Simplicity: Thy Name is Decision Making

        — Keep it simple, stupid.

Okay, okay. I’m not calling anyone stupid, per se.

I just want us all to remember that usually the simplest course is the best course to take. Certainly it is usually the quickest and most efficient, and it prevents slow-downs in decision making that irritate our staffs and cost us in lost opportunity.

Occam’s Razor is the word child of a Franciscan Friar, William of Occam (does that make me Kevin of Spring or Kevin of Berchelmann?) Paraphrased, he said that all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best. Fewer assumptions, fewer hypotheticals, fewer “meteor strike” what-ifs?

Yes, we do need a model for decision making. Something replicable, that can withstand pressures. Some form of consistent methodology to determine criteria or theories for making decisions. Why not choose the simplest? After all, it is the decision and the execution that hold real complexity. Must we also make the act of deciding complicated as well?

I think not. In fact, hell no is a better response.

In its truest form, decision-making is, well, simple. Identify a problem (something that needs deciding), determine that problem’s cause (since we don’t want to simply create the need for more decisions), develop possible solutions (potential decisions), then use some analysis method to determine risks, possible problems, and likely outcomes.

Then, decide.

The simplest explanation is often the best. Not always, but usually any methodology that leads us to faster, yet equally educated decision making is a good thing. Truth be told, our role as senior leaders is much more about making decisions than critically evaluating them beforehand.

Generally speaking, providing we have surrounded ourselves with solid people (there’s that “talent management” thing again), our decision making role is regularly reduced to choosing the most satisfactory options for those already intent on making an outcome successful regardless.

Given that, keep the process simple, eliminate undue assumptions and knock off the incessant ‘what-ifs’ that beleaguer those unwilling to act. After all, that’s not us, is it?

Think. Reduce. Decide.

After all, when you hear hoof beats… think horses, not zebras.

Fast is Good, Faster is Better!

            — Pick a lane, add speed

We need speed. Not the breakneck, uncontrolled, sitting-your-ass-on-a-rocket kind of speed, but the speed necessary to move quickly and smartly. Given consistent data and input, faster is almost always better than slower.

We’ve been stressed, haven’t we? New craziness pops up almost daily, certainly monthly. We feel justified in being somewhat overwhelmed, and at times that feeling can slow us down – or even grind us to a halt.

That’s not helpful, and we shouldn’t do it. We aren’t forced into it, we have options. Here are some suggestions when the pace of change feels like The Enterprise in a Federation wormhole…

  1. Play the cards you’re dealt. Yeah, I know, sometimes they suck. We’d like a different hand, some new cards. Suck it up, buttercup; they are what they are. It is what it is. Que sera, sera. Deal with it. Or my favorite, “be that as it may…”

In other words, take what you have, figure out how to make it work, then violently execute. Sometimes you’ve got to work with what you’ve got and take what you can. This is one of those times.

  1. Pick a lane. Add speed. This one sometimes gets a bad rap. There are those out there (they walk among us) who will tell you to slow down, move methodically, deliberately. Slowly. I say bullshit. Pick a lane, add speed. With consistent data and insights, speed trumps stalling. 100% of the time.

Some fast decisions hit the bullseye – great! Others act as tracer rounds so we can keep firing, each time getting closer and closer to our intended target/result. A tracer round you can see is a small win – take it, move on to the next. Quickly.

The faster you decide, the faster you can act. The faster the action, the more responsive you can be to change, both planned and “not-so-much.”

  1. Practice Predictive Resiliency. This is a new one, so if you haven’t been on the edge of your seat up to now (and you should’ve been), you’ll need to pay attention to this.

Resiliency is great. It’s a wonderful characteristic to have, but by nature it’s passive. Take a change or unexpected force, absorb it, then bounce back, no worse for wear, ready to meet that next change with some more springy emotions. That’s resiliency, and we’ve preached it for years. This is not that. Well, it’s a little of that, with a twist.

Predictive Resiliency is seeing the change coming, like the light of an out-of-control freight train, deciding what would work better for you that that, then pivoting with the train’s momentum, using it like a flywheel to accelerate in a better direction. Taking unplanned change and making it proactive by pivoting.

Sound crazy? It’s not. An example: Uber faced a near-fatal challenge in California, where the state passed a law making their thousands of contract drivers into employees overnight.

