Asking “Why?” …

Snow FLowerChip Bell regularly stimulates my leadership and management thinking … as he did recently with an amusing, but thought-provoking post over at the Lead Change Group, cleverly titled “Don’t Be A Leader of Stupid Rules, which ranks as one of my favorite blog post titles of 2016 so far.  

Chip’s post addresses the all too familiar tendency in the workplace to have rules and processes which everyone follows, but few know why.

Here’s my response to Chip’s post, with a little editing for clarity and expanded reflection:


I was once responsible for helping employees install a standardized organizational system for both paper and electronic workflow in an organization.  As part of that, I would spend much time working with individual employees as they literally took their workspace apart, organized all items into standardized categories and reorganized how they stored data and materials.

Analyzing work processes was a big part of this changeover.   One time,  an employee struggled with what to label a work step in which she received forms from another employee and in turn, gave them to a third employee, without doing anything to the forms, such as verifying or sorting.  After much discussion, we were unable to determine why she needed to do this step, other than that familiar “I was told this was part of my job and I’ve always done it this way” statement.

Similarly to Chip’s story about Catherine The Great and the flower , I finally learned from a long-time employee that decades earlier, two women who did not like each other each had responsibility for a step in this work process.  Since they could not get along, their manager chose to assign a third employee to receive and pass on the documents.

Over the years, just like the soldiers guarding the empty spot, generations of employees were taught to follow this  “system” without any awareness of why that step existed.

Two lessons here for me: 


This is first and foremost a failure of management.  The original manager had the authority and the opportunity to directly address the issue.

Had that original manager addressed the workplace impact of  both employee’s behavior with them, and either directed or coached the employees to work together without affecting workflow, this story would not be mine to tell to illustrate poor management practice.


Sometimes leaders overestimate their impact and sometimes they underestimate it.  Many employees, especially those new to a process, a workgroup, or an organization, will simply accept whatever they perceive as “the way we do it”.   In order to fit in, they then attempt to master doing whatever it is that the system requires them to do, with little reflection on why they are doing it

Fortunately, this is changing in the modern workplace, due to the efforts of a few thoughtful and forward-thinking souls.  A valuable employee is now more often seen as the one who will say “Wait … why are we doing this?” and expect a reasonable answer.   They will comply when to do so makes sense, but will question when motivations and reasons are not clear. 

Ira Chaleff is one of the most valuable and articulate voices driving this welcome workplace and societal trend.  For a great deal more about “FOLLOWERSHIP, click the link to read my previous post on this topic. 

Related Observation:  A GOOD MANAGER KNOWS WHEN TO ASK “WHY”  …

As an operations officer (think Chief Training Officer) in the US Army Reserve, I learned quickly that simply walking up to a tank idling in the wilderness and asking the crew “What are you doing?” as innocently as possible was a good thing.

Listening to the responses to this simple query would provide me with a wealth of insight into their morale, how the training was going, and whether they understood their roles and responsibilities within the context of our mission.

Pretty good return for a simple question …

Chip’s post is a good reminder of how we need to continually analyze what we are doing, why we are doing it, and whether we should stop or change doing it:)

Trying to remember to follow my own advice in the Heartland ….


Speaking Up and Speaking Out …

Protest - Morguefile.comA recent Lead Change Group post by Jane Perdue  was all about how we do not always do or say the right thing, but often choose to remain quiet and go with the majority, even when we know it is the wrong thing to do.  Much research exists to support the idea that we will even doubt our own senses when others react differently to a situation.

Jane’s engaging and value-filled thoughts are always well worth a few minutes of your time.

Here is my edited and revised response to Jane’s thoughts:

Best Understatement:  “For most of us, being in situations where we are isolated, don’t fit in, or face reprisals isn’t much fun.”

Continue reading

Urgent Illusions …

Noise of UrgentWe seem easily distracted or swayed by that which is urgent, don’t we? …

Now when a person’s life is in danger or damage to property looms, we ought to act decisively and quickly to protect people and things.  No question there.  When significant things are at stake, our actions are BOTH urgent and important.  

However, that’s not really the type of “urgent” we are talking about in the quote above, is it?

A good thing to keep in mind here:  We are talking about the MOST valuable use of YOUR time.  


“Urgent” things are those tasks we feel should take priority, not because of danger or potential loss of property, but because they claim our attention for reasons that do not meet the criteria of “Important”.  

For a clear short discussion of “Urgent” versus “Important”, read Organize Tomorrow Today by Jason Selk and Tom Bartow, specifically page 36

In many cases, a thing is “Urgent” if …


Probably the most common excuse I hear offered for spending time on something other than your important things.  Now, the boss is the boss and you ultimately should either comply with legitimate requests by someone with legitimate authority.   Continue reading

Following With Courage …

Followers and Leaders - Chaleff - Morguefile

When I first studied leadership seriously, I learned about three primary elements: Those who lead, those who follow, and the situation or environment where both occur.

Sounds about right … However, as I have continued my focus on leadership and related topics, I have noticed something.


The art of leading has been “amply” researched and discussed , especially over the past few decades.  A visit to any online or on-ground bookstore or a quick Google search of the term “Leadership” will support this.


Leadership in specific environments, such as the military, nursing, and higher education all enjoy healthy attention, as does the more general reflection on leadership in political, corporate, non-profit, and global environments.


Followers are often dismissed with some general comments about listening to those who When it comes to the art and power dynamics that exist between the two important roles of leader and follower, we are just now seeing some serious focus on the role of the follower.  

One of the more interesting writers in that regard is Ira Chaleff, who has written several books, most notably Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told To Do Is Wrong (2015), The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To & For Our Leaders (3rd edition 2009), and an earlier book, The Art of Followership (2008, co-authored with Ronald Riggio).

Followership is sometimes mentioned in leadership writing, but often simply as either a respected role. supporting element, or a useful resource.   Chaleff takes a different tack, as he regards the follower as an essential ingredient with an important role to play in effective leadership.

Chaleff goes far beyond the inane statement I have often seen in one form or another: “Leaders have to have followers, so they have someone to lead.” The leading quotation above from The Courageous Follower spurs several thoughts in my mind:

What factors combine to create such a focus on only Leaders?

How does a good follower keep a balance between loyalty and support on the one hand, and honesty and courage on the other?

How can leaders who desire to be more effective change to more effectively interact with their followers?

As you might guess, Chaleff addresses these and other issues in his writing, which is articulate, thoughtful, and clear.

ANother current theme in leadership circles is the idea of the servant leader.   It seems to me that these two ideas naturally compliment each other.  

Imagine a team where the leaders serve and the followers are courageous … What evil could prevail against such a combination?

I cannot think of a more timely or valuable focus for us, especially as we slog through yet another presidential campaign, while absorbing continuing leadership failures in both the public and private sectors.

If this discussion interests you, plan now to attend Weaving Influence’s free online seminar with Ira Chaleff  on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 at 11 AM CT. 

Hoping to see you at the seminar next Tuesday in the Heartland ….