August 2007

If most leaders and executives worked half the amount of time they are working today, I am convinced they would produce much greater output. Before I get a barrage of e-mails arguing this point, let me explain.

The reason is simple. If you had less time to work, you would work on only the things that produced the greatest impact. You would work less on the things you enjoy and more on the things you should. You would meet with only selected people, answer fewer emails, and attend fewer events. Your efforts would be focused only on activities and relationships that produced the greatest return. Moreover, each interaction through the day would be valued at a greater level than today.

I know hundreds of CEOs and entrepreneurs, with organizations from 1 million dollars sales volume to billions in revenue. They have a universal problem that is not dependent on the size of their company. Most are extremely busy and their lives can be described as chaotic most of the time. Yet, however hard they work, they still never have enough time to accomplish everything they want.

However, I have also seen a select few whose lives are very stable—so stable that I would describe them as peaceful. I estimate less than 1% fit in this category. What is their secret?

Would you describe your work life as relaxed? If not, you might try something: To find out what you should be working on, take off at noon today. That’s right, stop working and go home. If you know the day will be over at noon—if you know that’s all the time you have—you will gain clarity, focus, and give priority to the things you should be doing.

Matthew Myers is co-founder and partner of Giant Partners and Giant Impact. He has years of CEO experience, both in start-up and mature companies. Mr. Myers is passionate about helping companies grow by working with CEOs and senior executives to implement strategic growth initiatives and build leaders. You can find additional articles by Matthew at

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Today, I am pleased to welcome our next “trial” guest author: Matthew Myers He is a colleague of David Woods.

Matthew has years of CEO experience, both in start-up and mature companies.

Please use either the comments or the 5-star rating system at the end of the article to let me know your reactions to this piece. I want all our regular readers to have an input in choosing whom I will invite to become a permanent guest author for Slow Leadership.

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Before deferring to authority, start trusting your reason and common sense

What The Buddha said more than 2500 years ago is still worth hearing. Authority—a.k.a. “the experts”—may have no better answers to problems than you can find for yourself.

It’s fascinating how what goes around, comes around.

The Buddha counseled people against putting their trust in expert authority—including himself.

Today’s Management Issues reports on a study that shows that the ability of experts to predict outcomes in tough situations is little better than guesswork.

A study about predicting the outcome of actual conflicts has found that the forecasts of experts who use their unaided judgment are actually little better than those of novices or random guesswork. [. . .] What they found was that the experts — conflict, domain and forecasting specialists — correctly forecasted the decisions made by the various parties in only a third (32 per cent) of the cases. That’s barely better than the strike-rate of the undergraduates, who got it right 29 per cent of the time. Just using random guesswork would deliver the right outcomes 28 per cent of the time.

To be fair, the study used “unaided judgment” as its basis. Experts sometimes have access to sources of information that are not open to ordinary people and which might help them do better.

However, the point remains that using your own common sense looks to be just about as good a guide to tough decisions as the judgment of experts.

Kesten Green said that the research has serious consequences for foreign policy and business: “Forecasting problems such as this are the stuff of not only international relations but also of takeover battles, commercial competition, and labor-management disputes. In most cases, experts use their judgment to predict what will happen. How good are their forecasts? The short answer is that they are of little value in terms of accuracy. In addition, they lead people into false confidence.”

In a crisis? Ignore the experts by Management Issues.

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The wrong doctrine—or one that is outmoded and ill-suited to circumstances—can cause disaster

All organizations have a “doctrine” for doing things, whether it is clearly stated or left implied by custom and tradition. Doctrine is that set of guiding principles that can be summed up by the phrase: “That’s how we do things in this organization.” But doctrines can become dangerously outdated, unless they are consciously taken out and examined for relevance from time to time.

In military circles, doctrine can be roughly summarized as: “the way we fight wars.” It’s a simple set of guiding principles that is drummed into every soldier, sailor, or airman—and every general at staff college. Here, as an example, is Admiral Lord Nelson, England’s greatest naval hero, explaining his doctrine in typically forthright terms.

“Whenever the Enemy can be discovered they are to be closed with and attacked with all the Vigor which is possible . . . Something must be left to chance; nothing is sure in a Sea Fight . . . but, in case Signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no Captain can do very wrong if he places his Ship alongside that of an Enemy.”

