Stop Sending Dusty Messages

Posted on all agree that up-to-date communication methods do contribute to our organizational effectiveness.  However, “it’s not the medium,” writes Pat MacMillan, “that needs dusting off, it’s the message!”

Telling your story is an art.  It can be done well.  It can be done poorly.  Sometimes the one telling the story gets “a little too close to the sun” thinking the story is about them, and they and the organization both get burned.

Two things we can learn from Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor; guilt and fear don’t work.  “Stories that use fear or shame to mobilize action may seem effective in the short term but can be counter productive in the long term,” she writes.  Fear and shame are emotions that move people “away from” not “towards.”

The key to attracting the very best is in communicating how others have brought their strengths to the work, every day, and how they can do the same.

Set Up Your Successor for Success

Posted on Updated on“The hallmark of a great leader is one who sets his or her successors up for success, rather than failure.”

The key to successful succession planning is to establish systems that make it possible for the organization to go on when a key individual leaves.  And that goes for all key staff — the CEO, and any other critical positions.

Steps to Building a Succession Plan

Step 1 Identify Critical Positions

Begin your plan by identifying all of the critical positions within your department or team.  These could be currently filled position, currently vacant positions, or positions you would like to add.

Step 2 Color Code Critical Positions

If the position will be vacant within 1 year or the wrong person is in the position, color code the position red.  If the position will be vacant within 2 years, color code it yellow.  If the position is safe for 2 years, color code it green.  Add explanatory notes to all red and yellow positions (e.g., promoting, retiring, resigning, etc.).  Identify any new or proposed positions in blue.

Step 3 Identify Potential Successor

Identify any potential successors whether they are inside or outside the organization, providing name, current title or position, and proposed title or position.  Potential successors will be ranked green if currently qualified for the position, yellow if they could be qualified in 1 year, and red if they could be qualified in 2 or more years.

Step 4 Create a Development Plan

Help each of the candidates create a development plan that would prepare them for the desired position, within the time required.  The key is to make every open position a leadership development opportunity.

Step 5 Review You Plan

The succession plan should be reviewed or updated at least once a year, or whenever there is a change in any critical position.

“We go through life together and if we can help each other, that’s a good thing.  I don’t like the word mentor.  I like to think of it as a friendship.  It’s a two-way street, and we learn from each other.”  Bill George

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

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dreamstime_xs_27050853 (2)“What’s love got to do with it?”

Tina Turner wasn’t the first to ask that question, and she won’t be the last.  For a leader, the answer is simple.  Everything!

If you are a leader, love is critical.  And I don’t mean the kind of “love” that is all about me.  You know the type.  “I want you to love me, because I like what I get.”  What I am taking about is the type of love that says, “I will show care, looking out for the interests of others because I simply decide to.”  It doesn’t mean I don’t love myself–if you don’t like you, you want like others.  It does mean I am interested in the lives and success of all the people who make our organization or business a success and in the lives of the people we serve.

Being a leader is not always easy.  Loving others is the same.  It may not be easy, but it is critical.  You need it.  Your team needs it.  The world needs it.  Lead with love and you will never lead with power or fear ever again.

The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace. —Gandhi

Don’t Start Packing Too Soon

Posted on Updated on clarity about your direction as a team begins with a clear understanding of exactly where you want to go.  Every journey begins with an idea about “Point B”—the destination or end.  Where are you headed?  What do you want to become?  Who will you serve, help, or heal?  Who will go with you?  How will the world be different because you went there?  These are the types of questions you use to help you see your goal clearly.

Many of us want to start packing or planning before we even know where we are going.  There are many things you will need on any trip, like talented, ethical, motivated, inspired people for instance.  But each trip demands differing types of preparation and differing resources.  So, don’t waste your time and everyone else’s by loading up that van and heading out on a journey to “nowhere” or “somewhere.”  First know where you are going, and then, and only then should you start packing.


