Efficient and Effective Leadership

We all know the difference between a manager and a leader. The manager is understood to be responsible for getting things right, organizing resources, and accomplishing things efficiently. The leader is understood to be responsible for providing vision, ensuring the appropriate structure and resources are available and doing things effectively.

Can a leader be both efficient and effective? What this really is asking is this: can you be both efficient and effective? In business this is the elusive sweet spot, delivering results (effectiveness) at lowest consumption of resources (efficiency). As a leader, however, can you be both? Yes you can, but it will require preparation, experience and time.

If you have to choose, choose effectiveness first

Efficiency in work is something each of us strives for, I know I do. Finding a better way to schedule tasks, control e-mail, handle phone calls, or prepare for/run meetings are things that most professionals I talk with seek. Improvement in these areas can make one more efficient, however, there isn’t a guarantee that it will make one more effective.

To be effective it takes something else – experience and time. Anyone who has learned a musical instrument knows that to be effective on it takes time. You have to work to develop skill and gain the experience necessary to play the instrument. This means having lots of time, maybe an hour a day, repeating the same set of scales and exercises over-and-over. Not particularly efficient, but it is effective.

Treat your leadership role like learning to play an instrument. If you have to choose between efficiency and effectiveness, go with effectiveness first. You can start to look for ways to make yourself more efficient once you have the effectiveness process in place. But like someone aiming to make Carnegie Hall, if you don’t do the work to make yourself effective no amount of efficiency will save you.

Remember: Manager = Efficient and Leader = Effective

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. ~ Peter Drucker

Each of us has both a manager and a leader operating inside. We need to remember which one we’re letting run the show in each moment. Sometimes your inner manager needs to call the shots, determine ways to better control resources, organize things, and make activities more efficient. But sometimes the leader needs to step forward and give direction, even when it isn’t necessarily all that efficient.

Most people want to get work done in the least amount of time with the least amount of committed resources. Most people also want to receive a disproportionate amount of results compared to input. The problem arises when a situation confronts us where the results we want require a good amount of input. This is a situation where we need results and it isn’t going to be particularly thrifty.

Do we fight these situations and strive to be more efficient but less effective? Or do we strive to be more effective but less efficient?

Strive to Achieve Both

The sweet spot is being both efficient and effective. The good thing is that our world of professional pursuits isn’t a zero-sum place. There are opportunities, if we decide we want to create them, to be both efficient and effective. To get to this location all we need is preparation and experience. 

Efficience vs. Effectiveness

Studying, analyzing, and developing ourselves provides us with the knowledge and skills necessary to undertake an action when it presents itself. This is preparation and for a leader, being prepared is what allows disproportionate result to occur. Through preparation, we become increasingly effective in accomplishment.

Taking action, observing and learning by doing is what provides us with experience. Over time, our experience allows us to become more efficient in carrying out the actions of a leader. At the same time we’re able hone our actions to make them more efficient.

Through experience we are able to arrive at the junction of efficiency and effectiveness. How sweet it is.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” ~ Peter Drucker

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5 Tactics for Recognizing People

recognizing othersWhen is the last time you recognized someone for his or her support, assistance, or results? Numerous studies show that recognizing someone leads to increases in the “selfless” happy chemicals, serotonin and oxytocin, in both the person being recognized and the person doing the recognizing.

Among the many facets of a leader’s job one of the most important is recognizing others. The mechanics of doing so, however, can create confusion. Do you do it in front of the team or set it aside for special organizational events? Or do you recognize the person immediately, even if by email or just one-on-one?

Yes and no. The best move one can make is to recognize others for their performance immediately and not wait. If the matter for which you’re recognizing the person is substantial, then you can recognize them more formally in front of the team or organization at a later date.

Everyone Wants to Feel Wanted

In my experience, even the most humble person has a corner somewhere within that wants to feel appreciated. A number of years ago I had a chance to observe this with not just one person, but many. 

During a freak cold spell that struck southern New Mexico, my engineering unit was called out to triage hundreds of pipe breaks and fire suppression system failures. Due to the combination of sub-zero temperatures and rolling natural gas outages, mechanical rooms and exposed piping across the base experienced catastrophic damage. Water filled sub-grade mechanical rooms, water pressure in aircraft hangars dropped leaving aircraft at risk, and many building interiors were severely damaged from leaking pipes.

