Category Archives: Effective Leadership

Hillary Loss is Lesson in Lost Leadership

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald


Enquiring minds want to know: How could this happen?

The presidential election of 2016 will be parsed and dissected for decades. The objective will be to determine how a political novice with what could best be described as a volatile temperament, espousing ideas that even in the best light seem inimical to the fundamental social concepts of America; combined with a personality more akin to a bully, can triumph over a candidate with a lifetime of experience in government; one with a temperament of steadiness, the firm support of the moneyed elite and mainstream media and the unified backing of her Party’s establishment power. (Even though the DNC had to “fix” her nomination. Just ask Bernie Sanders.)

Right now all we really know – and all that counts – is that there are at least 290 reasons why Trump won. (The votes he won in the Electoral College.) For starters, the “experts” are confounded as to why millions of voters (including me) who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, voted for Trump. Analysts are trying to understand why Hillary received millions of fewer Democratic votes than Obama did in 2012. From a political standpoint, Salena Zita, perceptively wrote in The Atlantic magazine (prior to the election): “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

The experts will go on ad nauseam offering the technical reasons and spreading the blame for Hillary’s loss, but they will miss the most fundamental reason for the defeat. Clinton lost because she did not understand and violated one of the most basic tenets of leadership. It is a lesson that anyone who seeks a position of leadership can benefit by learning. What Hillary failed to grasp was that: It is the responsibility of the leader to give followers a reason to follow.

No matter how experienced or well-intended a person who seeks the mantel of leadership may be, they will fail as a leader if they fail to give followers a valid reason to follow them. People do not follow a leader because it is expected or required, but because they are able to internalize a reason to follow; usually one that will, in the long run, benefit them as much as the leader. Sure, the authority of leadership can be mandated by the power of position, but that is not leading, that is herding. Managers can tell others what to do; whereas true leadership inspires others to do what needs to be done.

Hillary’s campaign was a great example of what happens when the leader fails to offer followers a reason to follow. Conversely, the entire focus of Trump’s campaign was to give voters a simple, easy to understand reason to follow him. Clinton’s message was: “Stronger Together.” Trump’s message was: “Make America Great Again.” Now seriously, who is going to even understand, let alone be motivated to run through a brick wall by the idea of “stronger together”?

Please don’t read my comments about Trump as condoning his often dark philosophy, divisive tactics and many of his offensive comments. The point I am attempting to make is that Trump – for good or bad – did what it takes to be a recognized leader; he gave people a reason to follow. The world has seen many bad people who were strong leaders and many good people who were weak leaders.  

During the course of the campaign Clinton’s message continually shifted from one approach to another, without ever focusing on a consistent, clearly delineated reason to vote for her. In the end, her message was almost exclusively targeted at “why Trump was bad,” and very little if any reason why people should make her their leader. Leadership based on a negative is always trumped by a positive. From the very first to the very last day, Trump had a singular message – Make America Great Again. Certainly one can take issue with how Trump may define what has to be done to make America great, but no one can argue that his message was not clear, consistent and concise and that it gave millions of voters a reason to follow him. It may well have been for the wrong reason, but at least it was a reason; and that’s what leadership is about. Hillary simply failed to put forth an effective message that would inspire people to follow her. And that is what causes leadership to fail and elections to be lost.

Now that Trump has been elected, it is ironic that thousands of – mostly young – people are out on the streets of American cities passionately protesting the results of the election. Where was this passion for Hillary during the election campaign? If Clinton had aroused even a modicum of this type of passion during the campaign, she would have easily won. Hillary harped on the reasons to “fear” Trump, but she failed to offer people a reason to be passionate about following her lead.

Learning the Lesson of Leadership

Hillary is no longer making history, so she is history. But her loss can be a win for anyone who seeks to make their own brand of history by becoming an effective leader. When someone seeks a leadership role – at any level – they first need to identify what talent, skills and ideas they have to offer that will give others a reason to follow them. They then have to effectively communicate that reason, in a clear, concise and consistent way to those they want to lead and a why those who do follow will benefit from that leadership.

Both Trump and Clinton have given us lessons in leadership that anyone who wants to be a leader can learn. Clinton has shown that no matter how experienced or deserving of leadership a person may be, if the nascent leader is unable to explain why others should follow them, they will never have the opportunity to lead. Trump has shown that when the would-be leader has the power to motivate others to follow, even the improbable becomes possible.

Micromanagement Leads to Micro Results


from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald


The practice of “micromanagement,” a management style whereby a manager closely monitors and controls the work of subordinates is almost universally denigrated as inefficient and frustrating for workers. Yet it is the most commonly followed management technique. What goes on here?

A Google search for “micromanagement” brings up a million or so hits and virtually every one puts micromanagement in a negative connotation by highlighting its deficiencies as a flawed management practice. What these “hits” fail to explain is why – if micromanagement is so bad – so many use it as a management strategy. Who does not have a horror story to tell about working for a micromanaging boss?