Choose Effective People

Posted on Updated on ability to choose effective people will not only determine your ultimate success…but will greatly influence the amount of energy you expend to achieve that success.  (Pat MacMillan)

Every organization will have its own criteria for selecting team members.  Pat MacMillan in his book, Hiring Excellence, has a chapter dedicated to the subject of candidate selection.  His list of criteria includes:

  • spiritual maturity and growth,
  • emotional maturity,
  • a willingness to be teachable,
  • character and courage,
  • a team player mindset,
  • commitment to excellence,
  • interest in this job,
  • concern for people,
  • demonstrated ability to set and achieve goals,
  • intelligence, and
  • balance.

Pat concludes with this admonition, “Look for people who show a total life pattern of success consistently, over time.”

Why Nonprofits Don’t Innovate

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“In the absence of a profit test, size is the one criteria of success for a service institution, and growth a goal in itself.”  Peter Drucker

According to Peter Drucker, this is one of the biggest obstacles to innovation in public-service institutions.  In Drucker’s 1985 book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, he dedicates a chapter to this issue and begins with the statement that “most innovations in public-service institutions are imposed on them either by outsiders or by catastrophe.”

“They (service institutions) are good at building empires–and they always want to do more of the same.  They resist abandoning anything they are doing.  But they rarely innovate once they have been established.”  Peter Drucker

Drucker’s list of three obstacles to innovation:

First, the public-service institution is based on a “budget” rather than being paid out of its results…And “success” in the public-service institution is defined by getting a larger budget rather than obtaining results.

Second, a service institution is dependent on a multitude of constituents…The public-service institution has to satisfy everyone, certainly, it cannot afford to alienate anyone.

Third, The most important reason, however, is that public-service institutions exist after all to “do good.” …If one is “doing good,” then there is no “better.”

Mapping the Value Stream

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Isn’t it strange, that whenever we seek to improve an organization one of the first things we do is restructure the organization chart.  What we fail to do is change the way things get done.

One of the first principles of Lean is to directly observe work as activities, interconnections, and flow.  As we learn to see work in this way—as interconnected activities and flow—we will also see things differently, and we will see opportunities to change things for the better.

Womack and Jones, authors of “The Machine that Changed the World,” define Value Stream as “The set of all specific actions required to bring a specific product through three critical management tasks of any business: …problem solving, …information management, …physical transformation.”  As you gain an understand of the value streams within your organization, you discover the three categories of activity:

1. Steps that definitely create value

2. Steps that create no value but are necessary

3. Steps that create no value and can be immediately eliminated

Since no one wants to consider what they do as waste, the job of mapping and evaluating a value stream needs to be done at a fairly high level.  And the focus needs to be on four basic principles:

1. Add nothing but value (eliminate waste)

2. Focus on the people who add value (transfer authority and responsibility to the people who are adding value)

3. Let value flow from demand (eliminate as many handoffs as possible, expose problems as soon as they arise, and correct immediately)

4. Optimize across the organization

Trust Everyone, But Cut the Cards

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I once had a friend tell me he was concerned that his boss, the CEO, was not telling the Board of Directors the truth.  That is a terrible place to be in any organization, and one I would not wish on my worst enemy.

If you are a member of the Board, how do you know your CEO is telling you the truth?

“Well,” you say, “we trust him.”  Or, “We’ve known her for a long time.”  Or, “He’s my wife’s brother.”


I believe in the power of trust, and think it is the key to great leadership, but as a Director, you are accountable to the moral ownership of the organization, and the CEO is accountable to you.

So, how do you answer the question, “How do you really know your CEO is telling you the truth?”  John Carver in Reinventing Your Board, suggests three ways a Board can acquire accountability data:

(a) by internal reports, in which the CEO discloses compliance information to the Board,

(b) by external reports, in which an external, disinterested third party selected by the Board to assess compliance with board policies, and

(c) by direct board inspection, in which a designated member or members of the Board assess compliance with the appropriate policy criteria.”

