bulb and scales - weighing good ideas


What do Leaders and Managers DO?

Labor Day celebrates work of all types, but what is the work that these workers actually do (this week also happens to be the 5th anniversary of my friend Katie Ledger’s blog and book “And What Do You Do?”)

Most of the Leadership and Management writing seems to really cover “How” to do the job, but not “What” the job actually is. In this case, I’m not sure that the “Means” actually gets you to the “Ends” in all cases (though ‘good means’ is probably highly correlated with ‘good ends’).

The “How” is pretty simple to me. Keep it simple. Want to communicate effectively…be simple. Want an effective strategy…be simple. As Colin Powell says “Great leaders are great simplifiers.” Or as Lynn’s First (and only) Law of Strategy says, “The key thing to strategic thinking is to start your sentences with the words ‘the key thing…’”

But when it comes down to the substance of the executive job description, I keep reducing the matter to the following two most basic (key) things they do…

  • Leaders come up with good ideas.
  • Managers make good decisions.

Good ideas and good decisions. Everything else pales in comparison.  I haven’t found anyone else’s decomposition of leader/manager qualities that weren’t either subsumed into these two things or subordinate to them.

For example, you often hear talk of Leaders having inspiration, communication skills, putting people first.  Those are all great, but they are more of the ‘How’. When focused on too much, they often become more about style than substance.  Great communication of a bad idea or really caring about people but making terrible decisions that adversely affects them is not good leadership or management.

When I think about a ‘good day’ in my leader/manager role, it nearly always revolves around a good idea or a good decision.  A good idea that cracks a problem or creates an opportunity.  A good decision that pays off well.  Good ideas are good decisions are not the exclusive domain of the boss.  A good executive will foster and promote good ideas and good decision making throughout the organization.  This is just a semantic variation of first order versus second order effects.

And they map directly to the two related themes of this blog…

  1. Having good ideas is about creativity that is nurtured by embracing failure. People worried about having the “right” ideas, tend to be blocked from having “good” ideas at all.
  2. Making good decisions is about balancing upside and downside.

I am tempted to add a 3rd core competency to executives – 3. Sell your decisions. I’ve witnessed a number of talented individuals who have the good ideas and decisions in spades, but still hit roadblocks in their career and professional life due to weakness in selling to stakeholders. All good leadership/manager models need some form of alteration, so you could dub it…

  1. Creating
  2. Concluding
  3. Connecting

But, I would think perhaps that selling is more catalytic than core. This dimension could be subsumed in the “How”. A necessary component to bringing good ideas and good decisions to life. Also, truly great ideas and great decisions sell themselves to a certain extent (like truly great products). And in many situations, the requirement for selling is not absolute since the very role of the executive is to do these things which empowers him with the ability to execute by with endowed rather than earned authority.

May your day be filled with bright ideas and successful decisions.