Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, continues to make my top five list of best leadership books ever written. Many of its findings have influenced my perspective of, and hopefully, my actual practice of leadership. So I was thankful to learn that he published a video statement about the current COVID-19 situation. In it Collins talks about how the Stockdale Paradox, a principle outlined in Good to Great, can provide us with an effective perspective for tackling this unprecedented moment.
Take a 6 minutes to watch it. In particular, listen to Admiral Stockdale’s goal for his 8 years as a Vietnam War POW – it’s inspiring. Then ask yourself – is this my goal for this current situation?
I’m an optimist by nature. I believe the best in people, see the possibilities in any situation regardless of how bad, and love stretch goals. These tangible expressions of optimism have defined and benefited my leadership.
Yet, there are downsides to such optimism. One in particular which has inflicted my leadership (thus the organizations I’ve led) is the belief that I can effectively manage a large number of priorities at one time. Yes, it’s the overzealous conviction that I am capable of doing many important things, all really well, and all at the same time.
But here is the reality, to do our best work we must be single minded, we need to focus and do just a few important things at one time. All the research that’s been done over the past few years tells us this much. Sure there appears to be some outliers who can manage lots of priorities, but they are a micro minority (the definition of outlier) or, more likely, just good with smoke and mirrors. Which means most of us (do I dare say – all of us) can’t juggle many priorities at one time.
It’s the Leadership Grand Illusion – believing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that we’re a part of the micro group of outliers that effectively management a high number of priorities at one time.
So, I had to come to grips with this reality and quit buying into the Grand Illusion. I’ve worked to bring discipline to my personal priorities as well as SpringHill’s. It’s been a painful process for an optimist like me, but it’s been necessary (and significantly more effective).
How have I (and we) done this? There are three simple rules that I’ve applied personally as well as organizationally:
- Have no more than Three Priorities (of the day, week, month, year, etc.) at one time
- Then be crystal clear about the Top One of the Three.
- Finally focus, talk, look at, work and Obsess over Three.
It’s that simple.
What’s not simple is the discipline, control of that optimism, and ignoring the Grand Illusion that is required to tackle only three priorities at a time, to pick the first priority of the three, then obsess about those three.
Now the issue, especially if you’re an optimist with a long list of priorities, is how do you identify the Three and the One of the Three?
Again, it’s simple but difficult at the same time – you need to ask and answer the following two questions
- “If I/we can only work on three priorities, which ones should they be?”
- “Of these three priorities, if I/we could only accomplish one, which one would we choose?”
So that’s it.
Really simple, incredibly effective – Commit to these three rules, then rigorously debate and honestly answer these two questions, and finally obsess over the answers until they’re completed. When you take these three steps you’re on your way to being a focused (and really effective) leader.
I was recently asked to provide 3-5 “Things You Should Know” on the topic of “Leadership: Vision, Mission, Values & Strategic Planning” for our industry’s trade magazine. Below is what I provided. Let me know if you have something to add.
Leadership and strategic thinking isn’t about having all the answers, it’s, at the core, asking the right questions and then leading a team or organization to discover the best answers. And these answers are critical because it’s around them that a leader builds unity, community, focus and ultimately success.
The following six groups of questions are the most foundational and strategic questions a leader can ask and then help their team or organization answer:
- Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is typically expressed in a purpose or mission statement.
- What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? The answer to these questions is stated as an organization’s core values.
- What do we believe to be true? What is it about the world we’re most sure of? What’s true even though we may not like it? The answer to these questions is typically written in a statement of faith or a confession.
- What do we want to become? When we look into the future who and what kind of team or organization do we want to be? What are the kinds of things we’d want others to say about us? Answering these questions will lead to creating a shared vision of your future.
- What do we want to accomplish? 5, 10, 20 years from now, when we look back, how will we know we’ve been successful? What will be the key indicator that we faithfully fulfilled our mission and vision? A Big Hairy Audacious God Goal (BHAGG) answers these questions.
- What makes us distinct? What are the defining characteristics that make us stand out from other similar organizations? How do those outside our organization or team describe the work we do or service we provide? When you answer these questions you’ve articulated your brand promise (in organizations with a Christian mission – it’s often called a philosophy of ministry).
So a leader’s first task is to ask these foundational questions then second, lead their teams to discovering the answers. When these first two tasks are accomplished the leader’s job isn’t finished. The final, unending task of the leader is to teach, remind, highlight, reinforce, and be the biggest communicator and cheerleader of these answers to every stakeholder of the organization. This is the primary task of the leader and one that needs to happen every day, all the time; it’s what makes a leader a leader, and one that makes organizations great.
