10 Proven Practices for More Productive Leadership

This is a guest post by J.D. Meier. He is the author of Getting Results the Agile Way and blogs on personal effectiveness and leadership at Sources of Insight. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Leadership is a verb, and productive leadership is an art. The art part is when you use your experience and judgment to apply proven practices to the situation you are in to produce effective results.

Flow Chart on a Blackboard - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Hiob, Image #12231515

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Hiob

While you can always wing it, or luck into success, you can use patterns and practices to find the shortcuts and make your success more repeatable.

As a Principal Program Manager at Microsoft I’ve lead distributed teams around the world for more than ten years. I like to think of the Program Manager role as a technical Entrepreneur with an interesting blend of customer, business, and technical perspective.

As a Program Manager, my job is to take on big challenges, build a team of smart people, and drive projects from cradle to grave. That includes everything from creating the Vision and Scope to leading the project through the initiating, planning, controlling, and closing phases.

It also means creating work breakdown structures, project plans, resource plans, risk plans, project schedules, managing budgets, dealing with and responding to changes, reporting status, and managing stakeholder expectations. One of my favorite metaphors is that the Program Manager is “the oil and the glue.”

It’s one of the toughest jobs, you’ll ever love.

I’d like to share with you ten proven practices for more productive leadership. I’ve learned these from leading teams and shipping stuff in some of the most competitive, fast-paced, and toughest arenas:

  1. Know what problem you are trying to solve. This sounds simple and it sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people can run around, working on something, but have actually lost sight of the problem they set out to solve.

    If you keep the problem front and center, you exponentially increase your effectiveness. It helps you prioritize. It helps you focus. It helps you bring in the right help. It helps you ask the right questions.

    If you lack clarity in the problem you are solving, then you are most likely wasting a lot of time and effort. It’s tough to hit a target when you don’t know what it is. On the flip side, you can save a lot of time and energy when you know exactly what the problem is that you are trying to solve.

  2. Get smart people on a cadence. It’s a lot easier to build your execution muscle if you decide on a simple cadence. For example, on my teams, I like to focus on shipping weekly.

    I use a pattern I call, Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection. On Mondays, as a team, we identify three wins for the week. Each day, we identify three wins for the day.

    On Fridays, we reflect on our results by asking, “What are three things going well?” and “What are three things to improve?” The goal is to take what we learn and carry the good forward. So every week we are getting better and better.

    This very simple cadence creates an efficient and effective learning loop. As individuals, and as a team, we very quickly surface the bottlenecks and opportunities to improve our results.

  3. Set boundaries and buffers. The best solution for burnout is to avoid it in the first place. This is knowledge work, and as one of my mentors puts it, “Brains work best when they are rested and relaxed.” The way to set the boundary is to first decide the maximum number of hours you expect to work for the week.

    For example, one of my best managers forced me to set a limit of forty hours. This meant I had to ruthlessly prioritize and focus throughout the week to flow the most value. I could no longer throw hours at the problem. Instead, I had to get clear on the priorities, choose the best things to work on, and spend my time more wisely.

    At the same time, I had to make sure I was creating space and allowing for things to go wrong. I’ve never seen a project where everything goes exactly as planned, and nothing changes. With that in mind, it’s better to embrace the reality and design for it, and create space so you can deal with unexpected surprises.

    One of my colleagues enforces his forty hour work week boundary with “dinner on the table at 5:30.” It’s a rule he lives by and it’s served him well both for his family and at work. At work, he is known for working on the most valuable things and setting a great example of focus and priorities.

  4. Lead with your why. The key to great results is passion plus purpose. Start asking yourself, “Why do you do what you do?” Find the meaning and make the connection between the work you choose to bite off, and how it lights up your life.

    If you live for adventure, then make every project an epic adventure. If you love to learn, then by-golly make every expedition a chance to learn a new skill, conquer a new challenge, and add a new tool to your toolbox.

    Share your “why” with others. It’s contagious. The most unproductive teams I know have no purpose. They have no juice. They have no joy. They do work, and every bit of work is a chore. Ironically, it’s not the nature of the work, but our mental models that make work meaningful.

  5. Give your best where you have your best to give. One question I get asked often is, what’s the biggest game changer I’ve ever seen when it comes to execution excellence. I have to say, it’s always the same thing. Have people on the team spend more time in their strengths.

    That includes you. If you want more out of you, then do more of what you love. Do more of what you are great at. Do more of what you can uniquely do.

    The most ineffective teams I ever see are when people are all “out of position.” People are constantly working on things they aren’t good at or things that they hate. It kills their energy. In knowledge work, this is the “kiss of death.”

  6. Focus on outcomes, not activities. I can’t stress this enough. When you focus on outcomes, you find the critical paths and the short-cuts. When you focus on activities, you throw time at things, but don’t necessarily achieve meaningful results.

    As soon as you start asking yourself, “What’s the goal?” or “What’s the outcome?” you will quickly find yourself getting clarity on the problem. It will refocus your effort and energy in a more meaningful way. You can shave away needless activities once you identify what you want to accomplish.

  7. Pick a theme or focus for the month. A lot can happen throughout the month. One way to see the forest for the trees and rise above the noise is to set a theme or focus for the month.

    Every day, you can do a little something towards the theme. Personally, I use “30-Day Improvement Sprints,” but the ideas is to simply pick a theme for the month.

    For example, you might pick a theme of “simplicity” and for the entire month, you will be focused on simplifying everything you do. Simplicity is one of my favorite themes, and I like to find ways to simplify products and processes. Finding ways to simplify your process is actually one of the secrets to innovation and staying in the game.

    When you find ways to innovate in your process, you can do things better, faster, and cheaper. And that’s how you keep from getting priced out of the market or losing your job to somebody else who is better, faster, cheaper.

  8. Ask better questions. I heard a colleague remark the other day that too many people still operate under an old leadership model. The leadership model of the 70s was command-and-control. That made sense for industrial type work or in the military. It doesn’t work well when it comes to knowledge work.

    The people in the trenches are the closest to the problems and they are also closest to the solutions. In today’s world, the key to effective leaders is asking the right questions. Inquiry is your friend.

    One of my mentors uses a small set of questions to guide investments:

    • Who’s the customer?
    • What’s the problem?
    • What’s the competition doing?
    • What does success look like?

    It’s simple but highly effective. One of my favorite questions to ask is, “What are you optimizing for?”

  9. Get their finger prints on it. If you go it alone, then it’s an uphill battle. It can feel like pushing rocks uphill!

    The best way to get folks on board is to get their fingerprints on it. This means co-creating the vision with them. This means being inclusive on key decisions. This means having people participate in the process so they feel empowered and want to play the game.

    If you build products for customers, the short-cut to success is to have customer participate up front and throughout the process. They’ll tell you what they want if you ask them. You don’t have to throw it over the wall and hope for the best.

    The sooner you get folks involved and the sooner they get bought in, the sooner they have a sense of ownership. Also, the sooner you will have a tribe of raving fans that will help you move the ball forward and champion the cause.

  10. Focus on “good enough for now.” This is how you get over “analysis-paralysis” and perfectionism. What’s the simplest solution for the problem at hand? What’s the minimum you could do to make it work, and then make it right?

    If you get in the habit of thinking in terms of version, then you can enjoy the benefits of incremental progress. The power of incremental progress is that you finish what you start. You actually get to deliver something of value and get feedback on it.

    You can then use the feedback to tune it and improve it. You can then play around with your release cycles to find the best rhythm for results.

    For this to work well, you have to have a culture of continuous improvement, so that you actually get a chance to revisit things that need to be improved. This is a much faster path than trying to get everything figured out and get everything right up front.

    The reality is you don’t know what will surprise you, and you are better off putting something out there so that you can see how it holds up under actual usage. You will gain clarity and insight if you look for it, and you will ultimately learn the lessons that help you improve next time.

These are all powerful practices when you apply them. As it’s been said, the trick isn’t knowing what to do, it’s doing what you know.

I will share with you one more practice that helps you turn your insight into action. This is a practice from the software world.

Create a personal checklist of the practices that you want to do more of. Add this as a reminder in your calendar and have it pop up daily or weekly, depending on how often you need the reminder. You can then continue to adjust your personal checklist as you go along, so that it serves you and it helps bring out your best.

Question: What leadership practices have you found that make you and your team more productive? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

    One of the very best compilations on leadership I have seen in a long long time.

    I like every one of the 10 (they could easily become blog posts all their own).  But I especially like “Lead With Your Why”.  It is so easy to forget why we do what we do.  Work should be about far more than a simple pay check (large or small).  When that is all it is, things go awry.

    Add your blog to my list!

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Thank you Thad.

      “Why” has served me well.  I learned that inspiration is very contagious.  When we share “Why” we do what we do, it both helps check our strategy, and light others’ fires.

      I used to be surprised when I would go into the “What” or the “How” and there didn’t seem to be the level of enthusiasm I expected.  Once I started leading with “Why”, the game of getting buy-in got a whole lot easier.

  • http://businessrebirth.blogspot.com Shallie Bey

    It is amazing that these principles apply so universally. Everything we do well, we do with a system such as you have outlined. Often, our challenge is to realize that our system is the solution to the things we don’t do as well as we would like.

    • http://www.truenorthquest.com/ Brian

      I was thinking the same thing. I’ve been involved in coaching girls softball. When I read #2, I immediately saw how it could be applied to coaching.

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

         I was just thinking the same!

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      I think that’s the beauty of principles — they help us share reusable strategies more broadly, and in the end, all paths lead to the same town (the beauty of universal “truths”).

      • http://businessrebirth.blogspot.com Shallie Bey

        JD thanks so much for taking time to share your thoughts. Timeless principles are in reality “timeless”.

  • http://www.whiteboardbusiness.com/ Dallon Christensen

    I really liked “Set Boundaries and Buffers”. One of the reasons I left my corporate job to start my own company was that my boundaries had completely eroded. I was receiving phone calls at night, on the weekend, and even during time at church (I ignored that phone call and remembered to turn my phone off at church from now on!). As a self-employed business owner working from home, I require myself to stick to boundaries so I don’t burn myself out. For example, I go to the YMCA at lunch to work out. This gives me a break from the computer. I keep 5-8 PM sacred as time for my family. Even if this means I have to get back online after 8 PM, I ensure I have that time where I am present and fully engaged with my wife and children.

    Great tips! I know a program manager is a tough job, because I did financial analysis for one a long time ago. These tips would be very useful for anyone, but especially PMs!

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Dallon, you hit on a very key point.  As leaders, we have to know our limits, and we have to know how to recharge and renew.  It takes self-awareness and it’s a continuous process of self-discovery.

      When my only boundary was too hungry to go on, or too tired to type, I was robbing my potential, and setting a bad example for the team.  Setting healthy boundaries helps establish a sustainable cadence … and that’s what I’m a fan of — in it for the long haul, beats heroic burnout every time.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Making the 5-8 pm time slot sacred is wise. I have to regularly remind myself there will ALWAYS be more work to do, regardless of how many hours I put in the day.

      • http://www.whiteboardbusiness.com/ Dallon Christensen

        Michelle, that has always been something I’ve tried to do. When it became nearly impossible to do that in my last job, I knew it was time to make the big jump. That boundary gives me the quality time I need with my family and also keeps me refreshed. JD is absolutely correct. When your “boundary” is when you’re too tired to do anything else, that isn’t healthy.

        A good resource for this is Todd Henry’s book “The Accidental Creative”. Todd does a really good job discussing creative rhythms and what we need to do to stay, in his words, “prolific, brilliant, and healthy”.

        • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

          I need to read that book. Thanks for the recommend!

  • http://www.ninanesdoly.com/ Nina Nesdoly

    This is excellent, thanks J.D. Exactly the kind of ideas I was after this morning- I’ve just gotten the ball rolling on what is hopefully going to be a successful business and I’m working to build team. This is really helpful!

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Thank you Nina.

      One of the best ways I found to build a strong performing team is to look for evidence of shared values.  Some of the values that served me well are:
      – Excellence
      – Empowerment
      – Growth
      – Continous Learning
      – Service

      I found that regardless of skills, experience, and capabilities, these values helped foster high-performing teams time and again.  The reason is that people on the team embrace the learning and lift each other upward and onward.  It creates a culture where people are fully engaged, take risks, learn, and find a way forward.  It accelerates the learning process and build synergy across the team.

      In my early days of building teams, my mistake was to check skills, experience, and potential, but miss how vital the values are for team health and overall synergy. 

  • Aaron J

    One for our team that has been really helpful is knowing our customer. This is similar to a team sharing the same core values and it puts us on the same page. We talk about our customers often, tell stories about customer experiences, try to discern what their real problems are, and how we can best go about solving them. Key to this leads hip of this is to care for the customer, to empathize (even when they are irrational :), and to really shoot for a positive and full portrait instead of a negative stereotype.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Well put.

      Empathy can actually be a powerful competitive advantage (Michael Porter style, along the lines of specialization.)

      Peter Drucker was a fan of empathy, too.  He said that it was the key to driving effective decisions, and prioritizing effectively.

      In my experience, it’s saved me a lot of wasted time and effort building things that don’t matter.  It’s also helped me relate to the pains and needs that float above the surface or fall between the cracks.

  • http://teenswithchrist.com/ James Trent

    Excellent post. I agree with every point, especially the part about getting your team’s fingerprints on it.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      I learned this from one of my mentors and it’s served me well ever since.

      Our bright ideas get brighter when we make space for others to contribute and play a role.  Otherwise, we’re flying solo, and that often leads to resistance.   Nothing beats having a coallition of the willing to help you bring ideas to life.

      The subtle thing this attitude and practice does is it forces you to take inventory of the talents and seek input in a deeper and more relevant way.  When you leverage the collective perspective, you also help avoid the problems of “the emperor’s new clothes” and “the baby’s ugly.” 

  • http://twitter.com/Ladiesgofirst NurseFrugal

    What incredible guidelines! I agree with Shallie Bey, these are universal principles.  Even though I work in a hospital as a nurse, many of these can be applied to my job. My favorite is the “why”, one should always remember “why” they are doing what they are doing.
    -Nurse Frugal

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      The “Why” is both inspirational and productive … I’ve shaved off so many things from my plate if the “Why” did not hold up to careful scrutiny.

  • http://marleeward.com/ Marlee

    J.D.! So nice to see you here, and what great value you’re offering. There are so many points you shared here that I think are so important. Especially your thoughts on buffers and boundaries and focusing on outcomes. Those are the areas I strive to improve upon the most. I think it’s keeping tabs on all these facets that can be a challenge, but it’s all part of the process. Thanks for sharing this!

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Thank you Marlee.

      Outcomes really are the game changer.  For example, I’m back at work today with mountains that I need to turn into molehills and the way I do that is to slice and dice into meaningful outcomes or “win” for the day.

      My cutting question is this:  “What three wins do I want for today?”

      That one simple question helps me find the fun, tease out the value, and make a game of getting results … while flowing value to myself and others.

  • http://www.bradleycoaching.com/ Deon

    More great and useful strategies from Michael Hyatt.

  • http://twitter.com/amandaqueendyer Amanda Queen Dyer

    This is all great information! #2 and #7 are practical strategies I would like to take to my own workplace. I’m currently reading Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” so #4 really resonated with me as well. Thanks for the great post!

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Thank you, Amanda.

      “Start with Why” is a great book.  I had the benefit of learning from one of Simon’s close partners.  

      I got a very early look at “The Golden Circle”, which is about leading yourself from the inside out.  It’s a powerful leadership tool and for self-awareness.  It flips the classic modus operandi from WHAT, WHY, HOW to WHY, HOW, WHAT.  People get surprised that HOW follows WHY, but the reality is that our personal process (our HOW), is our principles and our values that we drive from.  When our WHY and HOW are aligned, we can take our game to any WHAT.

  • http://www.godvertiser.com/ Kenny Jahng

    Love the cadence thing across teams point.  

    I actually have 5 questions — kind of similiar in purpose — which I ask myself each week which I recently shared ( http://www.godvertiser.com/ponderings/5-questions-i-ask-at-the-end-of-every-week/ ) but formally trying to introduce something like this across teams might be very helpful.

    Kenny Jahng

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      I am very much a fan of question-driven approaches.

      We produce way better answers, when we elevate the value of the questions we ask.

      • http://www.godvertiser.com/ Kenny Jahng

        JD — totally with you. Have you checked out the book “Power Questions” by Andrew Sobel? One of the best reads of the year I would say.

  • http://www.andrewsobel.com/ Andrew Sobel

    Great list! I do think the best leaders are inveterate question-askers. I love the scene In Shakespeare’s play Henry
    V, when the outnumbered English army encamps at Agincourt as it prepares for its
    historic battle with the French on the following day. Late that evening, King
    Henry disguises himself, and wanders among his men to find out how they’re
    feeling and what they think of him as a leader. I once interviewed Bob Galvin Jr  son of the founder of Motorola, and he told me “My dad’s best source of
    information was our employees. He always went out each day and had lunch in the company
    cafeteria, and he would ask everyone lots of questions about what was going on, what customers were saying, and so on.”

    By the way one important question that is rarely asked is “What should
    we stop doing?” Most organizations simply pile more initiatives and projects on top of
    the existing work that everyone is already stretched to accomplish. 

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Great point, Andrew. Just because we’ve been doing something for a long time doesn’t mean we SHOULD be doing it.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      I like the story, and so true — we do need to ask what we need to stop doing.

      Scope creep is so easy (too easy), but worse, the things we do that are off strategy, bifurcate our focus, energy, time, resources that we need to move forward.

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    In thinking about leadership on my team and at home, I like #9, “Get their fingerprints on it.” I’ve found the best way to get a team energized and enthusiastic about a project is to involve them in the dreaming and brainstorming from the very beginning. If they own a piece of it, they’re much more likely to be excited about the execution and eventual results. Too often I just do it myself because it seems easier and quicker at the moment.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      People like to play the game when they are involved from the start.  It’s tough to play catch up, and many people don’t like “hand me downs” ;)

      The ownership piece too is a big deal — people like to feel the impact of their contribution.

      One thing I learned over time is that not everybody enjoys envisioning to the same degree.  I enjoy it so much that I thought everybody did too.  What I found was that some folks really enjoy working the vision or strategy, while others prefer the execution.  de Bono distinguishes these preferences as “describers” and “doers.”

  • Michelle Webb

    Thanks, JD! You’ve compiled a valuable playbook. In fact, I think I’ll spend the next 10 days meditatating on each point (one day at a time) in hopes of applying them all for continuous improvement. I happen to be in a state of “analysis-paralysis” (thanks for the diagnosis) so I may begin from the bottom of the list with point #10–“Good enough for now.”

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Way to go!

      The “Good enough for now” plays an especially important role in today’s world.    It’s tough to birth ideas when we’re up against our own perfectionism or fighting analysis paralysis.  It’s uncomfortable at first, but the mindset shift is easier once we realize that we can improve things over time … but we have to ship something to be able to improve it with real feedback.

  • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

    Great comprehensive list! I appreciate the thought and effort invested in this post. Thanks JD and Michael!

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Thank you, Michael.

      I’m a fan of lifting others up so I tried to share the insights I found to be especially useful in the journey that really make a difference.

      • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

        Definitely succeeded here!

  • http://www.liveyourwhy.net/ Terry Hadaway

    Leading with your why is obviously a big deal to me. That’s why I am putting the finishing touches on Live Your Why, a book designed to help people from all walks of life discover and pursue their God-given purpose in life. If more leaders would lead from why, workplaces would be less chaotic! http://wp.me/p2fSH9-8L

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      “Why” says so much about what we are about.

      It’s our story, and it’s how we make meaning, and it’s how we light up our life in a way the breathes life into others … as a reflection of our own passion and giving our best where we have our best to give.

  • http://stuartloe.com Stuart Loe

    JD, that was a very insightful and helpful post.  Thanks for sharing.

    I just finished reading, “Now, Discover Your Strengths” yesterday and it seems like #5 and #6 in your list were two of the exact same points the authors made in that book.  I am wondering if you’ve read the book, or if you have just come across the same truths that they have in your experiences?

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Thank you, Stuart.

      I’ve read that book, and several other strengths-focused books (for example, Martin Seligman’s work on Character Strengths is classic.)At the end of the day, “all paths lead to the same town” — and I have had excellent mentors.   Give your best where you have your best to give is one of the mantras one of my early Microsoft mentors instilled in me.  Focus on outcomes, not activities is a rough Neuro-Linguistic Programming philosophy, but also shows up across many bodies of work.  It’s expressed in various ways from “begin with the end in mind”  or “work backwards from the end in mind” or “it’s the ends, not the means” or “it’s the destination, not the journey”, etc.   The simplest way I like to express a focus on outcomes is simply “It’s outcomes, not activities.”  Note that in all these cases, it’s just the same principles or truths showing up time and again.That’s why in so many cases, when we look back far enough, or in the right places, it’s “new wine in an old bottle.”  That’s why I am of a fan when somebody can “make an old song, sound new” ;)That’s also why I’m a fan of principles, patterns, and proven practices — they help us see the “Evergreen wisdom” and the wisdom of the ages and modern day sages. 

  • WK10

    Absolutely great overview.  I’d love to see each one of these fleshed our further.  In fact, I’d buy your book if each of those 10 were a chapter!  I’m coming from a totally different perspective in teams and leadership (small unit, combat arms, military leadership)… and yet I found this extremely applicable.  Great stuff.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Thank you.

      I like your take on how each concept can form the backbone of a book.

      I really like the fact that the leadership principles transcend and can be applied to various contexts, including military.

  • http://PracticeThis.com/ Alik Levin

    I liked the 40 hours limit. Back in consulting it was obvious for me that I
    have only so much time to bill the customer and justify myself with the
    employer. Now that I am off the clock I carried over this time sensitivity to
    the non-billable work which keeps me away from the burn out so I can perfectly
    focus on problems at hand and lead with my why. Great run down – thank you!

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      It’s powerful what happens when we start with constraints.

      It’s always surprising how constraints free us up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aspiringgeek Jimmy May

    This is a superb collection of guiding principles. Some are clear choices & simply a matter of being mindful, e.g., the following are straightforward & have provided huge benefits:
      3. Set boundaries and buffers
      6. Focus on outcomes, not activities
      7. Pick a theme or focus for the month
    Yet implementing this has been more challenging:
      8. Ask better questions
    is a skill that certainly hasn’t come naturally to me. 

    In the spirit of “Progress not Perfection”, I’ll continue my merry trudge forward.

    Thanks for the great post, J.D.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

      Thank you, Jimmy.

      The beauty of the monthly theme, even when it’s challenging, is that it helps us make meaning in our day to day activities.  

      My July is about “renewal” and I took a vacation to recharge and renew in support of my theme.  It helps me let some things go in the name of cutting the dead wood and rebuilding my core, while refocusing on my strategy — with a fresh perspective and lens.

  • http://www.margaretfeinberg.com/ Margaret

    #4 is huge. Can never over emphasize the importance of boundaries

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      I agree.   And sometimes it’s surprising what finally works as an effective boundary.

      I learned the benefit of boundaries the hard way, from pushing past too many, for too long.  Now I fully appreciate the benefit, and encourage others to do the same.

  • http://Thefieldgeneral.com/ Chris Coussens

    Love the post. It mirrors much of my own leadership style. Don’t really understand the “command and control” reference. That’s how I talk about my style… Be available to make decisions when questions come up (command) and keep enough of a feedback loop through various means to try to Pre-empt problems (control).

    Of course you have to ask the right questions to be effective, but I guess I don’t understand th 70’s leadership reference.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      Thank you, Chris.

      Command-and-control is definitely appropriate for certain scenarios and leaders that take decisive action help move the ball forward.   

      Command-and-control is often associated with top-down or hierarchical.   Another approach is de-centralized or federated, which pushes decisions from the trunk or branch of the tree as far out to the leaves as possible to streamline empowerment.   An insightful book that really lights up the contrast of these styles is The Starfish and the Spider, by Ori Braman, Rod Beckstrom, and Sean Pratt.

      • http://Thefieldgeneral.com/ Chris Coussens

        Thanks, I’ll look into the book.

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  • Royce Phillips

    Wow! These are great points that we should be referring to very regularly.

    The one point that jumped out to me is “Give your best where you have your best to give.”. This really goes toward the idea of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. Then everyone can really focus on putting forth their 100% effort toward the goals.

    Steve Prefontaine said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.” Each person has been given marvelous & wonderful gifts by their Creator. As leaders, it should be our goal to help our team maximize their gifts and talents, and to encourage them to give their absolute best towards those gifts each and every day.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      Thank you, Royce.

      Beautiful quote and so true.  It reminds me of the idea that if you don’t use your gifts, you not only rob yourself, you rob the world.

      The right seats on the bus is the key.

      I’ve experiended too many teams where they got the smart people on the bus, but not in the right seats.  It’s always amazing how a slight shift in roles can exponentially release what somebody is capable of.  I love it when talent shines.  When people are in their element, magic happens.

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  • Ctutzman

    I have to say this is one of the best top ten lists I have come across.  I plan on implementing this in my leadership and with my team.  This has brought more clarity to some of the things I am trying to accomplish.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      Thank you.

      Clarity is the light that cuts the fog.

      When we see through the fog, we speed up … so I’m always a fan of slowing down, to speed up in the name of clarity and vision.

  • http://twitter.com/lhanthorn Larry H

    Hey JD.  Good to see you show up here.  It’s amazing how quickly great leaders find common places to be inspired.  As always, I enjoyed every one of your 10. 
    You have a great voice & pithy style that makes me want to read more.  Keep up the great work.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      Thank you, Larry.

      I like the community Michael has established here … It’s raw, it’s real, it’s authentic.   The stories and experiences, and the quality and caliber, really light things up.

      It’s truly a great arena for learning and growth.

  • http://www.mondayisgood.com/ Tom Dixon

    #3 on boundaries really resonates for me.  I have (recently) found that I am much more productive giving a max of 55 hours a week.   I was going far above that for over year and finally found the solution was to decide what the reasonable max was for me.  I have gotten better at prioritizing – my goal is always to be working on the most important thing at any one time, giving it my FULL attention.  It is amazing how much of the small stuff suddenly doesn’t matter when you do that.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      FULL attention is a force multiplier.  Not only do we enjoy our work more, but we do it better.  

