Taking Steps Toward Leadership–Knowing the way

When you’re leading, you MUST know where you are taking people!  This is a foregone conclusion that every leader/boss/manager “knows.”  Here’s why I put that in quotes.  What if the general idea is all you have?  What happens if you only know you’re headed “That-a-way?”  Any movement has got to be good right?  Well?  Beware of leaders that don’t seem to have a specific destination in mind.  There are 2 schools of thought here.

The first is maintenance.  All you have to do is show up daily and make sure the office doesn’t blow up.  Keep doing what you’re doing, and keep doing what you have been doing and everything will be fine.  Everything breaks down though.  The equipment gets older, the employees get bored, the product doesn’t improve, the sales go down.  Things get worn out and the luster of the job fades.  People are not machines so they notice things.  “Same old same old” becomes “same old what do I have to fix today?”  Stress is sometimes linked to boredom, and sometimes linked to increasing failures.  Either one is not good.  The boredom, facing the same ride to work in the same traffic, facing the same bored people, doing the same mindless job numbs the brain and adds stress.  The increasing failures resulting from aging equipment, out of date computers, the aging of people who can no longer carry out the essentials of their jobs also leads to stress.  Stressed workers tend to make more mistakes.  Stressed managers tend to throw up their hands and wonder why something that worked last week doesn’t work this week.  Proverbs 29:18 states “Without a vision, the people perish.”  It’s like sitting in the middle of the lake fishing with bare hooks and no way to get back to shore.

The second is fear of making mistakes.  They don’t have a personal vision of where their department or their company or organization is going, so they glom onto anything that comes along.  When I was in elementary school, Horace Mann was a “lab” school associated with the college.  Every new fad in education was tried out on us.  We were the rats in the maze, the guinea pigs for every innovation.  There is a study that says that teachers who favorably react to a new method will get extraordinary results for a short time until the method is no longer new.  Then the results will gradually revert to the level previous to the new method.  We did self-paced reading, and most of us excelled to 2-3 grades above our age.  We did open classrooms and learning stations and most of us excelled to 2-3 grades above our age.  We did phonetic spelling…most of those classes (I wasn’t in that group; they were 1st and 2nd graders and I was in 6th at the time) have never really learned to spell.  Oops!  We did the new math, and it was rejected by the students and the teachers in the lab school.  Unfortunately, it was whole-heartedly praised and adopted by the public school system even though the teachers were improperly trained.  I had new math in 5th grade, and was about 2 years ahead of the 7th grade class when I went to public school and re-encountered it. 7 + x = 12. The answer is 5.  “How do you know?  Show your work.”  How can I show basic math facts?  7 + 5 is 12, all the time.  There is no work!  “No you must go through all the steps.

  • 7 + x = 12
  • 7 + x – 7 = 12- 7
  • (7-7) + x = 12 – 7
  • 0 + x = 5
  • x=5″

See?  The answer is 5.  Just as I told you.  The difference is it took me 2 seconds and it took you 3 minutes to come up with the same answer.  I spent a lot of time in the corner.

What was the goal, the destination, the reason for changing any of these learning methods?  We wanted our children to be smarter and more able to take on the tasks of an increasingly more information centered world.  But NO ONE stated this purpose.  It was new, so we adopted it.  The point of this story is that because we were the lab, they tested us all the time.  The result wasn’t smarter kids, the result was kids who knew how to take tests.  Now if you ask 7 + x = 12, the students whip out their calculators and MUST go through all those steps in order to come up with 12-7 = x.  Given a paper or computer test where those who did not come up through new math and those that did and have access to calculators, the ones that can answer in their heads will beat the calculators every time.  Did new math accomplish the goal?  Have you ever gone to a store where the computers have broken down and tried to get change?  “Your bill is $12.32, and you handed me a $20?  What am I supposed to do with that?”  Give me $7.68 back.  “How did you do that?”  So adopting someone else’s vision for your own company or department or organization to avoid any mistakes you may or may not make may not be in your best interest, and you flit from vision to vision, from goal to goal.  It’s hard to get behind a vision that changes every month.

Setting your vision is a thoughtful process.  What does your company do?  What does it really do well?  How does it fit into the market place?  Is there a need that isn’t being met?  Is there an opportunity that others don’t recognize yet?   What kind of input do you have from the folks on the floor, in the rank and file, in the industry?  Set a strategic goal, and then the tactical goals you need to accomplish to reach it.  Then you will know the way.


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