I just finished one of the most inspiring leadership books I’ve read in a long time – Dare to Serve – How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others by Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. It’s so good that it now sits on my book shelf right next to my signed copy of Max De Pree’s leadership classic – Leadership is an Art.
So what makes this book so inspiring, engaging and helpful?
First, is Cheryl’s thesis – “When you choose to humbly serve others and courageously lead them to daring destinations, the team will give you their very best performance” p. 9. Cheryl’s value based, people centered leadership philosophy is not only right on, it’s a desperately needed message in the celebrity driven, leader centered culture found in so many organizations today.
Second, there’s Cheryl’s courage. Think about it, how many CEO’s of a multi-billion dollar publicly traded company, would dare to proclaim such a contrarian idea as one that says – you can lead teams to great performance by serving them? And, of course, courage in others is always inspiring.
Third, Cheryl is not only a student of leadership, she is a leader. Her book isn’t filled with theories but reflects what she’s learned by actually leading people and organizations. Which means this book is a case study in leadership and, specifically, in leading the turnaround of a struggling organization.
Finally, I’ve spent some time with Cheryl, so I can vouch for the fact that, as a leader and, more importantly as a person, she’s the real deal, which only affirms that her book is the real deal.
So if you’re a leader of any kind or aspire to be one, Dare to Serve gives you a great roadmap to become a better leader. It will inspire you to lead humbly and courageously so that you and your team will win.
I knew better. I knew the two most important pieces of gear I would use on the AT were my shoes and my pack. With everything else I could make some compromises, but not on shoes and packs. They had to be right. If they weren’t right my 7 day experience would be painful and exhausting. And unlike tents or stoves, shoes and packs have to fit correctly. In other words, you have to assure they’re customize to your body and walking style to function well. For instance I bought and broke in a pair Montrail shoes months before the trip. They were high rated trail running and hiking shoes which also fit me well.
On the other hand, I borrowed my pack from a good friend. It’s a quality pack but I never bothered to have it fitted correctly. I only began trying adjusting the straps while standing anxiously at the trail head getting ready to embark on our adventure. Not a very smart move considering my friend is taller and broader shouldered than I am.
So I spent the first four days desperately trying to adjust my pack so it sat properly on my hips and shoulders, all the while each of my shoulders, in turn, became sorer by the hour. Finally, I rigged up the straps with some string I brought (the Boy Scout in me) to hold them in relatively the right position. In the end the pack never quite fit right even after all my MacGyver moves which lead to a very sore body.
What’s the leadership lesson in all this? Well there are two, and you already know what they are. First, make sure you and your team have the right gear to do their job. It needs to be quality gear designed specifically for the work to be done. And second, the gear must meet the needs (style, environment, etc.) of the individual using them. The gear needs to be as personalized as possible. If you follow these two lessons – quality gear, personalized for the person using it – then work will be less painful and you and your team will be less likely to leave the trail early.
- “What was I thinking carry all this food?”
- “What was I thinking having three changes of clothing when I’ve only worn one?”
- “What was I thinking not having trekking poles?” as my toe nails started to fall off because of toe jam.
- “What was I thinking not have my pack fitted and adjusted properly before I left?” as my shoulder ached.
- “What was I thinking not taking a closer look at my son’s well thought out itinerary and his packing list?” when I couldn’t remember where we stayed or planned to stay.
- “What was I thinking not being in better shape before the trip?” when I was so winded climbing up those mountains.
Now the beauty of backpacking is the thinking time as you walk (I was too winded to talk much). It was during these daily hikes that I’d find myself asking the “what was I thinking?” questions. And each time I asked these questions I also reflected how these AT experiences could speak into my life and leadership back home. The reality is I had some “ah ha” moments that have led me to make some significant changes when I got off the trail.
So join me over the next few posts as I share some of these lessons (and the stories behind them) with the hopes you’ll also find some useful nuggets for your leadership journey.
The day will come when I will no longer be the President of SpringHill. It’s one of the few things in life I’m 100% sure of. I may not know the circumstances surrounding that last day – when it’ll be or by whose choice will it come – mine, the board’s or God’s. But not knowing these things doesn’t impact what I do know for sure – one day I will no longer be in this job. So there’s no excuse for not doing my part to make sure SpringHill is ready for that inevitable day.
Up to this point I always believed my responsibility was to inform our board of a handful of viable replacements, either on staff or within the SpringHill community, that were available just in case I got hit by a truck.
But my understanding of this responsibility has changed. Recently I talked with a leader I deeply respect about his perspective on preparing for that certain day. What he told me turned my understanding of my responsibility upside down.
He said his job isn’t to replace himself but to multiply himself.
