Friday, December 18, 2009

First Time - Part 11: Keeping Book

Experience is the best teacher, and the best experiences are those that others have suffered through. So, learn from the experiences of others. The best way to do this is to take notes on those around you. Get a notebook and keep a running ‘log’ of the leadership examples around you. Here are some ideas on what I call ‘Keeping Book:’

(And remember, keeping track of good decisions, good processes, good communication, good ‘leadership,’ is often more difficult then keeping track of the bad. You need to keep book on both and learn from both.)

Decision-making: How did someone make a tough decision? What steps did he take, what information was used, how was the problem dissected and analyzed? You can do this from ‘up close’ from your peers, your boss, and some of the other executives or officers in your organization and parallel organizations. You can also watch it in trade journals and the news. Once you start thinking of it in those terms, you will see this kind of information everywhere. Start keeping track of decisions made and then routinely revisit the log, check what has happened as a result of various decisions, and begin assessing what happened. At first, just put down the facts. After a while, you will begin adding commentary.

Communication: How are decisions communicated to the organization? How is information communicated? What techniques are being used? Formal talks, ‘town halls,’ ‘All Hands,’ e-mails, letters, posted notices, informal chats at the coffee machine, a few words at the cookout; all have their place. Watch how various leaders use these opportunities – and others – and watch how well, or poorly, they keep people informed, focused, and motivated.

Planning and meetings: Take note of how various people use and keep control of meetings, how they use and lead planning, how they resolve crises. Some people use them very well, others don’t. Some can control a meeting or planning effort, others can’t. Take a few notes down and think about what went right and what went wrong.

As you keep your notes, try to note the following:

What others do well. Why do they do well at ‘X?’ Is it part of their background or is it something they learned?

What seems to work well for a number of different people? If significantly different people are doing the same thing, is it because it is a fad or because it really works well?

Mistakes, errors, omissions: every time you leave a meeting with the boss and you say: ‘Gee, I wish he had…’ write that down. It is a lesson you need, and a mistake you should avoid.

What others did that pissed you off and why. Whenever you leave a meeting angry, turn the anger into something productive. What made you angry and why? Take note of it because you don’t want to do the same thing to anyone else (unless it really is necessary). As a general rule, angry people aren’t productive.

What I will never do. This is obvious, or should be. But I have seen too many people break this rule: if you see a leader make a decision that really goes against your values, take note and then spend some time thinking through various situations in which you might find yourself with a similar situation, then work out how you would act.

Two final items of interest: try to take note of those decisions and actions that you thought would work that did not and those that others did that you didn’t think would work, but did. Obviously, this requires that you note down decisions and add the simple comment at that time that “I like this decision, it seems like the right thing because …” or “I really disagree with this course of action because…. I would have preferred that we…” Then you need revisit these entries after the fact and look at the outcomes and consider why the chosen course yielded a result different from the one you anticipated.

You will find a wide range of things to write down. Many may never occur again, but many will. The most important part of this is to spend some time every day thinking about the actual mechanics of leaders: watch how they work (and don’t work) and try – every day – to learn from them.


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