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5 Principles to Lead By

Innovation without excellent execution will fail. And execution without innovation is a waste of time.

What makes a team different? What makes them unique?

I think the combination of five things can set any team apart:

  1. The Henry Gantt principle: Execute well and follow through
  2. The William Zinsser principle: Use art, story, risk and science to communicate
  3. The Jacqueline Novogratz principle: Solutions is the answer in an interconnected world
  4. The Seth Godin principle: Be a rebar company that creates tribes around linchpin products and people
  5. The Donald Clifton principle: Play to strengths, working as a unit

What type of leader are you? Where will you lead?

What principle would you add to the list?

It’s All About the Follow-Up

I have a massive sequence of reminders built into my life. This is for one simple reason: I don’t trust myself to remember everything that I need to do. I don’t even trust a task list; instead, it’s all on my calendar.

Most business partnerships I’ve developed have happened (in part) because of follow-up reminders. (Of course, this is after the partnership has been built on good will, honesty, and working towards a goal that benefits all involved.) It’s the reminders, though, that prompted the work to happen. I see the reminder and I immediately check on the status of the partnership. This principle is also true for project management in general.


Initiate, Plan; Initiate and Plan Again

It’s easy to spend most of our time reacting to problems. Some of us are built for this, meant for it even, but it shouldn’t be what we do with the majority of our time—unless that’s actually our job description. (Many IT people and Customer Service reps actually have this job description and rightfully so.)

Isn’t it just better to plan? As the boy scouts say: “Be prepared.” I would rather not have my inbox decide my schedule. I prefer to initiate over having my surroundings decide for me.

Much of the urgent is only urgent because we didn’t address it last month, last week, or yesterday. I’m a believer in the “clear the inbox” and “every problem should be addressed now” mentality—whenever possible. Yet, this too must be built into our planning. (I certainly don’t live up to this, but it’s a goal.) Problems often seem more manageable in retrospect; so, if we make retrospect now, we will be able to apply the lesson from today to tomorrow’s problems before they begin.


Projects Are Like Toddlers

I now have a weekly time scheduled for re-planning current projects. When you hear the idea stated that way, it doesn’t make much sense. Wouldn’t current projects already be planned? Yes, but they will always need more strategic love.

If you’re not constantly evaluating a project, it will fall on its face, like a toddler learning to walk. The toddler will get hurt and something will be permanently damaged. And this has nothing to do with how competent your team is or how competent the people you work with are. You can work with some of the best people in the world–like I do–and projects will still fail along the way. Projects are still growing up, constantly, until they ship.

The goal is to put safety measures in place–as many as possible to prevent fatal errors.

Like real babies, no one loves your project as much as you do. No one cares about your baby’s cute looks like you do or how much it’s struggling.

Other people are also unlikely to babysit for you. So get over it now: don’t be upset when other people drop the ball on your project. They’re not the parent. They’re not even the babysitter. They’re the neighbor you asked to watch the kid for an hour. And who can blame them? Like the neighbor, they have other obligations. Again, you can work with some of the best in the world, and it will still happen, because the best in the world are always busy for good reasons on other great projects. You love it, they don’t. So love it and then sell them (as much as possible) on why they should love it too.

There is no perfect plan. There are always unknowns. You can try to plan for the unknowns and the unknowns will sneak up on you anyway. And that presents the second project strategy goal: prevent calling 911. And then, you pray and work hard.

How do you raise your project babies–any tips?

(P.S. I’m not a father of a real baby, but I convince myself that Milton the dog counts.)

Goals are Often Selfish

One of the most pressing problems with goals is how ego focused they are: When we set goals, we usually have ourselves in mind, not others. This isn’t usually the case with team projects, but it’s certainly the case for personal goals.

I realized this when reading Strategy for Living by Edward R. Dayton and Ted W. Engstrom. (The book was purchased for me by the director of a local non-profit. I now understand why he cites it as the single most life-changing book he has read outside of the Bible.)

“At a missionary meeting we attended we heard that the purpose of one group was ‘to bring all of Japan to the feet of Christ.’ What does that mean? It’s verbal fog. … Verbal fog can completely incapacitate us. We may desire to be a God-honoring father or mother. We may pray earnestly that God will make us such a parent. We may feel all kinds of love toward our children and have grand ideals for them. We may earnestly quote, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6). But the question is: What are we going to do? How does a God-honoring father act? What does one do to train up a child in the way he should go? How can we know whether what we did was effective or ineffective if we really did not decide what we intended to do?” —Dayton and Engstrom, Strategy for Living, pgs. 47–48

Goals must be specific, focused, purposeful and measurable. If we can’t measure the success of our work, we really don’t have goals—we have ideas. We may know generally what we want, but until we know specifically what success looks like, we’re not ready to start our work.