As I’ve reflected on his words I realized he’s right – leaders never invest for a one to one return, they invest for a compounding yield, to see their efforts multiply.
- impacts the effectiveness of an organization today; replacement only matters in the future
- aligns with growth, replacement with maintenance
- is a sign of health; replacement is a sign of sickness and death
So my assignment is now clear – work every day to multiply myself as a leader, by developing and raising up new and future leaders who can help lead SpringHill today. If I do this then SpringHill, as a natural consequence, will also be prepared for that inevitable day – when I’m no longer here.
Can you effectively lead without having all the answers? Will others follow when you’re not the source of all knowledge? Or might it be possible that having all the right answers might actually get in the way of leading others effectively?
Now before you answer these questions ask yourself this – what is the role of a leader? Is it to be the source of all knowledge? Or is it to be a guide to others in their journey of discovery, to empower others by helping them find their own answers?
Consider this reality – knowledge is power, so having all the knowledge of knowledge means having all the power. Now admittedly leaders need power and good leaders use power for good reasons. But power and knowledge are not scarce resources to be held tightly and handed out like war rations. Instead they are much more like Black-eyed Susan’s, when planted in well watered and fertilized soil, spread and fill a garden with beauty.
In other words, leadership is about multiplying power not keeping and hording it. And the most effective way to multiply power is to help others learn how to discover their own answers to their questions, to gain their own understanding and knowledge.
How do we help others do this? We shy away from the temptation to simply answering their questions; instead we answer their questions with our own thoughtful, probing questions. We use the right questions to guide and direct others in their journey of discovering the right answers. Because when a person discovers their own answers they’re empowered with their new knowledge to anticipate, act and respond to the world around them.
So in leadership it’s better to ask the right questions than have all the right answers.
Recently I meet with a CEO of a large publicly traded company. I was seeking input from her about how she effectively leads a fast growing and changing organization in hopes of applying what I learned from her in my leadership context. At one point we moved to discussing the essential nature of measuring the right things. That is when she said “you move what you measure”.
Then she shared one example of a simple behavioral change her company wanted to make with a key group of their business partners – improved timeliness of monthly reporting – and how, by simply adding on-time reporting as a measurement to their weekly scorecard, they drastically improved performance in this area.
So the question is – why does something as simple as measurement change behavior?
First, measurements provide feedback and, as social science has clearly demonstrated, feedback is essential for any behavior change. Secondly, by choosing to measure something you’re also communicating it’s importance to the organization. And this is important because people want to do meaningful work that aligns with the values and the priorities of their organization.
Finally, there’s one other bit of advice this CEO had about measurements. She said that it’s important to pick only a handful of measurements because, as humans, we can only focus on a small number of things at one time. So when we measure to many things the measurements looses their power to change behavior.
I’m thankful for this part of our discussion because it affirmed one of the important components of leading the SpringHill way that I shared with our leadership this winter – “what gets measured is what gets done” or as this CEO stated “you move what you measure”. And because we value getting things done, especially the right things, measuring them is an absolutely essential practice that SpringHill leaders prioritize, value, assure happens.43.928283-85.286682
In January, SpringHill held its first ever Leadership conference in Chicago where SpringHill leaders from around the organization met together for three days of learning, encouragement, team building and fun. As part of the conference I gave a talk titled “Leading the SpringHill Way” where I shared thirteen maxims that capture what it means to lead at SpringHill. So over the next several of posts I’ll summarize each of these thirteen maxims in hopes that you’ll find a nugget or two to use in your own leadership context.
I began my talk with this maxim – “you lead people and manage things, never the other way around.” This maxim is foundational because it captures the two sides of a leader’s job at SpringHill – managing and leading. It also makes it clear that it’s imperative not to confuse the two.
Management is about controlling, planning, and manipulating things to the organization’s advantage. If we’re to be effective leaders we need to management valuable resources such as time, money, processes, and systems. In other words we’re to control, plan, and manipulate these things for the benefit of the organization.
Now leadership is about inspiring, encouraging, developing and enabling people to make their maximum contribution to the success of the organization. It’s much more about encouraging their hearts and challenging their minds than it is getting all you can from them. A great leader knows and understands their people and tailors their leadership to them as individuals. It’s this relational context that distinguishes leadership from management.
Now the key for leaders is to make sure they don’t confuse who and what they’re leading and managing. You see you can’t lead things. You can try but all you’ll do is waste those valuable resources. On the other hand you shouldn’t manage people. People aren’t to be controlled, planned or manipulated. You can try but in the end you’ll never see people perform their best.
So great leaders always remember – you lead people and manage things, never the other way around.43.928283-85.286682