Byron's Babbles

When Leaders Go Bad

This guest post originally appeared on the Giant Leap Consulting Blog.

When Leaders Go Bad

By Bill Treasurer

 

 

 

When you think of the word “leadership,” what comes up?

 

Most people view leadership as connoting the best of the best, the demonstration of high ideals, and living and acting with high integrity.

 

But as long as there have been leaders, there have been leaders who compromised their integrity.

 

In fact, the very first story ever put to the written word, The Epic of Gilgamesh, centers on immoral leadership. Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, brings us the idea of droit de seigneur, or “lord’s right”, which is the right of the leader to exercise jus primae noctis – the king gets to deflower the community’s virgins on their wedding nights. Why? Because he could, that’s why.

 

It’s the behavioral latitude, the “because I can” freedom, that necessitates the joining of morality to leadership. Just because you can do things that non-leader’s can’t, doesn’t mean you should. But it is also the “because I can” freedom that cause some leaders to lead in a compromised and self-serving way. The unwritten understanding that leaders and followers share is that when you’re the one who set the rules, judge others’ performance, and doles out the rewards, you have more power and freedom than those who don’t get to do these things. Others serve at your pleasure and are accountable to you, not the other way around.

 

Leadership is massively important, particularly during times of intense challenge and change. But leadership is also massively seductive. Leaders are constantly being told how special they are. Think, for example, of the privileges that leaders are afforded that non-leaders don’t get. Leaders get bigger office spaces, more agenda airtime, better perks, more deference, and fatter salaries. They also get less flak when they show up late for meetings, interrupt people, or skirt around policies or processes that everyone else has to follow. Even the simple fact that there are far fewer leaders than followers illustrates their comparative specialness. The fact that not everyone gets to be a leader suggests that they are born of a different cloth, a cut above the rest of us mere mortals.

 

Followers, too, as the hands who build the pedestals that leaders sit on, contribute to, and often enable, the embellishment of the specialness of leadership. Every time followers bite their tongues, say “yes” when thinking “no”, mimic their leaders’ style, or capitulate to unethical directives, the specialness of leadership is reinforced. Very often, the more special followers treat leaders, the more leaders start to believe in their own specialness. It feels good to have one’s ego stroked by eager-to-please followers, and, before long, some leaders start surrounding themselves with suck-ups and sycophants just to keep the pampering going.

 

Given how special leaders are told they are, is it really surprising that some would be seduced into thinking that they are “better” than everyone else, that they deserve more of the spoils, or that they should be free to act with impunity?

 

Should it really catch our attention that some leaders are more concerned with the privileges that they can get by being a leader, instead of being grateful for the deep privilege it is to make a positive and lasting impact on people’s lives when you’re entrusted with leading them? Is it really shocking that some would succumb to thinking that they are the focal point of leadership and not the people that they’re charged with leading? There really isn’t anything surprising or shocking about it. Hubris is what you get when a leader becomes spoiled.

 

While all of the real-time costs of hubris are high, perhaps none is as costly as the sheer loss of potential for all the good that could have been done–and all the lives the leader could have positively impacted–had he not become so enamored with his own power. The most damaging impact these “leadership killers” have is on a leader’s potential legacy.

 

The primary job of a leader is to develop other leaders.

 

Above all, leadership is a tradition that is carried and passed from generation to generation. A leader’s legacy is built by nurturing and developing the talent and skills of the people who are doing the work on the leader’s behalf during his tenure.

 

At the core, a leader’s most important job is not to acquire more power, but to help empower others so they, too, can find their leadership and do some good in this world, thus extending the tradition of leadership. The potential to inspire new generations of leaders gets snuffed out when the “leadership killers,” including hubris, are calling all the shots.

 

THINK ABOUT: How are your actions today going to affect your legacy tomorrow? What will those whom you’ve led in the past will say about you long after you are gone?

 

About Bill Treasurer: 

Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting and author of five books on courage and leadership, including the international bestseller, Courage Goes to Work. His latest book The Leadership Killer is co-authored with CAPT John “Coach” Havlik, U.S. Navy SEAL (Retired).

 

Giant Leap has led over 1,000 leadership programs across the world for clients that include NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, UBS Bank, and eBay. More at: CourageBuilding.com. 