And unfortunately personal success—accomplishing our personal goals—often looks like happiness, satisfaction or gratification. If we believe in loving our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus commanded, our goals shouldn’t look like this at all. Surely God can and does use ambition for his purposes; both David and Solomon are examples of this. But ambition alone is futile. Ambition doesn’t change lives; ambition makes individual people successful. It’s selfish. However, ambition coupled with a focus on God’s desires can lead powerful causes and change lives.

God doesn’t want us to ask what he wants us to do; he wants us to ask what we can do for his kingdom. (Notice the subject switch from “us” to “his kingdom.”) Goals should be focused on what we can do for others—the lives we can change.

As I set goals going into my birthday this year, I’m focusing on how I can help other people and not my success. I think it’s going to change everything. I’m telling you because I hope that you will do the same. (For my first goal, I’m raising $2,500 for relief efforts in the Horn of Africa; learn more here.)

How do you recommend we (all of us) change our goal setting structure and process? What ideas do you have?

What Actually Defines Us

It’s not the difficult decisions that define me, it’s the decisions I make that affect others.

Leaders understand their burden well: If I fail, so do the people around me. Those who merely manage other people are looking at “I” and not “we.” Leaders are looking for the “we”—their looking at “you.”

Leading means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of those around you: playing to their strengths and strengthening their weaknesses. To make that concrete: it often means making difficult decisions with them. When faced with a problem, leaders look beyond the people involved and consider how their decision will alter the lives of everyone. And by everyone, I mean everyone: the team, the department, the company, the customers, and the world. What affect will this decision have on all of us? (more…)

Over Thinking: 3 Questions that Eliminate the Problem

“Over thinking an issue”—it’s an axiom that’s probably overused, but a truism nonetheless.

Most items in business and project management are over thought. Over sights and assumptions are certainly project killers, but how much time do we waste by analyzing things that have already been sufficiently analyzed?

The question “What’s the action item?” can certainly get old, but we need to keep asking it. Meetings that result in more meetings are a complete waste: of dollars, of time, and of creativity. So let’s find another method, so that we can all start doing more of what we really care about.

Confessions of a Goal Setter

I spend more time thinking about goals than most people I know. If you checked out my Myers & Briggs profile, that wouldn’t surprise you. I think goals are fun, even amusing.

(Some of you cringed as you read those words, but you’re probably reading this post because you want to stop cringing and embrace this madness–I’ll try not to let you down.)

I set goals for nearly everything: reading, writing, working out, and (of course) project and career goals. The craziest goal-oriented thing I do: I set leisure goals. I decide how I’m going to recharge my batteries, and make it a goal. Otherwise, I won’t recharge and I won’t be as creative as I could have been. (Moving on from the crazy.)

Here are seven confessions from a goal setter. I hope these seven confessions help you make your goals less boring and more manageable.

  1. I know I won’t accomplish all my goals from the start. But this doesn’t keep me from believing I can, or will. Anything less than accomplishing all of my goals is a disappointment. Nonetheless, they’re certain failures that I know I can (and likely will, by probability) have to live with. I have a whole philosophy behind this idea.
  2. I tell everyone my “public” goals. (I have personal goals, like how many pounds I want to lose, that I generally keep private.) This can be an occupational hazard. Many people will decide that they’re not interested in talking to you once you let them know you’re a crazy Type-A who (according to common belief) will try and turn them into one. Once people know my goals, I’m more inclined to accomplish them. (more…)

Six Myths about Building Relationships

“The follow-up” is the simplest form of business. You meet someone, you get their contact info, and then you contact them later. Yet, most people don’t follow-up. Here are six myths about building relationships.

  1. They will be responsive when I call needing/wanting something. They won’t. You will seem like someone who abuses relationships, even if you don’t. You will seem like you don’t care about them as a person, or about their company. You will be ignored or brushed off.
  2. I will have time later. Later usually doesn’t come. You will be busy later, just like you’re busy today.
  3. They will remember me. Will they? Do you remember everyone you meet? Probably not. (more…)

Being Awesome, at Everything

What would you want a leader to say to you? I want to follow leaders that allow me to lead. I want them to expect me to lead, prompt me to lead, and tell me to confront and question their decisions. This is what I would want a leader to say to me.

I want you to be awesome, at everything. That means that investing in you is top priority for me. If you ever wonder, should I ask about this? Should I take up time with this question? Should I ask for feedback? The answer is yes, yes and more yes. Learn now, not later. I would take now over later any time.

Challenge me. Confront me. Tell me why I’m wrong and how you can do it better. Then, do it better. Own it. Make it awesome.

You being awesome means all of us being awesome—including me. This is a linchpin team. We’re the elite. And seriously, if you still wonder what that means, read Linchpin, please.

When it comes time for your review, I want to give you only excellent marks. Excellence everywhere, in all categories, means we’re all excellent. I want to announce to the company that you’re an incredible asset to our team and the company as a whole. I want to tell people on tours that without you we could not do what we do.


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