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The Power of Coming Right Out and Saying It

This post and its excellent title really spoke to me. It helped me bolt together a few loose observations I’ve had laying around for awhile.

Within most large businesses, one is often killed with kindness. A petition for action will be heard, then gently deflected toward a “process.” That process is guaranteed to either slowly neglect the need, or, diffuse the execution across so long a period as to render it obsolete before it ever finishes.

This brings me to my first thought: When you are working on something innovative, large, or transformative enough that you can direct gatekeepers to either redesign or bypass their established systems… you have power to set the agenda and secure resource from the executives mandating it. Don’t be obscure about this power.

Be direct with peers and employees about needed outcomes and your leadership role in them. Make it clear that if resource is the issue, you have the ability to take blockers to executives who hold budgets. Present whole, transformative recommendations that marry operations, strategy and budgetary needs. Base these recommendations on the insight you have demanded of the subject matter experts. However, keep action plans within the scope needed to address your problem and others like it, now and in the near future. Don’t boil the ocean except as a last resort. (Yes, on occasion, the ocean must be boiled when working in transformative management).

A related thought: Being direct does not mean one cannot leave room for input and modification.

In large teams and systems, it is vital to hear from the experts. They can present tactical or strategic options you may not have had when you walked into the room. However, constant rat holes and “flights of fancy” into work avoidance and pet projects should be cut short. 

My typical tool of choice is the vise-grip. As I proceed through the meetings and planning I start with the vise wide open. It is visible as a firm instrument being put to work for a purpose. The steel is a direct, firm discussion of needed goals and reminders that progress must be made. I slowly start to close the vise, allowing some maneuvering and change of course near the beginning. But always, slowly, I’m tightening the grip leaving less and less room for people to use “wiggle words” or diversion tactics. I always remind the team there is a vise, and it is tightening. Ultimately the vise is closed, “what if” options are forced aside, and work progresses with a firm grip on both the work tasks and the goal.

This all may sound authoritarian, but there are reasons to do this beyond a Napoleonic “control complex”. By driving to clear tasks and goals, the teams around yours on which you have dependencies don’t sense any wavering in drive or clarity. This is important to keep all the parts moving in larger organizations that are full of competing projects and priorities.

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