Why Some Leaders Always Are Effective

effective leader“Leadership” takes on a lot of different hues depending on the person delivering it.  Just like any service, the past development, education, social environment, and experiences of the person combine to provide a brand of leadership specific to an individual.  With so much variance in the world you’d think that there might be too much at play to draw conclusions on what makes an effective leader.  If you think that, you’re wrong.

There are specific reasons why some leaders are always effective.

You Have to Maintain Personal Momentum

The reasons in a moment, but let’s talk about personal momentum first.  This is the internal drive to make things happen, to learn, to make experiences happen vice letting them happen to you.  I’ve read about the necessity of self-motivating numerous times of the years (see Internal Motivation or Motivating Yourself) and the reason is elementary: having personal momentum, i.e. internal motivation, is the foundation on which effective leadership is built.  Action begets all you will create.  Let your personal momentum falter and you run the risk of letting everything else you aspire to falter as well.

Now, on to the reasons some leaders are always effective.

The Reasons Some Leaders Are Always Effective

1.  They aren’t lazy.  Effective leaders use their personal momentum to maintain action by creating a relevant vision and fixating on action-oriented goals for their teams.  They don’t lead by waiting for stuff to happen (which would be the opposite of leadership!).  When faced with an uncertainty or the need to collect more data, they continue forward motion by seeking the data needed to mitigate the risk and then they make a decision and press-on.

2.  They learn.  Effective leaders are constant learners.  They read voraciously and not just about their technical field or area of profession.  A former boss of mine would pick 3 new topics per year and read at least four books about each.  I am learning French right now, embarking on earning my Six-Sigma Green Belt Certification and constantly viewing continuing education webinars.  The point is that learning keeps the mind fertile and growing.  Leaders who practice this will always have an open, inquisitive mind.

3.  They listen.  Epictetus told us: “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”  Effective leaders know this to be the case.  They employ exceptional listening skills that they employ constantly with their people, their boss, their customers, or family and friends.  Only through listening can one truly understand what is being conveyed or what a problem is.

4.  They delegate.  Effective leaders know that it’s not all about them, they delegate.  They also know that by using their team effectively, more can be done better, faster, and more creatively than doing it all by themselves.

5.  They take care of themselves.  To be effective over the long-term, leaders know they must take care of themselves.  They understand that there’s no glory in burning themselves out early on in a critical project or letting their general health go to hell because they’re “too busy”.  They have a practice in place for proper diet, exercise, good sleep (i.e. seven or more hours per day) and legitimate vacations (i.e. unplugged!).  Effective leaders know that working 80-hour weeks and boasting about 24/7/365 connectivity isn’t impressive, it’s pathetic.

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Are You Following The True Path of A Master Leader?

Engineer LeaderThe master leader is one who has achieved the self-confidence, the wisdom, and the skill necessary to guide others with out being oppressive, manipulative, or a genuine ass.  They achieved the distinction of being a master leader from doing leadership and learning it on the job of life. 

When you work for the less-than master leader it you know it.  There’s a sense of superiority from the leader, a sense that they know best and are merely leveraging you as a tool to get more work done. Or worse, using you as someone through which they can exhibit their position, rank or status. 

When in these situations, leave as quickly as possible when you can create an alternative.  If you can’t leave, keep your head down and continue looking for an escape. It’s unlikely the person/situation will change.  

Good, effective leadership, the kind that makes you want to storm a hill or work crazy overtime, comes from the heart.  It’s not a formula that can be provided and it’s a different mix for everyone.  Good leadership is like a bespoke pair of shoes.

I’ve worked for and with many master-leaders over the years.  They all embodied these attributes: 

Created without possessing.  The master leader made great things happen with projects or led their organizations to new heights, but they did without taking the credit.  They created success, but didn’t posses it because they passed that on to everyone else.

Acted without expecting.  The master leader undertook their actions with the confidence that what was needed would occur.  Perhaps not exactly as they envisioned, but it would happen nonetheless.  They took action, but didn’t lock themselves into set expectations of how the outcome would occur.

Guided without interfering.  The master leader provided vision, they offered a strategy and sometimes even pointed in the direction.  Then they got out of the way.  They guided others without meddling in the process.

These aren’t new fads, they’re old standards thanks to Lao Tzu the Chinese philosopher.  These might seem counterintuitive, but that’s why masters are masters. They know that what appears simple, what appears to be a solution that won’t work, is often the right solution. The best path to follow. 

Try this guidance for a month in your leadership. That’s it, just 30 days like a software trial. My guess is that your stress will reduce, your team will respond differently, and productivity and workplace uality of life will increase. 

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”  Lao Tzu

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Leadership Project Management

Optimize Your Workweek With These 5 Tips for Running Meetings That Matter

Engineer LeaderYou talk about the need for effective, worthwhile meetings.  You’ve read about running effective meetings.  You may have even attended a seminar or two that discussed running effective meetings. Yet your productive work week is inundated with non-productive meetings. 

One thing all engineer leaders can agree on is the need for effective use of their time.  Yet we allow ourselves to squander this precious commodity ineffectively in meetings that lack structure, focus, and clear deliverables.  If you want to give optimize your workweek, start doing so by running meetings that matter.

Saying Is Easier Than Doing

We’re given the chance to run effective meetings all the time, but we rarely do. The main reasons we rarely do is that we: (1) don’t have the time to prepare for an effective meeting, and (2) don’t have a process for doing so. With busy work/life schedules, who has the time to invest in preparing for a meeting? 