Ships of that time fought by firing broadsides at each other at close range, then moving together so that a boarding party could cross to the enemy ship and attempt to capture it by hand-to-hand combat. Nelson’s doctrine was one of all-out attack.

When changing conditions out-pace doctrine

The armies in the American Civil War fought according to an outdated doctrine of formal battles, where opposing forces drew up in line opposite one another, then charged together for a show-down. Weaponry had made this approach obsolete, but the generals on both sides were so habituated to the same doctrine (after all, they had been in the same army before war broke out) that it was continued for the bulk of the fighting. America lost more men killed in that conflict than in all other conflicts before or since.

In the First World War, the British and French armies were committed to a doctrine of offense. They attacked, often with suicidal bravery. A measure of how suicidal can be seen by the casualties. The British army lost 60,000 men killed in one day at the start of the Battle of the Somme. That’s all the inhabitants of a medium-sized township killed in under 12 hours.

The point of these historical examples is to show how doctrine can become so embedded in the mind as to allow truly terrible mistakes to be made, on the basis that there is no acceptable alternative.

Doctrines at work

Everyone who works follows some doctrine of work. No one may have taught it to them deliberately, but it will be there just the same: an approach to work that is seen as more or less inevitable and obvious.

You have one. If you aren’t sure what it is (it’s often so unconscious we’re no longer really aware of it), try completing this sentence, based on Lord Nelson’s words above, with the first works that come to you; “At work, you can’t go far wrong if . . . ” Typical responses might be:
“ . . . you always do your best and work hard.”
“ . . . you’re always a good team-player.”
“ . . . you keep your nose clean and don’t rock any boats.”
“ . . . you’re the first there in the morning and the last to leave at night.”
“ . . . you don’t make mistakes.”
“ . . . you keep a close eye on the pennies.”
“ . . . you keep the customer happy.”

But does it still work?

I’m always surprised how powerful and long-lasting these semi-conscious doctrines are. Like the old generals who sacrificed tens of thousands of soldiers in frontal assaults across open ground against machine guns, people go on hurling themselves, over and over again, against the obstacles in their lives, never stopping to ask whether such displays of determination are likely to succeed. Action is what counts. And when you want to know what action to take, that automatic doctrine pops up with the answer.

Today, tens of thousands—sometimes hundreds of thousands—of people are committed to all-out, frontal assaults on the competition, using a tired old combination of excessive work and continual cutting of costs. As in past wars, there are thousands of casualties as a result, but the leaders persist in the doctrine drummed into them since their very earliest days as managers.

Instead of looking for less costly alternatives, they follow the same doctrine they learned so long ago: action matters, cut costs, cut more, work longer hours, make greater sacrifices!

One of the main reasons for slowing down is to allow time to think and ask such vital questions as: Is this doctrine still right for the world as it is today? Will it still work? Can I bear the cost?

Try in your own life. You may be surprised both to discover what a simplistic doctrine you’ve been following—and horrified to realize what it has been costing you.

Doctrine ought to be flexible, constantly renewed, and a matter of careful choice. That it often isn’t is due to people’s tendency to turn some pattern learned in the past into a rigid set of habits that they are afraid to break.

Then the cost in overwork, frustration, stress, and disappointment can rival, in a smaller, more personal way, those piles of bodies on the fields of France in 1915.

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Taking the wrong approach to corporate needs

I work with a large variety of CEOs, senior managers and key employees. If I ask about the needs and issues within the company, I almost always get the same response: ”We need more communication.”

My reaction to that is that it is simply, WRONG!

Companies don’t need more communication. They need more clarity.

  • Clarity of the vision of the company.
  • Clarity of where the company is going (long term and short term).
  • Clarity of HOW the company will get there.
  • Clarity of individual roles and how those roles create value toward the vision.
  • Clarity of how roles must intertwine in order to achieve extraordinary results.
  • Clarity of how the company will hold itself and each individual accountable.

Think about a great basketball team. When things run smoothly within a team they find that less communication is needed, not more. When the team is really “in the zone” and everything is going perfectly, what is the coach doing? Very little! He’s not yelling, or sending in new plays, or screaming at the assistant coaches. He’s letting the team perform at its peak level . . . because of their clarity of purpose.

