Got a Need for Feed?


Or, Subscribe by Email...

Enter your email address:

Recently on Twitter...

Banner photo credit: Renae Rhodes


Fear, and Faith

Organizations and managers crave certainty. That’s why the spreadsheet was invented. Put a lot of them in a three-ring binder, sprinkle in some pie charts, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

You cannot eliminate uncertainty. And, it’s impossible to create complete certainty. Some things remain uncertain, unmeasurable, unpredictable and, so, require faith as a tool of leadership.

We have no faith, so we live and work in a world of fear and mistrust. The degree of fear and mistrust are reflected formally by the intensity of an organization’s processes, systems, procedures and rules, and informally in the behavioral weaknesses of its leaders.

But, you say, fear and mistrust come along with the territory, the human jungle, the fight for survival. Yes, it’s true. The human condition is a wretched state of affairs — brutish, nasty and short. How’s that working for you?

Leadership — like all acts of creation, like all works of art — is a rebellion. You must rebel against this wretched state of affairs.

Your job is to transcend what fear and mistrust do to an organization, how it pollutes people’s problem solving passion and abilities. Remember this — excessive and rigid processes, systems, rules and procedures are a tax you pay for being afraid and suspicious.

Lead, don’t manage. Sprinkle in some faith instead.


A Path for Inspired Problem Solvers

Life is about a lot of things. At its core, however, it is a problem-solving journey. Life throws problems — decisions, challenges, relationships, puzzles, choices, thoughts — at you every day. You wake up, put your feet on the floor, and start solving problems.

Skillful problem solving leads to success and happiness. Poor problem solving…well, doesn’t.

Great, and good, problem solvers expect challenges daily, and embrace each and every one of them. They understand the path to mastery in life is a deep passion and commitment to the challenges and problems life throws at them. And, they’re grateful for the opportunity. After all, having challenges, and doing the work, is what makes you human, and what reminds you that you are alive.

Simply, problems are good things. One of your goals should be to share this love of problems which, when embraced, offers you a path to mastery in your life. In their daily lives and challenges, inspired problem solvers see this path clearly:

  • Your problems are an opportunity to achieve mastery over stagnation. Problems invite you to learn new skills, to grow, to adapt, to venture beyond your comfort zone, to pursue and shape your and others’ future.
  • Your problems are an opportunity to achieve mastery over irrelevance. You matter. Your ideas, skills, knowledge and insights matter. The world needs you. You have something to contribute to the battle. How dare you not think so.
  • Your problems are an opportunity to achieve mastery over chaos. You really do have a measure of control over your life, over your results, over your direction. It’s your ability to be a great problem solver.
  • Your problems are an opportunity to achieve mastery over fear. Fear, uncertainty, doubt and instability thrive on our inability or unwillingness to address challenges in our lives and work. Solve problems well, and they lose their power to terrify you. Also, look around you. There aren’t a lot of great problem solvers in the world. Be one — it’s terrific job security.
  • Your problems are an opportunity to achieve mastery over isolation. Reach out. Ask for help. Connect with other people, and other ideas, insights and experiences. You are never alone.
  • Your problems are an opportunity to achieve mastery over boredom. Let your brain out of its cage. Experiment and play. Have fun. Invent something. Be inspired.

Somebody Thought This Was a Good Idea

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility asked for my thoughts on the convergence of the economic and environmental interests in resource conservation and sustainability.



I’ve invented a new word. Or, rather, the observation of managers in the wild has suggested a new word:

Data + Asphyxia = Datasphyxia 

It is, simply, when the fetish for managing almost purely by data, and analysis, and spreadsheets chokes an organization’s mobility, innovation and effectiveness by forcing it to spend energy on solving problems that have very little to do with creating customers or delighting customers.


And Yet... (Cheap Leadership, Continued)

We know so much, and have studied so much, and have imagined so much about what great leadership looks, smells, and acts like.

And yet.

And yet, we’re not very good at it, are we? As many people in organizational life often — painfully — suspect, we haven’t quite mastered it. This is not a criticism or a breathless statement of crisis. It’s just an observation.

Leading well is tough. As much as we love the idea of leading, and as full as our heads are with the knowledge and techniques of leading, it’s very difficult to do. Despite our attempts to quantify, analyze and simplify it in the laboratory, out in the wild it is a shadowy creature, escaping the traps we set for it.

The mystery, however, is not about what we still need to learn or invent about good leadership practice and behavior.

The mystery is this: why, with all we know, with all our wonderful, good and true knowledge, do we too often fail to realize the ideals of leadership in ourselves and in our organizations?

All of these approaches to leadership and personal growth, to their credit, describe a kind of utopia, where purpose, teamwork, success and joy flow like milk and honey. Why, then, do we have such trouble reaching this promised land? Where is the flaw?

Why, blessed with an abundance of insight and intellect about effective behaviors and principles of personal growth, are we unable to sustain the change and effectiveness we seek?

