What It Means When They Aren’t Getting Stuff Done

That they are not getting valuable stuff done (or are just doing the wrong things) is a sure sign that we haven’t done our job of

  • establishing a clear, compelling, commonly understood goal and
  • constantly reminding people of how what they do contributes to the goal.

Of course, we need more than just that goal to succeed. And sometimes we have the wrong person in this role or that. But it is far too easy to believe that everyone always understands the goal and their part of it. And it’s far too easy, then, for us to blame the wrong things when we see people going off in the wrong directions.


In your corner,


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Leadership Rule #3

Your power and value are in building the environment that lets others be powerful and get valuable stuff done.

Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander once said, “The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound. He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful.”

We may think, value, and act as if our job is to get things done or get others to get things done. But this approach makes us a bottleneck, at best. (At worst we become like a tyrant.) When our teams’ work starts, goes through, or ends with us, just a tiny fraction of what’s possible ever gets done.

Our leadership power and reward come when our team, collectively and each member, is powerful and gets good stuff done. They do the deciding, the planning, the execution. They own it. They accomplish more than anyone had thought possible. They get the kudos. They feel powerful.

This is how we, the leaders, win.


In your corner,



Today’s photo credit: Mark Kamin cc

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I Know Where the Library Is

We have a story in our family about Aunt Lavie. While she was a young girl, the building housing what was once her Virginia town’s library was on her family’s property.

One day when she was very old, her nieces took her out for lunch at a newly-built fast-food restaurant in town. The restaurant had included in its decor several historic pictures of local buildings, including the old library.

As Aunt Lavie and her neices were eating, another restaurant patron came in, noticed the photo of the old library and said, “There’s the old library from Orange.”

“No,” one of the nieces somewhat indignantly informed the gentleman, “That is the old library from Rapidan.”

“I grew up in these parts. That is the library from Orange!” And the man went off to order his lunch.

“Aunt Lavie!” another niece said, “That’s your library! Why didn’t you correct that man?!”

Aunt Lavie, still enjoying her burger, replied calmly, “I know where the library is.”

Sometimes, we don’t need to convince. We needn’t argue about things that don’t really affect us. And we needn’t let others’ ignorance perturb us.

We know where the library is.


In your corner,


PS: Aunt Lavie’s way is particularly helpful when others call into question our experience or otherwise affect our confidence.


Today’s photo credit: Paul Germain cc

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The Unintuitive Solution to Overwhelm

When you are in overwhelm, stop. Please. Stop.

It makes no sense to keep pushing when we are feeling swamped. Though it seems like exactly the right thing to do, striving to accomplish more just adds fuel to the fire. No amount of action can get us out of overwhelm.

So stop.  Pause. Take three deep, belly breaths. Feel good, raise your buzz. From this vantage, make a plan and act as inspired. The overwhelm will fade away.

So much easier.


In your corner,



Today’s photo credit: Earl cc

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look within

Leadership Rule #2

It’s at least half you.

As leaders (with or without titles), our talents, skills, world view, self view, and emotions contribute at least 50% to whatever is working or not working around us. Yes, others are clearly accountable for their work and attitude. But when something goes wrong, we generally can not say that they are the problem. At least, not at first.

We will realize a high ROI from looking within when things aren’t going well. We can do this by honestly exploring questions like,

  • How clearly have I communicated expectations?
  • How clearly doing they understand what results they are responsible for?
  • To what extent am I committed to win-win?
  • How confident and competent is this team member on these tasks?
  • How well am I modeling the relevant leadership attitudes and behaviors?
  • How well do the systems and protocols support or prevent good results?
  • How else does the environment support or prevent good results?
  • How am I feeling? Frustrated? Challenged?
  • Have I done my level best to understand, coach, and hold accountable this person?

Go within, Leader.


In your corner,


PS: When things go well, we get to take our share of the credit, too.

PPS: In the face of continued poor results, we need to know that we have done our level best. Only then can we really say, “Nope. It’s them,” and take appropriate actions.


