Category Archives: Organization Leadership

Are You a Bully Boss?


Bullying is a popular concern these days, with new laws being passed and the establishment of a federal government website,  The effort to stop bullying should be especially important for business owners.  Consider the time and money that is spent carefully selecting new staff, training them and having them develop relationships with clients only to have the employees leave because of being bullied by their boss.

Bullying is not new and we all knew who the bullies were when we were young.  So, where did all those bullies go when they grew up?  Many of them became our bosses.  Most bully bosses don’t recognize themselves as such.  They think that they have to act the way they do because “that is the only way to get the job done.”  Are you one of those bully bosses?

The horror stories of bully bosses could fill volumes because this type of management style is so prevalent.  A bully boss leads by force, criticism, micromanaging and threats.  They control the income of those who work for them and so they rarely temper themselves.  They do whatever they want to get what they want – usually within the bounds of legality – but not always.

If you are a boss and want to make sure that you are not limiting your success and the success of your organization, consider the following questions:

Do I…

  1. See my employees hang their heads when I ask for input?
  2. Notice that my employees are anxious when I enter the room?
  3. Find that employees avoid me or act guarded around me?
  4. See fear or apprehension in the faces of my employees when I speak to them?
  5. Glare at employees or avoid contact so they know that I am their boss and not their friend?
  6. Lose my temper and use profanity frequently?
  7. Get upset when employees ask questions?
  8. Get offended if employees don’t think my ideas are the best?
  9. Withhold praise so that my employees don’t ask for something in return?
  10. Yell at employees in front of their peers so everyone knows that I am in control?
  11. Create a work environment that emphasizes the assignments I give the employees above everything else in their lives?
  12. Withhold information because employees don’t need to know why they are doing what I ask?
  13. Allow contention in my workforce to sort out the weakest employees?
  14. Avoid training costs if I am getting what I need now?
  15. Micromanage because my employees are too dumb to figure it out on their own?
  16. Take credit for successes but blame others for failures?
  17. Manipulate or coerce my employees because it is more efficient than trying to persuade them?
  18. Avoid helping employees since “no good deed goes unpunished?”
  19. Listen to others in order to exploit the weaknesses of their comments and form a scathing retort?
  20. Bend the truth to make it appear that others’ performance is sub-par?

If any of these apply to you, stop it!  If many of these apply to you, you might be more financially successful than your employees but you are incompetent at being a true leader – you are a bully boss.  You must reevaluate your management style and become a more persuasive leader or you and your business will continue to pay a heavy financial and emotional price.

A version of this article was published by Accounting Today here.

Lead Like A President

mount-rushmore-55477_640Leadership is essential in every type of organization; be it a business, a club, athletic team, government entity, church, non-profit, and even a family.  The most public leader in the United States is the President of the United States (POTUS).

Whenever there is a group of people or a team working together to achieve an objective, there must be a leader.  Without leadership, the team will stop working together and the objective will not be achieved.

Most leaders are moderately successful or they don’t last very long.  If the organization achieves exceptional success, the leader must be exceptional.  The exceptional leader will use best practices, but best practices are not as important as the attributes of the leader.  Leadership will only be effective if the leader has these four essential attributes to lead like a president:

  1. Persuasive
  2. Passionate
  3. Process Oriented
  4. Principled

Most organizations have a President or a leader with a different name that performs the same function.  The principles of leading like a president apply to all leaders from the CEO of Microsoft to the shift manager at Walmart. 


The persuasive leader is one who shows by his/her actions, attitude and speech that the fellow-citizens (employees, teammates, club members, etc.) are people and not objects to be exploited nor ignored.  Fellow-citizens are treated as the most valuable resource of the organization.

It might be said that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the most persuasive of the presidents.  After all, he served 12 years in office, more than any other POTUS.  These are the words he used to persuade fellow-citizens to follow him.

“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

The same concept was expressed by Thomas Jefferson in these words, “That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.”

Both presidents assured their fellow-citizens that everyone was important for the country (organization) to be successful.  This is a very persuasive and motivating leadership concept.

Ronald Reagan was called “The Great Persuader” because of his ability to communicate his plans in a way that everyone could understand and a majority could support.  He was very specific as to how to make persuasive leadership work in his organization, the government.

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”

The basic premise of persuasive leadership is that all opinions are heard, fully vetted and a satisfactory consensus is achieved, therefore micromanaging is unnecessary.  There is a more common style of leadership which is known as autocratic or compulsory, which is more like bullying.

It is much more difficult to be a persuasive leader.  It requires a constant effort to regard everyone as a person who is worthy of consideration.  It requires treating others as we would like to be treated.  It requires self-control and overcoming pride.  It is difficult, but the organizations of persuasive leaders are much more successful because everyone works harder for someone who persuades rather than compels.


Most people seem to have a basic need to be committed to something, a sports team, a political party, salsa dancing, the Food Network, etc.  The exceptional leader of an organization will be passionate about the goals of that organization.  In addition, they will spend a good share of their time helping others in the organization to be as passionate as they are.