The five-day cold snap was a rallying point for the public works team. Everyone in the squadron pulled together. During that week, the mission and the work was difficult, long, and challenging. Members of that organization, many who worked behind the scenes never wanting recognition, stepped forward and engaged in ways they’d not done previously. When the call came, they answered. 

I provided recognition of efforts and results continuously. As the leader, it was my role to maintain morale, keep everyone focused on the difficult work before us, and ensure they were equipped with whatever they needed to keep them safe. read more »


Three Ingredients of Excellence

“It’s a very funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

What are the components that make a difference in the level of excellence a person delivers? This is more than just a philosophical question best taken over a glass of Malbec. It’s one I think every leader must address.

Throughout my career I’ve witnessed variability in the level of excellence delivered in both myself and in others. I’d love to say that I deliver excellence every day and in every way! But the fact is, that isn’t the case. Depending on the issue at hand or the situation or environmental factors…the level of excellence might vary. 

It’s like so many things in life, quality varies over time. The challenge of the leader is to identify why it varies and what causes it both in themselves and in others. 

Ingredients For Excellence

Take an engineering firm or project management office, perhaps the one in which you work. All things being equal – education, level of responsibility, type of work, training – you will still find a spectrum of excellence.

Some will deliver excellence on every task while others, regardless the task, will bring sub-par work to the table. This variability is caused by three ingredients that must be present for excellence to take root:

“Keep your dreams alive. Understand that to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.” ~ Gail Devers

Belief. Belief is the first ingredient of excellence. If you believe you can’t accomplish something you’re right – you can’t. On the other hand, if you believe you can accomplish it then you will. Maybe it will take you days, weeks, or months to be successful, but you will eventually succeed.

In a leadership role, the individual that believes an objective cannot be reached dooms himself and his team to failure. The reason is that this limiting belief is what forms the individual’s perception of reality, which in turn directs their behavior.

Beliefs hold an amazing amount of power over us and unless you realize this, (dare I say believe it, you are missing out on understanding why you deliver excellence in some situations and why you don’t in others.

If you don’t believe in what you are doing then all is lost before you even begin.

“We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.” ~ Swami Vivekananda

Mental Syntax. For this component of the excellence triad I have to rely on concepts from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). If this is new to you don’t fret – it was new to me until I re-read Tony Robbins’ book, Unlimited Power: The New Science of Achievement.

The basics are this: your subconscious mind accounts for 90% of the activity going on in your head with a meager 10% going towards the conscious. Although you have a lot of processing power in the subconscious it lacks the ability to process negative inputs. This means that whatever thoughts you have, your subconscious mind records it as a positive.

So if you think to yourself, “I don’t want to make a mistake on this project”, your subconscious mind focuses on ‘mistake’ and, because it doesn’t do negatives, the focus becomes ‘mistake’ and everything you associate with ‘mistake’.

Making ‘mistakes’ becomes the target in your subconscious mind and, like a faithful Labrador retriever desperate to please, it helps you act in ways that cause mistakes. Obviously the opposite of what you want. 

The fix then is to think in positive, non-limiting terms. Instead of “I don’t want to make a mistake” you need to think “I want to deliver perfection”.

Performing this simple slight of thought moves you out of a problem-frame mindset (making a mistake) into an outcome-frame mindset (delivering excellence). This might seem like a hokey concept, but take a moment to consider how often you approach a challenging situation thinking how much you don’t want to make a mistake or fail. What happens?

Check-in with yourself if you are under performing at something to see what your mental syntax looks like.   Are you in a problem-frame or outcome-frame mindset? If in the problem-frame, limiting mind set, how do you need to change your mental language to make it an outcome-frame, positive mindset?

If you’re leading a team that has underperformers you can use this knowledge. Through discussion with them you can then discover the language they’re using to describe the area where they are struggling. With that knowledge, you can work together to find a way to change the flavor of the language to shift the mindset from the negative to the positive and thus deliver excellence.

“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” ~ Buddha

Physiology. The third component of excellence is tied to your body and the way in which you use it – breath, movement, posture, etcetera. Our subconscious is tasked with running the body and that’s a good thing. Most of what our body does takes place without us thinking about it: heartbeat, digesting food, breathing. This is really a good thing since it would be unfortunate if you had to multi-task between breathing, your heart beating and writing an email! 

But there’s a downside as well. Two simple examples with breath and posture can help illustrate. Start taking shallow, quick breaths. How do you feel? Anxious? When we breathe with shallow, quick breaths our bodies shift to fight or flight mode – even if you don’t have a need to fight or flight. You’re body is hardwired to prepare for battle or run to safety.

