Removing Barriers

Out of all the responsibilities of a leader I am convinced one of the most important things a leader does is to remove whatever barriers exist that keep others from excelling in their work. Too often a team member fails to achieve his or her goals because there were obstacles they could not overcome. There are some barriers only the leader can remove, and if we fail to remove them we cannot hold others accountable for their inability to get around them.

For 11 years I worked on a factory assembly line. One of the jobs I had on the line during that time had only one person assigned to the station I worked. For most of the models we built one person could do the job, but if we changed to another model it required more than one person. Most shifts we would produce several models, and if there were more than 3-4 of the problem model on the line at one time it was impossible for one person to keep up. Invariably, I would end up finishing my work while in the next station which prevented those people from being able to do their job. Quite often 15-20 of these difficult models would be scheduled in a row which made it very problematic.

When I saw on the schedule that several of this model would be coming at one time I would ask for a swingman to assist me. Sometimes there was no one available. I began to ask for an additional person to be assigned to the station but was told that time study didn’t permit more than one person.

One Saturday while working overtime we had a large run of this particular model. The person sent out to help me turned out to be an official in our union. After he struggled to keep up he requested more help. The next person sent out was also a union official. Two more units went down the line, and they asked for more help. The third person was sent out who also was another official from our union. The next week my supervisor told me that another person was being added to the station! However, it was too late. I had already transferred to another station. Two weeks after I left they had three persons assigned to that station.

When leaders fail to remove barriers it demotivates team members. That’s why I left that station. I was fed up with the unrealistic expectations of our supervisor. For weeks he had told me time study didn’t allow for more than one person, but after getting three union officials trying to do the job I was doing by myself it took less than one week to add another person, and two weeks later they had three persons doing that job. There was no doubt he could have added another person when I first asked.

His refusal to remove this barrier cost the company a lot of money in lost production. When too many units of this model came through at one time many of them went through my station unfinished. This required them to go to a holding area to have the missing work completed. If I got too deep into the next station they weren’t always able to finish their work either causing more work to be required in the holding area. Every unit that was not complete when it came off the assembly line cost the company more money to complete.

Before you get too upset with your team members for failing at their tasks be sure they are not trying to overcome barriers that only you can remove. If you are unable or unwilling to remove them, don’t expect your team to excel. If you’re not sure if they are struggling with barriers in your organization, ask them. You may find out they’ve already told you about those barriers, but ask them anyway, and then do something about them. Both they and your bottom line will appreciate it.


Just Make a Decision

Several years ago the last organization in which I worked was having to make a decision that would reflect a change in the way it had been operating. A small group was assigned to brainstorm some possible ways to make this change occur. Several potential solutions were presented to the larger staff. A number of them were very similar. Most of them were quickly eliminated, but several options remained. To me, it was very obvious which one made the most sense.

For several months we spent time in each staff meeting discussing which option to pursue. One person’s title and primary responsibilities would be most affected by the change I thought was the most logical. It was very obvious he did not want this option chosen, and senior leadership was reluctant to choose it even though in private conversations many admitted it was the best option.

As we began to discuss it again in yet another staff meeting I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. I told everyone I was raised on a farm. Every spring we would plow the fields, but we only plowed them once. We didn’t plow them in one direction one week, plow them another direction the next week, and them come back and plow them again. I said we have plowed this field for months now, and it’s time to make a decision. We need to quit talking about this issue and make a decision. The next week the decision was made to select the option that was obviously the best one the first time it was presented. Not everyone was happy with the decision, but it was the best for the organization.

There is a time to discuss options, and there is a time to make decisions. Part of leadership is making decisions, some of which will not be popular. Those in leadership have to make a choice. They can lead or they can make everyone happy all the time. They won’t do both. The story is told of a politician who was pushed about a particular issue. When asked his opinion he responded, “Well, some of my friends are for it and some are against it.” The reporter asked, “What’s your position?” The politician answered, “I agree with my friends.” You cannot lead and straddle the fence on important decisions.

Sometimes we hesitate making a decision because we want more input or information. That is valid to a point, but it’s important to remember that we will seldom have all the information we might want. Sometimes we have to make decisions based upon the information we currently have. If new information comes along that would change our decision, we can make the adjustments then. To wait until we are convinced that we have all the information we could ever need means we will seldom make a decision.

Religious leaders often postpone making a decision by saying they need to pray about it some more. Prayer is always appropriate, but there is a time to pray and a time to decide. Don’t spiritualize your unwillingness to make a decision.

When leaders won’t make decisions it becomes very demotivating to those they are supposed to be leading. These folks are uncertain which way to go until they receive direction which never comes when decisions are not made in a timely manner. Everything grinds to a halt. Resources are wasted and opportunities are missed.

I fully realize that some decisions are very difficult to make, and there are times when I struggle making decisions that I know I need to make. Still, the decision must be made and putting it off won’t make it any easier.

Gather as much information as you can in a reasonable time. Talk it over with trusted people. Pray about it. Make the decision and move forward.


Leadership books I recommend

After serving for the past 35 years in ministry positions and owning a small business I am absolutely convinced of the truth that everything rises and falls on leadership. Good leaders will develop good organizations; great leaders will create great organizations; and poor leaders will run their organizations into the ground. When I first learned this truth I evaluated my own leadership abilities and realized I was not a very good leader. Fortunately, leadership can be learned, and I set out to become a better leader than I was.

When I returned to school to earn my master’s degree I included a concentration on leadership. I also began to read as much as I could about leadership, both ministry related and business related. I learned some of the principles in both were transferable to the other. In today’s post I want to share some of the books that I found the most helpful to me as I began to grow as a leader. They are not in any particular order although the first one is the one that really got me started and continues to impact my thinking about leadership the most.

That book would be John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition). While attending a conference in which Maxwell was teaching through this book I first realized that my poor leadership had a negative impact on both my ministry and the small business I owned at the time. The laws he taught in that book have shaped most of my thinking about leadership. While I have profited from each of his books, none have impacted me as much as this one.

In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t Jim Collins noted that while we have many good companies we do not have many great companies because most are satisfied with being merely good. This would probably be my second favorite book on leadership.

Leading Change by John Kotter is the best book I’ve read on the subject. Much of leadership deals with change, and many change efforts fail because the leader approached it poorly.

Up Your Business!: 7 Steps to Fix, Build, or Stretch Your Organization by Dave Anderson is just a book filled with solid advice for any leader wanting to grow his or her organization.

Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership  by Tim Irwin reminds us that even the best leaders make mistakes. Every leader should read this book as a reminder that if he or she fails to pay attention to early warning signs they can run the train off the track.

As a person of faith I found Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda, Revised and Expanded by Henry and Richard Blackaby to be very helpful. I believe there is a spiritual aspect to all things including leadership. While written primarily for ministers, this book contains important principles for all leaders.

EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey combines entrepreneurial thinking with leadership. The book tells how he built his own business after going through bankruptcy and provides helpful advice and the tools for anyone who wants to be a more effective leader.

The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential is another book by John Maxwell. Leaders need an intentional plan for growing, and this book identifies some areas in which growth is needed.

If a leader wants people to follow him or her it’s important to remember that skills alone are not enough. A leader must be just as intentional about developing character as he or she is in developing skills. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence presents a process for intentionally building character.

Too often spend a lot of time casting vision and setting goals but nothing seems to ever happen. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan gives great advice to leaders about how to actually get things done.

Here are ten books that have greatly impacted my thinking about leadership. Believe me, my bookshelves contain many more books focusing on leadership principles, but these are at the top of my list. I encourage you to plan on reading at least one or two this summer and see if they help you develop into a more effective leader.