The problem with Boards is it is easy to get lazy and only look at the internal reports–a report created by or under the direction of the CEO–and not look at the external reports and direct inspection that are needed to get a true picture of the CEO’s performance in achieving the “Ends” of the organization.

Carver reminds us that the “Board members and CEO are colleagues.”  The relationship is “collegial, not hierarchical.”  However, the Board’s desires must be clear, and the CEO response must be in compliance with those desires.  Both have a job to do and need to be “personally responsible” for the job they do.

They also need to be “cumulatively responsible,” or as Carver puts it, “accountable for the total contribution and compliance of his or her team, however extensive that team might be.”  How will you know if the CEO is accountable? Start using your entire accountability toolkit: internal reports, external reports, and direct inspection.

10 Rules for Stifling Innovation

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A little over twelve years ago The Drucker Foundation published Leading for Innovation and Organizing for Results. Contributers included Clayton Christensen, Jim Collins, C. William Pollard, Margaret J. Wheatley, and Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  It has proven to be one of the most practical guides for anyone seeking to lead their organization to greater levels of performance.

Kanter’s chapter, Creating the Culture for Innovation, is most helpful, not so much in how she outlines how innovation is started, but in how she outline how innovation is stopped.  Her “rules for stifling innovation,” are as follows:

1.  Be suspicious of every new idea from below—because it’s new and because it’s from below.  (After all, if the idea were any good, senior people would have thought of it already.)

2.  Insist that people who need your approval to act go through several other levels of management first.  (Most will fade away before getting back to you.)

3.  Ask departments or individuals to challenge and criticize one another’s proposals.  (That saves you the job of deciding; you just pick the survivors.)

4.  Express criticisms freely, and withhold your praise.  (That keeps people on their toes.)  Let them know they could be fired at any time.

5.  Treat identification of problems as signs of failure, to discourage people from letting you know when something in their area isn’t working.  (Fear of mistakes will reduce risks.)

6.  Control everything carefully.  Make sure people count everything that can be counted, frequently.  (That ensures a tight ship with nothing extra for unproven plans.)

7.  Make decisions to reorganize or change policies in secret, and spring them on people unexpectedly.  (That also keeps people on their toes.)

8.  Make sure that requests for information are fully justified; don’t give it out freely.

9.  Assign to lower-level managers, in the name of delegation and participation, responsibility for figuring out how to cut back, lay off, move people around, or otherwise implement threatening decisions you have made.  And get them to it quickly.

10.  And above all, never forget that you, the leaders, already know everything important about the business.  (Isn’t that why you’re in charge?)

“A kaleidoscope, not a computer, is the ultimate weapon to help leaders meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.  It represents the ever-changing patterns and endless new possibilities, powered by human imagination, that lie at the heart of innovation.”  (Rosabeth Moss Kanter)

The Story You Need to Tell

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Would you like to encourage your team, renew their passion, return the joy to their work?

If you are new to leadership and you want to connect with your team in a meaningful way, try telling them your story.  Begin with the story you don’t need to memorize, the one you already know, the story of who you are.  “Before anyone allows you to influence them,” writes Annette Simmons, “they want to know, ‘Who are you and why are you here?”

Put away the research, the vision statement, the plan of work, and tell them who you are.  Where did you come from?  Who are your heroes?  What events have shaped your life?  Tell them about a time you laughed, a time you cried, a time you fell, a time you got up and tried again.  Annette Simmons tells us, “At a deep level we know that true strength is found not in perfection, but in understanding our own limitations.  A leader who demonstrates this self-knowledge (by telling their story) demonstrates strength.”

“Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village.  Her nakedness frightened the people.  When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry.  Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home.  There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again.  Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into the people’s houses.  They invited her to eat at their table and warm herself by their fire.”  Jewish Teaching Story from The Story Factor by Annette Simmons