Executive Handbook

How to stay out of the weeds

lost in the weeds

Leaders are called on to do many things for their organizations: articulate a vision for a better tomorrow, mobilize people, constantly drive improved outcomes, and so on. However, there’s one thing the best leaders do that is never written about. They are masterful at simplifying things.

Here are some examples of how this happens in real life.

  •  Leaders simplify the mission. Exactly what are we trying to accomplish? If your answer takes more than a sentence or two, you might not have simplified the mission enough. Peter Drucker said a mission statement should fit on a T-shirt. If it doesn’t, you don’t have it yet.
  •  Leaders simplify the values. What are the beliefs that you want to drive the behavior in your organization? The longer the list of values, the less impact they’ll have on your organization. So how many should you have? I don’t believe there’s one right answer, but I do think it’s closer to five than 10. Which values are core?
  •  Leaders simplify the score card. What are the key metrics you use to drive your team and organization? Again, the watchword is “simplify.” I’ve seen organizations with 20-plus key metrics. You guessed it — it didn’t work. Everyone picked the three to four they wanted to pursue. The result: no organizational focus, no traction, no improvement.
  •  Leaders simplify problems. Admittedly, many of the problems we face as leaders are very complex. Don’t let that stop you from breaking the problem down into smaller, more manageable chunks.
  •  Leaders simplify processes. The best leaders I know don’t like bureaucracy. Those men and women are always interested in streamlining the process. The questions they ask include: How can we make it easier, make it faster, reduce the number of steps? How can we simplify the process?
  •  Leaders simplify the strategy. Can you write your core business strategy or strategies on the back of a napkin? Better yet, can you do it in a picture a 10-year-old could draw? If you want everyone implementing the strategy, they need to get it.
  •  Leaders simplify communications. The next time you’re tempted to present a 40-slide PowerPoint deck, try to reduce it to four slides. Here’s a sobering test: After you speak to a group, would the audience members agree on your core message? They should.
  •  Leaders simplify next steps. Leaders ensure clarity on who will do what by when. If next steps are not clear, next steps might not happen. I had a business leader tell me that this single practice revolutionized his organization. Clear and simple next steps help.

Just recently, someone said to me, "Smart people make things complicated." My response, "The smartest ones can make things simple."

If you’re looking for a way to add instant value in your agency or department, look for something to simplify.


Read the full Executive Handbook package

Main page
How to spot a turkey farm
How to make the most of a mentor
How to share a service
How to join the Senior Executive Service
How to assess your team
How to influence policy
How to stay out of the weeds
How to foster better performance
How conformists can spark creativity

About the Author

Mark Miller (@LeadersServe) is co-author of "The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do" and is vice president of organizational effectiveness at Chick-fil-A. He writes about leadership at GreatLeadersServe.org.

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