Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Trailblazer's Story...

Trailblazers don't know the route until after the journey is complete. Follow the most experienced trailblazer as they pick their way through the unknown, and you quickly realize that every decision is a potential mistake a potential path to failure. Even a long series of steps that appear to be moving them closer to their final goal may ultimately dead end with an impasse, followed by backtracking and reconsideration of previously rejected paths.

This isn't to say that a trailblazer's past performance is worthless information or that their experiences and the skill sets they develop don't help them succeed. Rather, it is a reminder that while skill and experience contributes to the multitude of good decisions and small victories that contribute to a successful outcome, no single step or set of steps along the way accurately predicts a successful outcome. Trailblazing is a messy business.

However, if you look at their journey backwards, from the end to the beginning, you will see a different story. Looking backwards, you see the good decisions and the right steps taken not the false starts, missed turns and dead ends. Looking backwards tells you a clean story of a journey all but guaranteed to succeed.

So, which view do you chose? Do you choose the clean end-to-beginning view or the messy beginning-to-end view?

I prefer the messy view. First, because it lets me see more about the trailblazer's decision process how they think, how they get themselves into and out of trouble and how they handled set backs. Second, because it reminds me that success is a story that more-often-then-not is incomplete and more-often-still is a work of fiction, an outright lie.

When you take the clean view, all you see is the lie and lies are not going to help you find your way out of the woods.

I think the same is true for leaders.

Subscribe Today or Get it By Mail

Take care and enjoy...

John

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Gratuitous Plug for "Leadership Epidemic" Gear...

The other day, in a moment of pure vanity, I decided to make myself a Leadership Epidemic T-Shirt. I think they turned out pretty good. My first rendition, the Maroon T-Shirt in the side bar, and several others are now available at CafePress.

Go check them out… If you like what you see, buy one and let the world know that you’re a follower of the Leadership Epidemic. If you would like something else: a different design, a different product, etc… let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Subscribe Today or Get it By Mail

Take care and enjoy...

John

Different but the Same...

Most organizations, whether they like it or not, are rank-based, hierarchical command-and-control driven entities, or are on the way to becoming so. The only difference is in how obviously they display this reality. The military may be at one end of the spectrum while a bootstrapping, entrepreneurial startup is at the other, but in the end, people working in the organization work for someone else. Ultimately, they are pretty much the same.

Subscribe Today or Get it By Mail

Take care and enjoy...

John

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Elusive Concept we Call Leadership

“Managers are people who do things right. Leaders are people who do the right things.”
- Warren G. Bennis

Who hasn’t heard, read or even used one of Warren G. Bennis’ many infamous quotes? Professor Bennis has to be one of the most frequently quoted writers in the realm of leadership thinking; and rightly so, he more or less invented the discipline.

However, lately I’ve begun to wonder if there is any substance to the Bennis perspective or if we have bought into a truckload of sizzle. The problem is, when you get past the Zen-like nature of the Bennis system of thought, best captured by the quote above, your find that you have little more than a book of slogans that draw attention to the idea that leadership is differentiable from management or work. By his own admission, “…leadership remains an elusive concept.”

While Dr Bennis is an expert in the discourse of the seven essential attributes required to lead knowledge workers, the list is little different then a list of attributes you would find desirable for any one in your organization from the door man to CEO. The only differences seem to be the positional power held and the latitude of freedom in the assigned tasked, i.e. sizzle not substance.

There in lies the rub and the purpose of the Leadership Epidemic; the sizzle is a lie, a big lie. In terms of marketing, that’s not such a bad thing. However, the negative impact of the conventional wisdom stemming from this line of thinking has lead to a Leadership Industrial Complex, similar to the Military Industrial Complex referred to by President Eisenhower in his farewell address.

I’m still formulating my thoughts on this subject, but I am interested in hearing what you think. Is leadership real? Is it an activity that you can separate from other organizational activities like management or work? Let me know what you think.

Subscribe Today or Get it By Mail

Take care and enjoy...

John

IF (Leader Sucks), THEN Reject() ELSE Consider() END;

After reading the transcripts of the first two Republican debates, I have to conclude that the Republicans are their own worst enemy. The debates inspired me to build a decision tree for identifying potential candidates. While the Republicans inspired this decision tree, feel free to apply it to any Presidential hopeful.

IF Candidate “Advocates Torture” THEN
    Reject()
ELSE
    IF Candidate “Acts like a Clown” THEN
        Reject()
    ELSE
        IF Candidate “Advocates Intellectually Lazy Economics” THEN
            Reject()
        ELSE
            Consider()
        END
    END
END

While I think these decision points are clear, I would like to offer just a bit on why I chose them.

First, if a candidate advocates torture, or its euphemism “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” they do not possesses the moral character required to fill the most powerful position in the world. Any Presidential candidate who does not adamantly oppose these behaviors must be eliminated from consideration. Civilized countries to not use or advocate torture, period, end of discussion.

Second, any candidate who acts like a clown by ignoring science, not planning ahead, overreacting to good/bad news and not being very nice does not have the intellectual wherewithal to make good decisions regarding the commitment of national treasure and the risks of placing our Armed Forces in harms way. Any potential Presidential candidate who does not adamantly support clear-headed rational thinking that can be explained to the average American citizen must be eliminated from consideration.

Third, if a candidate advocates intellectually lazy economics that plays on irrational fear mongering they do not possess the requisite understanding to develop, support and execute diplomacy an economic policy that supports the continued growth and success of a tier-one player in world economy. Any potential Presidential candidate who advocates a policy that moves the economy away from a ruthlessly-efficient, market-driven machine toward a planned economy must be eliminated from consideration.

The common thread of “Unintended Consequences” runs through each of these decision points. Any potential Presidential candidate who advocates a position, based on party dogma, that increase the likelihood of unintentional consequences, when a more thoughtful position with less potential down side is available must be eliminated from consideration.

As far as I can tell, these three conditions eliminate all of the candidates pursuing either a Republican or Democratic ticket.  However, as the political season progresses, I will update the decision tree to reflect the latest decision points that come to mind.  To ensure completeness, if you have any suggestions for additional decision points, send them my way and I will incorporate them into the next version.

Subscribe Today or Get it By Mail

Take care and enjoy...

John