Epic Leader Fail!

Stop Doing the Work and Get the Work Done.

Many years ago, early in my leadership experience, I employed an admin named Janet*. Janet was a godly senior with the most remarkable spirit to help. She tried to do everything I asked, and her questions fell from her lips as water from Niagara falls. She was a saint. She just wasn’t very detail oriented, timely or efficient.

Whose fault was that? Mine.

It was a Wednesday, and being the terrific leader that I thought I was, I decided that rather than do the task myself, I would entrust it to Janet. At the same time, I knew that the task would take a couple of hours and that I would have to patiently wait for it. I also knew that the job would not be the quality that I expected or would have achieved myself. I waited…

By the next morning, Janet was still working on the project. Eight payable hours later and she was not yet finished. In my frustration, I took the project away from her and had it finished 25 minutes later to a much higher degree of quality. What a loser! Me, not her.

Here’s what I accomplished that day.

Project finished to a high degree of excellence (and in 1/18th of the time)!
One devastated admin that paid the price of a lower self-worth.
A missed opportunity to allow another to grow in skill and self-confidence.
One upset boss with a “See what I can do!” attitude that was displeasing to God. And…
A perpetual cycle of repeating that monthly task myself, 25 minutes of my time, every month, for eternity.
Epic. Leader. Fail… Lesson learned? Oh Yeah!

I would love to be able to take back those early years and decisions. However, in a way, I am grateful to look back upon them knowing that I have grown. One key element of a transformational leader is their ability to inspire and uplift, not tear down and destroy. The task-master can build an organization, but a leader can build community with a purpose.

About Inspiring Others…

You really do not need to look very hard to see the God-given gifts in other people. As their leader, a word from you—affirming their gift—will do more to motivate them to pursue it than perhaps any other worldly encouragement. Be observant, and when you see it, capitalize on it.

“Hey, Jonathan! I was watching you the other day, and I need to say… you have a unique ability for organization.”

Leave it at that. Let the compliment do the rest. Remember, it is about building up the individual, not manipulating them so that they will work for you. The first will bear fruit, the second is unethical.

If we are not first-and-foremost about building people, we will find ourselves far less the leaders than we otherwise would be.

Give them a model in your leadership that they can reproduce for others.

*name changed

A Higher View

Work “on” the system, not “in” the system.

The role of leader requires a certain way of thinking about everyday tasks. You may need to shift. Consider how you can step back from the to-do list and oversee the progress of your organization as a system to be managed. We struggle with so many things to do that it is easy to throw our hands in the air and give up. However, with a little strategic thought we can streamline.

You have a work flow. How organized it is depends on you. I want you to imagine yourself at your desk. If it is anything like mine we could say it’s “un-neatly organized.” Now that you are picturing it, imagine all the related tasks that are on it’s surface. The thirty-fifth paper in pile number two is related to the twenty-fourth paper in pile five. It has gotten this way due to neglect. Day to day, you take the top paper, work on it, put it somewhere else, or you throw it in the trash. You are in the system…

Quote1 working one task at a time you will fail to work strategically    Quote2

Now, imagine that you had perfect clarity. You are now standing over your desk (not sitting at it) and because you can see the big picture you can see how each paper corresponds to other papers and you begin to group them with all other relevant papers. You begin to see “mobilizations” instead of a to-do list. You realize that if you put the tenth paper in pile two together with the third paper in pile four and the fifth in pile five, you can take care of all of them with one action. You are now working ON the system…

As long as you are working one task at a time you will fail to work strategically, or give ownership of anything to anyone. It is faster to do the task than to teach (or allow) someone else to do it. However, if the related and relevant items are grouped, and a mobilization is build around it, you can give ownership of something much bigger than a task, and relieve yourself of the minutiae of having to perform every task yourself. As a collective whole, those tasks can become a strategic mobilization which results in the training of your direct reports and greater efficiency for the organization.

As a leader, your people need you to show them where they are headed and how they will get there. Inspire them with the big picture. Reward them for every step towards that end. Celebrate when each victory is achieved and inspire confidence in their abilities. You know that they are going to make mistakes. You also know that – initially – the tasks will get completed to a lesser level of excellence than it would had you completed the task on your own. However, to follow your same patterns will lead you into a trap. You do not have the option to work in the system and direct it from above. If you desire change in your organization, but refuse to let go of the lesser things, then step aside and let another lead. Remember, a leader rejoices more over a mistake made with effort than with inactivity perfectly executed.

PRACTICUM: Take a moment to think about repetative things that you do, the no-brainers. Now think about how often you do them. Add up the time on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis. Take one of those tasks, and hand them off to someone this week. Expect less than perfection and be willing to wait for the standard to rise.
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Leaders Go First

In today’s unforgiving environment both seasoned leaders and those coming into new leadership roles need to hit the ground running, or at the very least, come up to speed quickly. This is simply a reality.

In previous eras of workplace ethics you could coast for a long time before your lack of leadership proficiency was noticed or harmed the organization. No so any longer. Today’s leader needs to be the forerunner of change. Allow me this personal example.

