Part of being a leader is being decisive and confident about your decision. People lose confidence in you when you waffle for too long or too often. You can’t be a competent leader and be indecisive. Repeating the phrase ‘I don’t know” every time someone comes to you for a decision doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. So how do you get better at making decisions? It’s actually pretty simple. You practice. Start with small decisions and work your way up, and eventually decisiveness becomes a habit like anything else. Easy ways to improve decisiveness:
- Choose an item off the menu quickly. Be ready when your server returns with the drink order.
- Choose your movie quickly. Don’t wander aimlessly around Blockbuster.
- Don’t shop. Seek, find, purchase and move on.
- Stop saying “I don’t care” or “You decide”. Be an active participant in the plans.
- Compromise less. Don’t wait on consensus when you’re capable of making the decision.
- Block out the “what if” thoughts about making a bad decision. Make the decision and live with the repercussions.
If you’re indecisive this doesn’t happen overnight. You have to practice at it. It’s taken me years not to be a “go with the flow” guy. And it’s still a fight in my personal life. But in becoming more decisive, I’m saving time and energy and people know I can be counted on to keep things moving. It boils down to consciously deciding what you want and pursuing it. You don’t have to pursue it every waking hour, but it helps to have it in the front your mind instead of the back. Happy deciding.
Part of leadership is setting the tone for the rest of the team. If that tone is a positive one, your team will hold themselves and each other to a higher standard. Exempt yourself from the same rules you ask your team to follow, and you land yourself in a situation like Mr. Wolfowitz. You’ll become a leader that no one wants to follow. You become just a boss.
Nepotism is part of human nature. In ancient Rome, it was an integral part of their political process called cursus honorum. Ancient Romans used as much social leverage as they could to become an elected official. In many ways, this practice has always been with us. In the 1830’s an associate of Andrew Jackson coined the phrase “to the victor go the spoils” when remarking to the press on how Jackson was justified in appointing so many new people to public office. Thus ushering in the American “spoils system”.
Initially, Mr. Wolfowitz seemed to view working with his girlfriend Shaha Riza, as a conflict of interest, as she was moved to a think tank job funded by the State Department upon his arrival in office. Apparently Mr. Wolfowitz later thought there was no conflict of interest when he actively involved himself in securing Riza a promotion as well as $60k in raises in less then a two year span. It should be noted that she was making more then Secretary of State, Condaleezza Rice.
Obviously Mr. Wolfowitz was not acting with the same moral compass as the general public and World Bank employees who are now so outraged at his actions. Despite this suspension of ethics, he maintains he can still do his job effectively. But has he truly considered that statement?
What of the morale of his staff? How motivated will they be to perform their duties when they know it is not merit but acquaintance that will earn them a promotion? How willing will they be to go the extra mile for a man who lacks the necessary integrity to lead them?
Mr. Wolfowitz knows the answers to these questions, but has not acknowledged them.
When faced with his own mistakes a leader will acknowledge and accept responsibility for them. Mr. Wolfowitz is not leader enough to do that. With each day that he doesn’t step down, he promotes more distraction among the World Bank employees. Just being present there makes the World Bank more inefficient by the day. This is not leadership at all. This is vanity.
In light of reading the article 10 Golden Lessons From Steve Jobs on the Ririan Project, I decided to read up a little on Steve Jobs myself. And I ran across this quote that reminded me of something I read before:
The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay.
It reminded me that as a manager and a leader, one of my top priorities should be to remove all the obstacles to success for my team as I possibly can. Obstacles can be anything. Distraction, lack of resources, micromanagement, etc. My feeling is if I can provide them with all the tools they need, and the space they need get things done, I’ve already accomplished a major part of my job.
I recently read this article on another blog and liked it so much, I contacted the author and asked if I could link his article to my site. Luckily, he agreed. This article was borrowed from Ririan Project. Check it out. He and I have similar interests. If you enjoy this site, chances are, you’ll enjoy his.
Recently, a NY times article came out extolling the virtues of “mono-tasking”. Much of the research available touts multi-tasking as an endeavor of diminishing returns. So called multi-tasking is actually a misnomer as far as brain function is concerned. The human brain is designed to only process so much information at a time. Essentially, the more tasks you perform concurrently, the more your focus is divided. It is that lack of focus that actually hampers productivity and can produce an inferior quality of work.
