As we start 2014 focusing on execution, it’s good to remember that great execution means the difference between “promise” and “performance.” The world is filled with promises from politicians, business leaders, teachers, even religious leaders. But when it comes to actual performance – as the TV commercials say, “results my vary.” So how do we close the gap? How do we make sure we deliver on our promises? Here’s a few important keys to make it happen for you:
Early in my career I learned a valuable lesson from a great leader. When I didn’t deliver on a project, I had nothing but a list of excuses and blame. His response? “Don’t tell me about the labor pains – just show me the baby.” He wasn’t interested in excuses, or blaming someone else. All he wanted was a completed project. Recently, I’ve been dealing with some people who feel they need to place blame for their inability to deliver, or at least give me an excuse why another person made their work difficult. My answer?
Leaders: If you’re frustrated at the level of your team or vendor’s performance, then look no further than the mirror. Only in vary rare cases will a team perform better than the level of their leader. Why? Because it’s the leader who sets the boundaries, deadlines, and guidelines. It’s the leader who creates the culture, and sets expectations. As a result, no matter how gifted or creative a team is, if the leader is incompetent, insecure, or inexperienced, the team can only
The concept of “Team Leadership” is popular right now, and many business and nonprofit leaders are moving toward that model. I think there are many advantages to team leadership, but I’m seeing one area where far too many organizations get it wrong. While teams are great for brainstorming, research, and execution, teams don’t make decisions, leaders do. That principle was highlighted in an recent quote from Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business:”
I’m pulling this post from the archives because I was reading Matthew 9:16 about putting new wine into old wineskins or sewing un-shrunk cloth on an old garment. In Biblical days wine was kept in a leather bag or “skin,” because it could stretch as the wine aged. But once it got old, the bag locked into it’s shape and lost the ability to stretch. The concept is particularly important when it comes to leadership. A few years ago I was asked to consult with a major ministry that had been on the national scene for a long time. Now, a new leader wanted to bring it up to date – make it more contemporary, fresh, and relevant. But the first thing I noticed was
1) The One Trick Pony: I once worked with a person in charge of a nonprofit’s direct mail fundraising program. One time with the monthly donor letter he used yellow paper and noticed that he received an 6% higher than normal response. Assuming that was the only factor, he made a rule that from then on, all the organizations communications with donors had to be on yellow paper. The One Trick Pony in your organization has tunnel vision. They only see one solution to everything, and it’s usually the wrong one. They’re not exploring other opportunities and giving you a
I love teams. I’m a people person and love to get a crowd in the room kicking around ideas. But at the same time, I also know when to clear the room and get down to business. Sometimes I think whoever invented the “open door policy” probably meant well, but sooner or later, you have to shut the door and start thinking.
Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon, writers of “I Hate People” discuss the issue in their book based on the difficulties of working in the modern office. In the book, they insist that contemporary corporate America puts too much emphasis on teamwork. As they say, “Four decades ago, Fortune did a study of the most valued characteristics in an employee. The magazine found that teamwork was ranked tenth. . . . Jump forward to 2005, and Fortune’s follow-up survey showed that teamwork had climbed to #1.”
As told in the Wall Street Journal: “Teamwork, the authors say, suffocates creativity and has its own limitations. They describe a classic experiment done nearly a century ago by French agricultural engineer Maximilien Ringelmann. He measured people pulling on a rope connected to a strain gauge, first as individuals and then as members of tug-of-war teams. The result: A person pulls harder alone than as part of a group. Ringelmann dubbed the phenomenon “social loafing.” Today it is known simply as the Ringelmann Effect, and what it means in the real world, say Messrs. Littman and Hershon, is that “the more people you throw at a problem, the less each contributes.”
That doesn’t diminish my desire to create great teams for discussing ideas. But it is a great reminder that teams aren’t always the answer. There’s a lot to be said for the creative power of a single person.