Many years ago, I was a participant in a CEO group. One of the other members was known for a hard-driving initiative that he claimed ensured results: Every quarter, regardless of company performance, he fired one member of his executive team.
His Rationale Was Simple.
In a team of 8–10 executives, in a fast-growing organization, people will invariably evolve out of their capacity, which basically means that most people will rise to a level of their incompetence. And, this is true. Then, there is complacency where a leader or team member clamps on a couple of sinkers, sometimes weighing down the whole company by no longer performing up to the expected or needed level or speed. Also, true. The problem may lie with the CEO who isn’t bringing in new thinking with enough pace or panache -- which can become a weakness. There is a level of basic truth in each example he stated.
The other CEOs in our group told him he was too harsh. We argued that individuals cannot be expected to perform at their finest under conditions of mental distress over keeping their job. The leader and employee constantly feeling the affects of continual fear shouldn’t be part of the plan in the day-to-day operational conditions of a company. This breeds discord, distrust and causes cut-throat concerns for your company -- which can then become like some corporate version of Lord of the Flies.
That CEO? He led his company to a public offering, delivering great returns for investors and the employees — and, yes, even for option-holding ex-executives who had been dismissed. But, is this the best way?
Last month, I spent some time reference checking a potential employee, who had spent three years at a startup here in Boston. I back-channeled to a previous manager who noted the candidate was effective but was always a little “off balance” during his tenure, and was unable to effectively use his skills. They employee and the company eventually parted ways.
“Our CEO’s hiring process was unplanned and ad hoc; he didn’t really plan the hiring well, which was unfair to the company and employee. Our CEO -- he was just doing.”
“Just doing.” Scary words.
"Just Doing," Isn’t Leading At All.
Here’s A Fact:
Great Leaders Lead Through A Series Of Activities That Define How The Company Operates And How The Team Behaves.
On the flip side, ineffective executives are often much less prescriptive. They fall into the trap of “just doing.” It's not that the executive is "doing" anything wrong. They are responding, as best they can, to the pace and priority-juggling of the job.
Becoming an effective leader requires you to move beyond just hanging on. Beyond the, "just doing.”
An effective leader needs to become prescriptive in both process and execution. You have to reflect on each action and activity in order to generate returns.
But don’t get fooled into thinking every activity carries the same weight. Every activity isn’t the same.
Rather there are three distinct buckets every great leader should learn about and pay attention to.
The Three Bucket Theory:
All three are critically important to leadership. But it's the last -- like the rudder at the back of a ship is utilized to direct its course -- this rudder becomes your most valuable tool.
BUCKET #1: FOUNDATIONS
The processes you plan in advance will become the basis by which you manage.
Foundations are the big strategic activities that help the team know where they are going and why they are going there.
These activities are most effective when they are scheduled, time-based activities.
BUCKET #2: CONSTANTS
Your personal unfair advantages you deliver on every day.
Constants are your set of skills that you can 10x over anyone else in the business. As the leader, you can wield these skills in a way that can propel the business forward. There’s no “right” set of constants, there are only the constants that you are specifically built to execute on.
- If you’re in product, you are creating things: you might sketch or wireframe or you might manage Trello or Jira boards or gather troves of customer research.
- If you’re in sales, you will sell things: you might review and update your pipeline or network. Or, you may be the one that “bang the phones.”
- You might be an excellent writer, so you publish often. You may be great at social, so you update often. You may be great with numbers -- so you analyze deeply.
Long and short, use what you've got!
BUCKET #3: RUDDERING
Your opportunity (and ability) to fix challenges, as they arise.
Ruddering is the filler to ensure your Foundations and Constants are effective. The importance of this action cannot be overstated.
How you rudder may very well be the difference-maker between a healthy company and a distressed one.
Fantastic leaders instinctually “feel” which parts of the organization require their attention. Their reaction-capacity is what allows them to put out fires, and keep the team moving when they are stuck.
If done effectively, the best leaders straighten the rudder often.
- Personnel meetings the minute you hear of team communication breakdowns.
- Addressing the infinite daily questions on strategy (e.g., Should we redo the homepage? Which segments should we target? How should I close this deal?)
- When objectives are missed, reviewing KPIs and tying them back to specific activities.
- Information distribution -- about wins, losses, and changes to the business, to reduce confusion.
If you’re working to become the best leader possible, you’ll consistently reflect on how you’re filling your 3 buckets of Foundations, Constants and Ruddering.
So how do you put this into practice?
Here’s a simple exercise I’ve found incredibly helpful:
- Go through your calendar over the last month, and think about what you did each day.
- Categorize your meetings into one of these 3 buckets.
- Use the results to determine what you need to do more of, what you need to stop doing, and where you should delegate.
So, get to it -- straighten that rudder and start moving from doing to leading today!