Our nation began with a leader who was passionate about freedom, liberty and justice.  George Washington said, “The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.”  He knew that the Constitution was the map to maintaining those principles for which that he had fought and for which many other Americans had died.  Notice, he said, “Never.”

No one could doubt the passion of “Give ‘em hell, Harry” Truman.  He was passionate about motivating his fellow-citizens to do better.  He said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

The passionate leader will always lead with enthusiasm.  “Rough Rider” Theodore Roosevelt loved serving as the POTUS and he expressed it this way, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Passion, when properly focused and controlled, is a very powerful thing.  It is how teams, armies, corporations, etc. win the most important battles.  An exceptional organization must have a passionate leader that inspires everyone to do his/her best so that the organization will achieve its potential.

Process Oriented

The process in any organization refers to how the work of the organization is accomplished.  It includes those who work in the organization plus key suppliers, partners, contractors and collaborators.  Processes also include the methods to improve those same work processes to achieve better performance, reduce variability and improve products or services.

An exceptional leader will understand how things get done in the organization.  W. Edwards Deming, often known as the “Father of Quality Improvement” said, “It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.”  In other words, a passionate and persuasive leader who does not understand the processes of the organization cannot effectively lead the organization because he/she does not know what the organization is capable of doing.

Government is more complicated than most organizations but there are some basic processes that effective POTUS have understood.  Our second president, John Adams, wrote, “The essence of a free government consists in an effectual control of rivalries.”  Things have not changed much since 1796.

The founding fathers feared the over-reaching processes of most governments, reminiscent of the one from which they had recently gained independence.  Thomas Jefferson cautioned, “If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy.”

Finally, in more modern times, John F. Kennedy reminded us of the key process to keep government working in behalf of the country.  “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

If any organization, including government, is going to be successful, the exceptional leader will understand the processes of the organization and will work within those processes.  The leader will also simultaneously work for process improvement.  This requires competency at the job and cooperation with others who are involved in the process.  Otherwise, failure is certain.


A principled leader has a personal code of conduct with integrity at its core.  Integrity can be defined as a firm adherence to a code of moral values; incorruptible.  It is the stuff of which great men and women are made.  It is absolutely essential for an exceptional leader.

John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  If that is true and the President is the defender of the Constitution, he/she must also be a moral person.

We have had our share of men who were not moral persons.  In modern history, the two presidential examples that are the most obvious are Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.  Both committed immoral acts while in office and lied to the American people.

Harry Truman puts it a little more passionately, “Richard Nixon is a no good, lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he’d lie just to keep his hand in.”

Bill Clinton is no better but political correctness does not allow anyone in authority to say it the way that Harry did.  Some excuse Clinton’s behavior, but being unprincipled is the death of true leadership and brings shame upon the organization.

When a leader compromises his integrity or diverts her moral compass, the problem has a ripple effect in the organization.  In addition to the potential problems created for the organization by the leader himself, there are two typical responses from others in the organization.  Those with integrity will begin to look for a way out because they have lost trust in their leader.  The less honest people are likely to follow the actions modeled by their leader. Dishonesty, lack of trust and turnover combine to do tremendous damage to the organization.

Dwight D. Eisenhower summarizes the importance of being a principled leader. “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity.  Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

The Four Ps

In summary, it is apparent that few leaders exhibit the qualities of being persuasive, passionate, process oriented and principled; even those who seem to be successful in their respective organizations.  We talk of a “glass ceiling” for women because of external forces that keep them from advancing.  The glass ceiling for those who do not exhibit these four qualities is self-imposed and it applies to all leaders and not just the POTUS.

Every leader can have a measure of success but they have damned themselves to a lesser success than they otherwise would have achieved.  For example, a leader who compels, rather than persuades, will be successful only as long as he/she doesn’t need to rely on others to manage.  Since this type of leader will not tolerate anyone questioning him/her, the best and brightest employees leave for a better working environment.  These organizations are plagued with perpetual turnover at the managerial level.

A leader who is not passionate fails to inspire others to do their best work and the entire organization becomes a tedious place to work with little potential.  When the leader is not process oriented, the organizational growth and prosperity will be severely limited because the leader lacks the requisite knowledge for improvement and the competition will overcome the organization.  Finally, an unprincipled leader will succumb to their weaknesses, lose the respect of others and cause havoc in the organization because, as Eisenhower said, “no real success is possible.”

The four Ps of leading like a president are essential in any organization. The exceptional leader will exhibit all four of the prerequisite attributes:

  1. Persuasive
  2. Passionate
  3. Process Oriented
  4. Principled

Now, lead like a president and reap the rewards of exceptional leadership.




“When you’re looking for an excuse, any one will do.” —— Roger C. Allred

Copy of SUB90This statement has universal application.  As your legal counsel will tell you, “Anyone can sue anyone else, any time for anything.”  That does not mean that the lawsuit is justified nor that it will end well for the person doing the suing, but it is a fact.