Now, sit at your desk hunched over. Guess what? You’re sending signals throughout your body subconsciously to adopt a depressed mood. In a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, participants were asked to list three positive or negative personal traits while holding a proscribed posture. Researchers found that how the students responded depended on the posture they kept. Those sitting up straight adopted a positive response. 

Our mom had it right when she told us to sit up straight. 

(TEL 2-19) 3 Ingredients of Excellence

What does this means for you as a leader? Check in with your posture periodically. Slouching or sitting up straight? One way to do this is to set a timer on your phone. Or adopt the route I take – stand at your desk.

It’s hard to slouch when you standing. 

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Briñol, Pablo, Richard E. Petty, and Benjamin Wagner. “Body Posture Effects on Self-evaluation: A Self-validation Approach.” European Journal of Social Psychology 39.6 (2009): 1053-064. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

Robbins, Anthony. Unlimited Power: The New Science of Personal Achievement. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986. Print.

Ready, Romilla, and Kate Burton. Neuro-linguistic Programming for Dummies Uk Edition. N.p.: For Dummies, 2011. Print.


7 Reasons Why Ambition Is Good

“Ambition, I have come to believe, is the most primal and sacred fundamental of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and the reason for our existence.” ~ Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro

Does ambition get a bad rap in your book? Your response is going to depend on your relationship with it, experiences you’ve had using it, and observation of colleagues wielding it. I doubt there’s a professional alive who hasn’t witnessed an ambitious colleague clawing his or her way over everyone else.

Ambition has sat on the fulcrum between good and bad, virtue and vice, for a long time. During Renaissance Italy it was a noble practice to seek glory as an artist and many did. In America’s push westward, ambition was the fuel that enabled our nation to flourish, expand, and connect east to west across the continent. 

Although ambition was the primal source spawning these two (and many more!) significant periods of growth for humanity, it was viewed as everything from “a canker on the soul” to the impetus for original sin.

The dual nature of ambition makes it difficult for one to clearly say whether it’s good or bad. Defining it as positive or negative depends on the ends, the means, and the individual or organization involved. 

Hooah for Ambition! 

I side with ambition as a positive virtue. In the right person with the right ideals and a good dose of gratitude, ambition serves as the fuel for work, personal and professional growth, evolution, and moving towards personal excellence.

(TEL 2-17) Ambition Is Good

Without ambition we don’t go to the moon, D-Day doesn’t occur, and the America’s aren’t discovered. Without ambition, you don’t earn your advanced degree, land the ideal job, start the business you always wanted to, or share your work – your art – with the world.

Seven Reasons Ambition Is Good

Ambition ignites the internal fire driving us forward through life. It’s what keeps us going. It’s what motivates us to go over, around or if necessary – through – obstacles. 

Ambition brings the best you have to the world. Your best is a gift and provides value to others. Without ambition, maybe, just maybe, you don’t share it with us.

Ambition brings clarity to what’s important to you. Ambition will help you reveal the inner passion that brings you full engagement and makes you fully alive. I’ll stop short of saying it puts you in flow. That single-minded state occurs periodically. But it occurs a lot more often when your pursuits align with your inner passion. Ambition helps this synchronization occur.

Ambition combined with vision yields followers. People get behind other people who are motivated about bringing excellence to their work and their art to the world. Ambition gets the leader fired-up and helps her define a clear vision. That clear vision then enlists others involvement.

Without ambition, you don’t advance. To be human is to grow. It defines our life. It is in our DNA. When you stop growing, you are dead. In professional pursuits, without growth we don’t advance. I’ve met few professionals who are fulfilled in stagnate positions. I doubt you have either. No matter how much talent you have or how skilled you might be, if you lack ambition you will stop advancing. To the person seeking excellence or their highest self this is akin to death.

Ambition is what shapes the future you will operate in. It defines the shape that your future will take; its depth, impact you’ll make on others and the dent you’ll put in the universe.

You and Your Ambition

Do you agree that we need to embrace ambition as a virtue?

How can we distinguish between a noble ambition (for the work) and an ignoble (self-centered) one?


McGuinness, Mark. “Are You Ambitious Enough?” 99U. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

King, Casey. Ambition, a History: From Vice to Virtue. N.p.: Yale UP, 2013. Print.