How does this relate to leadership? That’s an excellent question, and I’m glad I asked it. How can a leader ask his staff to ramp up productivity when he himself is mired down in the minutiae of every day tasks? A leader’s job is to keep his mind on the big picture, and attend to the details that will paint that picture. If he is too busy answering emails while talking on the phone and IM’ing, he can’t focus on that major project or improving the output of his staff. He can’t focus period. Technology is great and has increased productivity exponentially. But what if that technology becomes a constant distraction to your task at hand? The expression “drinking from a fire hose” springs to mind.
As a country, we are facing information overload. As an engineer, it gets tough to work on a particular design or a lengthy calculation when my phone won’t stop ringing, my email program won’t stop alerting me, and my coworkers won’t stop dropping by to “shoot the bull”. Worse yet, it takes time to get refocused on a complex problem after each distraction. The result–productivity plummets.
A recent Microsoft study of their own employees found that it took the average employee 15 minutes to get refocused on serious mental tasks after a distraction (i.e. report writing, computer programming). That’s right. 15 minutes! You get distracted 4 times while working on a focus intensive task and you just lost over an hour of time in your day. Now who wants to stay late because your buddy at work wants to talk about the NFL draft for 10 minutes? Sure it’s interesting, but wouldn’t you rather talk about it over a beer after work?
Given what I have learned, I’m going to do some self evaluation and re-prioritizing. It’s time to take some steps to reduce the distraction.
Parkinson’s Law states: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
I was thinking how much I hated meetings while walking to one of my regularly scheduled pow-wows. And then a ray of sunshine shone through the fluorescent lighting (I know this is dramatic, but work with me). My boss canceled this week’s meeting and the subsequent week’s meeting because he thought we were “well on track” and he didn’t think it was necessary. This not only boosted our pride because we got the pat on the back, but it brought instant relief because we were spared the drudgery of another round of “beat the dead horse”.
You want to boost morale a little? Cancel unnecessary meetings when you know your people’s work merits recognition. This is like opening a relief valve. It’s an instant decrease in pressure because your people now have extra time to get things done in the day. And don’t forget to tell them why. That was a nice touch.
Ideally, it’s both. Reality proves this is not often the case. Leadership development has been all the rage since the first alpha Neanderthal got eaten and the rest of the clan had no one to turn to. People need leadership. They want to believe. But they can produce without good leadership if they respect their management. The bottom line is garnering the respect of your subordinates. Without it, your effectiveness is seriously undermined. But here’s where the difference between a manager and a leader resides. A leader recognizes that once they have your respect they’re just starting.
Earning respect will increase output, but how can we get higher output while maintaining or boosting morale? The answer is leadership. A leader demonstrates a willingness to hear ideas, to roll up his sleeves when necessary, and the fortitude to make correction when required. However, when leadership is in short supply, management can still get the job done.
In recent decades manager has evolved into the homely stepsister of leader. I personally don’t understand this phenomenon. People will still come to work every day even if they don’t have Vince Lombardi firing them up with the pre-game speech. Obligation and money are powerful motivators. The kids will still need braces and the house will still need a new roof long after Vince retires.
So why is leader the exalted one, when manager tends the shop? The truth is leadership is revered because it is an idea. Leadership can work in the abstract while management has to produce day in and day out. Leadership with no managerial skills can still steer the ship into the rocks. He’ll just look darn good doing it.
The gold standard is when both manager and leader coincide. That’s the guy we all clamor to work for. Who doesn’t want to work for a charismatic motivator that makes you feel like the company will collapse without your contribution?
So if the question is leader or manager? The answer is and always will be both through constant personal development. Washington and Lincoln didn’t reach greatness by being born. They learned it through constant and rigorous self improvement. Anything less and you’re not only shortchanging yourself, but those you manage, and the company that gave you the responsibility.
“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”
— Stephen R. Covey
Edit: I posted this article here on Helium.com, and it is currently ranked #2! Ok, it’s only out of 12, but everybody loves a good ego boost, right?