Words of wisdom

In July, I wrote about Terry Leahy’s book, “Management in Ten Words.” The 10 words are: truth, loyalty, courage, values, act, balance, simple, lean, compete and trust.

I focused on the first five of these, and now – as promised a – look at the next five words.

Balance. As his company was growing, Leahy saw a critical need to balance short-term with long-term goals, daily routine output with a focus on innovation, and the directions of all the various departments. He states, “A balanced organization is one in which everyone moves forward together, steered in the right direction, without being overrun by the juggernaut of bureaucracy.” Impressed with the book by Robert Kaplan and David Norton, “The Balanced Scorecard,” Leahy launched an ambitious program to dismantle silos and set up measurable outcomes that ensure all departments know what the others are doing, and that all parts of the organization are helping each other, versus working on conflicting initiatives. He then made sure that progress toward this outcome could be measured in a practical way. As always, he put the customer’s relationship to Tesco, and customer satisfaction as the No. 1 objective.

Simple. Says Leahy, “Simplicity is the knife that cuts through the tangled spaghetti of life’s problems.” We all know how complicated life has become. Leahy was in the supermarket business, and found that the typical supermarket today stocks 40,000 products, whereas in the l950s it was 2,000. You already know how complex your own organization or industry has become. We can hardly keep up. On top of all that, the speed of change is accelerated by the power of the microchip.

It is no wonder that we all yearn for incredibly simple solutions to problems. Yet “simple” gets confused with “simplistic.” Our culture has instilled in us a “sense that a complex understanding of life is a sign of intelligence.” Remember all the brouhaha at the turn of the century, about Y2K? A lot of big words and sophisticated terms were thrown around. More than once I suggested that we put a bunch of second graders in a room for four hours and ask them to come up with solutions.

How many times do we say, “Wow, that’s so simple. Why didn’t we think of it before?” If you are stuck on a problem, you might have conversations with some of the kids in your neighborhood. They can remind us to always look first for the simple solution.

Finally, says Leahy, “…simple means keeping things short and to the point, and knowing when to shut up.”

Lean. Rhymes with Green. I don’t venture a guess as to how many management consultants jumped on this word “lean”. They’re everywhere, and probably helping organizations overcome the belief that you can only make something better by spending more money, or you can make a product cheaper only if you take away some of its quality. Not so, says Leahy. “You can save money without harming what is delivered. You can improve what is delivered without necessarily spending more money.” Minimize waste; simplify your processes and align them with what your customer values most.

Leahy presents clear examples from his own business as well as other organizations.

Compete. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “Competitors – and the act of competition itself – are great teachers. Don’t wait for your competitors to come over the horizon. Seek them out.”

Leahy builds the case that competition is good for companies – and for society. He admits that foolishness and greed of some have damaged this argument, then goes on to explain why it still holds true. Leahy writes that competition leads to more choices for the consumer, more jobs, and can be the best teacher for anyone running a business. Listen up, then, to your competitors. In the competitive arena, though, Leahy warns that victory at all costs is no victory. Winning is worthless if “in the process you have betrayed what you stand for.”

Trust. Some of you know how much I have written about that word.

In his book, Leahy says trust is the one quality leaders need more than any other, that it is the bedrock of leadership. When you are trusted as a leader, people feel their interests are safe in your hands. They believe in your purpose; you have won their hearts, not only their minds.

You must also put your trust in them, and believe me they will know it. Trust is a two-way street.

Once the CEO of one of my client companies asked “Why do my people trust you so much?” I paused and reflected before answering, and I realized that I was worthy of their trust. It was mutual and I honored it. I answered, “They trust me because they can.” n

Jo Gorissen is a certified transition coach and a former Milwaukee area resident. Her web site is www.coachingconbrio.com and she can be reached at (414) 305-3459.

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