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Harvesting Time

IMG_4802I heard someone mention the thought of harvesting time this week. Really, I had never given much thought to the idea of time being something to be harvested. But, really it is something that we need to think about and be very deliberate about how we harvest. Most of the philosophical thought on time is spent thinking about the sowing of the seeds for harvest, but the timing and how we harvest is just as important. In agriculture we must have machines set properly and know the exact time when the crop is right – whether that be ripeness, moisture content, or ground conditions. We should also take this same care in the thought of the harvesting of our time.

Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” W.E.B Du Bois

I love the quote above. As a civil rights activist and first African American doctoral graduate from Harvard University, W.E.B. Du Bois certainly understood the idea of harvesting as much out of the time we have available today – not for some other time that might be convenient. Even though I do not at all believe the socialist ideals that Du Bois did, particularly related to communism, I do share some of his other ideals. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Du Bois was not afraid to speak his mind regarding what he believed was best for others.” W.E.B. Du Bois represents a great example of how leaders are not always liked by all.

An important lesson to be learned from Du Bois is the fact that he used every moment for accomplishing good. We must consciously decide what we want to spend our time on. Time is our most valuable possession. Our time on Earth is limited. Therefore, we must be productive, harvest our time wisely, and improve the lives of others.

Get Some Sleep

The following is an excerpt from The 9 Dimensions of Conscious Success.

Get Some Sleep

By David Nielson

One time I was working with a company with change-management issues. I thought I was doing a solid job for the company until one of the senior executives approached me in the hall and said, “Listen, David, I only have a minute, but I needed to ask you a favor. I need your help convincing the senior leaders about the value of the work you are doing, the value of change management for the company, and why we are investing in it. I’m sorry I don’t have more time to discuss it, but I’m rushing off to a meeting right now. We can talk about it more later.”

She rushed off to her meeting before I could really respond, and I didn’t see her the rest of the day. A deadly seed of doubt had been planted within me. I went back to my hotel room that night deflated. I thought, They don’t think I’m doing a good job…that what I’m offering the company doesn’t have value. I knew better, but I took it personally. I was afraid my time with them was coming to an abrupt end.

The doubt triggered my insecurities, and because I had low self-awareness, I was not in touch with what was happening and what the potential impact was going to be. I tossed and turned all night, extremely stressed about what was going to happen— and what I could do about it.

The next morning, I had a presentation to give to a group. I knew the material backward and forward, and all of my materials were prepared. I was tired, stressed, and insecure and did not have the awareness to predict what would happen next.

I gave the presentation and received a lukewarm response. I was asked questions that I did not answer very well. I was totally off my game. In fact, one of my colleagues noticed and asked me what was wrong after the meeting. My low self-awareness had a negative impact, not only on my presentation but also on my purpose of delivering excellent material, content, and support to the company.

I had to clear the air, so I found the senior executive who had approached me. 

Listen, I need more clarification on what you need from me to help you relay the value of what I’m doing.”

“David, we all think you’re doing a fantastic job. We all can see the changes within the organization. The trouble I’m having is clearly articulating those changes to the rest of the team. I just need your help in the proper language and examples of your work.”

Oh! I had gone straight to the dark side. As my wife puts it, I had a “disaster fantasy.” Sometimes parents have these dark thoughts if they don’t see their child for a period of time and immediately go to thinking something terrible has happened to the child.

Having a strong self-awareness will filter out these disaster fantasies because we are more aware of our feelings, thoughts, and triggers. When we begin to feel something is amiss, with self-awareness we can begin to ask questions, seek clarification, and assume the best based on our skill sets and abilities.

**********************************

About David Nielson

David Nielson brings over four decades of corporate, Fortune 500, and private consulting experience in organizational change management, leadership development, and training. David has helped guide large-scale change initiatives and business strategy driven by ERP, mergers, restructuring, and the need for cultural change. He’s been a featured and frequent speaker at PMI, Project World, Chief Executive Network, Management Resources Association, TEC, IABC, Training Director’s Forum, and the Alliance of Organizational Systems Designers.