Never mind where you stand on the issue; Uber had a choice: accept the change and spring back gently, changing their business model entirely for a single state, or pivot hard – taking the momentum and public attention the issue was receiving and forcing a voter referendum. No passive resiliency here… it was Predictive Resiliency, pivoting from the passive into a “proactive reaction,” not an oxymoron in this case. It paid off for Uber.

There are myriad examples of taking anticipated change, seeing a more successful direction to go instead of the proposed change, then pivoting hard to execute. Try it sometime. You’ll like it.

And remember: Be Brazen. Grace and accountability can coexist.

Size matters… doesn’t it? — Are bigger leaders better?

Some CEOs make a lot of money. Their Vice Presidents don’t usually make as much, and the directors, managers, and other leadership positions still further down the organizational food-chain make even less.

I know, I know… you’re thinking “Well duh, Kevin; did you come up with that ‘blinding flash of the obvious’ on your own, or did you have help?”

My question here isn’t about the dinero, per se. And it’s not about relative value among leaders. No, my question is about the absolute value of leadership. Is the absolute value of a senior leader greater than that of a less senior leader to those s/he leads?

I think not. In fact, not just no, but hell no.

Like many of you, I travel frequently, and I thought about this question when I boarded a puddle-jumper for the 51 minute flight from Houston to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It occurred to me then, that the pilot of this 24-passenger prop-job likely made considerably less money than the pilot of the 737 I’m on right now.

But if he screws up, I’m just as dead as if he had made twice the money.

In other words, to the recipient of the leadership behavior, it doesn’t matter that some other leader may make more money, have a bigger office, or have a fancier title.  In our selfish, singular worlds, what matters is how that leader leads… to me. Right now.

Think about it…

  • All leaders must create and leverage relationships to succeed, and
  • All leaders are responsible for developing employees so they can support and succeed at their vision, and
  • All leaders personally and directly affect the total career and employment environment of those they lead.

Just like those pilots, who regardless of the size of their aircraft or wallet, personally and directly affect my safety as a passenger.

In other words, the impact you have on the people you lead, as individual people, doesn’t increase/decrease based on the scope, title or compensation. Or even your place on an org chart.

So, then, if I were to continue my unsavory double entendre approach to this article – all the while you keeping your mind out of the gutter – I might say that it’s not the size of the leader that matters, but what the leader does with that size that really counts.

Yes, I might say that…

(a related article on being courageous as a leader, can be seen on my blog, The Brazen Leader.)

Leadership and the Devil’s Advocate: Saint or Sinner?

“Yes” men, “No” men, or some happy medium??  (“men” used for convenience, and is in no way gender-specific)…

Do we want our closest and/or brightest to agree with us, butter us up, lick our boots, kiss our derrière or any of a dozen other euphemisms for sucking up merely because it was our idea?

Or are we actively seeking constructive, challenging dialog??

Must we always have complete, obedient agreeance (not sure that’s a real word, but my baby sister Elizabeth always used it, so here it is), or do we really want diversity of thought?

Personally, I believe that when reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people disagree, the final outcome or decision is always – ALWAYS – a better one.

Further, I’ll also opine that “diversity of thought,” particularly in leadership decision-making, is one of the only valid business cases for intentional, purposeful “diversity” in an organization.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it…

And let’s be clear: I’m not talking about that crap-magnet Joe/Jane pain-in-the-butt employee who always disagrees, simply for the sake of disagreeing. Nor am I referring to those schmucks among us who are simply rabble-rousers looking for attention via a cause they can denigrate.

No, those are simply toxic jerks, and, like Bob, we should fire the a$$holes.

I’m talking about smart, well-intentioned people disagreeing and able to substantiate their disagreement with logic, data, and thought, sans logic’s evil twin, emotion.

I believe it’s a good thing. So, how do we get it to happen? Well, I’ll tell you how…

First, you must provide a safe forum. There must be an accepted arena, vehicle, or secret handshake, code-word, or ring-knocking ceremony where those with contrarian views know they can share.

And don’t be shy – advertise this forum.

Next, like birth control, there has to be a “safety-first” mentality. Those who may disagree must know (not just hear) that their well-thought, well-intentioned disagreement is welcome – in fact, expected – in the course of regular dialog. And that they won’t get shot between the eyes for doing so.

Finally, it’s gotta matter. Naysayers, contrarians, devil’s advocates – whatever the name – have to see their push-back accepted as input and occasionally alter decision-making some of the time if you really want it to continue.

