Great Leaders Delegate!

As a leader, regardless of what level, one of the most important skills necessary for success is delegating authority and responsibility to your team.  Done properly, this will improve your effectiveness and performance and that of your team, allow more time to focus on your key responsibilities and objectives, and increase employee participation and accountability.

Many years ago, after being appointed to my first leadership role, I learned, the hard way, the importance of this skill in becoming an effective leader and manager.  In reading the many books and articles about this subject, I found a very simple and straightforward tool that has worked well, both individually, and within organizations – The Decision Tree.  This tool was described in Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations, and has been used in many organizations, including General Electric, to improve managerial effectiveness, performance, and employee engagement.

The Decision Tree provides clear authority and responsibility for decisions and actions in the organization.  To use this tool, first think of the organization as a growing tree that bears fruit.  In order to ensure its long-term health, there are many decisions that need to be made on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

With this scenario in mind, there are four levels of decision making and action.  The specific level is dependent on the degree of potential harm or good to the organization that will result from the decision and action.  These four levels are as follows:

  • Leaf Level – Make the decision, and act on it.  No report is required. 
  • Branch Level – Make the decision, act on it, and report after the fact, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on the action.
  • Trunk Level – Make the decision, but do not take action until reported, and approved.
  • Root Level – Make the decision, with input from others.  These are the decisions that, if poorly made and implemented, could cause major harm and damage to the organization.

The benefits of the Decision Tree tool are as follows:

  • Clearly defines the level of authority and responsibility for decisions and actions, at all levels of the organization.  Each team members knows exactly where they have the authority to make certain decisions and take action.
  • Provides team members with a clear path of professional development.  Progress is made as decisions are moved to the next level – from Root, to Trunk, Branch, and Leaf.  As employees demonstrate good decision making at the Root level, their decision level can, and should be, moved up to the next level.
  • Develops leadership and decision making skills at lower levels in the organization, freeing up leaders and manager to take on the more challenging and important responsibilities themselves.
  • Increases personal accountability, allowing employees to identify and recommend solutions outside of the supervisor’s personal reach.
  • Develops future leaders.

In summary, the Decision Tree provides leaders and teams with very clear guidelines for decision making and action, improved effectiveness and efficiency at all levels, professional and leadership development opportunities, and increased employee engagement, accountability, and participation.

Since you can’t do everything yourself, I highly recommend using this tool to reduce your To Do list, increase focus on key responsibilities and objectives, get your team involved, and help your organization grow and be successful.


“The first rule of management is delegation. Don’t try and do everything yourself because you can’t.” – Anthea Turner

People and organizations don’t grow much without delegation and completed staff work because they are confined to the capacities of the boss and reflect both personal strengths and weaknesses.– Stephen Covey

Leadership Principles – Volume 3

In this, the final post of our Leadership series, we look at the last three of George Marshall‘s Nine Principles, including:

  • Focusing on the Big Picture: The Principle of Vision
  • Laying the Groundwork: The Principle of Preparation
  • Sharing Knowledge:  The Principle of Learning and Teaching

We’ll also distill all of the Principles and postings down to a simple summary of what it all means.

First, let’s review the last three, and how they can apply to your organization.  While these particular principles apply to the leader, they also have a significant impact on the entire organization and how it operates.

Focusing on the Big Picture: the Principle of Vision
Every organization must have a vision that defines its direction and objectives for the future.  Unfortunately, many small and medium size organizations (and some large ones, as well), do not have a vision, or have a vision that has not been shared.  As a result, these organizations tend to swing from one direction to another over time, with no alignment of performance or goals, and their leaders tend to apply the management solution du jour to try to identify where it is ultimately going.

Effective leaders first establish a vision, and communicate it, clearly, to the entire organization.  This allows for  identification of those areas/actions that the organization must focus on, and alignment of the activities and objectives required to achieve that vision.

Leaders must also identify the members of the organization that either choose not to support the vision, or that can’t or won’t see the big picture, and move them out quickly.  In addition, trivial activities, that don’t move the organization in the right direction, should be avoided so as not to get bogged down, or distracted.

Laying the Groundwork: The Principle of Preparation
As organizations begin to make significant progress toward the vision, some leaders may get complacent and put the required activities on auto pilot.  As a result, they are surprised when events or issues occur that take them off course, and/or threaten their future. The key is to prepare for these potential events.

First, there is no such thing as an organization just staying in place.  If it is not moving forward, it is actually moving backward.  The leader and organization must constantly review their operations to identify for new opportunities for growth and improvement, and worst case scenarios.  This ongoing review will allow the organization to prepare and plan for the potential future, and stay on course, regardless of event.

Sharing Knowledge:  the Principle of Learning and Teaching
As noted above, organizations cannot stand still, and must constantly evolve, and move forward through learning and teaching.  This is especially true in today’s environment, where conditions and technology are changing so quickly, that it is critical to understand and stay ahead of those changes.  Without this learning and teaching, organizations continue to repeat the errors of the past.

