the end of 2014 this Bible verse played a significant role in my life and continues on today, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” As I sit in church this weekend I’ll be reflecting on the past year and be looking forward to the great things in 2015 my God of the second chance has for me. No matter what happens in 2015 I know that God is for me and all he asks is a relationship with Him and to love on others. I think that’s going to be at the top of my resolution list. If I can do that then everything else will fall into place. Happy New Year 2015.

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Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place: Surviving In A Toxic Environment

“But you and I both know who our true enemy is. It is important for you to know that this is just a job to me, not a calling. I have a family to feed and nonmilitary employment is hard to come by. Surely you understand.”
From The Story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Michael Van Dyke

When theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in Nazi Germany in 1943 this is a quote from a prison guard to Bonhoeffer. This brief statement is very telling in several ways. First, at the outset it sets the tone they are both like-minded in their feelings about what is going on in their country. Second, there is almost an expression of despair (hopelessness?) on the part of the prison guard for the circumstances ruling Germany.

Often some people feel locked into their jobs. They feel locked into their life without any control. Their current job pays the bills and nothing is changing in their lives with little, if any, excitement attached for working in an environment that is supposed to express satisfaction in using their true gifts, skills, and talents. Why?

Remember the excitement people feel with starting a new job? What happens over time? At what point in time does management take responsibility for the slow decay of morale for not only individuals but the overall organization? I can spend five minutes talking with someone about their job and in that short amount of time I can get a good sense of the overall employee attitude. Further, this is typically a mirror image of what is going on in top leadership.

All to often, leadership gets bogged down in the nuts and bolts of running the organization and fails to see the bigger picture. In some organizations I have literally seen dozens of pages of metrics and the numbers that are redundant and (here’s the scary part) measure variables neither the rank and file employees or anyone in the organization for that matter can do anything about yet people are held accountable in some fashion for the metrics. That’s like saying to an employee, “By the way, you’re in charge of world peace and if you can’t get that, then be prepared to have a good reason why and what strategies you will use to improve next quarter.” This is a great illustration how to blow up employee morale.

You can’t survive in a toxic environment without getting poisoned a little at a time. It shows up in productivity. It shows up in a lack of creativity and initiative. It shows up in personal attitude. Nothing good ever comes from working in a toxic environment. This is especially tough on second chair leaders who usually are the stalwarts in an organization and do well many times not because of leadership but in spite of it.

The most logical way to deal with a toxic environment is to leave it and leave it cold. No part-time. No continuing relationship as a consultant. Just leave. Short of leaving employees who feel stuck need to find an outlet for their skills, gifts, and talents that used to be valued but are not. I know some pretty good employee actors who put on an exceptional show but inwardly they shake their heads at staff meetings and organizational webinars. How sad. Employee options are limited in this type of environment but the best advice short of leaving is to focus personal fulfillment outside the work environment all the while making preparations to go on to something more fruitful. Consider the time spent in a toxic environment as a “wilderness” where one can learn lessons in leadership for what NOT to do all the while looking to the one day you will really make a positive difference someplace else.

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Organizational Change: “Congratulations! The operation was a huge success but unfortunately, the patient died.”

All too often, someone in an organization thinks something is a good idea but in reality it’s a trainwreck waiting to happen. The business world is strewn with examples of ideas that may have sounded good or even looked good on paper but in the end they were disastrous for the organization sometimes requiring major triage to keep the company afloat. How does a company know what’s a good idea and what isn’t? Go back to the basics and surprisingly, the basics is not the financial bottom line.

The core of any organization is the customer base, i.e. the people who buy the products or use the services. The question needs to be asked, “What’s in the best interest of the customer who is the end-user for what we do? In public safety the end users are the taxpayers and general public. In education, especially higher education, the end users are students. In healthcare the end users are the patients and the list goes on but some organizations don’t understand this. Some might even pervert this thinking.

For instance, consider the hypothetical where an institution of higher learning touts students as not customers but a product for end users of people who hire graduates. Extensive pandering is done in the best interest of the businesses who might possibly hire graduates but the businesses don’t pay the bills. They are secondary in the metric measuring food chain. Clearly, in the highly competitive nature of higher education what separates those organizations that are successful with those that are not is the bottom line of student enrollment metrics. If enrollment is down the bills and salaries aren’t going to be paid because the money isn’t coming in through tuition payments, student grants, or student loans. Prospective students will go to those institutions where services and teaching are exemplary especially in an age with rising costs. Cutbacks in staff and services will have a major effect no matter what witty marketing slogans are attached to them. Rest assured the customer base sees cutback situations for what they really are.

