A leadership development resource

from the Institute for Leadership Excellence & Development Inc.

Volume III

Number 1

On the Horizon This Issue:

The Problem with Getting it Right
Help for leading when things are not black-and-white.

Project Management...
for Administrative Assistants?

Do you have an admin who is overwhelmed with projects? Check out our offer.



  [Getting it Right]  [Admin Training] ]  [The Institute Online] 


The Problem with Getting it Right

by Andy Kaufman

"If management would only let us do it the right way."
"We could do it if we had the right tools."
"The prosecution isn't presenting their case right."


While working with executives, project managers, and other leaders I inevitably hear right phrases over-used. And it concerns me.

It's not an issue of whether I think there are such things as right and wrong. There are. Certainly there are bad decisions, poor motivations, and illegal actions. But often in business & in life, it's not quite that black-and-white.

My discomfort with over-using the right phrase goes back to a story related to me by a former mayor of a small suburban town near Chicago.

“If I went to a dinner party of 10 people in my first year in office, 2 people don’t like me. I don’t know why—they just don’t. By the second year in office, 4 people don’t like me. Third year, 6, and by the end of my term, 8 out of 10 people don’t like me. It was very discouraging until I finally figured it out…. The general public has the luxury of seeing things in ‘black-and-white’. For example, if they have flooding in their area they can rightly be upset that we didn’t re-work the sewer system by them. Yet when you’re in leadership, you have to see the shades of gray.”
I fundamentally believe leaders spend most of their time outside the black-and-white, having to navigate the shades of gray.
After training and coaching thousands of people on leadership development & project management, one clear conclusion is that we must learn to be productive despite ambiguity. I fundamentally believe leaders spend most of their time outside the black-and-white, having to navigate the shades of gray.

The June 2004 issue of PM Network (Project Management Institute's magazine) features an article by Ken Blanchard entitled "Commit to Greatness". Dr. Blanchard has been highly influential in my career development and is one of the true masters in leadership development.

Twice he refers to doing the “right things for the right reasons at the right time.” You and I generally get what he's saying. Yet telling people they must do the right things for the right reasons at the right time makes a nice sound bite but is hopelessly insufficient. He maintains "it really isn't complicated", that it's "simple."  Easy to say in an article--not so easy to live in the real world.

Often right phrases over-simplify the issue.

It’s similar to typical mantra about requirements gathering (another over-simplification, as if requirements are in little baskets waiting to be picked up): “Ask the right questions of the right people at the right time.” Sometimes you have to ask the same question three different ways to get to the core of a requirement. Sometimes the answer changes over time, so which is the right time? Sometimes there's enough organizational churn it's not clear who the right people are. You get the point.

Acknowledging the shades of gray helps us make responsible decisions. It forces us to think through the trade-off's. We can then better understand and manage risks and changes associated with our decisions.

Where there is black-and-white, rejoice! Enjoy the clarity. Beyond that, don't ignore it! Much trouble is generated by pretending the black-and-white is really gray! Yet beware of over-simplifying.

Whether you lead projects, teams, or entire organizations, you have no choice but to learn to become more comfortable leading despite the shades of gray. Don't be surprised when change happens. When people let you down. When customers change their mind. When rules are ambiguous.

This is life in the real world. Our job is to lead in spite of it.

For More Learning

To your success,

Andy Kaufman

Speaker, Author, Consultant

President, Institute for Leadership Excellence & Development Inc.

Personal Reflection Questions

1. In what situations do I use right phrases?  Am I over-simplifying?  What are the trade-offs?

2. What are some key black-and-white issues that guide my decision-making?

3. What questions or comments do I have about this article? (Click here to contact Andy)

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Project Management... For Administrative Assistants?


Most people don’t appreciate how challenging an administrative assistant’s job is. They typically are running multitudes of projects yet often without having been trained on the basics of project management.


If you know an administrative assistant who has more work to do than time to do it, please let them know about the Institute's workshop entitled:


The Effective Administrative Assistant


I attended your session and found it to be very informative and enlightening. Thanks so much for making learning so much fun!  Cynthia


Practical.  Skills and tools that can be used right away.  Guaranteed to help.


Click here for more information on the workshop.



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Stay in Touch!

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