Byron's Babbles

Leading With Natural Self-Expression

Apple 🍎 Instead Of Potato 🥔

Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head are great examples to use as models for leadership development activities. The idea for the original Mr. Potato Head came from a Brooklyn-born toy inventor by the name of George Lerner.  He developed the idea of pronged like body parts that could be pinned into fruits, and vegetables.  He sold the idea to Hasbro toys in 1952 and they developed his idea into Mr. Potato Head which sold for 98 cents. We love using Mr. & Mrs. Potato Heads as a model to use during our first gathering of each cohort of our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program. I am also proud we are one of the largest distributors for Hasbro of Mr. & Mrs. Potato Heads. Pretty cool to get pallets of these great toys delivered.

Our sixth President, John Quincy Adams, said, “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you’re a leader.” I would like to change this and say, “If you have been inspired to dream more, learn more, and become more, you’ve been engaged in a 3D Leadership gathering.” This is how I always feel, and I believe the attendees do too, after one of our 3D Leadership gatherings.

This past week was no exception. I was in Florida and at the last gathering I facilitated in Apollo Beach, Florida one of our teachers redid the configuration of his Mr. Potato Head and really inspired the group and myself. He took an apple from the table (we always have fruit available for eating) and used it as the body instead of the provided plastic potato.

His explanation is what blew us away. He told us he not want to be constrained as a leader by using only the standard, provided pieces. He did not want to be constrained by the pre-made holes for the then pieces to be placed – with the apple, he could put them anywhere. The key to what he was saying was “constraint.” I love that he realized he needed to break the shackles of what has always been done. He did not want to be constrained by the “standard” Mr. Potato Head design. He had not let himself be constrained and took chances to run with an idea that allowed for maximum success.

When we do not let ourselves become constrained by the standard ways that things have always been done, or the way things have always been thought about then our personal way of being and acting will result naturally in our being our best. This is really an ontological approach to leadership. Personally, I want to be a part of developing leaders that leaves the individuals actually being leaders by exercising leadership effectively as their natural self-expression.

By thinking about natural self-expression, I want participants to understand we all have a way of being and acting in any leadership situation that is a spontaneous and intuitive effective response to what we are dealing with. We also want leaders whose world view is not constrained by what already exists and uses symbols and ideas to foster meaningful change. I believe our young teacher leader was exhibiting these leadership dispositions.

Leadership development should always be future oriented. We need to continue to think outside the normal pieces provided in the standard package and look for ways to develop our own effective natural self-expression leadership skills.

Advertisements

Pushing Our Boundaries & Reaching Beyond Ourselves

As I was driving across Central Florida from Orlando to Tampa yesterday on I-4, I noticed a place that I will definitely have to factor into my next excursion for facilitating my Florida 3D Leadership gatherings. When I got to Polk City I looked over to the north and saw a place called Fantasy of Flight. As you all know, I am an avid student of the history of flight; particularly as it relates to the Wright Brothers. I have blogged about them so many times I am not going to put any links to posts here, but if you search Wright Brothers here in my blog you will find lots about the inspiration I have found from these to great men in our world’s history.

I say world’s history because I really believe that their tenacity and vision for the why of flight might be the single most important innovation ever. This is why I was so struck by the name of this museum and event venue – Fantasy of Flight. It is so perfect because for so many flight was a fantasy. But, the right brothers took the fantasy and made it a reality. This quote from the owner, Kermit Weeks, is so perfect (Not to mention that I love metaphors!):

“Flight is the most profound metaphor for pushing our boundaries, reaching beyond ourselves, and freedom. And…don’t we All…fly in our dreams?” ~ Kermit Weeks

As I continued across the beautiful Florida countryside I noticed many birds and remembered how the Wright Brothers studied the wings of birds and how they took off, landed, climbed in altitude, and glided. I can imagine them fantasizing about flying. It is hard for me to imagine what was going through their minds. I’ve never lived in a time without airplanes, so I am envious of their incredible, artistic, and creative abilities that it took to invent the first plane. They used intersective innovation by taking the design of the bird and applying it to the first flying machine. Amazingly, those same designs and innovations on the first Wright flyer are in use on the plane I am sitting on right now, preparing to fly me home.

