Insights for Leaders


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw

In his bestselling book, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, Patrick Lencioni highlights the four disciplines of great leaders.  He says the third discipline, over-communicate, is “the simplest,” but it’s also “the one most under-achieved.”  He adds, “To effectively communicate, a simple message must be repeatedly delivered in a cascading manner through multiple channels.”

It is essential to convey the message verbally and in writing to account for the different ways people receive information.  Peter Drucker points out: “There are readers and listeners…and people are rarely both.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders repeatedly communicate a simple message through multiple channels — both verbally and in writing to make sure communication is achieved.

2 Ears and 1 Mouth

“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.” — Mark Twain

J.W. Marriott Jr., CEO of Marriott International asserts: “After more than fourty years in business, I’ve concluded that listening is the single most important on-the-job skill that a good manager can cultivate.”

Best-selling author/consultant Stephen Covey writes, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood is the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders are keen listeners — they know that one of the best ways to learn and influence others is with their ears.

‘On the Job’ Training

“What we have to learn, we learn by doing.” — Aristotle

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline (recognized by HBR as one of the top management books of the last 75 years), writes: “Human beings learn best through firsthand experience…but ‘learning by doing’ only works so long as the feedback from our actions is rapid and unambiguous.”

This is where much ‘on the job training’ falls short – the lack of effective feedback can significantly impair one’s ability to climb a new learning curve. Feedback brings involvement that is critical to the learning process. That may be why Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders train their people through hands-on experience, actively involving them and providing clear and immediate feedback to their work.

Constructive Conflict

“The whole business starts with ideas, and we’re convinced ideas come out of an environment of supportive conflict, which is synonymous with appropriate friction.” — Michael Eisner, former CEO, Walt Disney Co.

Research suggests 30-40% of a manager’s daily activities are devoted to dealing with some form of conflict; and, in more than half of instances in which conflict appears, it is glossed over and avoided. According to Richard Pascale of Oxford University, “Only one time in five (20%) is conflict surfaced, debated and authentically resolved.”

Conflict itself is neither inherently good nor bad; the outcome is determined by how you manage it — if managed appropriately, conflict can have a positive and even transforming effect.

The Bottom Line: Leaders engage in constructive conflict, knowing it can be the doorway to creativity and consensus.

Critic vs Coach

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.” — Benjamin Franklin

Author Dave DeWitt writes about leaders who are critics vs coaches. A critic thinks about exposing problems, a coach thinks about attending to problems. A critic tries to impress people, a coach tries to impact people. A critic is issue-oriented, a coach is people-oriented. A critic sees problem people as a hassle, a coach sees problem people as a challenge. A critic makes problems a wall between himself and others, a coach makes problems a wall to climb with others from the same side.

The Bottom Line: Leaders are people-oriented and work alongside others as a problem solver and a change agent.

The Conflict Engine

“Conflict lies at the core of innovation.” — Emanuel R. Piore

Harvard leadership guru Ronald Heifetz writes, “Successful leaders manage conflict; they don’t shy away from it or suppress it but see it as an engine of creativity and innovation. Some of the most creative ideas come out of people in conflict remaining in conversation with one another rather than flying into their own corners or staking out entrenched positions.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders do not avoid conflict — they embrace it as a potential catalyst for new ideas and innovation.

Listen Up!

“If there is any great secret in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view – as well as your own.” — Henry Ford

Stephen Covey writes, “The single most important principle in interpersonal relations is, seek first to understand, then to be understood.” He explains that most people fail at this discipline because they do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Craig Newmark, founder of the popular website Craigslist, has had great success with this principle. Speaking about his website, Craig admits, “There’s no genius behind it. It’s persistence and listening to people.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders listen with the intention to understand and this results in greater effectiveness with people and in business.


“I’m sorry I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” — Abraham Lincoln

Visionworks agrees with the high value President Lincoln placed on well thought out, concise communication.

“Insight for Leaders” was conceived in this spirit of brevity and has now been read by leaders around the world for over two years. The response has been so positive that an archive file has been created where you can access all back issues and others can register for a free subscription (click on

The Genius of Questions

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” — Albert Einstein

Legendary strategist Peter Drucker once shared the secret to his consulting genius saying, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

Jim Collins writes, “Leading from good to great means having the humility to grasp the fact that you do not yet understand enough to have the answers and then to ask the questions that will lead to the best possible insights.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders humbly ask questions that provide them the critical insights needed to lead.

Keep It Simple

“People must have self-confidence to be clear, precise, to be sure that every person in the organization understands what the business is trying to achieve….Clear, tough-minded people are the most simple.” — Jack Welch

“The Economist” recently observed that the rate at which mankind makes life complicated seems ever to accelerate – and this is a bad thing.  To help reverse this trend, they have suggested a new rule: “Henceforth, genius will be measured not by how fancy, big or powerful somebody makes something, but by how simple.”

Some proven geniuses are in agreement. Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and Walt Whitman, “Simplicity is the glory of expression.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders insist on keeping things simple so that others can easily understand and effectively engage in the work.

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