Leadership Recipe

The leader’s main job is a little direction and lots of execution in the few essentials.

Translation: The common literature tells us that the leader’s main job is direction (where should we be going?), but the common literature is wrong. This should be obvious. If mostly successful people pick a direction and go there, at least for a while, then there isn’t much direction-picking left to do during the year. Perhaps occasionally, but not frequently. Yet the instructions conjure up a vision of the prototypical leader looking a lot like Sacajawea pointing the way.

SPEED BUMP: Pointing the way is necessary but not enough.

The much higher-impact work is to deeply understand your business model. That means where is the money made now, where will it be made next year, and what will it take to capitalize on those insights. There are lots of activities in a business that accompany being in business, but the best leaders pick out the few bits of chocolate from the pudding.

One of the biggest things you have going for you is your top two people. Most organizations have at least two; the fortunate few have more, but let’s look at the two.

SPEED BUMP: How can you get the most out of your best people?

It’s not about giving them big jobs to do, or more work. Instead, it’s two things:

1. Place them on top of the highest-leverage activities in the company. Leverage means impact on sales and profit. It doesn’t matter what their technical skill is. What matters is their ability to figure out quickly what matters, who matters, and what’s needed for success—and go there.

2. Once you’ve placed them, sweep away the trash around them.* The trash is not the people, it’s the policies, the rules, the “ways we’ve always done it”-anything that’s of questionable value and eats up the priceless time of your best folks. Their main asset is time. Whatever you can evaporate, dilute, transfer, or put on a boat to another country, do it. Then ask them what else is in their way and vaporize it unless it’s illegal or might really have value. When in doubt, remove it. It’ll be clear soon if it was an error, and it can be fixed fast, since someone already knows how to do it.

SPEED BUMP: The best compliment you can give a leader is a vital and tough job.

Competitive rowing (crew) in an “8” (numbers of crew) has a specific requirement for every position. Everyone knows that the cox is a skinny little person who could tame an LA freeway jam-up. “Engine room” is the tallest, strongest, meanest person on the crew, who has the combination of disdain for losing, ever, and pride in being the strongest on the crew. Believe it or not, people compete for that position, because it’s the highest-impact seat. Sort of like placing your best people.

ACCELERANT: Who are your two best, and where will you put them?

*Thanks to expert Heidi Pozzo

A note on SPEED BUMPS: Use them to click quickly with an idea that can immediately be implemented in your life as a business leader. Think: “How can I use this today? or “Who can use this?”


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