The same principle applies to leadership.  It could be said, “Anyone can justify anything at any time.”  This type of self-justification can destroy an organization if the leader is prone to making excuses.  As Mitt Romney said, “Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses.”

A leader can talk the talk of leadership, but if the leader doesn’t walk the talk no one will follow.  Psychologists also explain that leaders experience “cognitive dissonance” if there is inconsistency in what they say versus what they do.  Cognitive dissonance describes the anxiety that one feels when there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors.

No one likes the feeling of being anxious, so something must be done to eliminate or reduce the dissonance.  The failing leader can chose to do one of three things:

  1. Walk the talk of leadership.  This is, by far, the most difficult answer because it requires a change of attitude and performance.  However, it is the only choice for someone who wants to be a successful persuasive leader. 
  2. Stop faking leadership and say what he/she really thinks.  This is an honest but dangerous approach.  All of the leader’s cards are on the table and employees will have to decide if they are willing to work for a tyrant or a crook or an incompetent or a narcissist, etc.
  3. Make excuses – because any one will do.

The following are examples of leadership failures where the cognitive dissonance is temporarily relieved by an excuse.   

  1. I know that we should obey the rules but I am under incredible pressure to get this problem solved in any way we can.
  2. I know that most leaders praise their employees for a job well done, but I shouldn’t need to praise people for doing their jobs.
  3. I know that we need to work as a cohesive team but my employees are dumber than a box of rocks.
  4. I know that members of my staff are having serious disagreements but my employees work better when I let them fight it out.
  5. I know that my goal should be to create a positive work environment but I have to micromanage to get what I want.
  6. I know that I should train my employees and encourage learning but that’s not the way that I learned the business.
  7. I know that I should help members of my team to succeed but if they get too much credit, I might look bad.
  8. I know that I should reward my employees fairly but I am sure that would come back to bite me since “no good deed goes unpunished.”
  9. I know that I need to create a safe workplace but these goals and policies were developed by someone who doesn’t have to implement them.
  10. I know that it is more effective to discipline my employees in private and give them suggestions on how to improve but if I yell at them in front of their peers, everyone will know that I am in control.

These ten examples are just a beginning of the excuses that people in positions of leadership make.  Everyone is prone to make excuses for poor performance, but the successful leader will diligently work to eliminate excuses and show true leadership.

The “Four Way Test” established by Rotary International is an excellent way to question the virtue of our choices.  It will help to determine if our choice is a valid reason or an excuse.  The Four Way Test is this:

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

“When you’re looking for an excuse, any one will do.”  Great leaders are those who stop looking.

MBWA – ing

linked-152575_640Management By Wandering Around (MBWA) is a style of business management practiced by Hewlett-Packard since the 1970’s and popularized by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their book, In Search of Excellence, Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies.  The premise is that managers wander through the workplace, in an unstructured manner, observing operations and engaging employees.

Some leaders have substituted “walking around” for “wandering around” because it sounds more businesslike.  The problem with too much structure is that it eliminates the benefit of casually engaging employees, which are the most important assets of the company.  Making sure that they are content is much more important than checking off tasks in a schedule.   

MBWA also provides an opportunity for nurturing employees and improving productivity, as well as capturing new ideas from the front-line employees.  It is the best way to find the problems that exist in the organization.  Some leaders seem to want to scurry back to their computers to find the latest data, while Persuasive Leaders know that employees can provide the most valuable information.

As the “King of Quality,” W. Edwards Deming, said, “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.”

I developed the following list when I was working with a company to change its reputation of having a toxic working environment.  As company leaders engaged in these practices, their employees responded very favorably.  Those leaders who did not participate had the same problems as always.

Ten Best Practices of Management By Wandering Around

  1. Make MBWA part of your normal routine
  2. Relax, smile and greet people warmly
  3. Share company goals, philosophy, values, and vision
  4. Listen and observe more than you talk
  5. Ask for feedback and ideas
  6. Answer questions openly and honestly
  7. Wander around the entire organization   
  8. Use the time for spontaneous recognition
  9. Don’t bring an entourage   
  10. Don’t use this time to judge or critique

I share the following benefits of MBWA from my personal experience.

  • Trust – As your staff gets to know you as a person and not just their boss, they’ll trust you more. Then, information flows to you more uncensored and timely.
  • Business knowledge – Getting out and learning what’s happening on a regular basis will help you better understand how the company truly functions. You will not be blindsided very often.
  • Accountability – Everyone is more motivated to perform well because they see their bosses on a regular basis and they get a better sense of how important they and their job are to the organization.
  • Morale – People feel better about their jobs and their organization when they feel nurtured, and turnover will decrease.
  • Productivity – Great ideas often come from casual exchanges. Happy employees are productive employees.

In summary, MBWA is a tool that will help you be a more Persuasive Leader.  True leadership, effective leadership comes from the heart.  You can’t do that in your office behind closed doors.  You have to get up, get out and connect with people.

