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Leadership

Yes, I'm sure you're right...

Yes, I'm sure you're right...

This morning I found this gem by Georges Bidault, an active member of the French resistance during World War II and later French prime minister: "The weak have one weapon: the errors of those who think they are strong."

His words reminded me of something we study in martial arts, particularly in takedown moves. Often the best strike is to leverage your opponent's momentum and let him carry himself down to the mat. It literally involves letting your attacker overplay his hand and then guiding him past you towards the ground -- like Wile E. Coyote zooming past Roadrunner over the cliff. 

Have you ever been in a heated debate with someone who is pressing you and pressing you with a point that they are prosecuting with such ferocity that you are getting hammered against the wall with seemingly no option other than to concede? The best response might be to sidestep their argument by saying, "Yes, you actually have some good points." You have now disarmed their case and opened the possibility that you can propose suggestions (and perhaps even refutations) that have a much better chance of being heard. 

Carl Jung famously wrote that "What you resists, persists." The harder you push, the harder the opposing force. In matters of discord pride finds fertile ground. It is hard to slow down, regulate your emotion, and proceed methodically.

But the goal of most disagreements is not victory, it is progress. Often we're better off starting from a place of assumed agreement and letting the other person's hubris create openings for our position. Let them be right and you get what you want. 

Duties versus priorities.

Duties versus priorities.

I had an all-day 2014 planning meeting today and it was great to get some time out of the office to chart out the year with a team of people I truly enjoy. 

As we talked through the variety of responsibilities on our plates and attempted to sort them out, I realized that it is easy to get confused between duties and priorities.  

"Duties" are all the things we need to complete as part of our jobs. This includes huge projects that could last a year or more and small managerial tasks like expense reports and time-tracking. Most of us are responsible for a variety of duties. 

 "Priorities" are different. Priorities help us rank the importance of our duties. Priorities help answer the question: When two duties need to happen at the same time, which one gets done and which one doesn't? 

Our list of priorities doesn't absolve us from completing our duties -- we still have to get them all done. All of our duties are necessary for one reason or another.  Instead, the priorities list helps us determine which duties we complete first, and in the case of inevitable workload conflicts, helps us decide what gets done and what gets postponed. 

I have observed that priorities tend to change and evolve as situations and conditions change, whereas duties tend to be fixed over a longer-term. Similarly, we tend to get recognized for successfully completing priorities and get less credit for completing our duties. Very few organizational leaders got to positions of influence simply because they submitted their reports on time!   

The red spot in the yard.

The red spot in the yard.

As we grow up we learn how to pick out what's wrong. Which one of these kids is different? Which one doesn't belong?

A few weeks ago I was standing on our deck looking through the trees in our back yard. Our house borders a small plot of land owned by the town. Most days, the town parks its leaf truck on the gravel driveway there. The leaf truck is large and bright red. It is ugly and impossible to miss.

As I looked at the stain parked next door and contemplated a painting commando mission, my daughter walked up to me.

"What are you looking at Daddy?" she asked. 

"The big red thing over there. See it?" I said. 

She looked around for a minute and then lit up. "Oh! Daddy, a cardinal! How pretty!"

I had completely missed the bird a few feet in front of us. 

It is easy to pick out what's wrong. It is harder, and much more valuable, to see what's right. 

The sure sign you need an independent board.

The sure sign you need an independent board.

You might need a board. 

I've worked with enough organizations to know that every organization is different. And yet oftentimes every group is unique in exactly the same way, if you catch my meaning. "You couldn't possibly understand our issues with X." Hmmm, try me.

In any case, there are no hard and fast rules but certainly some of the guidelines are pretty reliable. One rule of thumb with a nearly flawless track record is that organizations which claim to have no need for an outside, independent board of directors are invariably the same organizations which could most benefit from one.

If you have a tight group of uber-aligned thinkers who move unconsciously together, then a board might just provide the friction required to improve your potion and reign in some of your wilder ideas. And if you have a disconnected, scattered collection of warrior chieftains defending their own fiefdoms, then a board might help bring some cohesion and accountability around a few core values.

If you hear yourself arguing against adding outside directors to the board because of the influence, rigor, and accountability they could add, it could be time to ask: What are we afraid of, and why?