David has worked around the world delivering training and consulting Services. In all those years, those countries, those clients; David has observed, learned and collected great experiences and teaching points. David decided to work on a way to “give back.”  His latest book, The 9 Dimensions of Conscious Success helps readers identify their definition of purpose professionally and personally to achieve conscious success.

Dad & Lad In The Who Dat Nation

Posted in Andrew Jackson, Community, Courage, Culture, Democracy, New Orleans, New Orleans Saints, Who Dat, Who Dat Nation by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 19, 2019

img_4636My son and I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans, Louisiana last weekend to watch the New Orleans Saints beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 in the NFC Divisional Game. We are huge Saints fans because of Drew Brees, but have also fallen in love with the Who Dat Nation. We had our first taste of this last year in the NFC Divisional Wildcard Game where New Orleans defeated the Carolina Panthers. I am amazed at the following of the Saints by this city. New Orleans needs the Saints and the Saints need New Orleans.

img_4721

We also had the opportunity to see former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco honored at the game for keeping the Mercedes Superdome Open and the Saints in New Orleans following Katrina. Blanco knew she would take a hit politically if she green-lighted the renovation of a football stadium at a time when most New Orleans residents remained displaced, businesses were shuttered and the city could not provide basic services. She also knew, however, that keeping the Saints was important to economy of New Orleans and would be an inspiration to the city. During the ceremony at the game she recalled saying, “Not on my watch will we lose the Saints.” This took incredible vision and political courage. Really it was just plain leadership at its best.

During our visit my son, Heath, and I took in all the New Orleans culture and talked about how important New Orleans was as a port for both the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. New Orleans was important to the founding of our great nation and had to be defended in the early 1800s and was won in The Battle of New Orleans in 1815. We discussed how grain would come the Ohio River out of Indiana to the Mississippi River to New Orleans in barges. Once the grain was sold the barges would be disassembled and the lumber sold because at that time there were no engines to push the barges back up the Mississippi.

This was a great discussion as we stood at the base of the bronze statue of Major General Jackson. He led our troops to victory at the Battle of New Orleans. This was really a full circle for my son and I’s study of Andrew Jackson. Last year at this same time we were at the battlefield where the Battle of New Orleans took place. Then, a month ago we were at The Hermitage in Nashville Tennessee, and now back in New Orleans.

img_4723We love spending time learning about different cultures and history. My son even got to see his dad be a man of his word. A man walked up and told me he liked my shoes. I bit and he wanted to bet me $10 he could answer some questions about my shoes. Long story short, I lost – I knew I would. I paid him the $10 for the shoe shine. I paid him because I had given him my word. My son commented that others would have got mad, but he knew I wouldn’t because I had given him my word up front. About as high a claim you can get from your son, don’t you think? And…I got my shoes shined and waterproofed.

We immersed ourselves in the Who Dat Nation. We watched locals making cigars in the cigar factories. We took in the local architecture and culture of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. We had breakfast at Cafe′ Du Monde – a French Market that has been in business since the early 1960s. We walked and talked to the many artists in Jackson Square.

All of us come from different zip codes ad cultures. My son and I were so blessed to have had this experience for a second year in a row for one reason to learn so much and the second to spend quality time together. I hope that opportunities like this one helps my son to understand about the different ways that people live and do things. This hopefully translates to Heath understanding that there is no single way or right way to do the same things.

Amazingly, Forbes tells us in “5 Top Reasons You Should Travel With Your Kids” that from 2008 to 2012 parents traveling domestically with their children has declined from 31% to 26%. Here are the five reasons that we should travel with our kids:

  1. Make them citizens of the world.
  2. Get them to eat weird stuff.
  3. Expose their brains to diverse languages.
  4. Build their confidence and independence.
  5. Increase their tolerance to discomfort.

We need to make sure our children and students have the opportunity so they understand there is a world that exists outside their own.