Why do we continue to struggle with results we don’t want or intend (but, nonetheless, our behavior and choices are perfectly designed to produce)? Why, after all those books and seminars, nothing seems to be different, or our progress is painfully slow?

Why do we find it so hard to change, when we know we should and we know what it’s supposed to look like?

Why do we mess it up?

We are addicted to cheap leadership.

At worst, we pursue this addiction intentionally. This intentional, or conscious, form of cheap leadership can be the cynical exercise of certain management behaviors that are a form of abuse, but what we claim are designed to “solve problems,” “get results,” or “win.” It can also be those behaviors we’ve simply learned or observed, and which we have come to believe without question are the best way to organize and conduct daily business.

More commonly, but no less toxic, we are simply unconscious of both the addiction and its consequences. Our intentions are good; we simply don’t realize what we’re doing, and why, nor do we always immediately notice the damage done.

Either way, cheap leadership is the biggest threat to our personal growth, an enabler of our ineffective behaviors, and a stumbling block to our success as leaders.

Cheap leadership mires our organizations in mediocrity, or worse. It erodes performance and sustainability. It steals, often silently and invisibly, from our bottom line.

Cheap leadership smothers the happiness and enjoyment of work, and the fulfillment that all of us — leaders and followers — seek in organizational life.

Our addiction to cheap leadership chokes the creativity, energy and problem-solving skills of everyone around us. It frustrates and weakens. It annoys and deflates.

Cheap leadership is poison.


They Never Say, "He's A Great Problem Processor," Do They?

Who is going to own this process?” It’s a question I’m sure is asked quite frequently, and more than likely in response to a thorny problem, the kind of problem many managers react to by kidnapping twelve people and calling it a meeting.

Obviously (or maybe not; you tell me), it’s the wrong question.

Do you really want someone to own the process?

The danger in creating ownership of a process is that it makes everyone — surprise — focus on the process. Success, and the value of everyone’s time and attention, is then measured by how good the process is. Or, by some perverse sense of how complicated and impenetrable the process is, or how many spreadsheet tabs it consumes, or how many work teams it sucked into its gravitational pull. You’ve created an organization where people get rewarded for process creation.

As my teenage children say, “that sucks.”

Words matter. Words create a culture in an organization. They reflect people’s thinking. They influence people’s behavior.

“Process” is the wrong word.

The right word — the right question — is “who is going to own the solution?”

Everyone’s focus needs to be on problem solving. Reward people for the quality of their solutions to an organization’s problems. Because we come to work to solve problems, not design processes.

Maybe it’s nit-picky to focus on one simple word uttered by overwhelmed managers in the heat of a moment. I don’t think so. Like signposts, words direct people to what an organization values. Words create a culture.

And more than anything, you need a solution culture, not a process culture. After all, what do your customers want you to do for them — create a process, or solve a problem?


The Heart of Success

It’s never just the analysis, the processes, the procedures, the spreadsheets, the strategic plans, is it? There really is more to it, isn’t there?

So, why do managers rarely see their job is to understand and master the genuine, more powerful drivers of success — like “trust,” “resiliency,” “belief,” and “resolve”?

My guess is blindness, or fear. Or both.


Unintended Consequences

In business, we often talk about actions we take and the “unintended consequences” of those actions. That phrase is a curious one because, in many instances, it’s really just another way of saying, “we didn’t think it all the way through” without, you know, actually admitting that we didn’t think something all the way through.

The user of this phrase is seeking to deflect or avoid responsibility for his or her actions, or for a poor result. In some organizations, unfortunately, this skill is actually more important than getting work done.

Mastery, particularly in communicating, seeks to anticipate, understand and address all the consequences, intended and unintended. 

So let’s just call unintended consquences what they are — errors, shortcuts, and cheap leadership.


Yes, We Have No Messages

Are you or your organization, company or political candidate looking for a “message”? Are you feeling the need to “get the message out”? Are you sitting around in meetings, facing a crisis or problem, asking, “what’s our message?”

Well, stop it.

There is no discernable market among human beings — employees, customers, the public — for “messages.” Nobody is looking or hungry for messages. People want the truth.

People want a relationship. They want to be talked to honestly, with humility and without agenda or “spin.”

Organizations love the illusion of control. Crafting a “message” implies you have control over what people will think and how they’ll react. You don’t. The only control you have is whether or not you’re honest, humble, love or care about people, and whether or not you’re living your values, beliefs and your mission.

The worst message is half a truth.


Cheap Leadership, Continued

As a company — any organization, really — grows larger, it seeks to maintain order, control and predictability in the “cheapest” way possible: by building a bureaucracy, a mechanistic system of rules, processes, procedures and policies.

At this point it has essentially bought into a lie — that it’s not possible to have order and clarity by trusting, motivating and inspiring people to organize themselves to solve problems at a high level of mastery to deliver the results the organizations wants and needs.

