Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bright Lines

One of my scheduled meetings for this morning was cancelled due to a conflict with another meeting, so that has left me with a bit of contemplative time on my hands.  In the strange rhythm of business in the last six working days I’ve had no less than four early morning meetings cancelled.  Because I support customers across all four time zones it is not unusual for me to have meetings at 6:00 AM Pacific time, though I try not to start until 7:00 AM unless I really have to. The pattern has been the same - we schedule an early morning meeting, I spent the night before preparing, or I get up even earlier to prepare, then, at the last minute, the meeting gets cancelled or scheduled - resulting in several wasted hours and a redirection for the day. I am in the middle of that redirection now and I thought - what a perfect excuse to take a short break.

I’ve been pretty irregular in posting to my blog at the start of the year here, simply because it has been an unusual start to the year.  Not a bad one by any means, just unusual.  I normally close the year out cleaner.  Because of the last flurry of visits and travel at the end of the year it feels like I started this year, 2014, a little later than usual - both personally and professionally.

It’s been a good couple of weeks.  I am working a major project at work and it is steadily moving forward.  I have some problems with leadership, but that seems to be par for the course for the last couple of years.  My problem is simply this - we (from the division on down) are sadly lacking in strategic direction and tactical direction.  We have stuff that is going on, projects that are moving, but they lack leadership.  Personally, I expect leadership to be more assertive and more directive.  It falls into the theory of bright lines that I use to describe what good leadership does.

In the theory a leader is primarily responsible for drawing three bright lines for their teams.  The first line, the center line, is the target line - this represents the direction they want/need the organization to go.  This first line should point directly at some larger, strategic, corporation wide goal - automation, cost-reduction, quality performance - in the provision of goods and services to the market.  Then, the leader is responsible for drawing two outer lines - the boundaries of what the organization does and is responsible for. 

At the end of the drawing of these bright lines every single member of your organization should know what is expected of them (what the goal is, the center line), and what is not expected of them (the outer lines).  This simple leadership action enables the employees and team members to begin the process of building the expertise they need to excel.  Without this rudimentary level of direction the team members simply do tasks because they are told to do tasks without ever seeing the wider picture.  All of the creative power of human beings is simply set aside and never engaged.

Our current leadership has failed to draw any lines at all and so we, out here in the field, jump from task to task without ever understanding the larger picture.  The current project I am on, with it’s project leadership, is exactly that - it is a long list of tasks, lacking the bright lines to guide and direct.  It is pretty amazing to me when I go into a meeting and the vendor is asking directional questions and leadership is silent.  It seems, to me, like no one has actually planned the project out.  They are just doing “stuff” to check boxes.


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