Thoughts From The Barn On The Opioid Crisis

Posted in Agriculture, Agriculture Science, Community, Convening, Culture, Dopesick, Leadership, Opioid Crisis by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 5, 2019

This morning I had a moment of reflection while caring for our dairy show heifers. We had some heifers dehorned this week and we then give them a pain/antibiotic bolus (what you would know as a pill) for five days. Just to be clear, removing horns while the calf is young and horns are small is important for the safety of the animal itself, the other animals, and those of us caring for them. After giving the boluses I thought about whether the pain pill was addictive like opioids. Then I thought, well this is irrelevant because our heifers won’t get addicted because they won’t get more than the prescribed dosage of our veterinarian. Then, I couldn’t help but think about the opioid crisis that is a very real and relevant problem in my own state of Indiana and the nation.

This caused me to go back and study the work of Beth Macy and author of the great book, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America. I blogged about this book in Why Everyone Should Read Dopesick. The supply-side of the opioid issue is one that Macy has chronicled in detail. The supply-side narrative is much more complex for humans, however, than our show cattle, but the analogy helped me understand the messiness of the supply-side argument.

I learned from Macy that there are several parts to the opioid crisis. There is no doubt that companies like Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, profited from understating the addictive risks and forced high sales quotas on their salespeople. But, government regulations to limit supplies haven’t been successful solving the crisis. In the case of my cattle, I can control the supply and do what’s best for them. With people, however, it is much more complex. We cannot just stop the supply completely. One challenge with supply-side regulations has been people not being able to get the pain medications necessary. Targeting supply is very important, but we must still address the needs of people with real pain. I read about those that by battling the opioid epidemic that some patients who need opioids are being abandoned by their patients.

We really need to make sure our policies are not too draconian and that we really get to the root causes of addiction. Our country has become flooded with opioids and it has made for lots of literary works, but we need to make sure and learn who is most at risk of addiction and why. The other thing that has resonated in my studying of this issue is the disconnect between science and policy. Or, what I often describe as policy not meeting reality.

Additionally, another big obstacle to solving the crisis is that many local, state, and federal agencies and governments are more concerned about protecting turf and budgets than solving the problem and helping people. I’m not sure that technocracy can solve this issue. It is going to take intersectional thinking that includes mental health, physical health, housing, peer support, community, workforce development, education, and harm reduction.

While I believe in individualism and personal responsibility, we need to find ways help our addicted, limit supply to those who need the drugs and in the proper doses, and really get to the root causes of the crisis. Policy, knowledge, science, and reality need to come together.

MacGyver Intersectional Leadership

I don’t watch a lot of television, but tonight I have scheduled time to watch the new episode of MacGyver. I love the old, original show that ran from 1985-1992, but also really like the remake version. I can’t wait for the 8:00 start time for the show. MacGyver is the poster child of resourcefulness and core values. There really needs to be a little MacGyver in every leader.

There are times in our leadership careers when we are faced with unforeseen circumstances that don’t fit the usual textbook solutions. What we do at those times will go a long way to determine our success or failure. So, what can we do? We need to be be like MacGyver and look for the solutions, not look at the problem. I love watching him look around for what’s available and really out of context to the problem till he uses his knowledge and skill to put it all together. We need to encourage purposeful efforts to find unusual concept combinations to solve the opportunities we have.

Skills and talents are not labels, they are tools, ‘MacGyver’ tools that allow leaders to improve how their organization functions.  When organizations dare to move from a weakness-fixing organization to a talent-focused organization, they will enjoy improved productivity, greater efficiency, new levels of engagement, higher retention rates, and overwhelming organizational improvement.

Really, people are more likely to bring something new to the organization if they are not recruited to fill an established role. And if they are motivated and engaged, they will be able to find intersections between their skills and the organization’s needs.

If you notice, all the members of the Phoenix Foundation team on MacGyver all have different skills. If we want to generate intersectional ideas, we should seek and provide environments where we and our team members will work with people who are different from us. In The Medici Effect, What Elephants and Epidemics Can Tell Us About Innovation, author Frans Johansson wrote: “A sure path to inhibit your own creativity is to seek out environments where people are just like you.” We all come to the table with with different skills and we need to develop those skills and search for the intersections.