The point is, when managers and employees have clarity of where they are going and how to get there they need less communication, not more.

Great teams don’t usually talk in paragraphs or even sentences to communicate. They are so in-tune with one another they talk in just few words and eye-contact. They have so much clarity of purpose among them that they require less communication, not more.

The next time someone in your company pushes for more communication, remember, “Don’t strive for more communication. Strive for more clarity!”

David Woods, CEO/Partner Giant Partners and Giant Impact, leads a team of internationally-known strategists and leadership experts helping companies throughout the world build strategic plans to create strong sustainable growth. David is an expert in strategic thinking. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and universities. You can find his other articles at:

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Today, I am pleased to welcome our next “trial” guest author: David Woods.

David is an expert in strategic thinking and a frequent speaker at conferences and universities.

Please use either the comments or the 5-star rating system at the end of the article to let me know your reactions to this piece. I want all our regular readers to have an input in choosing whom I will invite to become a permanent guest author for Slow Leadership.

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On a long journey, rest breaks are essential if you want to arrive safely. That’s true of your life and career journeys too.

It’s fall migration time. Millions of birds are heading south down the three broad flyways that link the breeding grounds in the north with wintering areas as far south as Argentina. For birders like me, migration is magic. You never know what may pass through. Sadly, many of today’s migrants won’t make it to their destination. The ones that do aren’t just the fittest. They’re also the ones that find places to rest up and re-fuel along the way. It’s a lesson we could all learn.

Some of our native birds travel thousands of miles on migration. But they’re sensible. Every so often they stop off for a few days of rest and recuperation, to feed up and fuel themselves for the next big push southwards.

Southeastern Arizona, where I live, is on the Pacific Flyway—the route down the west coast from Alaska into Mexico and beyond. Our summer monsoon, with its burst of fresh flowers and vegetation, creates an important flyway resort for birds from hawks to hummingbirds. At this time of year, the bird population is swelled by millions of visitors looking for somewhere they can get a good night’s rest and a solid meal of nectar, bugs . . . or migrating birds. Since our climate stays hot for all but two or three months of the year, we usually have a good supply of bugs varied enough for every bird’s taste.

Humans also need regular periods of rest on our journey through life. It’s tempting to keep going and ignore this need. There’s a barrage of advice to push ahead, show determination, get things done, and stay focused on your goals. People and problems are continually demanding your attention. But, like the birds, you need rest and fuel for your mind and body. Pushing yourself too hard causes exhaustion, mental and physical. On a long journey, doing so can be fatal if you want to arrive at all.

What’s your ideal flyway resort?

Here are some ideas to give yourself a break for some much-needed R&R in a hectic world:

  • How about taking a long weekend of total rest at a health resort or a retreat? Leave the cellphone and the laptop behind. It’s an exceptional call or e-mail that can’t wait a few days for an answer. Being available constantly is mostly fashion. It’s almost never necessary.
  • Get out in the fresh air. Walk, ride, hike, go up into the mountains or down to the beach. In a two-hour walk this morning, less than five miles from my home, I encountered more than twenty species of birds, plus lizards, grasshoppers, hundreds of butterflies—and a three-foot Western Diamondback rattlesnake, quietly slipping through the grass on its way home after a night of hunting. We live in a land of staggering beauty. Enjoy it.
  • Do something different. Volunteer to help with children or elderly people for a day—or a week. Go to a show or a concert you’d never imagine yourself attending. Make love all afternoon. Ban TV for 72 hours.
  • Lose yourself in a book. Better still, in a series of books. Forget the problems you face. They’ll wait for you. Be a detective, do some time traveling, visit lands you’ve never been to, explore ideas that haven’t crossed your mind before.
  • Change your routine. Get up earlier, or stay later in bed. Have a midday siesta. Take more exercise, or relax more. The old saying that a change can be as good as a rest is true.
  • Change your diet. Try eating more healthily and more slowly. In the non-stop rush of today, too many people bolt down their food as if taking more than 10 minutes for lunch will cause the world to end. Take time to enjoy your food. Be like the French, Spanish, and italians for a few days: have a 3-hour lunch break and spend it really appreciating what you eat.