Delegation – An Essential Leadership Skill

man-158378_640During my 35 year professional career as a CPA, an auditor, a CFO, a CEO and a COO, I have worked with many, many leaders of organizations.  These organizations range from a one man mechanic’s shop to a local Rotary Club, and to a Fortune 300 oil company.

The ability to delegate is single most essential leadership skill for organizational growth.  Even the most brilliant entrepreneur can only grow his/her business if there is someone else who can take some of the workload.  A good example is a dentist.  If the dentist works alone, the only billable hours are those the dentist works.  If the dentist is sick or takes a vacation, there are no billable hours – no revenue – no cash coming into the business.

In order to grow, the dentist would hire an assistant, then a receptionist, and then a contract hygienist and another assistant.  The dentist would delegate necessary activities to the employees that do not require a dental license.  Once the dentist has more patients than can he/she can treat, the dentist hires an associate.  Then, the dentist’s practice expands to an additional office on the other side of town, and so forth. 

This same principal applies to all businesses and organizations.  Since the ability to grow is limited by the ability to delegate work, mastering the following principles of delegation is critical for every exceptional leader.

This is an acrostic that I wrote in a book I co-authored with my brother, Russ Allred, called The Family Business – Power Tools for Survival, Success & Succession (Berkley Books, New York 1997). 

Determine who should do the job

You have to really know your team and have the ability to hire and retain those who are qualified to do a job that is worthy of your business.

Express confidence in their ability

Since you chose the person to do the job, tell them why you are confident that they will do a good job.  A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.

Let them know what you expect

Exceptional leaders do not throw their employees into deep water and expect them to learn how to swim.  Exceptional leaders explain the purpose of the project, offer all the information they will need and answer their questions.

Establish a negotiated deadline

It is unreasonable to assign a deadline without getting input from the person doing the job.  Dictating an unrealistic deadline is a sure way to achieve failure.

Get a commitment to the job and the deadline

This step allows everyone to confirm what needs to be done and when it needs to be finished.  Commitment produces miracles.

Allow them to use their imagination and initiative

When you chose who was going to do the job, you decided that they were qualified.  So, get out of their way and let them impress you with what they can do.  It might not be the same as you would do it because it might be better.

Train them by following up, not taking over

Follow-up and communication is essential to every delegated duty.  Mid-course corrections often need to be made.  Collaboration will help you and your employees find a better solution.  If your part is to nit-pick, complain and take-over, it is you that is the limiting factor in your business.

Express appreciation for actual results

Hollow compliments, because they sound good and make you seem like a nice person, are detrimental to an organization and to your credibility.  On the other hand, a genuine compliment that includes details as to why you are complimenting, is one of the most motivating things you can do for your organization and each individual employee.

If you use these principles of delegation, my experience shows, you will be a better and more persuasive leader and those whom you lead will be more satisfied and produce results beyond your expectations.

A version of this article was published by Accounting Today here.

The 10 Best Practices of Strategic Planning

connect-316638_640There are hundreds of approaches to strategic planning.  These range from the auto mechanic who ponders how he is going to buy more sophisticated diagnostic equipment to a Fortune 500 consumer goods company that pays McKinsey & Company hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a plan that will allow them to outperform their competitors.  For most companies, the first approach is too little and the latter approach is way too much.

As I explained in Strategic Planning is NOT Dead,” a strategic plan is indispensable for companies that want to:

a.    Improve the bottom line

b.    Give employees a focus and purpose

c.    Tap into the creative ideas of management

d.    Create a methodology to achieve performance excellence

I have used a strategic planning tool with my clients that has consistently achieved those goals when management follows through.  However, there are many very good approaches to create a successful strategic plan.  I share the following 10 Best Practices of Strategic Planning that should be in every approach.

  1.  Advance preparation – I give my clients a Balanced Approach questionnaire that reminds management of potential areas of improvement regarding:
    • The Mind – Education and Training
    • The Market – Customer Needs
    • The Machine- Internal Processes
    • The Money – All Things Financial 
  2. Open-minded CEO/President – A persuasive leader, that values his/her employees and their input, is necessary to make the process work. 
  3. Engaged team – A core group of dedicated managers is key to maximizing the benefit of the strategic plan. A team that is prepared to share ideas will always create a more beneficial plan than a team that is reticent to share. 
  4. Facilitator – The planning process is typically more effective if there is an outside facilitator to lead the process, step-by-step. A facilitator is usually better able to get all managers to share their ideas since they will be less likely to think that they are going to offend the boss.
  5. Off-site location – A planning session held in a comfortable place outside of the office helps managers to disengage from their day-to-day battles and to think strategically. 
  6. SWOT – An analysis of the organization’s Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) allows managers to freely discuss the things that concern them or the improvements that they have been pondering. There are many ways to do this evaluation but they should include the essence of the four SWOT elements. 
  7. Share Financial Information – Managers must understand the numbers of a company to develop strategy, including number of units sold or produced, gross sales, net income, etc. 
  8. Brainstorm – Encourage all ideas without verbal criticism or reward. It is like mining for gold.  Hundreds of tons of dirt must be mined to extract the valuable nuggets.  Narrow the strategic choices to a manageable few after they have all been evaluated.
  9. Make assignments – For each task in the strategic plan, the team will agree who will do it, what they will do, and when it will be done. These assignments are captured in writing and distributed to all team members. 
  10. Quarterly follow up – Nothing prompts action as much as knowing that your team will hold you accountable for the things you said you would do. Quarterly follow-up meetings are the best motivator to ensure that the strategic plan doesn’t just collect dust.