Another point to remember is that reputation is key. Burning bridges is an indication of organizational and/or personal hubris from within. Organizations that have a reputation of burning bridges in the community and losing high quality staff will not last long in the industry no matter how much rationalization is done to explain reduced customer satisfaction.

In a service related industry the customers will always remember how they were treated and how cutbacks personally affected them. Studies show there is more effect on an organization’s reputation by negative commentary than by positive commentary. Hence, the huge success of start-ups like Angie’s List.

When assessing the prudence of organizational change leaders need to first assess the impact on customers and not so much the short-term financial bottom line unless, of course, an outside takeover is looming in the not too distant future. Leaders need to trust the foundation and mission on which the organization is built to sustain them in lean times. Doing anything else can typically result in the following comment about change, “Congratulations! The operation was a huge success but unfortunately, the patient died.”

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The Pursuit of Excellence

Pablo Casals is one of the greatest cellists of our time. When he was in his 90’s he was asked by a reporter why he still practiced playing the cello six hours a day since he already achieved greatness in his field. His response? “Because I think I’m getting better.” Such is the grit of what comprises success.

Nothing comes easy. A person who wants to be successful somehow finds the inner strength to persevere, overcome obstacles or challenges, and then succeeds. That is the formula.

If we take a close look at those who have gone before us and were successful you will see this same scenario played out time after time. From where does the inner strength come for success through excellence? It depends on the individual but typically it is years in the making. It is the sum of everything that an individual has experienced and is willing to sacrifice no matter what the goal whether training for a marathon, losing excess weight, or completing a college degree. Often the words excellence and success are used together.

Finally, there is a common theme that runs through the excellence displayed by successful people and that is their passion. They have passion for what they do. They have passion to persevere. They have passion to live in the moment day by day forging their stamina in the crucible of time. They are totally immersed in the present not lamenting about past mistakes or thinking about future obstacles. In this way we see success built minute by minute, day by day, and week by week until finally the miracle of time does its work and results in excellence of the finished product. Passion, perseverance, excellence, and success. They are all interrelated.

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Can Christian Leaders Lead in a Secular Organization?

Christian men and women who lead in private and public organizations inwardly deal with this issue. The challenges are plentiful, for sure. These challenges typically come in the form of ethical decisions that may come in conflict with one’s personal beliefs. Sometimes it is easier to lead from the second chair than those who are more directly in the spotlight within the organization. Still, a skilled leader can bring into practice personal values and ethics that are or can be aligned with the organization.

The real challenge is to keep one’s priorities straight without drinking the organizational Kool-Aid and being led to believe one needs to bleed whatever the organizational color is. Some of the biggest challenges relate to staff conduct and performance issues. Conduct issues are usually a slam dunk. Theft, discrimination, harassment, etc. typically fall under the purview with definitive rules and the consequences are pretty much cut and dried, i.e. termination. Performance issues tend to get a little fuzzy. Is the performance issue related to a lack of knowledge, skill, or training? Are metrics measuring what they should measure? What is the history of the employee? Are there any variables affecting performance that one cannot control? These are just a few of the questions that need to be asked but personal values in dealing with individuals is critical and calls for leaders to exercise discernment and wisdom.

In deciding staff cutbacks are the “problem children” considered first? What if the company marching orders for required staff cutbacks avoid dealing with the “problem children” who exist in management? Does the leader let productive employees go just by virtue their title is not associated with management?

From a Christian perspective there are tools to the leader’s toolbox that should be required, 1) Intentionality with spending time in scripture, 2) Having accountability with like-minded people, especially those who might also be in leadership, 3) Having a mentor available for advice and counsel, and 4) Spending time in prayer and meditation. These four are important or as scripture might indicate these have the advantage of providing the full armor of God to exist in an environment that is not friendly toward having good values. To do anything else is acquiescing to those things that are of this world.

Finally, there may come a time when a leader needs to decide whether to stay or leave the organization. I so get this. There needs to be a fundamental faith and belief that God is in control and can be trusted. Jer. 29:11 needs to be remembered on this one. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ”

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