In Cracking Creativity, Michael Michalko describes taking “thought walks” in order to look for random combinations or get new, fresh ideas for solving opportunities. I compare this to how MacGyver walks around and looks for items to put together to form a potential solution. Michalko tells this story about a group that did a successful thought walk: “A few months back, a group of engineers were looking for ways to safely and efficiently remove ice from power lines during ice storms, but they were stonewalled. They decided to take a “thought walk” around the hotel. One of the engineers came back with a jar of honey he purchased in a gift shop. He suggested putting honey pots on top of each pole. He said this would attract bears. The bears would climb the pole to get the honey, and their climbing would cause the poles to sway and the ice would vibrate off the wires. Working with the principle of vibration, they got the idea of bringing in helicopters to hover over the lines. Their hovering vibrated the ice off the lines.” All of that from a jar of honey. Amazing, right?

We need to learn from MacGyver and step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, and combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas. So let’s stop looking at the problem and use our skills and talents to search for solutions.

Just As I Am

Posted in appreciation, Community, Culture, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Memories, Servant Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 25, 2018

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting this Christmas season. With the passing of my mom in 2018, it is the first holiday season that I am parentless. That has been a point of great reflection since May. For a kid that was close to his parents, it is very weird to now not have any. As I think about the holidays, I got to thinking that I really don’t remember the gives, but have lots of memories of things we did together. For example, every year we would go to Indianapolis and walk around the “Worlds Tallest Christmas Tree.” My dad would stop in the little nut shop (not there any more) and by a bag of cashews and we would eat them as we walked. It was a Christmas tradition. You get the idea.

Circle Christmas Tree, Indianapolis

We now have some great traditions we do as a family like picking out the Christmas tree, going to Metamora, Indiana, the Carmel Christkindlmarkt, or go to the Music City Bowl to watch Purdue beat Auburn (we can’t wait). But, none of this involves presents. These are memory building activities. As we enter this holiday season, it makes sense to pause for a moment and think about gifts. What’s the point of them?

I guess we give gifts because we’re supposed to. On certain occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, dinner parties, the end of the year it just seems to be customary. Allegedly, we give people gifts to show them that we are grateful for them and value the role they play in our lives. But don’t forget, gifts don’t express appreciation, people do. And when people don’t express it, neither do their gifts. The greatest gifts I will receive this holiday season will be time spent making memories and being accepted for who I am.

Just as I am. Wow, is there any better present than being acknowledged and appreciated for who you are? There is no more powerful way to acknowledge others than to be thankful for them just as they are. Our families are the masters at this. We need to work really hard at genuinely doing this for those we work with, our friends and associates, and those we lead. So maybe instead of the gift card, an individualized note of appreciation or some way of building a memory. Remember, memories, not materials are what make the season so magical.

We’re All Unique

Thanks a lot Mr. KibblewhiteThanks a lot Mr. Kibblewhite by Roger Daltrey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author of this book, Roger Daltrey, was the founder and lead singer of The Who, one of the great British bands of the ’60s and ’70s and arguably one of the most influential bands of rock and roll development. This book grabbed a hold of me right from the start and kept me engaged right to the end. I felt as though I was there for the Nazi bombing of Britain as Daltrey was born in 1944. Peacetime followed but the food rationing and lack of opportunities followed for his young childhood. Daltrey tells all and there are certainly lessons to be learned. One statement he made early in the book really struck me. After being expelled by the headmaster of his school, Mr. Kibblewhite, whom the book is titled after, Daltrey says, “If anyone had ever once sat me down and explained that school was for me, not the teachers or the system, and there were reasons why I should stick at it, it would have been totally different. But no one ever did” (p.21). As a leader in education this really hit me like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, it is true that some do lose site that schools are students, not the teachers or school systems themselves. I was motivated to blog about this in School Is For The Student: https://byronernest.blog/2018/11/18/s…

At the end of the book as Roger Daltrey reflects now, later in life, that his school principal was wrong to tell him he’d never do anything with his life he said: “We’re all unique. We all have our own unique lives. But seeing my life like that, I just felt overwhelmingly lucky. In the middle of this strange out-of-body experience, I said to myself, ‘Would you ever imagine the things you’ve done?’” (p. 238). Why do educators do that?

Daltrey leaves us with great lessons we all can use, no matter our profession. He said, “You can’t be mediocre. A band can be either terrible or brilliant. There is no middle ground. So you have to make tough decisions.” This lesson pretty much applies to anything.

