Q&ampA

What is this book about?

A

With tough decisions, there is typically no ideal solution, only less-than-optimal options, each of which will disappoint some group of people. Whether it’s a lack of useful data or the need for a long-term perspective, these challenges often cause managers to delay. They want to avoid conflict. They worry too much about their careers. Sometimes they become very defensive and simply dig in and protect their current turf. What’s Holding You Back? discusses these human behaviors and provides managers with ten principles that constitute the kind of courageous leadership that generates greatly improved operational and innovative performance.

Is it a question of changing one’s personality?

A

No. Everyone has their own style and mode of operation. Some are gregarious and some aren’t. Some are very analytical and some are very empirical. Some have tons of charisma and other little. The bold steps we discuss in the book don’t depend on style; they focus on what you need to do, not how you do it.

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How can someone become a courageous leader?

A

This book provides ten principles that you and your team should discuss regularly and grade yourselves on how you are doing. Employees who jump at the chance to implement these principles should be rewarded, and those who don’t should be held back or moved to other assignments. As a leader, you are creating a culture based on ten simple, bold principles that are virtually guaranteed to lead to progress.

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Which is the most important principle?

A

The first one: Develop a demanding game plan to confront reality. Being objective about the current state of things is the cornerstone of gutsy leadership. What are the things you clearly need to improve? What are the opportunities provided by new approaches that you need to jump on before your competition does? Most managers, especially if they have been in their job for a while, convince themselves they are doing good work. Hence, what is the need for change? Why the urgency to do things differently? The great leader creates a culture that says, we are never done improving. We always need to look for the weak link and the new idea.

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Once I have a plan, what then?

A

The other nine principles deal with various aspects of staffing, operational efficiency and effectiveness, and innovation. In leading the implementation of the plan, you need to re-configure staffing and organizational structure so the game plan gets appropriate focus. You also need to clean up the sloppiness, duplication, complexity, and bureaucracy in the organization and demand accountability and decisiveness, not consensus. Innovation is spawned by seeking out key inflection points in technology and in your customer’s behavior (be they internal or external customers). Fresh ideas should be rewarded with public recognition.

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You mention staffing; why is it so critical?

A

What’s Holding You Back? is all about change and the need to jump on new ideas. Strong performers typically excel at this; less talented folks tend to not be as energetic, courageous and creative. You need a great, on-going performance appraisal system and strong personnel development programs to spot and nurture highly talented people, which are the key to success.

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Why is leadership so important in achieving operating efficiency and effectiveness?

A

Over time, organizations tend to add too many people, get very bureaucratic, and complexity skyrockets. It takes forever to get things done. You have an operational mess. A leader needs to make it clear that simplicity, lean staffing, and very tight-fisted cost control are the norm, and everyone needs to fight hard to achieve and then maintain those things.

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Isn’t innovation just a matter of lightening striking with a bright idea?

A

Haven’t you heard of the famous saying: “Necessity is the mother of invention?” Half the battle is won when the leaders makes it clear that innovation is necessary, and outlines the area where the innovation is needed. The strong leaders gives emotional rewards for innovation and gets the entire organization involved in constantly looking for better ways to do things; thus creating a culture that highly prizes innovation and innovators.

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Some people are deep in experience and tenure; are they an asset or a liability?

A

While you need to protect basic knowledge and capability for certain tasks, leaving people in the same job for too long is very risky. It is human nature to get set in our ways. People get very proud and complacent, and end up vigorously defending current practices (change is seen as a threat). When you are seeking new ideas and implementing change, one thing that works well is to take your highly-rated performers and put them in those key change-related jobs. They tend to be objective, quick at picking up the necessary knowledge to do the job well, energetic, and quite clever in modifying things on the fly to take advantage of current learning.

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Who can benefit from What’s Holding You Back?

A

Anyone who has responsibility for part or all of an organization will find this book to be very useful. This may be a first-time manager with four direct reports. It could be an up-and-coming executive who is doing very well in his or her career, but is now getting enough responsibility that the decisions are a whole lot tougher. It may be a seasoned executive who has done well, but can benefit from being reminded of the basic principles that are often ignored as an executive gets swamped with administrative bureaucracy. Too often people who are in highly responsible jobs fail to realize that their most important task is to constantly face reality and ask what we can do next to further the success of the organization.

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