Monday, January 31, 2011

Mildly interesting, not relevant

I had the opportunity last week to hear a senior Army officer speak about his priorities and the importance of contractor performance to them achieving their objectives. He was quite focused and knew his topic. On a couple occasions during the talk he described certain information as “mildly interesting, not relevant.”

So many things are mildly interesting and not relevant. It often seems like a leaders job is to sort through the mildly interesting to find the relevant. In fact, some experts would say that is a key skill a true leader must have. I would suggest the same skill is critical for team members to understand when communicating with their leadership. Everyone is busy. To be an effective communicator, one must thoroughly determine what is fluff and what is important. If you can do this, your message will get through.

How do you teach your teams the difference between what is mildly interesting and what is truly relevant? Has it worked?


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

“In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states by precise inequalities that certain pairs of physical properties, such as position and momentum, cannot be simultaneously known to arbitrarily high precision. That is, the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be measured.”
I first starting web searching this topic today because there was reference to it in the New York Times. The way the author there described the principle seemed to be relatable to our leadership topic. So what did I learn? First, look up information you read to see if it is true. Second, quantum mechanics is very interesting and complex.
What does it have to do leadership? Simply that we all balance priorities, resources, effort and attention. While the quantum folks are balancing position and momentum measurement accuracy, we tend to balance quality and speed. In past posts (“Understanding the blind spots”), I’ve shared the decision model for leaders that has urgency on the Y axis and importance on the X axis. Simple guidelines like this can help leaders focus.
Hopefully none of you are professionals of quantum physics and able to tell how much I butchered Mr. Heisenberg’s work.
What tools or guidelines do you use to prioritize your time and focus?


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Refrigerators and Microwaves

The first manufacturing management assignment I had (called a foreman back then) was assembling the MD-80 upper aft fuselage. It was loud, dirty, had plenty of shortages and the parts did not fit together very well. Lean was not cool yet. You’d think the team I was responsible for would want my help fixing these issues, but they did not. They told me in no uncertain terms that they needed a new refrigerator in order for productivity to improve. I got them a refrigerator. The next group needed a microwave oven. I got them an oven. Another group needed filing cabinets. I got them. An exhausted Supplier Management team just needed a day off. We took the heat and shut down for a holiday weekend. Time and time again, leaders need to help teams with the fundamentals before moving to the more complicated.

The funny thing is these are not new concepts. Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Needs - 1943) and Fredrick Hertzberg (Motivation-Hygiene Theory - 1963) have been taught for years. I formally learned them in 1980. Sometimes in our quest for the “new and exciting” we do not give proper credence to the tried-and-true. Bottom line, it is unlikely a team of people can do fantastic work when their basic needs are not being met. Key here is that the leader does not select what the basic needs are or if they are being met. The team or the customer selects.

We all want to work on the latest and greatest, but we need to ensure the “refrigerators and microwaves” are in working order first. Where have you seen this done well?


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Leaders find opportunity

It was November 1999 and Cheryl asked her team to develop a list of all the IT applications that they believe had no real use. The assignment created a list of over 500 reports and summaries. The IT team was authorized to turn all of them off over the holidays and was instructed that if any of the users speak up, simply mention Y2K and turn the report back on immediately. Interestingly, the only person to inquiry was the courier that carries the report, not the actual user!

Each year, the holiday break allows me to rethink my leadership and team interface approach. This ensures I make the adjustments needed to be the most effective. This year was no different. As leaders, we need to be open to seeing change as opportunities for improvement. While the rest of the work force might fear the upcoming new environment, leaders have the ability to see the future and how the change will help them achieve their objectives.

What recent changes have you used to your team’s advantage? Do you re-assess your leadership approach at least annually?


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Leadership 2011

Thank you to all that participated in LiaV in 2010. It was an exciting year with lots of leadership topics discussed and lessons learned. You made this forum what it has become.

Please let me us know if you have ideas for improvements for 2011.


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