Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fatal Distraction

BLUF: today's post points you to a moving and powerful short article that teaches (at least) two important leadership lessons

  1. Seek first to understand, and;
  2. No-one is infallible

Last year, one of the best books I read was a collection of non-fiction short stories by Gene Weingarten, who also writes the "Below the Beltway" column for the Washington Post. The book is called "Fiddler in the Subway", and is fantastic - Weingarten is a superb writer. He's humorous, engaging, and chooses topics that start along a certain path and often end at a very different place to where you may have thought. Even though this post only deals with one story in the book, I thoroughly recommend reading the whole book, which you can purchase via here.

The most moving story in the book to me was "Fatal Distraction". You can read it at the Washington Post here (although this doesn't include Weingarten's introduction that's in the book which adds another element to his telling of the story). The article is probably the most harrowing journalistic reporting/story I have ever read. Read it with someone you love or on your own, as it's sure to shake your composure as you go through it. The book, and especially this story were a great reminder to me of one of the most important leadership lessons I have learnt - that no one is infallible.

The story is multidimensional and portrays so many emotions. In addition to reminding me of infallibility, it's also a great reminder to seek first to understand. It's easy to jump to a reaction like, "what a terrible parent!". It takes great insight, vulnerability, and empathy to first ask "what could have caused this to happen?". This is a hallmark of Weingarten's writing, not to mention of great leaders.

I'll leave it with you and let you reflect on the story - any more description that I add won't do it justice, however, I'd love to hear your reactions and any other lessons you take away from reading it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Is a leader who tweets a twit?

BLUF: Is there any reason for a leader to use Twitter to improve their effectiveness?

I need your help. I'm plugged into many social and other networking applications (LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, etc), but I'm still yet to enter the tweet-sphere. I've looked at what Twitter does and how it works and I honestly can't see why I'd use it to be more effective as a leader.

The only reason I've been tempted to use it so far would be to try to get more followers than Justin Timberlake. I mean, you always need to be striving for some type of goal, right?

So, on this post I'm hoping to hear from you on whether you use it, why you use it, and whether it can or has improved your effectiveness as a leader. And please don't send me your response in the form of a tweet...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

This time, the choice is real - revisiting focus

BLUF: Knowing you have to work on just ONE priority until it's complete, what will it be? This time, I'm not asking a hypothetical question...

Every now and then I pick up one of my favorite management texts, Peter Drucker's The Effective Executive, and re-read a section - the book gets better every time I do this! This week I re-read the chapter "First Things First", and it prompted me to write a second post on focus (see Focus Grasshopper for the previous posting).

The primary message in this chapter is two fold:
  1. Effective executives focus on one or (at most) two things at any one time and complete them before moving to the next major area of focus
  2. Sloughing off yesterday - in order to focus the effective executive leaves behind unproductive initiatives no matter the investment in them to-date or remaining work to complete them
In the last post I asked the hypothetical question, "If you could only use one form of communication as a leader, what would it be...?". That, plus my reading of the Drucker chapter led me to ask the following question in this posting - "Knowing you have to work on just ONE priority until it's complete, what will it be?". Modifying the question slightly to reflect Drucker's wisdom you could say, "Knowing you have to work on just ONE priority until it's complete or unlikely to produce any tangible results, what will it be?".

So - what will it be for you? I can't really tell you what my ONE item of focus is at the moment, as it's related to competiveness in the industry I'm in. I expect the same will be true for many of you. Still, even if you can't say what the one item is, I'd really like to hear your thoughts on the concept of this type of laser focus.

(as a side-bar, I started this post off with "BLUF", which is short for "Bottom Line Up Front". I originally picked this term up from my favorite management podcast, Manager Tools. Hopefully "Bottom Line Up Front" speaks for itself, however, for more info take a look at BLUF (communication). I'm going to start off all my posts with this from now on. Keep me honest in case I forget!)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Your Desert Island Communication Mechanism - choose ONE!

There's no doubt that communications is one of, if not the most important tools at a leader's disposal.

Today there are so many forms of communication - verbal (face-face or phone), email, instant messenger, snail mail, blogs, ... (although I'm yet to and maybe never will 'tweet' - sure to be a future posting topic here).

