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Making the Choice to Lead

As humans, we are beings that choose. We have reached the point, because of technological advances, where we can literally choose the course of our own evolution. We are living in a time of rapid change and the ability to shape it through our choices is mind bending in its implications. We can literally choose our own destruction or the path to abundance and peace. That, in itself, may be the best definition yet of what civilization means.

By Wayne Lynn
Published: October 1, 2014

As humans, we are beings that choose. We have reached the point, because of technological advances, where we can literally choose the course of our own evolution. We are living in a time of rapid change and the ability to shape it through our choices is mind bending in its implications. We can literally choose our own destruction or the path to abundance and peace. That, in itself, may be the best definition yet of what civilization means.

If we can choose our path forward there is nothing of this Earth that, by its nature, is inevitable. Not even the demise of our beloved printing industry. Significant change is occurring in communications technology but that, in and of itself, does not spell doom for print.

Unprecedented rates of change and unparalleled levels of choice require conscious leadership to map the path forward. Given the level of stakes on the table, what does leadership, generically, mean?

Leadership is many things, all at once.

  • It is a mindset…it originates in the minds and hearts of its practitioners.

  • Leadership implies, by its definition, an organization where people work together to accomplish a particular purpose.

  • Leadership can only exist where there are others who are influenced by the leader and decide to follow. Leadership creates followership.

  • The effectiveness of leadership is measured by the number and motivation of the followers.

  • It is about both character and competence but is more about character. When organizations encounter difficulty, the competence component wants to step on the gas and push harder. That works in many cases but not when the difficulty is driven by change that obsoletes those competencies. That’s when the character component must step in and realize that change requires a new mindset, a new approach, a new solution. (This should sound eerily familiar to many of you reading this.)

  • It is about the ability to “color outside the lines”, to see opportunity where everyone else see problems. Coloring outside the lines is an analogy for seeing the big picture but in a contrarian way.

  • It is about the ability to deal comfortably with the polarities and paradoxes of life…to have a mind large enough to allow both to exist at the same time.

  • It is about the courage to make a single choice about: “If I can only do one thing, to the exclusion of all else, what would that one thing be?”

  • It is, to the surprise of many, a process. That is what I would like to devote this article to addressing. The study of leadership by modern scholars indicates that there is, indeed, a process to leading and that it has four major components.


What are the four components? They are:

  1. Defining the essential intent of the organization being led;

  2. Aligning the roles, responsibilities, goals, priorities, etc. of everyone in the organization so that the essential intent is achieved;

  3. Defining what the achievement of the essential intent looks like in terms of words, numbers, pictures, dates, events, accomplishments, etc.; in other words, what is the measure of success?

  4. Working with the organization to remove the obstacles and barriers to achievement that invariably arise during times of great change.

Now, the short list you can memorize;

  • Define essential intent

  • Create alignment

  • Create measures of success

  • Remove obstacles

Now, let’s look at a real world example of the process at work. Imagine you just bought a software package. It is one of those web-to-print systems used to create web storefronts. Your plan is to have your top ten customers use it to place orders on all their repetitive products.

Using the leadership process as outlined above, you will need to provide the following:

  • A definition of essential intent that includes two things;

  1. An answer to the question – “If I could only do one thing with this software, what would that be?”

  2. An answer to the question – “Why are we doing this?”

For the purposes of illustration, let’s assume your answers are:

1-a) Price, plan, and create the job instructions for all repetitive work from your top ten customers. (Automate order entry.)

2-a) It is a fact that 35% of the company’s overhead is invested in the costs of doing these functions for all of your customers. (If your top ten customers comprise 50% of your sales, they will consume at least that amount of overhead costs.) We want to put a dent in those costs, take errors out of the process, and improve margins.

  1. Defining essential intent in this way forces laser-like focus on the highest priority. Time and time again, critical change efforts have been unsuccessful because either the real target was never made clear or the goal was too broad. The point is to define what needs to get done. All the “nice to have” things only serve to fragment focus and create obstacles to successful completion.

  • Create alignment around the essential intent.

  1. Get everyone who has a contribution to make to the project on the same page with respect to the answers to the two essential intent questions. In this illustration, that would likely include sales, estimating, customer service, the planning function, IT, pre-press and accounting.

  2. In very specific language, write down the specific contribution needed from every member of the project team. I won’t belabor the point here because much has been written recently about this by Jennifer Matt and others. But…the point is to make crystal clear what is expected from each member of the team.

  • Create measures of success…what will success look like?

  1. Set a target date for project completion. This should not be the date the software will be installed, training will be completed, or the marketing to customers has been rolled out. It should be a date when you expect all repetitive work from your top 10 customers being ordered through the web portal and the order entry process is automated. It is the date on which your top 10 customers will begin to notice you have become much easier to do business with.

  2. Define precisely what “all repetitive work” means. This can be arbitrarily chosen but you need specific targets that will prevent overzealous pursuit of the absurd. For example, the goal might be stated as: “All top 10 customers’ products that repeat 5 or more times per year.” See what I mean? Leave no doubt.

  3. You can go further in painting the picture of what success should look like. You can try to specify how much time this should save customers, how much overhead costs need to be reduced, how much rework and errors will be reduced, etc. I would encourage you to explore the options available.