This isn’t self-indulgence, it’s an unbreakable law of nature. A Rufus Hummingbird that tried to fly from Alaska to Mexico without stopping would collapse and die from exhaustion well before it reached halfway. A person who tries to make their life journey into a nonstop endurance event will meet the same fate mentally—and likely physically as well.

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Would you rather be right or romantic?

Many ideas about workplace success are based more on romantic ideals than a realistic view of the world. Romanticism maybe has its place, but it’s not a sound basis for directing important choices. Here’s how to get it in perspective.

England’s last civil war took place in the mid-17th century. On one side was the king, Charles I, and his supporters known as Cavaliers. Opposing them was a group of Puritan parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell. They were known as Roundheads, from a distinctive type of helmet worn by their army.

When I was at school, we remembered which side was which like this: the Cavaliers were wrong, but romantic; the Roundheads were right, but repulsive

Puritanism has never been liked in Europe, but that childish rhyme has more to offer than an insight into social and religious prejudice.

The cavaliers stood for the past, the status quo, and the divine right of the king to do whatever he wished with people and country.

All poor choices, everyone today agrees. But they were dashing. They wore fancy clothes and huge hats with feathers. Many fought as cavalry (hence their nickname)—all thundering charges and the flash of swords over the battlefield. They were also rash, often vain, wasted victories in pointless pursuits of the defeated, and ultimately lost the war.

The Roundheads were puritans, which was a bad start (and made them repulsive).

But they also stood for rule by parliament, an end to arbitrary aristocratic privilege, and the principle that no one, including the king, was above the law.

All right ideas, by modern notions.

Sadly they wore dark clothes, suppressed music and dancing, were often religious fundamentalists, and pursued the war with grim efficiency. That’s why they won.

It’s also why they still have a very bad press—plus the fact that Oliver Cromwell, their leader, made himself into a tyrant after the victory, and was every bit as proud and dictatorial as King Charles had been (and not nearly as romantic).

Why this history matters

The purpose of this article isn’t to provide a potted history of the English Civil War. I thought of it only because it offers such a neat parallel with fashionable ideas today.

Being effective isn’t rocket science. It takes effort, of course, but it mostly requires the application of reason and commonsense.

Don’t rush decisions needlessly. Think through your options with care. Avoid taking unnecessary or poorly-understood risks. Treat people with respect. Slow down, give yourself time to think, consider all the options, and make decisions rationally, not emotionally.

None of these ideas are new, difficult, or profound. So why do they still have to be pointed out?

Today’s equivalent of the dashing cavalry charge

Oddly, today’s fashionable Hamburger Management, for all its worship of efficiency and measurements, is, in reality, extremely romantic.

It’s full of sound and fury, haste, shouted commands, instant decisions, and the odd belief that constantly taking risks—even (especially?) rash ones—is proof of natural leadership. That’s why macho CEOs cut such dashing, romantic figures on the covers of business magazines— and why their mistakes tend to look so obvious after the event, and their fall is typically so sudden and catastrophic.

You can choose a romantic approach to working life, full of sound and fury, highs and lows, triumphs and disasters; or you can take a calmer, more rational style—more like the Buddhist approach—that avoids extremes and cultivates steadiness, realism, and detachment.

Which you choose is up to you. In a free society everyone should be able to select how they prefer to live. It’s worth considering, though, that there’s a price attached to each option.

Being romantic seems very often to come with being wrong—in the sense that as a path to success, it’s far from efficient. Too many fake hopes, impractical visions, false starts, and energy wasted on rushing about pointlessly, like Prince Rupert’s cavalry in the battles of the English Civil War. All the drama really needs to be its own reward.

The alternative, rational route is more like Cromwell’s army: rather dull, not at all romantic, and generally very efficient. Fewer highs and lows, fewer excitements . . . and much more likely to win in the end.

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Is the boss a real piece of work?

“Lawmakers across the country are considering legislation that would give workers grounds to sue their superiors for being, basically, jerks. Bookstores are stocking bad-boss advice tomes, including “Snakes in Suits” and “Was Your Boss Raised by Wolves?” Today the AFL-CIO will name the worst boss in the country, based on the results of an online contest. Are relations between workers and management really in such an awful state?” [Read more >>]

Turn off and switch on

“Here’s an idea. Before you start reading this, reach into your pocket or bag, find your mobile phone and press the “off” button. Now I realize for a lot of you this won’t be easy. Some of you, I’m sure, are breaking out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of it. Others will be shaking their heads incredulously at the outrageousness of my suggestion.” [Read more >>]

Who wants to be a middle manager?