Effective leaders learn constantly and share their learning, expertise and vision with their organizations on a regular basis.  In fact, Jeffrey Immelt, the Chairman and CEO of General Electric, states that one of a “leaders primary role, is to teach the organization. People have to feel that you are willing to share what you’ve learned, and what the organization is doing, in terms that are understood by all.”

One tool to accomplish this is for the leader to ask their organizations from time to time, “What do you think we should do?” to resolve a particular issue.  This helps the leader connect with, share, and teach their organizations to think constantly about different ways to solve problems and issues, and exploit new opportunities for the future.

What Does This All Mean?
If we summarize the Nine Principles, and related postings over the past few weeks, we can simply say that:

True leaders have the values and courage required to establish, and communicate, the vision and direction of the organization.  They establish open cultures that encourage communication and debate, live the values, focus and align activities around the big picture, avoid trivia, and constantly learn and teach the organization to think, prepare for, and identify opportunities and issues. Their organizations are always moving toward the vision, constantly improving, and achieving long-term success.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John Maxwell

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision.  It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.  You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Reverend Theodore Hesburgh

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.  He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”Douglas MacArthur

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy

Leadership Principles – Volume 2

In this week’s post, we discuss the next three of George Marshall‘s Nine Leadership Principles, including:

  • Speaking Your Mind: The Principle of Candor
  • Choosing and Rewarding the Right People: The Principle of Fairness
  • Supporting the Troops: The Principle of Caring

These three principles relate to how leaders communicate with their organization, establish a culture that rewards straight talk and candor, have the right people in place, and finally, take care of those people.

Let’s look at each of these principles and how they may apply to your organization.

Speaking Your Mind: The Principle of Candor
In many organizations, speaking up, straight talk, and candor are frowned upon, even at the highest levels.  While much lip service may be paid to these attributes, the organizations either penalize those individuals that speak up by labeling them as “troublemakers”, or, in the case of bad news, “shoot the messenger”.  These organizations also tend to obscure the information behind “corporate-speak” to avoid having to deal directly with contentious issues, “breathe their own exhaust”, and make decisions that may not be in the best interests of the organization because the culture does not allow debate or dissent.

Effective leaders that apply straight talk and candor, in all of their communications and relationships, create a culture of trust that promotes open discussion and debate, and in fact, rewards it.  As a result, not only are these leaders trusted and credible, their organizations openly share information, are aligned in the same direction, make good, well thought out, decisions, and execute on those decisions.

Choosing and Rewarding the Right People: The Principle of Fairness
There are actually two parts to this principle, which should be considered one of the primary tasks of a leader.  In his book “Good to Great“, Jim Collins calls this “Getting the Right People on the Bus”.

The first is identifying, and recruiting/promoting, the best person for each position and/or assignment based on the requirements of the organization, cultural fit (as applicable), and individual attributes. The element of fairness comes into play when the person is considered and selected on the basis on proven performance and attributes, and not necessarily because they were the “next in line”.

The second part of this principle is that once the right people are place, the leader and organization must actively support their efforts, and reward them with loyalty.

Effective leaders make these decisions, not on popularity, favoritism, or seniority, but on the basis of integrity, performance, judgement, and the ability to speak their mind for the good of the organization.  Having the right people in place improves delegation, organizational decision-making, information flow, and the overall performance of the organization.

Supporting the Troops: The Principle of Caring
Now that you have established an open culture, and have the right people in place, the final principle is to take care of them.

Morale is another key task of a leader, and one that cannot be delegated.  People want to know that their leader,and organization, has their best interests at heart, respects them as individuals and employees, values their efforts, and actively demonstrates that support and concern.  In many instances, it will be the little things that count, and work to demonstrate that support and value.

Effective leaders demand top performance, get out and talk with their people, tell them the truth, listen to their suggestions and concerns, and take action where possible.  Organizations that have good morale, and show respect for their employees will be more successful.

Utilization of these principles requires leaders that have a strong set of personal values, moral courage, and are secure enough to listen to and accept dissent for the overall good of the organization.  Those leaders can apply these principles to establish a high performance culture that speaks candidly, rewards performance, and values and supports each individual leading to the long-term success of the organization.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” — Jack Welch

“A real leader faces the music, even when he doesn’t like the tune.” – Anonymous

Leaders who make it a practice to draw out the thoughts and ideas of their subordinates, and who are receptive even to bad news, will be properly informed.  Communicate downward to subordinates with at least the same care and attention as you communicate upward to superiors.” — L. B. Belker

Leadership Principles – Volume 1

This is the first installment of our series on the Nine Leadership Principles followed by George Marshall.  In this post, we’ll focus on three of these principles including:

  • Doing the Right Thing: The Principle of Integrity
  • Mastering the Situation: The Principle of Action
  • Serving the Greater Good: The Principle of Selflessness

Leaders that want to use these principles (and the other six) to guide their actions, and those of their organization, must have self confidence, strong core values, moral courage, and backbone.  If any of these attributes are lacking, these principles will not be effective, leading to uncertainty, confusion, and a lack of trust and credibility throughout the organization, and its outside relationships.