My final thought on strategic planning is to share a quotation from Thomas A. Edison, “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”

Strategic Planning is NOT Dead

jigsaw-313585_640Despite articles recently published in the Harvard Business Review, strategic planning is not dead.  Roger L. Martin wrote in his article, The Big Lie of Strategic Planning (Jan-Feb 2014 issue), “This is a truly terrible way to make strategy. It may be an excellent way to cope with fear of the unknown, but fear and discomfort are an essential part of strategy making.”

Based on my experience with many different clients, Mr. Martin couldn’t be more wrong.  But, he is not alone in his attempt to discredit strategic planning.  There are four reasons that business leaders tell me why they “don’t bother” with strategic planning.

1.  It detracts from innovative and truly strategic thinking (Roger Martin’s argument).

The word strategic comes from a 6th century B.C. Greek root meaning “generalship.”  It also means, “Of great importance within an integrated whole or to a planned effect.”  A plan is, “A detailed program of action.”  Therefore, a strategic plan, done correctly, is simply a detailed plan of action to accomplish the mission and vision of a company as established by its leaders.  It is a logical way to avoid unnecessary fear and discomfort, which are not conducive to strategic thinking.  Flying by the seat of your pants is not an innovative strategy.  If you are prepared, you will not fear. 

One of my clients told me recently after completing a strategic plan, “I had all these ideas rolling around in my head.  Now, I know and all my managers know where we are going and how we are going to get there.”

The innovative thinking was done collaboratively.  The strategy was established and unanimously ratified.  Now, unexpected problems and opportunities will be dealt with in a systematic manner, without panic.

2. Strategic planning is only for big companies.

This is like saying that you only need building plans when you are building a mansion.  No contractor in his right mind would agree to that.

Strategic planning is a tool and all companies need the best tools, used properly, in order to be as successful as they can be.  Any company that has at least two tiers of management needs to create a strategic plan so everyone knows how to build the company.

I have personally been involved with strategic plans for small to mid-size companies.  Without exception, the results of the planning process have made these companies much more successful.  Literally, millions of dollars have been made by following a properly structured strategic planning process.

We followed this process at a power plant where I was the CEO.   The power plant used coal as a fuel and the State of California had pledged to put us out of business because of green house gases.  The scrap value of the assets was about $1 million and the cost of site remediation was about $1 million – net ZERO dollars.  Our strategic plan converted the power plant fuel source to biomass and the plant sold for over $50 million.

3. It costs a lot of money and then just sits in a bookcase, collecting dust.

True, if it is not done correctly.  If strategic planning is done correctly, it will cost a fraction of the improvement in net income.  It will only collect dust if management does not have a vested interest in making it work.

I worked with a CEO who told his management team that strategic planning was a waste of time.  In his case, it would have been a waste of time.  He was brilliant but he treated his “managers” as minions.  A strategic plan only makes sense when management functions as a collaborative team.

One of my clients asked how many of my strategic planning sessions end in big arguments.  The answer is that there is a lot of healthy disagreement and conflicting opinions, but in the end, everyone comes to a consensus that they can support.  There is a mutual respect among people who work together to accomplish a difficult objective.  Businesses that have self-absorbed bosses don’t do strategic planning.

4. Strategic planning doesn’t work

In 1987, Congress created the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program to help organizations improve their performance and succeed in the competitive global marketplace.  Strategic Planning is one of the six essential categories for performance excellence.  The organization that was created to recognize performance excellence not only thinks strategic planning works, they insist that strategic planning be part of any excellent organization.

I am a Certified Examiner for the state-based Baldrige program for California called CAPE.  As such, I was privileged to do a site visit of a major health care organization.   Their strategic plan made them the best in their region.  They had happy employees, satisfied customers and they made a lot of money.  Strategic planning worked for them, and it will work for you.

In summary, there are a few reasons that you might choose not to do strategic planning:

a. You make more than enough money.

b. Your employees don’t need any focus or purpose.

c. Your managers never have any good ideas.

d. Flying by the seat of your pants is your style.

If none of those reasons apply, then get started today on a better tomorrow with strategic planning.

The Anatomy of a Leader

human-body-leonard-da-vinciThere are currently over 150,000 different books on leadership listed on, each supposedly, with a unique message.  My desire is to capture the essence of leadership in this short article from what I have studied and observed in my 35 years of leadership experience.

