Insights for Leaders


“Surround yourself with great people and get out of the way; don’t try to micro-manage.” — Howard Schultz

Jim Collins advises: “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake.  The best people don’t need to be managed.  Guided, taught, led — yes.  But not tightly managed.”

Marcus Buckingham, author of best-seller, Now Discover Your Strengths, recommends: “Identify a person’s strengths.  Define outcomes that play to those strengths.  Find a way to count, rate or rank those outcomes. And then let the person run.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders “macro-manage”: they hire the right people, define desired outcomes, and then get out of the way.

Fox vs. Hedgehog

“Management is about coping with complexity. Leadership, by contrast, is coping with change. More change demands more leadership.” — John Kotter

In 1953, Isaiah Berlin wrote a famous essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” (taken from an ancient Greek parable) that observed: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Jim Collins writes in best seller Good to Great, “Hedgehogs are not stupid. Quite the contrary. They understand that the essence of profound insight is simplicity….They have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns.”

The fox represents management that is constantly aware of many complexities and options, while the hedgehog represents leaders who simplify a complex world into a single concept that unifies and guides everything.

The Bottom Line: Leaders simplify complexity with piercing insight that enables them to effectively lead through change.

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.

Knowing What Counts

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” — Albert Einstein

Peter Drucker observes, “Few executives yet know how to ask: what information do I need to do my job? When do I need it? In what form? And from whom should I be getting it?”

Billionaire Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates writes: “For me, goals and daily metrics are the key to keeping me focused. If I don’t have access to the right stats, every day, it is so easy for me to move on mentally to the next thing. But if I have quick access to key metrics every day, my creativity stays within certain boundsmy ideas all center on how to achieve our goals.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders identify and track success measures and consistently focus on achieving specific goals.

Managing Expectations

“Never try to impress a woman, because if you do she’ll expect you to keep up the standard for the rest of your life.” — W.C. Fields

Mr. Fields may have overstated his point; but, he hits on a big idea that Ken Blanchard unpacks in Raving Fans: “Exceeding expectations is important but it’s even more important to consistently meet expectations. Meet first. Exceed second. It should be tattooed on the inside eyelids of every manager. The worst thing you can do is meet expectations one time, fall short another, and exceed now and then.”

Mr. Blanchard explains the way to ensure consistency is to have systems and a training program to inculcate these systems into the organization.

The Bottom Line: Leaders strive for consistency in meeting customer expectations and achieve this with well conceived systems and training.

Leadership vs Management

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”
— Stephen R. Covey

Leadership guru, Warren Bennis, offers an insightful differentiation between leadership and management: “The leader innovates; the manager administrates. The leader focuses on people; the manager focuses on systems and structure. The leader inspires; the manager controls. The leader sees the long-term; the manager sees the short-term. The leader asks what and why? The manager asks how and when?”

The Bottom Line: Leadership and management require opposing skill sets and organizations need both to flourish.

The Art of Delegating

“No person will make a business great who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.”  –  Andrew Carnegie

Management guru Peter Drucker wrote, “Delegation requires clear assignment of a specific task, clear definition of the expected results and a deadlineAbove all it requires that the subordinate to whom it is delegated keep the boss fully informed.  It is the subordinate’s job to alert the boss immediately to any possible ‘surprise’.”

Common pitfalls: 1.) Abidicating responsbility.  Successful business founder/CEO Robert Half wrote, “Delegating works provided the one delegating works too.”  2.) Interferance.  President Ronald Reagan said, “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders exponentially multiply their impact by delegating authority, staying fully informed but not interfering.