From Dave Kraft’s Leaders Who Last (Re: Lit Books), here’s his list:
- They spend too much time managing and not enough time leading.
- They spend too much time counseling the hurting people and not enough time developing the people with potential.
- They spend too much time putting out fires and not enough time lighting fires.
- They spend too much time doing and not enough time planning.
- They spend too much time teaching the crowd and not enough time training the core.
- They spend too much time doing it themselves and not enough time doing it through others.
- They make too many decisions based on organizational politics and too few decisions based on biblical principles.
He then adds:
Notice in particular numbers 2, 5, and 6, which have to do with the kinds of people you spend time with. I say it again: the people you spend the majority of your time with can and will determine whether you are an effective or ineffective leader.
The fact is that many people in leadership roles gravitate toward hurting, draining, time-=consuming people because they have a need to be needed. They want to help people, to be there for people. If a leader has strong mercy gifts, leading becomes more difficult. Simply put, if you need people, you can’t lead people. There is an inability or lack of desire to make the tough calls, speak the truth, or do the hard things. Motivated by a fear of disappointing people, this inability will seriously hamper and work against your ability to lead.
John Piper describes his approach to remembering the things he reads. It comes down to underlining, commenting in the margin, and indexing — and for books that really strike him, writing a page or two in his journal.
This is helpful, from the Desiring God site.
Some good advice from The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success:
When you think about it, absolutely everything anyone does starts with a thought. Becasue the quality of the thought has a large influence on the quality of the outcome, it makes sense to do what you can to think clearly. In a world in which technology provides the capacity to reach out and be reached anytime, anywhere, finding space to think clearly is more and more of a challenge. A lack of white space on one’s calendar correlates with a lack of white space in one’s brain.
The author then recounts a story from his former boss to illustrate this:
I can remember one time talking to another executive who said he was in meetings from morning until night and I asked, “How can you do your job?” and this guy just looked at me. I said, “I see part of my job as leaving enough space to think about what the next issue or problem is that lands on my desk.” He just looked at me like I was nuts. It is very counterintuitive, but I think if you leave some white space on your calendar you tend to get more done.
A full calendar may give the appearance of getting things done, but being able to see that next competitive thing coming down the line or being able to see that we’ve got two groups that are fighting here and we really need to invest in getting them to work together — those are the critical things that executives need to do.
It is about having the capacity to see further out or to deal with that big threat to your bottom line. The easier issues will get managed below, if you are doing your job right. The higher you are in the organization, the tougher the issues are that come to you. You have to have the space and perspective to deal with those tougher issues.
I think a lot of people measure their worth in a corporation by how many meetings they attend. It depends on the culture of the organization you are in, but often it is a huge mistake to fill up your schedule with meetings.
A slide show from Fast Company.
The latest issue of Fast Company ranks the world’s 50 most innovative companies and contains a good article on why Facebook is number 1.
There are four categories of information you need to pay attention to when embarking on any significant endeavor:
- Things you know and know that you know.
- Things you know but don’t know that you know.
- Things you don’t know and know that you don’t know.
- Things you don’t know and don’t know that you don’t know.
Category four is what can be the real curve ball. The early space program is often given as an example of this: before we went into space, there were certain things we knew and could plan for (radiation, re-entry, etc.). But what were the things that we didn’t know that we wouldn’t even know were factors until encountering them? That was the challenge.
Which is why experimentation and trying things, sometimes in small steps, is so crucial. Since you can’t discover the things you don’t know that you don’t know any other way than by experience, taking action and embarking on paths of experimentation are essential to learning, for individuals and organizations.
This means that, to a certain extent, we need to be willing to tolerate risk and we need to be willing to tolerate failure.
“Questions attract thoughts and new ideas. Asking questions creates a learning mindset.”
Plus, it’s the right thing to do. Being interested in others — reflected in asking questions — is part of treating people well.
I haven’t read Joshua Harris’ Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters yet, but it looks great. Simply what he has to say in the quote on the back of the book is well worth listening to:
I know from experience that it’s possible to be a Christian but live life on the surface. The surface can be empty tradition. It can be emotionalism. It can be doctrine without application. I’ve done it all. I’ve spent my share of time on the sandy beaches of superficial Christianity.
This book is the story of how I learned to dig into truth and build my life on a real knowledge of God. I want to share how I learned that orthodoxy isn’t just for old men but for anyone who longs to behold a God who is bigger and more real and glorious than the human mind can imagine.
The irony of my story is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that seemingly worn-out words like theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.
And, related to that, here’s another good word from Harris:
I’ve come to learn that theology matters. It matters not because we want to impress people, but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. Theology matters because if we get it wrong then our whole life will be wrong.
Every project — every endeavor in organizations, society, and life — operates within three constraints:
Quality means how well it is done. Schedule means time — how long it takes. And resources means people and financial cost.