So now I'm going to ask you to choose just ONE. If you could only use one form of communication as a leader, what would it be, and more importantly, why??

I know this is extremely hypothetical, but I also hope to see it yield some interesting and insightful dialog.

I'll wait for a few people to respond before adding my own thoughts on this one.

Comment away!

Monday, January 18, 2010

If I win the lottery...

When discussing succession planning, people often talk about who would step in for someone if they were "hit by a bus". I've always preferred to ask what would happen if someone won the lottery. A slightly brighter picture. ;)

A little while back, Phil suggested a post on "succession planning and development". Within the organization I lead we have a goal this year to formalize this process, so the timing is good to share some thoughts and get your input.
  1. Keep it simple - especially in the beginning of the process. No need to create a detailed filtering criteria for who should/shouldn't be nominated for development. The more gates at this stage of the process the less likely it is that people will nominate anyone. Focus on executing a simple set of steps, not spending a bunch of time planning and filtering without ever talking to the people who need development
  2. Make a quick list of people to develop. My company has a great method for doing this. Start by enumerating all the positions reporting to you and then for each one list people you can think of who are "ready now", "1-2 years", and "3-5 years" away from being able to take on those roles
  3. Put more names in your list. Think about your network outside just the people who are currently in your direct reporting line. Look within the company, outside the company, at customers, and prior employees. Anyone you've worked with who was impressive.
  4. Now that you have a list, let people know they're in the list! This is something that doesn't happen routinely, but I've found can yield great benefits, both immediate and longer term. Even if you think someone won't be interested in the role you'd be surprised how good they may feel to hear "you're listed in our succession plans as a person we think would be great at doing my role".
  5. Now that people know they're in the list, start with just two actions for everyone in the list:
    - delegate one significant responsibility to them
    - set up a formal mentoring relationship for them
  6. Measure the outcomes. Set up some simple metric which focuses on the outcomes, not the process. For example, "number of promotions from within the succession list each year"
  7. Repeat often. Set regular milestones to review the list, the metric, and the actions for each person in the list

Now over to you - what have you seen work? What didn't go so well? Any references that you've found valuable?

Some references that you may find useful:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Focus Grasshopper!

Back in, anonymous said the following: "A leader is completely FOCUSED on achieving a clearly defined mission. The leader knows where they are going. A person who refuses to accept defeat in reaching their goal. A leader is a WINNER, even though they face defeat they refuse to accept a loss as failure, losses are setbacks on the way to ultimate mission accomplishment.

This post is devoted to focus. A few of my own thoughts:
  • For a leader focus is as much about repetition in communication as it is individual concentration and dedication. Repeating the same message in multiple ways is critical for a common direction across an organization
  • Good to Great provides an excellent framework for strategic focus - where the "hedgehog concept" is introduced. Namely, having a deep understanding of the intersection between three areas in the form of a simple, crystalline concept that defines what an organization is striving to achieve. The three areas are:
    1. What you can be best in the world at (note that this is not necessarily the current core competancies)?
    2. What you are passionate about?
    3. What drives your economic engine (what's the denominator that profit is measured against? eg profit per customer visit - use cash flow instead of profit for the public sector)?
  • Focus without listening and feedback can be dangerous. What measures or feedback mechanisms can you put in place to make sure you're not focusing on bringing down your organization?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to achieve focus, good books you've read on the topic, or any instances where you've seen focus as an issue. Post away!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Please Sir - Can I Have Some More (Telecommuting)?

Happy Holidays! I watched "Julie and Julia" this weekend, so I'm inspired to get back to relatively more frequent blogs. You can expect more of them to be a question soliciting your comments. This should help to get both more frequent posts and more of your thoughts rather than mine.

This year I completed my epic quest to finish "The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century". It didn't take me a long time because the book is dull. Quite the opposite - it's a large book AND filled with many thought provoking concepts (leading to frequent mind-wandering while reading).

Among many topics, the book referenced a trend for more virtual work. This leads me to the question of what is missing when people don't work in the same physical locations? How important is social interaction, and how closely replicated can it be via facebook, google wave, etc?

Would love to hear your thoughts, including whether you think telecommuting and virtual work are a good idea.

Over to you...