Imagine the audacity to think they could build a machine that would fly. Remember, people made fun of them. Also, the audacity to know what being able to fly would do to affect all generations to come. In other words, WHY being able to fly would be advantageous to the human race. Basically, everything in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum , where their first plane is on display, is there as a result of the Wright Brother’s innovative leadership! Additionally, there would be no Fantasy Of Flight museum without the Wright Brothers.

I am so glad I was paying attention on my drive yesterday and saw Fantasy Of Flight. It also gives me something to look forward to exploring. I so want to meet Kermit Weeks. I also see where they have flying experiences available in bi-planes – I am so doing it! I can’t wait to fly out in the open air like Orville did on that fateful day in December, 1903.

The Wright Brothers believed that just because it had never been done before, did not mean that it could not be done. They were modeling for us how to push beyond the boundaries. Think about all the impossible things that have been conquered by man. These things might include, landing on the moon, landing a craft on Mars, curing many diseases, organ transplants, and yes – even first flight.

What are you working on that is pushing your boundaries? What is your Fantasy Of (insert here)? Go ahead, fly in your dreams!

Collaboration

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

 

Collaboration

 

By David Nielson

 

There is a notion that Edison was a master inventor who wore a lab coat and sat in his lab all day working alone and coming up with amazing inventions. This is far from the truth; in addition to being a great inventor, he was also a master collaborator. 

 

Edison brought in hundreds of collaborators to help create prototypes and commercialize his inventions—people such as investors, engineers, and others to help him develop and promote the products. This led to creating more than 200 companies. In 1890, Edition established the Edison Electric Company, bringing together his various businesses. 

When Edison heard that Alexander Graham Bell was going to commercialize his phonograph and cylinders, Edison knew it would make his technology yesterday’s news. He did not tackle this problem alone; he gathered a team, and for three days they worked on a technology that would jump over Bell’s—and they succeeded.

The thing about entrepreneurs is they are fantastic at creating ideas, but they sometimes fall short by not following through and implementing the ideas. That is one of the reasons why they have to learn to collaborate with others. 

 

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprang up.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.,
The Poet at the Breakfast Table

 

There are many other examples in history. Consider the teams that worked on putting a man on the moon. It took hundreds of a variety of people and talents to build the craft. They needed all sorts of engineers to figure out the trajectory, communications, and more to take a team into space, fly them to the moon, land and then walk on the moon, return to the craft, fly back to Earth, and finally safely land. It required tremendous collaboration to make that happen. 

 

A great movie, Hidden Figures, emphasizes the critical role of three women doing very important math and technical work to support astronaut John Glenn’s flight, without which the flight would not have been possible. Again, great collaboration to accomplish
a common goal—a common purpose.

 

 

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.

 

 

We Must Listen For What Is Not Being Said

img_4774One of the things I love most about facilitating our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership gatherings is when participants say things that really make the group dig in and think. This is heuristic learning at its best. Last night one of our central Florida participants made the comment that as a leader she needs to “listen for what is not being said.” This caused a good discussion around the idea of why was something not being said or were the things not being said even known about to be said. That’s quite a mouthful, don’t you think?

So, how does one get better at paying attention to what is not being said? Good question, right?

Sometimes the challenge is on the end of the person or group communicating with us. If you think about it, we’ve all been in this situation, or at least I have. There are times when we just don’t have the knowledge, words, or correct vocabulary to express what we are thinking. Additionally, the other person does not have the emotional self awareness to convey what they are feeling to get their needs on the table for discussion. Furthermore, there are times when people are just afraid or uncomfortable to intimate their honest thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

We must, as leaders, listen for avoidance of topics, vague communication, or lack of knowledge. These are all cues that something may not be being said that should be. We can combat this by doing more listening than talking. Also, we need to listen to understand, not listen to respond with an answer. We should think more in terms of what is the right next question. Word clues are great to listen for. Finally, we need to pay attention to body language and other non-verbal cues that tell us the person or group we are convening with has more information that is not being told.