The method I have chosen is to describe the essential attributes of leadership – the anatomy of a leader.  The body has twelve unique systems necessary to keep it alive including the muscular, endocrine and respiratory systems, among others.  In order to keep this simple, I will focus on the following four essential systems and corresponding attributes in the anatomy of a leader:

  1. Nervous system or Intelligence
  2. Skeletal system or Systems Thinker
  3. Digestive system or Business Acumen
  4. Cardiovascular system or Inspiration

Each of the body systems must function well in order to sustain life.  Likewise an effective leader must possess each of the qualities mentioned if he/she is to be effective in keeping the organization alive.  Leaders who have only developed some of the systems will fail.  They might not get fired but their success will be dramatically diminished, their employees will suffer and the organization will be less successful.

The man who was known as “The Wizard of Westwood” is a good example of someone who had the anatomy of a leader.  Coach John Wooden had the intelligence and a coaching system that produced 10 NCAA basketball championships.  He must have had business acumen because he was able to keep the basketball arena at UCLA filled with paying fans from 1948 to 1975.  He inspired many great basketball players including Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with sayings such as, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”  

The following four systems must be in your leadership anatomy if you want to be like Coach John Wooden or any other successful leader.

1. Nervous system – Intelligence

The nervous system has three general functions: a sensory function, an interpretative function and a motor function.  Sensory nerves gather information from inside and outside of the body. The nerves then carry the information to central nervous system (CNS) where it is processed and interpreted in the brain.  Motor nerves transmit the information from the CNS to the muscles and the glands of the body.

The ability to gather, analyze and act on data is absolutely essential for a leader.  This does not require a high IQ or a college degree.  Even the leader of a team of ditch diggers must be able to tap into his nervous system (Intelligence) in order to effectively lead ditch diggers.  Many very successful leaders are not the most intelligent people in the organization, but they are able to use their intelligence to produce a result that is satisfactory to their customers and beneficial to their organization.

I worked with a wonderful lady who climbed the ladder from a direct care staff position to management in a healthcare organization dominated by people who have advanced degrees.  She capably supervises several hundred people now, without having a college degree.  She used her ability to analyze the patients’ needs and then organize others to meet those needs.

She saw that her employees needed more training, so she developed a sophisticated formal training program.  She saw that it was difficult to recruit employees for this difficult job, so she established a mutually beneficial relationship with trade schools.  She saw an unreasonably high turnover rate, so she worked with management to increase the pay and social standing of her employees within the company.  She is an example of someone who has the nervous system of a leader.  

2. Skeletal system – Systems Thinker

The skeletal system gives the body its basic framework, providing structure, protection, and movement. The 206 bones in the body also produce blood cells, store important minerals, and release hormones necessary to life.

Every organization must have a structure – the way that things get done. Even the kid who is selling hot dogs at the county fair has a process for providing that hot dog.  A leader is the person in the organization that understands how the product or service is delivered.  He/she is also the one who is constantly improving the system and helping others to see how they fit in the structure.

The way that things get done is usually called processes or systems.  For example, the kid selling hot dogs is not just handing you food and taking your money.  There is so much more.  He has to have processes or systems to buy the hot dogs, buns and everything else.  Transport them to the cooking location.  Cook them so they taste good and comply with state health regulations.  Prepare the dog so it is ready to eat when you want it.  Take your grimy money and not contaminate your food, etc, etc, etc.

Every organization has processes and systems, some better than others.  As the guru of quality, Edward Deming said, “Put a good person in a bad system and the bad system wins, no contest.”  A leader must be a systems thinker who can see the flaws in the system and work to eliminate them so they don’t defeat the good employees.

I am a Certified Examiner for the California Award for Performance Excellence (CAPE).  As such, I was privileged to do a site assessment on a very large health care system in California.  I was able to see how this organization had created a structure that was understandable and functional.  Patients and employees alike appreciated the highly functional processes and systems.  The leaders in that organization are systems thinkers and they created a strong skeletal system.

3. Digestive system – Business Acumen

The digestive system is uniquely constructed to perform its specialized function of turning food into the energy you need to survive and packaging the residue for waste disposal.

The food for every organization is money, including non-profit organizations.  Without money, the organization dies very quickly.   Business acumen is the ability to turn enough money into energy with as little waste as possible.  Leaders must understand that no matter how dedicated the organization is to altruism or creativity, revenue must always exceed expenditures.

Business acumen is the litmus test for leaders in any organization.  If the money is not available when payroll is due, the business closes its doors.  Being a CPA myself, I have rubbed shoulders with hundreds of leaders with business acumen.  The biggest problem for many of the leaders with business acumen is that they focus too much on cost cutting (waste) and too little on revenue enhancement (energy).  Some are so miserly that they routinely miss opportunities for business growth.  Still, the digestive system of these leaders is functional.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be a bean-counter to have business acumen.  A leader knows when his/her business acumen needs to be supplemented.  A wise leader will find those who have been specifically trained in business to ferret out the financial facts.  The digestive system of the leader can be optimized by consulting with qualified accounting professionals, such as your CPA, your CFO or your controller.

