Leadership, making a decision, and the subtle serendipity of the universe.


Ultimately this may just be just two independent events that happened in close succession and I’m just mashing them together to get my word count up — let’s see where we land before making a call one way or another There was a trip down memory lane while walking that had me thinking about the definition of leadership, and while I was waiting in line at one of my favourite coffee shops I witnessed a person trying to decide what to have for a breakfast snack.

Independent Event One

The reason I happened to being wading back through the years and thinking about Leadership may be the result of some recent events, a desire to come up with a blog topic, or simply the joy of reminiscing on moments that are now so distant (and if I’m honest, a little sketchy when it comes to the detail). What I do remember is I was at the front of the room engaged in a discussion about leadership, and after a couple of definitions were offered up, I simply said,

“No that’s management, leadership is about having a vision”.

Over the years, I’ve probably enhanced this definition to include a people component but at the heart of it, Leadership is about having a vision that rallies people, process and activities. Leadership is about pulling people to a vision and management is about pushing people to a vision. The whole leadership-management dynamic, in a practical sense, is really more a matter of semantics because most people (to differing degrees) are doing both at any given time. The one thing I can say with great conviction is if you don’t have a vision you aren’t a leader (and that’s OK; I think it’s fair to say in many cases, at many times, there are way too many chiefs and not enough indians — as the saying goes).

vision [ˈviZHən] NOUN: the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.

I’m sure there are many who can offer a better definition (in both accuracy and wordsmithing) for leadership, but I will have to say it’s hard to disagree with the fact that when there isn’t a vision there is nothing for people and activities to rally around, and although arguably there may be work done, nothing of substance is accomplished or achieved.

Independent Event Two

“ What kind of breakfast sandwiches do you have, ok, ok. I’m not sure which one to have, um, um; Sally, which one do you think I should have… uh huh, uh huh. I’m still not sure; ok, ok, I will have a tea and I guess….”

As I watched her walk away I’m not really sure she got what she wanted but I guess it didn’t matter because she obviously didn’t know what she wanted. Not surprising though, that’s what happen when there isn’t any vision to focus your decisions.

Call it a stoke of luck, a coincidence or the subtle serendipity of the universe, my trip down memory lane and standing in line at a coffee shop was not so independent, and I got the blog topic I was looking for.


PS — Before you use “Leader or Lead” on your LinkedIn profile, business card or CV, you may want to review what your applicable vision is — it will make it much easy when the time comes to making a decision.

"You need to put some more paint on the canvas..."

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

I recently had a conversation with a seasoned business professional and our discussion found itself weaving to leadership; which often happens and rightfully so. 

As part of the conversation he mentioned that he rarely says "no" but rather likes to say, "You need to put some more paint on the canvas". I could not help but smile when he said this - It is such great saying; rich with important meaning.

The point to be made here is not about a crafty way of avoiding the word "no" or delaying a decision, but rather the recognition that a "picture needs to be painted" before you can ever utter the word "no" (or "yes" for that matter), and that sometimes the picture just isn't finished. 

Simplistically speaking, leaders would like to be able to say "no, don't do it" or "yes, do it", but more often than not they find themselves needing more information or "a better picture" before they are able to, with good conscience, say "yes or no". 

Of course there are situations where the "obvious" prevails and an answer of "yes" or "no" is a proverbial "no brainer", but more often than not, information, background, and justification in the form of a good ol' solid business case is needed, which metaphorically speaking, is a canvas. 

And to carry the metaphor further, as an artist you need to remember:

  • You want to paint the best picture you can - That is to say you want to communicate effectively, provide the appropriate information for understanding the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the situation and support the decision making process.
  • Not all canvases are the same size - In other words, depending on the situation, the information needed to support decisions may be different or varying in depth; all based on business impact, timing, risk, return and the personalities involved.
  • Be the best artist you can - Seems self explanatory
  • Everyone is an art critic - You may have painted a wonderful picture of the situation but there may be someone who wants it to be "just a little better"... alas, it falls on the artist to give them what they want. More often than not though, it will make you a better artist.
  • Not everyone will like the same art you do - Although you may have painted a wonderful picture, for business, strategic, core value, or other not so clear reasons, the company just isn't going to hang your painting on the wall. The upside... you at least know the answer.

So there you have it; what can come out of a great conversation...metaphors and all. 

As an aside, the unfinished painting shown is the "Signing of the Treaty of Paris" by Benjamin West that depicted the signing of the treaty that put an end to the American Revolution and formally recognized the United States as an independent nation. A beautiful painting to be sure.


"Will someone please make a decision" (add exclamation marks as needed)

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

When I say "Will someone please make a decision", I am by no means suggesting that you should defer your destiny to someone else, diminish the need to take "the bull by the horns", not take ownership for your life, or any other pithy saying that reminds us it's our life - Our responsibility to grab on tightly and enjoy with gusto!

It's more directed to that somewhat important saying that reminds us that, "To know how to be a good leader, you need to know how to be a good follower". 

As someone who has been on both sides of this fence, I want to take a moment and offer a thought or two from the perspective of the follower... you know, the one asked to make it happen or follow the grand plan; the one who is looking to their leader to set a direction that can be executed on. And this brings us back to that simple request, "Will someone please make a decision"; admittedly sometimes also taking the form of a frazzled request, a statement, an urgent statement, a strongly worded statement or a wild eyed demand.

Where does this request come from? The simple answer is, "Nothing can get done without a decision being made"

For a follower (a doer, an executor, the fix it guy), this makes "needing a decision" very high on the list for getting things done; arguably its number one. There is an understanding that a process is required for decision making, that not all decisions are easy ones, and some decisions require time to make. However, this is not the reason you hear the words "will someone please make a decision" uttered. (With the appropriate number of exclamation marks added.)

In my experience, the reason for uttering these famous words is more often than not a result of (or combination of) the following:

  • There is no defined owner for the decision.
  • The decision making process has become more important than the actual decision.
  • The request for more information is never ending.
  • "Decision making" is viewed in absolute terms of right or wrong and not one of "degrees".
  • The culture does not encourage risk, empowerment or ownership.
  • There just seems to be too many people involved.
  • Lack of communication and transparency regarding what is happening.
  • There is a belief of "being safe", as you can't be wrong if you do not make a decision.

All these points made from the perspective of a "follower".

And this weaves us back to the saying, "To know how to be a good leader, you need to know how to be a good follower".  As a leader, appreciating the perspective of the follower, you can work to remove those barriers that are impacting your team's ability to get things done.

So with that said, every so often take a trip down memory lane and remember those times you found yourself uttering the words "will someone please make a decision" with flair... then ask yourself, "Is there someone on my team who may be saying the same thing?" If so, remember you can make some changes regarding that... after all you are the leader.

And if you are a follower... soon enough you may find yourself as the leader, so make sure you are taking good notes.