An effective engineer leader is someone who makes the time to prepare for a meeting.  And making the time is a lot easier to wrap your mind around if you have an effective process for the preparation.  Talking about effective meetings may be easier than running them, but building a process can make running them just as easy as saying them.  Here’s how:

1.  Institute Structure & Time Limits.  Leaders who run a meeting without a definitive structure and time limit are simply asking for unconstrained wastes of time.  Running down the rabbit hole on side bar topics, or even relevant topics, can make a 60-minute meeting drag into a half-day hostage situation for everyone involved.  Schedule makes every meeting the same (introductions, topic/topics to be covered, review of deliverables/action officers, wrap-up) and time limits keep everyone in the box.  If more time is needed for a deep-dive, schedule a separate meeting. 

2.  Know the Purpose and the Audience.  Is the meeting for the boss or customers/clients?  Is it an informational meeting or a decision briefing to senior leadership?  Routine staff meeting or an ad hoc, project-related event?  Know who and what is involved so the meeting can be structured accordingly.  The protocol, content, and format will vary depending on the answers to these two questions.

3.  Rules of Engagement.  As the leader, set the rules of engagement for how issues are tabled, discussed, and then debated.  If contentious issues are tabled, how will they be handled?  How will you handle them?  I’ve sat in thousands of meetings over 20 years and the linked listing above provides a lot of different ROE you might choose from for establishing your own rules of engagement. 

4.  Agenda, Minutes, Presentations.  Another meetings run amok is the lack of a clear agenda on the front-end with no structure to presentations and then no follow-up afterwards with minutes.  Think of the meeting as a three act play:

Act 1 is the agenda framing the topics, the players, and the logistics (time, location, etc.). 

Act 2 is the presentation, briefing, or discussions based on the agenda items from Act 1.  No improve here…that’s when things start getting out of hand. 

Act 3 is the wrap-up codified by the minutes.  Minutes are not to be thought of as a pain or an after-thought.  They are the contract between you (leader) and participants over what was discussed and agreed-to for deliverables.

These are administrative items for certain, but without them your meetings are not going to run smoothly.  Establish these tools when you have the time and then use them consistently.  Consistent use begets habit that eliminates the pain of thinking about putting these together. 

5.  Always Identify Deliverables and Action Officers.  No meeting must end without a clear understanding of what the outcome is, what needs to be done, and who’s going to do it.  If you do nothing else with your meeting, DO THIS.  Your meetings will immediately become effective because they will have a legitimate purpose for producing results, not just devouring people’s time.

Yes we are busy and taking on more tasks for preparing for and documenting meetings is just one more task that we don’t want to tackle.  But by putting in place the processes when you do have time (or delegating the task of creating the agenda and minutes to someone else), you will immediately optimize your work week through time invested on specific issues.

For an interesting take on meeting preparation and execution, check out this article from Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, covering a simple rule to eliminate useless meetings.

“Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.” Peter Drucker

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Leadership Success

5 Must-Do’s for Making Yourself Indispensable

Engineer LeaderIn Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable, he postulates that in the workplace of today there are three teams in action:  management, labor, and linchpins.  The third team is comprised of those people who create, invent, lead (regardless if they’re in charge or their title), make connections, make things happen, and generally just get stuff done regardless what’s happening.  They figure out how to do what needs to be done without waiting to be told what needs to be done from management and they align labor to make it happen.  Here are the 5 must-do’s for making yourself indispensable in your work as an engineer leader: 

1.  Learn to communicate effectively.   This means developing skill in each of the forms of professional communications: speaking, writing, presenting, and most importantly, listening. 

2.  Study every aspect of your job and become as “expert” as you can be.  Be detailed.  Don’t assume anything.  Know your business cold.  Linchpins are also students of tangential subjects and topics that are connected to the work they do daily.  For example, during my Air Force career I made it a point of understanding flight operations and flying squadron structures so I knew how to communicate with the pilots/aircrew and flight operations officers running the airfields.  How else could an Air Force civil engineer really support an airfield?  By knowing how the most important part of the Air Force did it’s internal business, I could be a more effective leader in mine.

3.  Be willing to do the work others won’t.  Start by not being late.  Being willing to take the extended work away from family, friend, and routine.  Work on your agenda, definitely on your boss’s agenda, and certainly on your boss’s boss’ agenda.  As long as it’s ethical, moral and legal, do it.  The one who’s willing to do what needs to be done – that steps-up – is the one that makes themselves indispensable.  This doesn’t mean that you’re brown-nosing, apple polishing, or foregoing your own dreams for someone else’s.  The linchpin takes the work that needs to be done and does it, regardless.

4.  Take education and certification into your own hands.  Don’t wait for someone to pick you for the course you want to take, the certification you want to get, the seminar you want to attend.  If you wait, you might be waiting forever.  The better bet is to invest in yourself.  That way you’re certain to be picked.  

5.  Learn to sell.  Doing work is something 10, 20, or 30 other people with the same demographics as you can do.  We can all work.  But we all can’t sell.  Learn to sell and you make yourself indispensable wherever you work.  And this isn’t just about bottom-line profit.  Non-profits and public organizations need sellers.  Sellers of ideas, of campaigns, and of calls to action.  Learn to sell and it’s akin to teaching the proverbial man to fish.  You’ll always eat.

Linchpins = Engineer Leaders            

Want to be an engineer leader?  Then become a linchpin.  To use the analogy for a thousandth time, a linchpin is the foundation of all great organizations and they exist in them all.  Think of the small pin that holds a wheel on the axle of a child’s wagon.  That’s the linchpin.  Although thinking of yourself as a small pin might not seem wonderful, would you rather think of yourself like a cog in the wheel?  I thought not.

If you’ve ever thought of and implemented a novel way to get something accomplished, developed a shortcut, or generated connections that were necessary to making a project work then you’ve got indispensability in you.

Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must.”  Seth Godin

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