4. Cardiovascular system – Inspiration

The purpose of the cardiovascular system is to transport oxygen to all of the tissues in the body and remove waste products. The system itself consists of blood, blood vessels and, of course, the heart.

As a heart transplant recipient, I have an affinity for things of the heart.  A leader’s ability to transport needed direction and motivation to the workforce, just as the cardiovascular system transports essential oxygen to all the body tissues, is the most important and least celebrated attribute of a leader.  Leaders nourish the workforce.  I know firsthand the debilitating effect of not getting enough oxygen.  A good leader will not deny his/her employees the nourishment they need to be most productive.

Maya Angelou shared this gem of wisdom, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  When employees know that the boss values them as people, businesses flourish.

I am grateful for the inspirational leaders for whom I have worked.  Most bosses do not fit into the category of inspirational, even if they have the other three essential attributes.

The boss that inspired me the most made it clear from the beginning that we were a team.  He was the CEO and I was his CFO in an industry that was unfamiliar to me.  He consulted with me on all significant issues and he valued my opinion.  We didn’t always agree but there was never a conflict because of mutual respect.  When he left the organization five years later, I was able to take over as the CEO because he had prepared me so well.  I will always be grateful for his inspirational leadership. He is a Persuasive Leader with a well-developed cardiovascular system. 

In summary, the essence of leadership is that leadership requires multiple interdependent systems, just as does the human body.  The anatomy of a leader includes these four essential systems.

  1. Intelligence to correctly gather, analyze and act on data.
  2. A systems thinker who understands the business system well enough to see the strengths and weaknesses of the system and then works to refine them.
  3. The business acumen – the ability to turn money into energy with as little waste as possible – so the organization can prosper. Or the wisdom to tap into others who have that acumen.
  4. Inspiration to provide needed direction and motivation to the workforce in a way that makes them feel valued.

Those who have the anatomy of leader provide life to the organizations they lead just as the systems of the human body provide life to us as individuals.



The Persuasive Leader – A Summary

conflict-405744_640After reading each of the articles for the Ten Best Practices of Exceptional Leaders, you might summarize the lessons for employees as follows, “Don’t be snarky, stupid or a slacker.”  For managers, the summary might be, “Don’t be a self-absorbed jerk.”

Actually, the true message of the Ten Best Practices of Exceptional Leaders is not one of negativity.  It is, “Do your job in a way that helps everyone else do their job.  Be kind and be positive.  Be a persuasive leader.”

In his book, Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman, PhD, describes six different styles of leadership – Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting and Commanding.  He proposes that the most effective leaders easily move among these styles, adopting the one that meets the needs of the moment. 

Goleman’s international bestseller Emotional Intelligence teaches that emotional intelligence—how we handle ourselves and our relationships—matters more than IQ or technical skill.  In fact, all of Dr. Goleman’s writings advocate the use of interpersonal feelings and emotions to increase leadership effectiveness.

His findings corroborate the Ten Best Practices of Exceptional Leaders.  Leadership is all about connecting with the people you lead.  Goleman’s six styles of leadership are more about leadership skills than styles.  There are essentially only two leadership styles – 1. Compulsory and 2. Persuasive.

The Compulsory Leader

The Compulsory Leader leads by force, criticism, micromanaging and threats.  He/she also leads with emotion but his/her emotional leadership is best expressed by Niccolo Machiavelli, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”

This leadership style is also known as authoritarian or autocratic, but the term compulsory is more indicative of how this leadership style is performed – by compulsion.  The compulsory style is only effective in emergency situations and only for short periods of time.

Compulsory leaders can be successful if they are very talented or intelligent and no one else in the organization is inclined to challenge their decisions.  The problem is that compulsory leaders are never as successful as they could be or for as long as they should be, and they are prone to catastrophic mistakes because there is no one to temper them.

Compulsory leaders are most likely to use these practices:

10 Practices of Compulsory Leaders

  1. Do whatever gets the desired result
  2. Be forceful
  3. Let people know that making you happy is their number one job.
  4. Allow contention in your workforce to sort out the weakest employees
  5. Create a work environment that emphasizes work above all else
  6. Train just enough to get the job done
  7. Get all you can out of your employees at the lowest possible cost
  8. Focus on cutting costs rather than increasing revenue
  9. Create a workplace that is safe enough not to get penalized
  10. Discipline often and in the most public way to show who is in control

There are compulsory leaders that use less compulsion but still maintain absolute control. They see themselves as benevolent monarchs.  These compulsory leaders treat people more kindly but do not solicit nor heed the counsel of others.  They create a less toxic but equally stifling work environment. 

The Persuasive Leader

The Persuasive Leader is one who shows by his/her actions, attitude and speech that the employees are people and not objects to be exploited nor ignored.  Employees are treated as the most valuable resource of the company. 