With scant argument to the contrary, there is agreement that micromanaging is not only unproductive but that it also suppresses creativity, suffocates alternative options, discourages the development of talent, makes for frustrated and dissatisfied employees and is often counterproductive to achieving the desired objective.

And yet, despite this litany of shortcomings, micromanagement continues to flourish in the world of management. The problem is that at its core micromanaging is designed to prevent bad things from happening, not kindle the precious innovation and creativity that causes good things to happen. Micromanagement flourishes because most managers fear the fallout from the bad more than they strive for the benefits of the good.

Even the most abusive practitioners will deny they are addicted to micromanagement. Instead, they offer a watery-thin rationalization to deflect being tagged as a “micromanager.” Excuses like: “I am naturally detail-oriented,” “I like being involved,” or, “I just want to support those doing the job” are offered up to justify their intrusive style. In a way these micromanagers are like those who deny being an alcoholic and say the only reason they joined AA was to meet people to drink with.

Micromanagement appeals to both the self-doubting and self-centered manager. The weak manager is filled with insecurities and paranoia and their worst fear is that if the job is not done right, they will be blamed. So, they set everything up as a paint-by-numbers job as if assembling an Ikea bookcase.

Concerned with their lack of ability, weak-willed managers also want to make sure they get the credit if the job goes well. This attitude causes the insecure manager to constantly hover over and interfere with those tasked with the actual work. On the other hand, the self-centered (should I say egotistical?) manager has this belief that they are the only ones with the knowledge and ability to actually do the job right. They don’t trust others to do the job so they believe they must constantly be knee-deep in the efforts of others or the job won’t get done; at least not the way they would do it.

A Better Way to Micromanage is to be Invisible

With apologies to Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations, 1776) a much more effective way to maintain control in a business management situation without appearing to be a micromanager is to use an “invisible hand.” Adam Smith’s metaphorical view of free market capitalism concluded there is an “invisible hand” that serves to motivate and control the actions of those participating, even if they did not see, feel or understand the control. Likewise, effective managers can adopt the idea of an invisible hand style of management to motivate, monitor and control the actions of others.

The way to accomplish this is to sit down with all concerned parties at the very start of a process and make sure that everyone understands the objective, the benefits received by achieving it and the parameters that are to be followed in the effort to achieve success.

Believe it or not, the next – and maybe most important step taken to reduce the temptation to micromanage the process – is to gain agreement on what will not be done in the effort to achieve the objective. Right up front it’s important to establish and have everyone agree to the parameters that will govern the actions needed to achieve the objective. Call these the “rules of engagement.”

Together, the group determines crucial elements like what products won’t be offered, what the limits of discounting or financing will be and what minimum margins will be acceptable. They will also gain agreement that, no matter how tempting it may be to take these actions, they are out of bounds. You see, once it has been established what won’t be done to meet the objective, everything else is fair game. The manager can stand back with a hands-off attitude, offering freedom of action for those charged with the process to be creative and aggressive in finding and implementing what can be successful.

The process for stamping out micromanagement – for any size project – is simple and straight forward:

  • Explain and confirm acceptance of the ultimate objective.
  • Secure agreement and understanding of what will not be done to achieve the objective.
  • Allow those charged with achieving the objective the freedom to explore, develop and propose a plan to achieve the objective.
  • Meet with the group to review, revise (if needed) and approve the plan.
  • Establish a regular process of reporting and review.
  • Maintain an open channel of communication, so that any change in the environment can be passed on to the group and any desire by the group to deviate from the approved plan – including violating any rule of engagement – can be reviewed and discussed.
  • Get out of the way and let the people do their job.

The benefit derived from this type of approach to managing is that it allows the manager to control the process, but to do so with an invisible hand. At the same time, those charged with completing the task are motivated, because they are empowered to develop, implement and complete the effort, so long as they stay within agreed upon boundaries. Both the manager and the workers know what to expect and have their needs met.

The invisible hand of management at 30,000 feet.

Probably the best real-life example of how this invisible hand management philosophy works is the air traffic control system. In this system the airline decides it wants to fly from Miami to Chicago. It puts together a “flight plan” being sure to avoid “no fly” zones and then files the plan with Air Traffic Control (ATC). The ATC then reviews and approves the plan.

The pilots have full control over flying the aircraft and getting it from Miami to Chicago. At certain way-points the pilots check in with ATC, offering updates on progress. If there is a change in weather or unexpected traffic in the path of the flight, ATC can warn the pilots to adjust their plan. If the pilots encounter a situation that disrupts the flight plan, they contact ATC and request approval to deviate from the established plan.

In this example the airline decides where it wants to go, a plan is developed to get there, the plan is submitted for approval; once the plan is approved the pilots do all the flying and with an invisible hand the ATC oversees and controls the entire process, without interfering,

The best way to reduce the temptation to micromanage is to develop an invisible hand style of supervision that allows the manager to eliminate potential actions that can lead to bad things happening. Once this is accomplished there will be less fear about the bad happening and more reason to allow those charged with the task the freedom to find the best way to achieve good results.

