Sunday, April 22, 2007

Can a Spin Doctor Cure the Leadership that Sucks?

The value of subtlty communicating an opposing position without alienating the opposition is sorely under estimated. In this regard, Andy Card is priceless. How would you compare?


Earlier this week on The Daily Show, I saw Andy Card, President George W. Bush's former White House Chief of Staff and Jon Stewart play a variation of an old word-association, parlor game. It went something like this…

Jon Stewart: I’ll throw a characteristic out; you tell me the positive twist on it.

Andy Card: Okay

JS: Okay, I would see “Arrogance”. You would see?

AC: Quiet confidence

[Audience laughter; JS pauses to think]

JS: “Stubborn insistence on not accepting reality”.

AC: I would say, “The capacity to make a though decision without perfect knowledge”

[More audience laughter and clapping; JS take a little longer to pause and think]

JS: Will you be my chief of staff?

Jon Steward closed the segment by saying that Andy Card was the nicest person he had ever met that he didn’t want to like, but still he liked him.

Whether or not you see Andy Card as an enabling catalyst of the Manichean Paranoia described by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Andy Card is a brilliant virtuoso in the art of communicating an opposing position without alienating the opposition. Some might call this spinning the story, but I think there is something more powerful going on here.

What would you call it? Would your organization be better served by leaders who communicate this well? How effective would you be if you communicated this well?

Let me know what you think...

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Your Leadership Suck Because You Know Too Much...

While I can't say I was inspired to write this post by I Help You Blog's "101 Great Posting Ideas for Your Blog"  I was curious to see what kind of traffic it would generate.  Since most of what I write falls under Idea 7, Post an Alternate Position, I figured it was a fair trade.

If you like what I've written or even if you don't, leave a comment recommending another "Great Posting Idea" from the list of 101 and I will post in the theme of that idea.

Take care all...


In Survival Is Not Enough, Seth Godin writes how competence and a winning strategy can become a barrier to innovation. If your worldview is “We do it this way because it works and I am going to be the best at doing it that way”, chances are, you are not going to change the way you do it, i.e. competence stalls innovation.

After reading Godin’s essay on competence, I started thinking the same relationship might exist between technical competence and leadership competence, i.e. your technical competence can become a barrier to improved leadership.

Unfortunately, while the principle Godin outlined applied, it was not wholly satisfying; something was missing. A Peter Drucker quote I read early this week gave me a clue to the missing piece.

The most important thing in communication is to hear what is not being said.

- Peter Drucker

To hear “what is not being said”, you must know what the speaker could be saying. If you lack the knowledge of what “could be said”, it is not possible to know what is “not being said”. This implies that you must know a lot about the subject at hand.

For a competent technician, knowing a lot about the subject at hand is their job so, it’s easy for technicians to know what is “not being said”. What about an organizational leader; what happens as you move out of the technical arena and into the realm of leadership where the domain is larger than your ability to know everything?

Well, the focus must change and the focus sits with Socrates; sort of. When Socrates speaks of knowledge, he states that wisdom is limited to an awareness of your own ignorance; with a little twist, awareness of your own ignorance becomes, knowing what you do not know.

Where a competent technician becomes successful by eliminating her exposure to ignorance by constantly work to eliminate what she doesn’t know about her domain of expertise, an organizational leader becomes successful by expand her awareness of the extent of her ignorance, by constantly work to gain knowledge of what she does not know.

This brings me back to my assertion, “The skill set that brought you to the leadership table is not the skill set that will enable you to succeed.” More often than not, technical competency, reduced ignorance and increased knowledge, is a major contributor to admission to the leadership table. However, once seated at the table, you must accept two truths. First, the domain is or will become larger than your ability to eliminate your ignorance. Second, your responsibility as a leader is fundamentally different from your responsibility as a technician.

If you don’t accept these truths and rely upon your old competencies, you will find yourself and your organization on the path to failure.

Here is the Alternate Position:

How much time do you work on eliminating personal ignorance? Would you better serve your organization by becoming more aware of your ignorance, by becoming more ignorant?  I say you should eliminate the barrier of competence, quit working so hard on what you know and start adding to what you don’t know.

What do you think?  Let me know...

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Confessions of a Company Man

I have to admit something; I am a "Company Man"; not only that, I am a Career Company Man.

What does that mean?

It means that I believe in what my Company does, the essence of which is saving lives. It means I am happy working within my Company's framework of opportunities and responsibilities to include promotions, transfers, salary, personal commitments, training requirements, etc...

In short, it means that I have found a way to align my definition of success with the success of the Company as a whole, the units I support, the departments I run, and the people that work with and for me.

Now, this doesn't mean that I'm a "Yes Man" who thinks my Company is flawless, or always makes the right decision; heads in the right direction; follows the right measures; implements the right procedures, take cares of our people, or meets our Customers needs. In fact, I have a bit of a reputation for telling anyone who will listen, regardless of their position, when I disagree. As a Company Man, it is my responsibility to speak up.

So far, the Company has kept me around and they keep promoting me. Let's hope things stay the same. Because at the end of the day, I have to admit, I love what I do and the continued opportunities and challenges I have as a Company Man.

If you wonder what I do or whom I work for, feel free to check out my profile on LinkedIn.

So, why the confession?

Well, three reasons:

First, because we are surrounded by media: Blogs, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, etc... that perpetuate the conventional wisdom that says if you're not out entrepreneuring, betting the farm, your kid's college fund and important personal relationships on getting rich and famous then you're not doing anything noteworthy; that you're missing the good life. [It's just not true.]

Second, because I suspect that like me, most of you are Company Men/Women who have managed to tie your definition of success to what you do; working within the framework of an imperfect organization. I believe this is true whether you work for yourself or for a large, multi-national organization.

Third, because if my first two reasons apply to you, your career, like mine, has been a succession of both small and large steps taking you from an undereducated, untrained and unskilled person with some potential to your current position. Along the way, you probably started with a technical role where you demonstrated an unusual level of expertise that transitioned into a managerial role where you demonstrated a good deal of competence that has since transitioned into a leadership role, i.e. you have become a value-adding, Career Company Man.

Now, like me, sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, your expertise and competence are getting in the way. If you're not seeing it, either you're the exception or you are blind. A dolooar says it's the latter.

Next time, I'll talk about some of the difficulties I've experienced during my transition from technician to organization leader.

Until then, what are your thoughts? Let me know...

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Take care and enjoy...