Monday, July 17, 2017

Clarifying the What Not the How

I'm doing performance evaluations with my direct reports this week and, on the advice of one of those direct reports, I'm asking everyone for their feedback on my performance as well. What, essentially, should I be doing that I'm not to help make everyone's job easier, to remove some of the roadblocks and barriers that are holding people back?

So far, two people have zeroed in on the same thing, taken from the list of behaviors that we created to describe alignment with our core values: "Bring purpose and understanding to complex and uncertain environments."

I get it. We work in a complex environment. Some of that complexity is inherent to our organization, and to many associations. I sometimes call it the diffused nature of leadership, in which the authority for determining courses of actions rests not with an individual but with a group -- the Board, a committee, a staff team. But some of that complexity is my own doing. If you've spent any time reading this blog, then you know I'm always tinkering with the process and mechanisms that our association uses to come up with its strategy agenda and operational plans. Sometimes, I know, I can overwhelm people with new terminology and experimental ways of doing things.

So, I'm doing the best thing I can with this constructive criticism. I'm accepting it, taking it to heart, and considering how to adjust my behavior to address it.

But as I am thinking those things through, at least one essential point has occurred to me. As I figure out ways to bring more purpose and understanding to our complex strategic and operational environment, my focus must remain entirely on what we are here to do, not on how we're going to do it.

Of all the experimental iterations that I've introduced in the organization, the one that I remain most committed to is finding ways to better empower (and hold accountable) the people closest to the challenges we face to determine the methods by which we will surmount and surpass them. Our Board embraced this mindset a few years ago, and now has a culture sharply focused on determining the intended outcomes of our organization. The Board is self-policing is this regard, scrupulously keeping itself out of the weeds, and reminding itself whenever necessary that it has formally delegated the determination of the means to achieve our ends to its chief staff executive and his staff.

I'm embracing the same mindset and trying to build the same culture within our staff organization. Yes, I need to be more clear about what it is we are trying to achieve, but in my attempt to be more clear, I have to avoid directives about how we should be achieving those things.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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