Here’s the meaning of this: these constraints are interdependent. And so you can hit it out of the park on any two of these areas, but not all three.
For example, if you want the end result to be very high in quality and done very quickly, it’s going to cost you a lot. Or if you want to use as little resources as possible, it’s either going to take you a very long time or you are going to have to sacrifice on quality.
You have to choose your priorities.
John Piper wrote a really helpful article a few years ago on why satan is left on earth. Here’s the first paragraph:
Part of the problem of evil is the problem of why Satan is given so much freedom to harm the world, when God has the right and power to throw him in the pit. God will one day do away with Satan altogether (Revelation 20:3, 10). That will be no injustice to Satan. Nor would it be unjust for God to do it today. So why doesn’t He, in view of how much misery Satan causes?
Here are some main reasons projects fail, from To Do Doing Done:
- Unclear goals or objectives
- Changing scope
- Insufficient resources
- Conflicting priorities
- Lack of knowledge
- Poor communications
- Lack of leadership
- Lack of management support
- Lack of teamwork
- Poor planning
- Political issues
From an article in Fortune back in February of 2006; I don’t think things have changed much since, because the driving force of this problem is lack of training and skill:
“Talent of every sort is in short supply, but the greatest shortage of all is skilled, effective managers. Even [in China], where you can hire factory workers by the million, companies can’t find enough managers….Labor is abundant, but managers are scarce.”
Financial status and rewards in most organizations are based on the types of jobs people do. This approach is based on the assumption that job worth can be determined and that the person doing the job is worth only as much as the job itself is worth….
It is not clear that the worth of people can be equated with the worth of their job. This approach clearly does not fit with a company that depends on people for its competitive advantage. The alternative that is being increasingly adopted is person-based pay. It bases pay on each individual’s skills and competencies.
From To Do Doing Done:
“In our increasingly demanding world, the people who succeed will be the ones who can initiate and complete challenging projects. They will be the ones who know how to create a vision that engages everyone involved in the project.”
The three categories are:
- Action items
Every email or piece of paper is either an action item (to be done or delegated), information, or trash.
“To every person there comes in their lifetime that special moment when you are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to you and your talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds you unprepared or unqualified for work which could have been your finest hour.” — Winston Churchill
“…truly great organizations think of themselves in a fundamentally different way than mediocre enterprises. They have a guiding philosophy or a spirit about them, a reason for being that goes far beyond the mundane or the mercenary.” — Built to Last
It is eye-opening to realize the critical role that beliefs play in organizations. For we typically think of beliefs mostly at the individual level. But it is the shared beliefs and values in an organization that play the biggest role in making the organization effective and meaningful, and a place where people want to contribute.
“The basic philosophy of an organization has far more to do with its achievements than do technological or economic resources, organizational structure, innovation and timing.” — Thomas Watson, Jr.
Who was Thomas Watson, Jr.? From Wikipedia: “Thomas John Watson, Jr. (January 14, 1914 – December 31, 1993) was the president of IBM from 1952 to 1971 and the eldest son of Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s first president. He was listed as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century.”
Very, very, very fascinating. Here’s the description of Thomas Sowell’s latest book Intellectuals and Society, from the front flap:
This is a study of how intellectuals as a class affect modern societies by shaping the climate of opinion in which official policies develop.
The thesis of Intellectuals and Society is that the influence of intellectuals is not only greater than in previous eras but also takes a very different form from that envisioned by those like Machiavelli and others who have wanted to directly influence rulers.
It has not been by shaping the opinions or directing the actions of the holders of power that modern intellectuals have most influenced the course of events, but by shaping public opinion in ways that affect the actions of power holders in democratic societies, whether or not those power holders accept the general vision or the particular policies favored by the intellectuals. Even government leaders with disdain or contempt for intellectuals have had to bend to the climate of opinion shaped by those intellectuals.
Intellectuals and Society not only examines the track record of intellectuals in the things they have advocated but also analyzes the incentives and constraints under which their views and visions have emerged.
One of the most surprising aspects of this study is how often intellectuals have been proved not only wrong, but grossly and disastrously wrong in their prescriptions for the ills of society — and how little their views have changed in response to empirical evidence of the disasters entailed by those views.
So intellectuals in modern times have been shaping society not by shaping rulers directly, but by shaping the climate in which their policies develop. This has largely been to society’s detriment because most of these intellectuals’ viewpoints have had a poor track record when put into practice — and yet these intellectuals refuse to change even on the basis of empirical evidence. This is both ironic and anti-intellectual.
The first paragraph of the preface goes on to flesh out a bit more why intellectuals have been able to exert such a large influence in this way:
There has probably never been an era in history when intellectuals have played a larger role in society. When those who generate ideas, the intellectuals proper, are surrounded by a wide penumbra of those who disseminate those ideas — whether as journalists, teachers, staffers to legislators or clerks to judges, and other members of the intelligentsia — their influence on the course of social evolution can be considerable, or even crucial.