In our discussion, we decided there is to perfect equation for listening for what is not being said, but that we must be curious and listen for underlying issues or topics. We need to ask clarifying questions to make sure we we understand before moving on from a topic. Listen and clarify!

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.

Reflections From My Son On Martin Luther King, Jr.

Quotations From Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last weekend my son was doing homework and asked if he could discuss his answers to an assignment with me. Of course I was a willing participant. It turned out to be a great discussion and chance for me to learn just how values driven and principled my son had become.

It was a great English class assignment where the students were given nine quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and asked to react with what he/she believed the meaning of the quote was or how to use the quote to make the world a better place. I thought it was a great assignment for reflection. I was so blown away by our discussion that I asked my son if I could share his answers on my blog. He said yes! So, on this day that we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., here are some quotes and some reaction from my son, Heath:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This shows how a person should stick to his or her core values and principles when in a time of challenge. This quote is as good today as back in his time.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This explains how we need to get along and not fight within. We need to be united and not be separate.Because if we don’t, we will all go down as fools. This is also a good quote to relate to today in our current political environment.

“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This just shows that we need to be willing to go all in on our thoughts and beliefs. As Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death. The quote is saying they you need to be committed to what you believe in and be ready to die for it.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This shows that you have to be comfortable even when you aren’t comfortable. You have to be able to take a chance even though you don’t know how the end result will be.  

“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false, and the false with the true.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

We need to practice civilized disdain, where we understand each other’s differences and respect the different opinions of each other. This will allow us to work together and reach consensus.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do your research to know what all sides believe in and knowing the details of the issue.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Even if we see an injustice of someone or something that doesn’t affect us personally we still need to be concerned and help those who are being hurt.

“I have a dream that one day…the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

He wanted all cultures and races to come together and understand each other and respect each other. 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

It doesn’t matter where you come from or what zip code you live in we all are fellow human beings. He wanted people to not judged by the race or color but by how good of a person you are and their skills and talents.

Hopefully you’ll take some time to reflect like we did. Today, we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., the de facto spokesman of the Civil Rights Movement, for his key role in directing our nation closer to its goal of equality for all.

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.

“Old Hickory” Leadership

General Jackson’s Home At The Hermitage

Our family had the opportunity to visit The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s farm and home, near Nashville, Tennessee, this past week. We love going to historical sites of past presidents and this one of our seventh president was awesome. General Jackson’s, as we learned he wanted to be referred as, home is very well preserved and cared for. Our tour guide, Stewart, was incredible and very knowledgeable. To be on the farm where General Jackson worked, stand outside the room where he met with other presidents, and be next to the bed where he died was awe inspiring and caused a great deal of reflection about the leadership of this great American.

Some praise his strength and audacity. My son and I had learned about his great military leadership prowess this time last year when we walked the grounds of the Battle of New Orleans where General Jackson led the defeat of the British and soaked up all the history. We learned how his servant leadership, dedication to his troops, and toughness gain him the affectionate title “Old Hickory”. Others see our seventh President as having been vengeful and self-obsessed. To admirers he stands as a shining symbol of American accomplishment, the ultimate individualist and patriot.

Andrew Jackson, the President, believed republican government should be simple, frugal, and accessible. As President he was very accessible and was know as the people’s President. By 1835, President Jackson had reduced the national debt to a mere $33,733.05 and would eventually pay it off, making him the only president to ever accomplish that feat. He was an ardent supporter of state’s rights, and individual liberty fostered political and governmental change, including many prominent and lasting national policies. Many believe it was his stubbornness and tenacity to keep fighting for what he believed was right that made him a great leader. There was a lot that happened in our great country under the many leadership roles that Jackson held during his lifetime. We can agree and disagree on his decisions and policies, but it is important to reflect on the General’s leadership influence and learn from our history.

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.

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

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.

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

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.