This leadership style also includes participative, collaborative, delegative and Laissez-faire styles.  The term persuasive is more indicative of how this leadership style is performed – by persuading other team members and allowing other team members to persuade the leader. The participative, collaborative, delegative and Laissez-faire styles are all slightly different but persuasion is at the root of all of them since there is always more than one person that needs to agree on the final solution.

The basic premise of persuasive leadership is that all opinions are heard, fully vetted and a decision is made that is satisfactory to all or most participants.

The Persuasive Leader uses these practices:

10 Best Practices of Exceptional Leaders

  1. Do what is right
  2. Be positive
  3. Keep your ego in check
  4. Eliminate contention in your workforce
  5. Promote a fertile work environment
  6. Train employees and encourage learning
  7. Nurture your employees
  8. Reward your employees fairly
  9. Create a safe and pleasant workplace
  10. Discipline with clarity and compassion

Most organizations have both types of leaders.  The compulsory style is the easiest and the one that most people naturally tend towards.  It strokes our pride and ego.  The organizations that have the most compulsory leaders in the executive suite are those that are the most toxic.

It is much more difficult to be a Persuasive Leader.  It requires a constant effort to regard everyone as a person who is worthy of consideration.  It requires treating others as we would like to be treated.  It requires self-control and overcoming pride.  It is difficult, but the results are worth it.

Consider how different it feels to be the employee of a persuasive boss as opposed to a compulsory boss.  Now use that feeling to commit to Persuasive Leadership.

A version of this article, specifically targeting CPAs, was published by Accounting Today here.

X. Discipline with Clarity and Compassion

moraleJust because you can fire someone with a smile on your face and without raising your voice, doesn’t mean that you know how to properly discipline your workforce.  “The Wizard of Westwood” said, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”  Those are words one of the best coaches of all time, John Wooden.  John Wooden won 10 NCAA national championships and is the former UCLA faculty member that I admire most, and I don’t even enjoy watching basketball.  

Discipline is a requirement for success in every business.  The definitions of discipline include both “punishment” and “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”  The latter of the two definitions is the one that seems to most accurately reflect what a good coach does in order to create a winning team.  A good coach in both business and athletics is focused on improving the team member in order to contribute to the success of the organization in a manner that inspires, rather than punishes, the team member.

Some would call Sir Alex Ferguson the greatest coach in history.  Before retiring in May 2013, Ferguson spent 26 seasons as the manager of Manchester United, the English soccer club that ranks among the most successful and valuable franchises in sports. During that time, the club won 13 English league titles and 25 other domestic and international trophies—giving him a success rate nearly double that of the next-most-successful English soccer club manager.  

In 2012, Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Anita Elberse examined Ferguson’s management approach and developed an HBS case study around it.  These are the key philosophies that Elberse documented.  (The quoted comments are those of Sir Alex Ferguson.)   

  1. Start with the foundation – You must build a team from the ground up with competent team members, and foster a sense of family among them.
  2. Dare to rebuild your team – Always look to the future, which includes cutting players that are not contributing to the benefit of the organization.
  3. Set high standards and hold everyone to them – Inspire team members to do better and to never give up.  It’s all about quality, hard work and focus.
  4. Never, ever cede control – Respond forcefully and quickly to problems.  Never allow anyone to undermine the team’s performance, instead, let them go, even if they are a super-star.
  5. Match the message to the moment – “You can’t always come in shouting and screaming.  That doesn’t work.”  “No one likes to be criticized.  Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead.”
  6. Prepare to win – “Don’t panic.  Just concentrate on getting the job done.”
  7. Rely on the power of observation – “I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing.  The ability to see things is key – or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.”
  8. Never stop adapting – “I believe that you control change by accepting it.  That also means having confidence in the people you hire.  If you micromanage and tell people what to do, there is no point in hiring them.  The most important thing is to not stagnate.”

There are times when “cutting players that are not contributing to the benefit of the organization” is necessary.  Terminating an employee is difficult for the one being terminated, and often for the employer.  Company policies and employment law must be followed, but it must be done humanely. 

The most important concept to remember is that termination is not the final judgment of the employee as a person or a worker.  It must be viewed as time for the employee to find a different job where he or she is better suited.  Compassion on the part of the manager is always appropriate.  Avoid “horriblizing” the terminated employee by blaming them for all of the problems in their organization.  Finally, keep your focus on how to help them move on to a position where they can succeed.

Whenever dealing with issues of employee performance, it is of utmost importance to get your facts straight, discuss the problems rather than accuse and attack, be very clear in what you expect, and really listen to the employee.  A fundamental principle of employee discipline is expressed by Robert A. Eckert, the former CEO of Mattel, in these words, “Punish in private; praise in public.  Make the public praise timely and specific.”

A successful business must be a team effort.  Discipline – “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character,” must be an integral part of making the team successful.  Be a good coach, not a bully nor a prima donna, if you want your organization to achieve its potential.