I am a SCUBA diver. I have been avidly diving since 1986 and I have a special love for the sport. I have yet to be on a dive boat where, once we are over the dive spot, I am not the first diver in the water and the last to come aboard. Why? Because I am passionate about diving. PASSIONATE! I love every moment of it. I suit up long before anyone, sitting on the deck amidst the stares of the others who are in the galley eating. I wait for my chance to take my giant stride off the deck and signal OK to the Divemaster with a tap to my head. On a recent dive at Anacapa island in California, I was in awe as I descended into a school of thousands of fish, I was right in the middle of them. Guess what? I was the only one on the boat that day that was so privileged. Why? I was the first in.

A Hard Reality…

As a “go first” leader, you must be competent. If you are not the first one in (and the last one out) on every new endeavor, you are losing your authority. I am not saying that you cannot delegate, but delegate the lesser things. The important ones are yours. Build the team, inspire them to act, and take the first step. Your passion for the new endeavor will be contagious and you will inspire those behind.

I marvel at the many “leaders” that I speak to on a daily basis, and when I look behind them (figuratively) there is no one there. In fact, I’ve been there myself. However, you know as well as I, you are not a leader if nobody’s following. Today’s leader must not only have the ability to lead followers, he must lead leaders.

If you want to lead leaders, here are some of the things you will need to consider important.

• Time management skills
• Delegation and ownership
• Personal presentation
• The ability to drive values and objectives
• Complex decision making and problem solving
• Effective communication and consensus building
• Performance management and evaluation
• Dealing effectively with difficult conversations
• Ability to make the tough call
• Learning to tap into an individual’s creativity in times of great challenge
• Team building
• Giving and receiving constructive feedback that promotes growth
• Developing others
• Taking ownership of results (accountability)
• Self awareness and self-management

That last one’s a killer…
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Delegation Questions

About Delegation…

Delegation is a win-win when done appropriately. However, that does not mean that you can delegate everything. To determine when delegation is most appropriate there are five key questions you need to ask yourself:

Is there someone else who has (or can be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task? Basically, is this a task that someone else can do, or is it critical that you do it yourself?

Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?

Is this a task that will recur, in a similar form, in the future?

Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively?
Time must be available for adequate training, for questions and answers, for opportunities to check progress, and for rework if that is necessary. However, this investment of time, in the long run, will greatly benefit you and the organization.

Is this a task that you should delegate?
Tasks critical for long-term success (for example, recruiting the right people for your team) genuinely do need your attention.
If you can answer “yes” to at least some of the above questions, then it could well be worth delegating the job.

Lead Leaders

Stop leading followers and lead leaders.

Picking the right people is a tricky proposition. Many of us have handed the torch to another only to find it is a “beat stick” in their hands. Bringing harmony to a team that has been destroyed by a less-than-capable leader whom you appointed is far more difficult than getting the choice right in the first place.

Even the ancients understood this. This interesting quote comes from Onasander, a Greek philosopher from the first century A.D., and shows that even 2000 years ago men wrestled with these very issues.

“Most men are distressed when placed under the command of ignoble individuals. For no one voluntarily puts up with submitting to a master or a leader who is inferior to himself.” (Onasander, The General 1.17)
Many leaders, given such an experience, will digress back to leading followers instead of seeking a new capable leader to assist in leading the organization. Stop! You need people whom you trust to help you carry the load of transformational change. You can be a mentor. Taking time and investing in another has huge benefits for the future. The time invested in another capable leader will multiply your abilities to lead.

About Mentoring…

If mentoring sounds like a great idea, you still have to decide whether it’s right for you. The questions below should serve as a wake-up call as to your ability to lead other leaders as opposed to followers.

Do you get excited at the idea of sharing the knowledge and experience that has been given to you, or do you feel that you are incapable of imparting anything of value to another?

Do you enjoy encouraging and motivating people toward a goal and rejoice with them when it is accomplished, or do you make every effort to take the glory?

Are you comfortable challenging people to be better even if you know it may cause them discomfort, or would you rather accept sub-standard work and internalize your discontent?

Do you want to contribute to other people’s growth and success, or do you see it as a threat to your value in the organization?
Can you faithfully invest your time in mentoring your leaders, or are you so absorbed in meaningless tasks that you cannot give anything to anyone without feeling like you are falling behind?

Do you feel that building a leader is the most important focus of your efforts, or do you feel the daily tasks you accomplish are greater organizational contributions?

Can you visualize the future leader that you would like to mentor? Can you describe their qualities and their talents, or are you one that grows frustrated because you grab any warm body that seems willing?

I hope that these questions, coupled with the understanding of the importance of building leaders, helps you make the next positive step toward transformational change in your organization’s culture. Perhaps they will serve as a mirror that reflects the deficiency of your leadership. Regardless of whether this motivates, or infuriates, you are faced with your introspection and that’s a good thing. Knowledge truly is power.