Before deciding to use these principles, however, there are several questions that leaders should ask themselves:

  • Do I have the attributes required to effectively use these principles?
  • What is the message that I want to send to my organization?
  • What is the culture that I want my organization to have?

Let’s look at the first three principles:

Doing the Right Thing: The Principle of Integrity
This is, in my opinion, the most important of the nine principles, both for the leader and his organization.  Without integrity, and the ability to define and do the right thing in any situation, a leader cannot build trust and credibility in his leadership.

Using this principle means using the attributes defined earlier, using integrity to identify the right course of action, and taking full responsibility for that action and outcome, regardless of the consequences.  By doing so, the leader holds himself to a high standard, and sets the expectations for his entire organization.

Mastering the Situation: The Principle of Action
Too many times, leaders and their organizations, put off decisions and action, hoping that the situation will get better, or just go away, with time.  They spend more time on planning, discussing, meeting, and gathering information vs. actually making the decision.  In general, most situations, unlike wine, don’t get better with age, and the consequences are usually far worse by waiting.

Effective leaders are willing to step up and take the right action required in a given situation, even if they don’t have all of the information they would like to have.  They take their best shot based on the information available, and act when necessary.  While mistakes can and will be made from time to time, it is far more important to act rather than sit and wait for something to happen. As the Nike commercial says – “Just Do It!”.

Serving the Greater Good: The Principle of Selflessness
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins defines a Level 5 leader as “one who channels their ego needs away form themselves and into the larger goal of building a great organization”.  These leaders direct their energy and ambition to the organization vs. promoting their self interest.

Leaders that use this principle base all of their actions and decision on what is right for the organization as a whole, not how it will affect them personally. They let their actions speak for themselves and look beyond the personal benefit to the long-term interest of the organization.

The leaders that utilize these principles consistently do the right thing, and take action for the good of the organization.  By doing so, they establish the standard and build a culture that follows these same principles over time, resulting in a committed and successful organization.

If you have any comments or questions, or would like more information, please call us at (727) 637-4666, or email me directly at Don@HuttlinAssociates.com.

“The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” – Dwight Eisenhower

People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”  —  John Maxwell

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” — Tony Blair

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” –  George Patton

Clear Principles Equal Great Results!

Every week, there are a number of articles and posts on the subject of Leadership that provide thought provoking and useful advice that can be utilized in many organizations.  However, with all of this information available, how does one identify the best practices that can be applied to their own organization?

Truly effective leaders have a set of principles that they utilize to guide their actions and decision making in any situation.  As a result, these leaders generally deliver great, sustainable results, and their organizational cultures reflect those same principles.  In the end, Leadership is judged and “defined by results” (Peter Drucker) that are achieved by the organization.

In 1964, Jack Uldrich wrote a book titled George MarshallSoldier, Statesman, Peacemaker; Lessons in Leadership” that described a set of Nine Principles of Leadership that Marshall used to guide him and his organizations throughout his long and varied career.

The Nine Principles are as follows:

  • Doing the Right Thing: The Principle of Integrity
  • Mastering the Situation: The Principle of Action
  • Serving the Greater Good: The Principle of Selflessness
  • Speaking Your Mind: The Principle of Candor
  • Laying the Groundwork: The Principle of Preparation
  • Sharing Know ledge: The Principle of Learning and Teaching
  • Choosing and Rewarding the Right People: The Principle of Fairness
  • Focusing in the Big Picture: The Principle of Vision
  • Supporting the Troops: The Principle of Caring

Even though this book was written almost 50 years ago, these principles have stood the test of time, are just as valid today as when they were first written, and can be utilized by individual leaders to establish the culture of their organizations.  When you really think about it, every member of an organization can be considered a leader at some level, and can utilize these principles in their daily activities, as well

Also, note that many of these principles have appeared in other management and leadership texts.  While the principles may have a different name, or description, the essence of each one is generally consistent including integrity, action, candor, preparation, and having the right team, among others.  For example, in his book,Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about “Level 5 Leaders, Who then What, Confronting the Brutal Facts, and a Culture of Discipline”.  All can be directly related to Marshall’s principles above.

All organizations have leaders.  However, those organizations that produce sustainable results will have a leader that follows these principles personally, and makes them a part of the organizational culture.  The effective leader cannot pick and choose which principles he will use, it is an all or nothing proposition, and all must be present for success.

The leaders and organizations that choose to utilize and apply these principles will ultimately produce great results, and achieve success.

Over the coming weeks, we will be focusing on these principles in greater detail, with practical applications, and how each one can be applied to your organization to improve and drive overall success.

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”  – Peter Drucker

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower