Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress

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One of the favorite lessons I’ve picked up studying leadership and management from the thinking of Peter Drucker is this:

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress!

While not necessarily a direct quote from him (at least I don’t know where it is), I picked this particular lesson up from a documentary on his life. Those close with him reported that he often challenging their practice around these themes:

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress…. Are you being busy, but not productive?

This “Druckerian” insight holds a place in my office physically, and a place in my thinking frequently. In our lives and work it is easy to stay busy. In my American context, life is full, busy, and constantly in motion. If motion is the measure that matters, then things are great here!

More than Motion

But motion really is not what matters most in the flow and practice of leadership.

Organizations do not simply need leaders who look busy. Organizations do not need leaders who are simply constantly in motion. In contrast to this, organizations need leaders that help their communities make progress toward vital organizational goals. Organizations need leaders who are being productive, making progress, and are advancing what matters most to the community they serve.

These are simple questions, but ones that brings significant focus to my life and leadership.

  • Am I confusing motion with progress?”
  • Am I being busy, but not being productive?”

Our communities do not ultimately need busy executives. Our communities need leaders who are are guiding our organizations and making progress toward goals that matter. I encourage you to join me in applying this Druckerian wisdom in your day-to-day work, life, and leadership. Don’t confuse motion with progress!

Macro Change through Micro Improvements

Sunny Pebbles, Laura Thorne, Flickr

Photo Credit: Sunny Pebbles, by Laura Thorne, Flickr

I read an interesting article in The Economist recently. It is entitled Little Things that Mean A Lot, and the author argues that businesses should aim for lots of small wins that add up to something big.

New Routes to Organizational Success

The article focused primarily on the role of analyzing large pools of data in order to identify opportunities for incremental improvement. One illustration came from UPS. In America, there are some 60,000 UPS vans that drive 100 plus miles each day. If through data analysis UPS can find ways to reduce driving by 1 mile per day for each van, it is estimated that the company would save close to $50 million in fuel and related costs each year.

Although most of us are not looking for $50 million in small wins for our organizations, the new market realities in our world are calling for most organizations (for profit and nonprofit alike) to look for both big and small opportunities. Most of the “big wins” have already been identified since the beginning of the Great Recession. It is now time for organizations to up their game in finding the “small wins.”

Building a Mountain with Pebbles

One of the quotes in the article expresses the need in this manner: “It is about building a mountain with pebbles.” While most of us would simply prefer to find the mountain, the new realities of our world often translate to using a both-and approach to organizational improvements.  We need to have an explorer mindset, looking for new mountains of opportunity. We also need to have the mindset of the statistician, looking for macro opportunities within the micro dimensions of business and organizational life.

Explorers and Statisticians

How are you pursuing big-wins through small opportunities? How are you maintaining the entrepreneurial mindset of the explorer, while also seeing the details as the researcher or statistician would? This requires us to partner well with others on this journey. This requires us to build our teams with a diversity of expertise so that we can pursue growth and opportunity on both fronts.

Enjoy the journey, and keep your eyes open for macro change through micro improvements.

6 Characteristics of Organizations with Vision

mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

Photo Credit: mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

In a previous post, I highlighted the importance of Leading from the Front with Vision. Focusing on why vision matters, Burt Nanus provides a list of characteristics of organizations with and without vision. Here is a summary of these characteristics:

Organizations with Vision

Organizations without Vision

  • Opportunity-Driven
  • Focused on Change
  • Progressing toward Goals
  • Oriented Strategically
  • Focused on Long-Term Results
  • Proactive
  • Problem-Driven
  • Focused on Stability
  • Focused on Past Performance
  • Oriented Tactically
  • Focused on Short-Term Results
  • Reactive

An orientation toward change, pursuing opportunities, working toward goals, focusing strategically, paying attention to long-term interests, and being proactive tend to go along with visionary focus.

Based on these characteristics, are you embedded in an organization with or without vision? If you are leader, are you guiding your organization with vision?

Visionary Change with a Plan: Remembering the Importance of Effective Management in the Change Process

Change, SomeDriftwood, Flickr

Photo Credit: Change, SomeDriftwood, Flickr

Change agendas often fail due to good visions that lack a thoughtful plan. I observed this in some of my previous work with smaller nonprofits. In these contexts, leadership energy was devoted to generating new ideas and visions for the future but there was not sufficient managerial energy devoted to plans that would support the enactment of vision.

Doing things Right

Peter Drucker noted that management is doing things right while leadership is doing the right things. Although leadership is focused on doing the right thing and casting appropriate visions for change, it is often management that focuses on doing things right. Change initiatives that are launched but not sustained often fail due to lack of effective planning and lack of doing things the right way.

Consistent with Drucker’s observations, John Kotter highlights the central functions of leaders and managers. Leaders focus on setting direction, aligning people, and motivating people. In contrast to this, managers plan and budget, organize and staff, and control and problem solve. Successful change efforts are not focused on only one of these lists, but rather both. Successful change efforts are not focused on leadership or management, but rather effective leadership and effective management.

Change Initiation and Change Implementation

Since leadership tendencies of setting direction often initiate change agendas, it is easy for change failure to occur in the absence of management. Without leadership, change fails due to lack of initiation. Without management, change fails due to lack of implementation.

What change vision are you pursuing as a community? Are you pursuing both effective initiation and implementation? How are you pursuing the change visions with a plan?

8 Core Leadership Abilities

Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

Photo Credit: Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz identifies 8 abilities that the best leaders possess. Here is the list, along with a brief description and summary of each item on the list.

  1. Strategic Orientation: The capacity to engage in broad, complex analytical and conceptual thinking.” The new realities surrounding organizations demand that leaders have a capacity to engage in strategic thinking in the face of complexity.  Are you thinking about your organizational realities through a strategic lens?
  2. Market Insight: A strong understanding of the market and how it affects the business.” Along with increased complexity, the world is more connected to our organizations than ever before. Are you paying attention to the environment surrounding your organization and how this environment will shape the way your organization goes about its work?
  3. Results Orientation: A commitment to demonstrably improving key business metrics.” Increases in complexity and connectivity in our world translate into increased competition. This increased competition necessitates that leaders pay attention to performance for the things that matter to your community. Are you measuring what matters most to your organization?
  4. Customer Impact: A passion for serving the customer.” In-grown organizations will struggle to thrive in the changing economy. Who do you serve as an organization? Do you have a passion for providing the best possible service for these individuals and communities?
  5. Collaboration and Influence: An ability to work effectively with peers or partners, including those not in the line of command.” Leadership in today’s organizations is not simply about individuals getting individual work accomplished. Complex problems require complex solutions that are often worked out in collaboration. Do you possess a collaborative orientation?
  6. Organizational Development: A drive to improve the company by attracting and developing top talent.” Finding, recruiting, and retaining top talent is a substantial need in the coming years. Factors such as globalization and demographic shifts are making this need more pronounced. How are you leading your organization in a path of intentional leadership development?
  7. Team Leadership: Success in focusing, aligning, and building effective groups.” As noted above related to collaboration, it is no longer about individuals accomplishing individual outcomes. Organizations today require effective groups or teams working together to accomplish increasingly complex outcomes. Are you developing your capacity as a team player?
  8. Change Leadership: The capacity to transform and align an organization around a new goal.” Our changing world translates into dynamic and changing organizations. How are you developing your change leadership capacity? As a community this will be essential as you lean into these organizational and environment transitions?

As the world around us changes, a capacity to adapt to new environments is critical. As you consider these 8 Core Leadership Abilities, what are your strengths? What are your growth edges? Are you committed both to developing yourself and those around you to meet the demands of leadership today?