      I love how the moment we set a limit, we instantly start to figure out what really matters the most.  I also love how setting limits, makes it easier to fully engage.  

      It’s tough to give your best when there is no end in site … and the best way I found to do that is to chunk it up, and give FULL attention in bursts to the things that really count.

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  • Dale Wolf

    Three things are easier to focus on. Two are too few to get important work done and four somehow lead to five and five leads to confusion. Three tasks for the week and three for each day of the week is a marvelous way to drive action toward solving a problem that is important enough to get resolved or an aspiration to be achieved.

    Dale Wolf, Cincom Systems

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      It’s a powerful way to funnel our focus.  When we drive what we do into three stories, or three outcomes, or three wins … we simplify and amplify our focus.

      I challenge myself constantly with, “What are my three wins for today?” … “What are my three wins for this week?” … “What are my three wins for this month?” … “What are my three wins for this year?”

      It helps me prioritize and address both quick wins + longer-term priorities.  It’s a fast and easy way to zoom in and zoom out to see the bigger picture.  I like to optimize for impact, so I need to always balance the “long view” with what’s front and center on the radar.

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  • http://twitter.com/JasonRGoldberg Jason Goldberg

    Much of my praise and what I think has already been addressed in the other comments so I will just say bravo on a tremendously well-written piece.  If the rest of the leadership team at MSFT is anything like you, this could be a very successful time in their next chapter.

    Thanks for taking the time to share such truly valuable insights.

    Jason Goldberg

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      Thank you, Jason.

      As with many big companies, there is a lot of variance.   It’s a blessing and a curse.  The challenge becomes … how to share and scale the proven practices for leadership across the board. 

      The value is in the change, and the adventure is in the challenge ;)

  • Shirley Tsukano

    “Focus on “good enough for now.” This is how you get
    over “analysis-paralysis” and perfectionism.”Thanks for putting this out there… it’s often difficult to do for fear of failure at times.  The positive, as you mentioned, it that there is an opportunity for “continuous
    improvement” and that we may be (pleasantly) surprised by what we learn during the process.

    Great insights…thank you!


    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      Thank you, Shirley.

      A lot of smart people struggle with this particular one.  It’s so easy to keep raising the bar, and finding the flaws.  It’s easy to keep finding reasons to hold on longer.  It’s all too easy to focus on excellence well beyond the window of opportunity.  

      That’s the real trick … hitting more windows of opportunity, and giving yourself the chance to iterate with real feedback from applied use.

  • Shaun Maharajh

    Identify talent, teach them the skills and then empower them to get the job done and don’t forget to let them have ownership. Don’t aim for perfection and quality, aim to get it done right the first time with insane passion, and perfection and quality follow automatically.

    • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

      I’m a fan of insane passion.

      … and when tempered with skill, focus, and feedback, it’s powerful stuff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Carter/1550834432 Joel Carter

    Excellent article. Thank you 

  • http://myblog.dolphingrouponline.com Steve Vernon

    What a great post!  You’ve really laid out some great qualities of leadership.  One change I might make in the wording has to do with repeated reference to “problems”.  I remember years ago staffing an annual convention at a resort in the Phoenix area.  While taking us on a pre-convention tour of the resort, the staff representative pointed out that we would never hear any of the hotel staff use the word “problem”.  They didn’t have problems.  They had “challenges”.  Now this may seem like a minor and rather absurd issue of simple semantics, but the reality was, by seeing things as “challenges” rather than “problems”, it put a completely different perspective on things.  Think about it.

    I loved your reference to “the why” of what you’re doing.  In fact, I wrote a blog post on that very subject recently . . . “Your Big Why” . . .  talking about these very same things.

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  • Willie Jackson

    The Why has worked well for me as well. Early in my career I was managed by the 70’s management and was always told (My way or the highway). That was not a good feeling, therefore I treasured this experience because it taught me
    how not to manage people. I really enjoy explaining the Why and getting buy in from the front line staff.