Daltrey may be 74, but he’s still causing a sensation along with Pete Townshend as original members of the group who still tour. He’s also causing a stir with this great book that was released this past October, 2018. You should check it out.

~ Dr. Ernest

View all my reviews

Unintended Consequences: Minimizing  the ‘Oops Factor’ in Decision Making

This guest post originally appeared on Forbes. 

Unintended Consequences: Minimizing 
the ‘Oops Factor’ in Decision Making

By Rodger Dean Duncan

“Unintended consequences” is the term for outcomes that are not the ones foreseen by a purposeful act.

When a manager consistently gives tough assignments to a worker who’s proven himself to be reliable, the go-to employee may begin to feel “penalized” by the additional load while the less reliable workers get a free ride. What was intended as a compliment and vote of confidence turns out to be an unwelcome burden.

In medicine, unintended consequences are called “side effects.” Have you listened carefully to television commercials for drugs? The list of side effects is often longer than the narrative promoting the medicine. Why would we be warned that a product purported to relieve a simple ailment may also produce paralysis, high blood pressure, thinning hair, skin rash, weight gain, blurred vision or even thoughts of suicide? Because the lawyers said so.

The old caution of “don’t operate heavy equipment while taking this medicine” seems to have morphed into “this pill will help your headache, but it also might kill you.” Caveat emptor indeed.

The fine print on an over-the-counter pain remedy I bought said it caused “irritability” in one in 10,000 users. It turns out that the first day I took one of those pills I was “irritable.” (I’m relying here on the assessment of an independent observer: my wife.) Irritable or not, I felt special. At that ratio there are fewer than 32,000 of us in the entire United States. We could rent Madison Square Garden and throw a party. The capacity of Madison Square Garden is only 18,200. But I’m confident a lot of us (at least those still taking the pain remedy) would be too grouchy to attend anyway.

I should be embarrassed to admit it, but sometimes I don’t bother reading the list of possible side effects. This behavior is risky, much the same as failing to read the terms and conditions on a contract before checking the box claiming to have read the terms and conditions. 

As Isaac Newton observed, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In business, as in the rest of life, most every action we take has the potential for consequences we didn’t anticipate. Some of those consequences may be serendipitous, like the “accidental” invention of the Post-It® Note by the guy at 3M Company who brewed up a batch of sticky-but-not-too-sticky adhesive. And some consequences are unpleasant, like a profit-based bonus system that inadvertently motivates people to trim spending on maintenance and safety issues.

Is there an absolutely foolproof way to make decisions? No. But there are some common sense guidelines that can help:

1. Decide what to decide. Many decisions can and should be delegated to others. Not only does that give them the practice, but it enables you to devote attention to those decisions that legitimately require your laser focus.
2. Be collaboratively independent. Confer with subject-matter experts, but avoid getting mired in decision-by-committee. Solicit the views of credible sources, but be prepared to own your own decision.
3. Avoid information bloat. Tom Hanks’ character in “You’ve Got Mail” said it well: “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc.” Information overload can lead to analysis paralysis, which can lead to fuzzy thinking, which can lead to faulty decisions. Keep it simple.
4. Define your desired outcome. As we learned in Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll get you there.” To the extent possible, clarify what your desired result would “look like.” Establish a handful ofSMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound).
5. Beware getting stuck in the thick of thin things. Most of the hundreds of decisions and choices we make each day are relatively inconsequential—which dental floss to buy, or which salad dressing to order. Save your decision-making energy for the issues that really matter.
6. Don’t expect perfection. Gather the best information available. Weigh the pros and cons of your options. Then decide. You’re unlikely to have all the answers, or even all the questions. And you can’t anticipate every possible consequence. Just be ready to build your wings on the way down.

Again, most decisions come with no guarantees. But remember this uncomfortable reality: failing to make a decision is, in itself, a decision. With consequences.

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Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders. Early in his career he served as advisor to cabinet officers in two White House administrations and headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He has coached senior leaders in dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

 

Doing More With Less: Avoid Fake Work

Hey This guest post originally appeared on Forbes.

Doing More With Less: Avoid Fake Work

By Rodger Dean Duncan

In a question-and-answer session following a recent speech, I was asked the following question: “How should we respond when we’re constantly asked to do more with less?”

