Mindset for Leaders

(Warning: I will camp on this topic because of its importance!)

I want to suggest that the most critical input leaders have is our own mindset.  Recently I asked a group of emerging leaders what they thought mindset was.  Their answers: “attitude, beliefs, values, viewpoints, inclination, disposition, habits.” That’s a pretty good definition.

I will suggest that your mindset will pre-determine your response to & interpretation of every situation.  Only you can decide what mindset you should have… But I’ll share with you the mindset aspirations that I’ve developed over time based on observation of other successful leaders:

> Believe you have significant impact on your success… don’t be a victim
> Go for “gold” results… don’t settle for bronze or silver
> Help the bigger team win… not just your own area
> Have confidence… get comfortable being vulnerable to the unknown
> Relish learning, don’t fear it… that’s how we get better
> Never get set in your ways or “hard-wired”… must remain open to growth
> Have courage to make qualitative judgment calls – you’re never going to have perfect info!

More to come on mindset…

Leading with Process Excellence

I think that any organization hoping to grow rapidly must develop its ability to lead with process excellence (PE). These concepts when applied properly can create organizations with fantastic operational rigor & relentless improvement.

There are some stone-simple concepts that underlie all PE tools, approaches, etc. These ideas can be applied very literally in a data-rich environment… but can also be applied conceptually in situations where there isn’t a rich amount of measureable data.

1. “Process” = a series of repeatable, sustainable steps that consistently produce a desired outcome.
2. Everything is a process (Well, almost everything).
3. Process can usually be expressed by the formula Y=f(x1, x2, x3…), where Y is a discrete output & the x’s represent the major (critical few) inputs & process steps.
4. Every process should have a single owner: the person who has authority to approve improvements to the process.

Which leads me to my next point. To be an effective process owner, you need to develop some specific skills… I will chunk these up into a few blog entries, coming soon.

Are you boiling the ocean?

When I first started leading teams, I would ask them to work on dozens of different priorities at the same time… And guess what: they didn’t know which priority was really a priority!  This is because we weren’t focused on the critical few… Instead, we were trying to “boil the ocean.” Eventually I learned that “if everything’s important… then nothing is important.”

The problems with trying to boil the ocean are endless, but to name a few: 1) It is impossible… and therefore leads to a sense of futility & frustration… 2) You will sub-optimize execution due to insufficient resources being applied to each activity… 3) You & your team will continually be distracted and interrupt-driven.

On the other hand, if you can successfully apply “critical few thinking” you & your team will optimize the allocation of resources to the most important ‘stuff’… and therefore you will dramatically increase your odds of successful execution.  As you start to put wins on the board, you will increase your team’s confidence and your own confidence as a leader.

…So What Should You Do?
Identify the critical few for your area… If you’re not sure, ask the people closest to the work.  They know & will be glad to tell you.  Next, you should explicitly de-focus on the trivial many.  Please apply wisely! I am not suggesting complete abandonment, but perhaps a downshift of resources is appropriate.  Or maybe there are some projects that can be deferred?   Stop trying to boil the ocean.

Also: if you feel like you never have enough time in your personal life, you might be boiling the ocean.  Is there anything you can de-focus to make room for your “personal critical few…?”  As above, be thoughtful, don’t make rash decisions… but this stuff is important to figure out so you can have a successful personal life too.

Good luck from a former ocean-boiler!

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