Or, even if it believes it’s possible, it also usually believes it’s too hard, messy, complex and unpredictable.

In other words, too costly.


We Are Imperfect People

Human nature is flawed. We are not gods, or God, by any stretch of the imagination.

And so we drag our imperfections and our flaws to our work, our relationships, and our organizations. They show up in how we treat each other, and treat ourselves. They show up in the decisions we make. They guide what we value, and what we dismiss. 

I see a lot of leaders struggle to hide or lie to themselves about their imperfections and flaws, afraid that those flaws disqualify them to lead.

Great leaders waste no such energy. Great leaders embrace their imperfections as a fact of life, an inescapable feature of human nature. They understand that being imperfect and being ineffective are not the same thing. 

Great leaders aren’t perfect — they’re effective. They simply don’t allow their own personal flaws to destroy the effectiveness and motivation of others. Leadership, in many ways, is about getting ourselves and others where we need to go in spite of our imperfections. 

More simply, we must work daily to rob our imperfections of the power to make us ineffective.

Our success in life and work — and, ultimately, our happiness — depends on our ability to transcend our flaws, not to reach some unattainable state of perfection, but to get things done well, and move others to get things done well.


Two Vastly Different Missions...

“Management” is about protecting and projecting order and predictability. It is about conforming. It is about survival. 

It is the attempt to limit the downside.

“Leadership,” well, that’s the act of unleashing the upside.


"I'm a simpleton..."

Maybe it’s too easy to succumb to the charm, or his infamous reality distortion field, but this clip of Steve Jobs presenting plans for a new Apple office campus to the Cupertino, Calif. city council is just wonderful.

Most striking is the disarming humility, candor and utterly “human-scale” personality of the leader of the world’s most valuable technology company. This is a great communicator — and rare business and organizational leader — at work.

What’s also striking is what’s missing — the all too common mask many CEOs wear, the one that demands (or pleads for) deference, creates an air of inaccessability, and fails to connect as a human being with other human beings from whom they need commitment, trust and understanding.

What we know about Mr. Jobs is that he loves to create great products and do great things. Evidently, this desire consumes far more of his intellectual energy than the need most mortals have for large quantities of smoke to be blown at their posteriors.


Big Brain, Tiny Heart

You are very smart. You are very good at thinking, as a matter of fact. You are filled with knowledge gained in classrooms and from experience. You know what works and what doesn’t.

You manage with your head — your brain. You solve problems. You design and implement processes and systems. You research markets and customer attitudes and behaviors. You understand and work within generally accepted accounting principles. You can work the right buzzwords into conversations, and meetings.

When something goes wrong, you are very good at analyzing it, and understanding what happened, and how. You love numbers; they are comforting, and clear.

You are very smart.

But people solve problems with more than just their brains, don’t they? Are they moved by the spreadsheet only? Do they come to work each morning looking to bring their blood, sweat and tears to a process or a system?

They want to believe. They want to bleed for the right mission, the right product, the right person. They want to win, to taste the fruit of an investment of their talents, their knowledge and their experience. They want to stretch, trust, and be trusted. They want to feel, and to love, and to commit.

These things don’t fit on your spreadsheet. They are not a system or a process, nor is summoning them a system or a process. They are messy and unpredictable, discomforting and hazy.

They are faith, and faith doesn’t live in your brain. It lives in your heart. While it takes brains to solve problems every day, don’t forget people and organizations achieve mastery with their heart as well. It’s a genuine competitive advantage.

“Big brain, tiny heart” is the most common mistake organizations — and leaders — make. “Tiny brain, big heart” is the second most common.

You manage with your brain, and you lead with your heart. You have to do both — deliberately and intentionally — to be great. Simply doing one, or the other, alone makes you and your organization mediocre.


Moments of Mastery

Groundhog Day” is the greatest movie about leadership ever made. Its lesson? We build mastery in our lives one moment at a time.

A great life, and great leadership, is really just a collection of smaller moments of mastery. Bill Murray’s character unlocks this secret about three-quarters of the way through the film, and no longer sees the day he’s condemned to repeat as an endless hell, but as an opportunity to master his life — to build one small victory at a time, one encounter at a time. 

It is a wonderful metaphor for our daily lives. We are condemned to repeat everything, everyday unless we change. Unless we change, or achieve mastery, we are each living the same hellish day over and over again, with the same results, the same undesirable outcomes. Yet, each day, in as many conscious moments as possible, we’re given opportunities to rise above and set aside our ineffective beliefs and behaviors, and strive to live and lead against a standard — not perfection, but an ideal — of what it means to be as effective a person as humanly possible.

Every conversation, every thought, every decision is an opportunity to choose mastery, to elevate ourselves and others.

Then, one day, with hard work and perseverance, we find that we’re able to string these moments — like one bead after another — together in a work of leadership and behavior art. And we become free.

This is the journey of a leader, regardless of the definition, or the set of leadership principles you and I have chosen to follow.