My answer might not have been particularly comforting, but it was honest: “The challenge to do more with less is industry agnostic,” I said. “Virtually everyone everywhere is being given that challenge. And I expect that will be an ongoing mantra far into the future.”

Judging by the expression on the questioner’s face, I suspect that wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

But I wasn’t finished. The good news, I told him, is that the “do more with less” challenge presents a golden opportunity for smart, proactive people.

Most anyone can do less with more. That’s a no-brainer. Doing more with less requires strategic sorting of priorities. It’s fairly common for business people to tell me that in their organizations “everything is a priority so, therefore, nothing is a real priority.” That’s the equivalent of saying you’re too busy driving to stop and get gas.

One of the most useful ways to sort priorities is to launch a relentless search for fake work.

Fake work is work that’s not explicitly aligned with the strategies and goals of the organization.

Now let’s be clear. Most fake work is not deliberate. Most fake work is perfectly well intended. People who engage in fake work—and that’s most of us at least some of the time, and some of us most of the time—just don’t notice that what they’re doing is not producing intended outcomes.

It’s not that people doing fake work aren’t busy. They’re often very busy. But they mistake activity for results. And working hard is not a barometer, because you can work very hard and still be building a road to nowhere.

You might be doing fake work because you were told to do it. You might be doing fake work because you’re rewarded for doing it.

Fake work thrives when needed results are not clearly and thoughtfully articulated. Fake work thrives when people don’t honestly challenge the value of their activity.

Companies often set expectations, write job descriptions, and review performance in ways that actually promote fake work. This means you can follow directions, complete your assignments, and even get promotions—while spending most of your time on fake work.

Here are some warning signs that people in your organization may be building a road to nowhere:

 People are unclear about company strategy and the things that are most important to accomplish
 The connection between strategy and work is fuzzy
 Hard work is failing to produce results that measurably matter
 Meetings lack clear purpose and seem to waste time
 Despite long distribution lists on emails, it’s unclear who really needs or uses the information
 Offsite meetings often provide distraction, not value
 Some projects suck up a lot of time and other resources, then die a slow death or are killed outright for lack of interest
 People do a lot of paperwork because, well, everyone does paperwork

Of course there are lots of other signs on the road to nowhere. You could make a list of your own.

Most people don’t want to do fake work. Most people want to feel that they’re making positive contributions to meaningful accomplishments.

Remember: Fake work can be invisible because it often masquerades as real work. (Real work is critical activity that explicitly aligns with key goals and strategies.) In this age of everyone trying to do more with less, it’s more important than ever to identify fake work, eliminate as much of it as we can, and replace it with real work.

Here are five quick tips for focusing on real work:

1. Be clear about strategy. Don’t mistake mission for strategy. Mission is about purpose. Strategy is the plan to accomplish the purpose. Make sure job descriptions explicitly focus on work that matters most.
2. Use meaningful metrics. A common cause of fake work is not knowing what results are required and when they should be achieved.
3. Beware the activity trap. Fake work prospers when people are uncertain about priorities. Don’t let busyness overwhelm emphasis. Again, focus on the work that matters most. For example, if a regularly-scheduled meeting fails to produce valuable results, remove it from the calendar.
4. Treat communication as a communal task. Check and double check to ensure that your message was received and understood. Seek feedback. Listen to it. Communication about work issues needs to be simple, clear, compelling, and often repetitive.
5. Understand the people around you. Some people have a knack for handing off projects just when the work gets hard and accountability is on the line. Others invent new projects to prop up their reputation. The key is to recognize how other people’s behavior can cause fake work, hen figure out how to avoid falling into the fake work traps they’re setting. Equally important—and possibly even more difficult—is assessing whether you are the one who’s creating fake work for others.

When you’re asked to do more with less, regard the challenge as an opportunity. Your strategic approach to priorities will set you apart from the complainers and establish a positive example.

That should come in really handy at promotion time.

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Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice FromToday’s Top Thought Leaders. Early in his career he served as advisor to cabinet officers in two White House administrations and headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He has coached senior leaders in dozens of Fortune 500 companies.