“Research shows waning interest in middle-management jobs and higher levels of dissatisfaction among those holding the positions. Just four in 10 managers are extremely or very satisfied working for their employers, according to a 2007 survey of more than 1,400 respondents by Accenture, a management consulting and outsourcing company. About 25% of those looking for new jobs said they were searching because of a lack of advancement prospects, and 43% of middle managers polled felt as if they were doing all the work but not getting credit for it. One-third reported frustration with their work-life balance.” [Read more >>]

Agreement and trust

“Peter Block, author of The Empowered Manager, noted that the apparent power of those at the top is much less than absolute. What leaders can do from the top down depends on the will of those below. Block recommended that leaders analyze their relationship with each of their essential people by asking two questions: 1. How much do I trust them? 2. How much do I agree with them? Block then offered this grid to help leaders think about how to build support for change initiatives: . . .” [Read more >>]

17 Tricks to reclaim your stolen attention

“Time is not money. Attention is money. Not just money, attention is life itself. Where you pay attention doesn’t just impact your bank account but the quality of life itself. With the colorful buzz of television, downpour of e-mail messages and endless stresses it is time to reclaim what has been stolen from you.” [Read more >>]

Work-life readings worthy of summer

“Here’s a grab-bag of new titles that especially fit these last days of summer, when our thoughts turn to carpools and apples, deadlines and briefcases, and perhaps yearnings for a bit more time and connection. While diverse, these books have something in common: They can help us to adapt to and effect change.” [Read more >>]

Seven signs that your career has stalled

“Have you recently found your mind might turn to that question we often ask ourselves — just where is my career taking me? Is it time for you to get your career back on track? Here are seven signs that you can identify your career has stalled and actions you can take to overcome them: . . .” [Read more >>]

Who’s average if you’re not?

“Today Rowan Manahan in Dublin, asked … who’s average … and Rowan’s post made me wonder about this compelling question from a different light. From a Business Week survey on workplace attitudes, Rowan pointed out that 90% of 2000 surveyed middle managers ranked their performance in the top 10%. Executives too, placed themselves very near the very top.” [Read more >>]

Nothing special about achieving gender equality

“Work-life balance policies and flexible working are among the most fruitful tactics for creating an environment where women can thrive, and progress to more senior positions if that is what they want.” [Read more >>]

Interesting work top factor sought in next job

“The No. 1 thing employees are looking for in their next job: interesting work, according to 29 per cent of nearly 1,000 people polled in 33 countries, the bulk in the United States. Tied next for what people most want in their next position were meaningful work and work/life balance, cited by 18 per cent each, according to the survey by global consulting firm BlessingWhite Inc.” [Read more >>]

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Take your time to consider how to make any message memorable

You enter a room, labeled “The Numbers Room.” You see fifty people walking around wearing name tags that look like this . . .


You then leave and enter a different room, labeled “The Names Room.” You see fifty different people walking around also wearing name tags. Only this time the name tags look like this . . .


Question: In which room would you expect to remember more people’s names?

The answer, of course, is “The Names Room.“

Remember this the next time you need to deliver a message that you want to stick. The people in “The Numbers Room” might very well be thoroughly and accurately labeled, but the chances their “names” would be remembered are slim to none.

To deliver a “rememorable” message, leverage the hidden secrets of “The Names Room” . . .

  • Short. Less information is more.
  • Easily recognizable. Short names and unique faces work for humans. Give your message a short name and only show its “unique face” and you have a winner.
  • Easily recallable. Look away and spell Bob in your mind. Now look away and “spell” 3947202734 in your mind. Big difference. Use simple words and phrases to “stickify” your message.
  • Easily transferable. How many Bobs have you heard of?
  • Overcomes the knowledge gap. You probably have never seen 3947202734 before. So, your mind has to work harder to try to remember brand new information. However, you have heard, seen and dealt with the name Bob all your life. Find a way to take pre-existing words, concepts, or labels and give new meaning to them (instead of creating words from scratch.)
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