A leadership development resource
from the Institute for Leadership Excellence & Development Inc.
On the Horizon This Issue:
The Problem with Getting it Right
Help for leading when things are not black-and-white.
The Problem with Getting it Right
by Andy Kaufman
"If management would only let us do it the
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.
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
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,
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
3. What questions or comments do I have about this article? (Click
here to contact Andy)
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:
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.
Stay in Touch!
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