Sowell is one of my favorite authors, and I’m really looking forward to reading this book. What Sowell might not cover, but which just might be the story of the next 50 years, is the power the internet has to change this dynamic.
On the one hand, the internet can be another mechanism to disseminate bad ideas of misguided intellectuals. But on the other hand, the internet means that you don’t need to have a Ph.D. or a professorship to be an intellectual any more. You are an intellectual if you generate ideas. The web gives everyone the power to make known their ideas now, and to amplify their efforts on a large scale.
Granted, a lot of people do this poorly and simply end up generating and/or disseminating bad ideas. But if people with quality ideas step up and keep stepping up, we are no longer in a top-down world where the ideas of the intelligentsia will have the power they once did. Good, compelling, and true ideas from all sectors can make a greater difference as they are amplified by the power of the internet, thus counteracting the influence of the misguided intellectuals.
This is a good article from Harvard Business Review on how the conventional approach to handling recessions is often wrong, and what to do instead. (I apologize that the link is to the pdf — the article doesn’t seem to be available in html.)
I have also blogged on this in my series Managing in a Downturn.
Here’s another approach to problem solving: When you have a problem, turn it into a question. Write it down on a document or sheet of paper, and then think through it on paper. Define the problem first, and probe it deeply. Ask “what is the problem?” and then “what else could be the problem?” Then do the same to identify causes, and then solutions.
When it comes to solving complex problems where we don’t seem to be making any headway, an approach called “the breakout” can be helpful. I came across this in a Harvard Business Review article a few years ago.
Here’s the summary of the concept: “By bringing the brain to the height of activity and then suddenly moving it into a passive, relaxed state, it’s possible to stimulate much higher neurological performance than would otherwise be the case. Over time, subjects who learn to do this as a matter of course perform at consistently higher levels.”
And here are the key steps:
- Struggle mightily with the thorny problem.
- Walk away from the problem at the top of the curve (when you stop feeling productive and start feeling stressed) and do something utterly different that produces the relaxation response.
- The actual breakout–sudden insight comes. A sense of well-being and relaxation brings an unexpected insight or higher level of performance.
- Return to the new normal state within which the sense of self-confidence continues.
Alex Chediak wrote an excellent article on Christians and negotiation about a year ago that remains relevant today and always will.
I haven’t written up anything on negotiation, but if I ever do it will be very close to what Alex wrote. He covers some of the key principles, which include:
- Separate the people from the problem
- Focus on interests instead of positions
- Base things on objective criteria, not subjective preferences
- Think win-win rather than win-lose (or, as some people actually do, lose-win)
- Brainstorm creatively to identify mutually beneficial solutions
- Know your best alternative to a negotiated agreement
This approach is called principled negotiation, as opposed to positional negotiation, and was perhaps most clearly set forth by Roger Fisher and William Ury years ago in their book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
In positional negotiation, each side states a more extreme position than it really has, planning on progressively giving up some ground until they meet in the middle. This is a poor approach to negotiation and is based on win-lose (or lose-lose) principles. It often causes people to become entrenched in their position, blinding them to better solutions that satisfy both parties and interests. And it often harms relationships. Yet it is what most people think of when they think of negotiation.
Principled negotiation is a more human approach, while also being more effective. It separates what each side really wants (their interest) from the specific way they currently have in mind of getting there (their positions), and seeks to create solutions to problems that benefit everyone in some way. This is possible because there is often more than one position that will solve someone’s ultimate interest. Yet often times we come into a negotiation unable to see these because we aren’t distinguishing the ultimate aim (interest) from the specific way we have in mind of getting there (position).
Principled negotiation also proceeds on the basis of objective criteria, rather than subjective judgments about “the way things should be” and what each party simply wants in the abstract.
And instead of each side coming with their positions defined ahead of time and progressively giving up ground, both sides brainstorm options for mutual gain together, with the aim of identifying options which satisfy both interests (remember here the distinction between position and interest). Each side is not progressively giving up their positions to meet in the middle; they are stepping up to a higher horizon and brainstorming options that will meet the underlying interests of both.
The outcomes of principled negotiation are:
- Building of the relationship (rather than harming it, as is often the case in positional negotiation)
- Satisfaction of the reasonable interests of both sides
- Reasonable resolution of genuine conflicts of interest
I think that positional negotiation is very much in line with the fact that as Christians, we should be about the interests of others all the time, not just sometimes.
So even when negotiating with others, we don’t set aside the biblical commands to be pursuing the welfare of others. Yet, when others see things differently, pursuing the interests of others does not necessarily mean setting aside the legitimate interests that we want to see accomplished. The way to reconcile both of these realities is not to give up on what we think should be done, but to proceed in a win-win fashion, aiming to come up with a solution that satisfies the interest of both sides, on the basis of objective criteria.