Leading With Less

Think about the #LeadershipBuzzwords throughout the years:

Total Quality Management

Quality Air Force

Six Sigma and Belt Colors

More With Less

Value Stream Mapping

Lean Thinking

No Yes-Men

Well, Rebel Leaders unite! The new buzzphrase we must embrace, believe and employ is: Less With Less.

Now, this will truly test the limits of your leadership. And it will test the resolve of your superiors. But it is the right thing to do for your followers and vital to the long-term sustainability of your organization.

One of the hardest trials of any leader is to say, “I can’t/we can’t/this organization can’t.” Many insecure leaders see it as a confession of weakness or failure of their leadership abilities. That could not be further from the truth. Now, higher-level leaders routinely say they do not want yes-people in their organization. They remind us the last thing any efficiently effective leader wants is a staff who just agrees and never pushes back. But do they mean it?

This will truly test the limits of your leadership. And it will test the resolve of your superiors. But it is the right thing to do for your followers and vital to the long-term sustainability of your organization.

As both the public and private sector continue to cut…there may be little fat or excess to reduce. There is no more low-hanging fruit or lean thinking that will make us do more with less. In many cases, we are cutting muscle tissue that is essential for sustained movement of the organization. This means senior leaders are going to have to make some prioritization and, we are going to have to do less and say no. Now, as a leader you get one shot to do this. If you argue your case with emotion and not fact, and your boss is able to fault your logic or reasoning, the excess cut may be you. The accuracy of this statement may be the reason leaders are reluctant to throw in the flag and confess they are unable to produce a certain part of the widget our company manufactures.

A confident and capable leader knows when a pace is set which the team cannot sustain. An efficiently effective leader knows when the pumps are about to cavitate and we are about to lose the entire enterprise simply because we are asking too much of our members. It is the burden of responsibility that they must present the case to upper level leaders that, because of [underfunding, manning reductions, accepted risk] we will no longer be able to [insert the area which your team is about to stop doing].

Leadership is an Amazing Burden

Leadership is an amazing burden. If we are willing to bask in the glory of success, we must be willing to lay it out on the table when, in our opinion, we forecast failure. Now, this is not a challenge to quit doing what you do not want to do. It is acceptance of the fact we can no longer Do More With Less.

At some point, we reach a critical manning level required to maintain successful completion of our mission. Part of this responsibility involves you, as a leader, fully understanding the details of what you are asking your team members to do.

Root Square 0415

For example, recently we were looking at a reduction of fireman manning. The Fire Chief passionately explained how he needed more, not less, manpower. To me, I clearly saw efficiencies to be gained because he had excess manpower on the PowerPoint slide he presented.

So I went out there and climbed on his truck. We drug out the hose, hooked it up and turned it on. I took lead on the hose for a 15-minute shift. In my mind, all the while, thinking…really…a 15-minute shift?

After a few minutes of the powerfully strong water pressure, my aim became a little less accurate, my muscles began to ache and I began to put more pressure on the anchorperson standing behind me for safety and stability. As we recovered the hose and refilled the tanker, I looked at the Chief and voiced my understanding for why he was lobbying for more manpower. What looked good on paper would have resulted in reduced safety, accuracy and effectiveness of fighting fires. If I had not manned the hose, worked the pump, and experienced the physical demands of manning a hose, then I would have been unable to explain why the firehouse would not be taking any more manpower cuts without a reduction in effectiveness and elevation of risk levels to unacceptable levels.

As a Leader, Do You Man the Hose?

As a leader, do you man the hose? Are you willing to stand up and say, “No Ma’am, if you cut manpower we will no longer be able to provide fire coverage as you have come to expect in compliance with nationally mandated response standards.”

Where in your organization is your fire hose story?

As one leader to another, I challenge you to man the hose and understand what you ask your people to do every day…from their perspective. Even with all the noise and lights, the fire engine can only exceed the open-area speed limit by 10mph and is not permitted to speed in residential areas.

As one leader to another, I challenge you to man the hose and understand what you ask your people to do every day…from their perspective.

Are you asking your team to drive faster to make the 7-minute response time?

Do you realize the risk you are accepting when you push the team to drive a little faster?

Where is your team speeding beyond acceptable-risk level?

Do you realize the risk you are accepting when you push the team to drive a little faster?

As leaders, we accept the fantastic burden of responsibility when we move into the big office. We must make decisions with limited information, determine the future of an organization and, sometimes, with lives on the lines, determine future actions while delicately balancing risk and reward. Do not get so lost in staffing and presentations that you forget there are people behind every hose. And every decision you make has second and third order effects. Have you thought through the ramifications of your leadership? This is what your company pays you to understand. Man the hose.

 

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Chris R. Stricklin is a combat-proven leader, mentor and coach integrating the fields of dynamic followership, negotiations, leadership, positive change, public relations, public speaking and complex organizational change. His unique experience as a U.S.A.F. Thunderbird coupled with Pentagon-level management of critical Air Force resources valued at $840B, multiple N.A.T.O. assignments, White House and DARPA fellowships, and command-experience in the United States Air Force allow his unique synthesis of speaking, following, leading, management, negotiations, continuous improvement and positive change. Chris is also a Certified Manager with degrees in Economics, Financial Planning, Strategic Studies and Operational Art and Science. He authored a negotiation primer which was subsequently published and adopted as required Air Force Pentagon new action officer orientation. He and his wife, Terri, have 4 children.

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