  • Remove obstacles to achieving the essential intent. This is a critical role for you as the leader. If you have done a good job in the preceding components of the leadership process you have set yourself up for success. You will need to do a lot of managing to get the job done. But…the quality of the job you have done as a leader, i.e., the influencing of people to behave in the desired and necessary way, is critical to setting your company up to succeed. There will be numerous occasions during the life of the project where someone on the team will come and tell you they are stumped, stymied, or don’t have the information or resources to finish their contribution. It is uniquely your role as the leader to remove whatever obstacle that confounds them.

In the larger scheme of things, this example of the leadership process at work is relatively small. In comparison to the thought and effort required to lead a company through large-scale change it is minor. I feel, however, that it illustrates the nature of the process in a clear and fundamental way. You can be the judge after you have tried it for yourself.

Before you click on something else to occupy your attention for a few minutes give this some thought. Where do you have a change effort going on that can be a pilot project to use the leadership process on?

  • New equipment or software being installed?

  • A process being revamped and improved?

  • A sales training effort where success is badly needed?

  • Training the management team to look at the numbers in a more productive way?

  • Creating a process that enables you to find and hire the best talent you can find?

Whatever the change effort is, do the following:

  1. Take out a clean sheet of paper and write a 4-5 word description as the title at the top of the page.

  2. Write down the question: “If I can only get one critical thing done in this effort, what would that be?” Then, write down the answer to the question.

  3. Write down the question: “Why are we doing this? What is the point? What will be better as a result of doing this?” Then, answer the questions.

  4. List everyone in the company who has critical work to do to make the project successful. Beside each name, write down in clear language the result needed from that person to make it all work. Go into as much detail as you feel is needed. Leave no doubt or wiggle room for interpretation.

  5. Set the target date for completion and write it down on the paper.

  6. Describe, in as clear and complete language as you are capable of, exactly what must be true, what must have come to pass for the project, in its entirety, to be considered complete. Remember, using our earlier example, it’s not that the software was fully installed: is it doing what you bought it to do?

  7. Next, using numbers and hard, observable facts, describe the impact that completing the project will have on your company and/or your customers. These are usually stated as:

  1. % improved

  2. $ saved

  3. % growth

  4. $ in new sales

  5. Hours in saved time

  6. The list goes on…

  1. Get your notes organized and typed, illustrated, whatever will help you communicate clearly and effectively.

  2. Schedule a meeting with everyone who is on your list from number 4 above.

  3. Walk everyone through the documentation. Solicit and write down all input and ideas. Ask everyone to take the document with them and spend the next 48 hours thinking about it. Schedule a meeting for 48 hours out.

  4. Meet again. Ask every person to describe their role in the project and what they need to accomplish. If they have ideas that will improve the result, get them on the table. If they make sense, make their ideas part of the plan. At the end of the dialog with each person present, ask if they are committed to making the project a success. (If there is hesitation or if your intuition is telling you something is not genuine, ask that person, after the meeting, to come see you. You can then probe the hesitation or resistance to see what is going on and resolve it.) Once you have gone through this process with everyone in attendance, thank everyone for their time, efforts and commitment. Dismiss the meeting.

  5. You are now set up to move forward and manage the project to successful completion. You can now develop schedules, marshal the resources that will be needed, etc.

  6. You, as the leader, must now allow the team to do its work. You should maintain informal contact with the team members. Your primary concern is to look for signs of progress, no matter how small, and to recognize and reinforce them. Achievement of progress toward meaningful results is a very powerful motivator that is little understood and even less used. Your secondary concern is to insure you don’t get blind-sided by events you didn’t see coming.

  7. From time to time, obstacles will arise that only you can remove. Take care of those and the team will flourish. You will get the results you need and deserve and your people will grow and look forward to coming to work every day.

Leadership can indeed be looked at in the form of a process. The process, as we have described it, is a way of turning inspiration into perspiration into results. Being a process, it can be improved. It gets better with practice and repetition.

Remember: random processes yield random results; stable processes yield consistent, predictable results.

Does your company deserve consistent, predictable leadership? You know the answer. Choose it!

Wayne Lynn is an accomplished executive and leader. The breadth of his experience brings deep insight to the leaders he works with. His essential intent in life now is to help leaders of all types achieve their true purpose. Wayne offers CEO’s, business owners, sales managers, and salespeople coaching as they lead their organizations and customers to better results.

Wayne Lynn is an advocate of the adage that "you can't manage what you can't measure".  Combining his considerable strengths in leadership, economics, and strategy with broad experience in both public and private companies, he brings focus and discipline to the task of creating and sustaining success in today's chaotic environment.

Wayne has managed businesses ranging in size from $5 million to $500million in annual sales.  He has guided those organizations through a number of diverse market sectors including magazines, catalogs, inserts, direct mail, and general commercial printing.

A student as well as a practitioner of the fine art of business, Wayne's latest focus is on helping business leaders make their companies more viable economically, more relevant in the market place, more adaptive to constant change, and more durable in the long haul.  It's about people, what they know, and how well they execute on what they know.

Wayne can be reached at 704-516-7787 or at wlynn8697@gmail.com.


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