Being “accepting” is good, but not good enough. You’ve got to be prepared to actually use their unpopular inputs. Go figure…

I once worked with a CEO who would frequently tell me that “If you and I always agree, one of us in unnecessary, and I’m keeping my job.”

Early diversity at its best. Thanks, Russ.

2020: Ready or not… — Here it comes!


New year, new you!

Resolutions, here we come!

This is the year it all happens!

Yadda, yadda, yadda… give it a rest, will ya? It’s not that we don’t want to do well every time the calendar turns over, because we do. It’s just that we don’t actually plan with purpose and set ourselves up for success.

So, how do we do that?

We treat it like we would any other ongoing project or strategy. Take an honest look at where we are and how we got here (today), decide where we want to be (desired state), then cook up the priorities and strategies to marry the two (fill the gap).

It just isn’t rocket science now, is it? Let me give you a process framework to consider…

1 – Get ready!

During your 2019 autopsy, ask yourself:

…what did I accomplish, specifically? What did you really get done, planned or not, that moved you forward during the year? Be honest, and try to be complete. Face it, you did a lot, even if you didn’t do it all.
what the hell happened?  What were those one or two things you did that you wish you could have a do-over, and why did they happen?
I learned. What lessons did you pick up in 2019, regardless of your level of achievement, that you can take into 2020 as a smarter person?

2 – Bring it, 2020! Do some soul-searching (maybe some alone-time on a deserted island, or full-service Marriott or something):

  • I’ll continue to kick butt in… here we take our known strengths and accomplishments and use them as our jumping off point for the new year. It’s always easier – and faster – to use existing strengths than to shore up our various and sundry weaknesses.
  • I have simply GOT to get better at… Here’s where we ask ourselves, “how did I go so long being so damned stupid?” or words to that effect. It’s where we consciously choose to do better at things that could help us reach our goals. Maybe it’s less ROT (Random Online Time); maybe it’s learning to say NO (we were so good at it when we were 2; what the hell happened?). Maybe it’s learning a skill that we know would help us move our 2020 needle. Whatever, figure it out.
  • My top 2-3 priorities are… here’s where we nail down what must happen versus what might. Stick to 2 or 3, 4 at the very most; any more than that, and well, you know how distracted we get, right? Better to move three things a mile than 30 things an inch.Here’s where we get real, by the way. Identifying those strategies is the key. Lots of books, consultants, articles and academics will then say you should create a detailed plan to accomplish those priorities. I say that’s a load of crap. Hear me out…Sure, flesh out those priorities a bit so you have a good grasp on what they mean; nail down a couple of steps along the way, that’s helpful as a reminder. It’s not, however, a lock-step plan. And I’ll tell you why: we struggle accomplishing those priorities because we believe a plan will guide us. Really? How many years will we continue to buy into that while failing? To quote my favorite Bob Newhart video, just stop it!

What do we do instead? I’ll tell you:

    1. Keep it simple. Rocket science is not your friend here. Unless, of course you’re a rocket scientist, in which case it is your friend. Or whatever. Just keep it simple. Revisit your priorities frequently (at least daily), and every single time you schedule something or add to your to-do list. Make sure what you’re doing advances one of those priorities, or just say no.
    2. Focus on process, not outcomes. Remember, life is a journey, not a destination. That’s not just a facebook meme – it’s a concept to embrace. Getting better is a much better objective than a completed task, and more likely to achieve a stated priority.

So Kevin, you ask, how do I know what to focus on in 2020? Well, if you don’t have anything burning a hole in your head right now that simply must be pursued, I do have some suggestions (go figure!)…

Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” Some questions I might ask myself include:

  1. Who do you want to be, and why?
  2. What’s your biggest pain?
  3. What if 2020 is the year “it” all happens?
  4. If you could accomplish only one thing in 2020, what would it be?

Really ask yourself those questions, and then really answer them. Write or type them somewhere so you can revisit later.

And if you’re looking for some “getting better” suggestions to prime the pump, consider these:

  • Do less. Be more.
  • Be kinder (Really, Kevin, are you listening to yourself here?)
  • Embrace gratitude
  • Make time for you
  • Be positive
  • Listen more, talk less

Keep the process simple. It’s much like an organization’s strategic planning process; the value is more in the planning than it is the plan. It’s the thinking is what changes our personal trajectory, not a completed task or plan. Start thinking about 2020 today, if you haven’t already.

Remember: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is today.”

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