The Secret to Creating an Entrepreneurial Culture in a Bureaucratic Business World

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald


Without a doubt, we live in a bureaucratic business world. For those chasing success, it’s a constraining and frustrating world defined by ever expanding rules and regulations. In a bureaucracy, progress is subservient to process and performance is trumped by procedure. And while many seem to snuggle up in the lap of the certainty and security of bureaucracy, there are others — maybe just like you — who chafe under its constrictions and yearn for a more enterprising way of corporate life.

The generally accepted antidote for bureaucracy is an “entrepreneurial culture” and many of those frustrated with bureaucracy wistfully talk about the value of building this type of environment. But behind the talk lies a very real challenge: When you’re mired in the bureaucratic trenches, it’s difficult to believe you have the power to fight bureaucracy by building an entrepreneurial culture. Why? Because many are handcuffed by the mistaken belief that being an entrepreneur is a prerequisite for creating an entrepreneurial culture. But it is a myth to believe that being an entrepreneur and crafting an entrepreneurial culture are conjoined as steadfastly as Siamese twins; that you can’t have one without the other.

Such a restrictive mindset prevents many from even attempting to build an entrepreneurial culture. Believing that they are not and can never be an entrepreneur, they give-up and give-in to bureaucracy. But that’s not the way it needs to be. Not only is it possible, but also fairly easy to build an entrepreneurial culture in a bureaucratic world, even by those who are not actual entrepreneurs.

The first step on the road to bureaucratic freedom is to rid yourself of the belief that the traits essential to being a successful entrepreneur are the same as those that form the basis of an entrepreneurial culture. That’s not the case and they can be very different.

For example, while intuitively it seems likely that an organization led by an entrepreneur will have an entrepreneurial culture, the reality is that more times than not, this is not the case. The seldom acknowledged truth is that while the culture of an organization led by a strong entrepreneur may not be bureaucratic, it is apt to be more autocratic than entrepreneurial.

What really constrains the creation of an entrepreneurial culture – especially in large organizations – is a matter of semantics. For lack of a better term, we have fallen into the trap of identifying an entrepreneurial culture as one led by an entrepreneur, and this creates more confusion than understanding. Instead, we should focus on the attributes of an entrepreneurial culture which are: transparency, openness, accountability, a sense of urgency and shared reward.

If we can just clear our minds of the accepted idea of what an “entrepreneurial culture” is supposed to be and instead, think in terms of an “open culture,” it will enable us to look at culture building from a completely different perspective. And while we are at it, let’s also cheat on the traditional rule that says only those at the top of an organization can determine its culture.

Over and over people will chant, “I am just a small cog in a large bureaucratic organization. How can I bring about cultural change?” The answer is to ignore the larger bureaucratic culture and think of creating a distinct culture within your span of control, such as a team leader, department head or division leader. Remember that culture for the group is defined by the style of the leader at any level.

So if you are willing to open our mind and suspend the rules that inhibit the creation of an entrepreneurial culture in a bureaucratic world you can built an “open culture.” What would such a culture look like and how would it function?

  • It would be a culture with a strict adherence to a core set of values.
  • The culture would constantly focus on clearly defined objectives along with continuous support for members of the group and free flowing transparent communication.
  • It would be imbued with a sense of urgency as an operating lifestyle.
  • Stress accountability where risk is clearly encouraged and accomplishment rewarded.
  • When the group is successful, all of those within the group share a sense of ownership, participation and rewards for the success achieved.

There is nothing in this concept of an “open culture” that can’t be adopted by any leader, at any level in any size organization – even the most bureaucratic. Don’t believe it? Are you going to suggest that within your span of control you can’t have a core set of values? That you can’t clearly define the objectives of the group you lead? That you are not allowed to have constant communication with members of your group? That just because you are not an entrepreneur, you can’t create a sense of urgency among those you supervise? The truth is that you don’t have to be an entrepreneur or CEO of a company in order to build an “open culture” in your area of leadership and control.

It comes down to this attitude: Just because you work in a bureaucracy, it doesn’t mean you have to be a bureaucrat.

And the Moral of the Story …

While virtually everyone sings the praises of an entrepreneurial culture, there is also a universal belief that only an entrepreneur can create an entrepreneurial culture. It is this misunderstanding that leads to the conclusion that it is not possible to create an entrepreneurial culture in a bureaucratic world. If we continue to cling to the traditional beliefs of culture building, the bureaucratic world will always win. But if we are willing to open our minds to what the culture is really all about, instead of what it is called, then it is possible to build an “open culture” in a bureaucratic world. And those who are willing to adopt this approach by implementing the concepts of an open culture will ultimately achieve success and recognition that will be the envy of any entrepreneur.