Today’s photo credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory cc

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it's a sign

Overwhelm is a Sign

Overwhelm is a sign that we are trying to keep track of our tasks in our head. Though our brains are wonderful, they are terrible at tracking more than a handful of things.

To relieve our brains of this burden, we write down every possible* task or project in a task storage facility. Whether it’s something near-term or for far in the future, we write down anything we could, should, or want to do as we think of it. We keep all these items organized such that, whenever we look, we can quickly select the most compelling next thing to work on**.

To build such a tasks storage facility, try the Barebones Edition for starters.


In your corner,


* We can safely ignore things we already do regularly. If we already have a solid exercise habit or we always handle grocery shopping on Saturdays, say, then we need not track related tasks.

** If our task storage facility is poorly set up, we will stop using it and return to the overwhelm of trying to keep things in our heads.


Today’s photo credit: biteyourbum.com photography cc

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All of Us

None of us is perfect yet we invest untold energy trying to be and convincing others that we are.

None of us has our stuff together yet we are convinced that we have to and that others do.

None of us is fully enlightened yet we structure our private and public organizations as if our leaders are infallible.

What an act! Doesn’t sound like a really great way to proceed.

What about this, though? All of us are talented, capable, and kind. Let’s build something on this foundation.


In your corner,


PS: All of us benefit every time any of us drops the act.


Today’s photo credit: Sean cc

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tough medicine

The Tough Medicine of Great Leadership

Our organizations reflect our own wisdom and development level as leaders. Where we see things going well, we can credit ourselves for helping create this environment where everyone is succeeding. Where we see things (often chronically) not going well, we must find and evolve within ourselves the habits of thought and action that contribute to the problem. In either case, the buck stops with us.

This can be tough medicine to swallow. We resist looking at our negative habits of thought and action. We may deny they exist. We may even blame everyone or everything else. But dealing with our habits is never as bad as we fear. Exposing and evolving our negative habits end up being way easier than maintaining them.

Chin up. Leader. Take this medicine. You’ll be (better than) fine and your organization will thank you for it.


In your corner,


PS: Yes, this means you. Even if you are not the most senior leader in the organization or even if you lack a title.


Today’s photo credit: Garrett Coakley cc

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dropping the ball

Leadership Rule #1

Never do for another what they can do for themselves.

Often we see people dropping the ball and we think, “If you want something done you gotta do it yourself,” or, “It’s just faster if I do it for them.” So, we jump in. We figure things out. We solve the problem. This works for us because the task at hand gets done and we get to tick off that box. And getting things done is what we’re good at.

But we then become the bottleneck. We do the work and the others learn to rely on us to get their things done. We burn out and they feel underutilized and undervalued. Yuck.

Instead, let’s apply the rule, “Never do for another what they can do for themselves.” Rather than jumping in, we coach with questions and encouragement. “I am sure you can do this. How will you go about it? How confident and competent do you feel? What do you think you need? Will that solution work completely? What else can you try? What are some milestones and target dates? Who needs to know about this or give input? How can I help?”

The leader’s job is not to do the work but to build the environment and capacity for others to do the work very well.


In your corner,



Today’s photo credit: vic_uu cc

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Fear of Making the Wrong Choice

Fear of making the wrong choice is one reason we may not commit to a career, market niche, or organizational strategy. “What if I/we choose this option and it’s not quite right? What if I/we choose this one and then learn of a better one? After all the investment in this one, I/we couldn’t go back.”

The antidote to this fear is to find our (or our organization’s) SweetSpot. From our SweetSpot we can generate many possible strategies, careers, and niches that would be delightful, meaningful, rewarding, and satisfying. This is true because, by definition, our SweetSpot (personal or organizational) is the set of criteria for having a delightful, meaningful, rewarding, and satisfying career, niche, or strategy.

When we choose something that matches our SweetSpot, we will be happy. Pick one and go.


In your corner,



Today’s photo credit: Flóra Soós cc

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