Tuesday, November 03, 2009


It's been a while since I've stumbled across anything that really "hit me," and then I saw this. I am always amazed how the simplist of ideas are usually the best and the most over-looked because they don't look complicated enough!

Simple, Under-appreciated Leadership Tools

This is a time of extraordinary technological advancements, yet what I find inspiring is the way leaders can make an extraordinary difference using simple tools everyday.

These tools are not particularly remarkable in themselves. You are familiar with most, if not all of them, but familiarity is no guarantee that you are maximizing the power of these tools. Each of them tools has been of particular help to one or more of my executive coaching clients. I trust you will find an idea here that will help you be more organized, think smarter, foster team alignment, and become a more influential leader.

$175 million. That is the financial savings realized by Michigan hospitals once they implemented a very simple tool, according to the Heath Brothers in a March 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.

The tool is a simple checklist. Developed by Johns Hopkins physicians and implemented in intensive care units, it is credited not only with reducing costs by millions of dollars, but may have also saved up to 1,500 lives. And you thought checklists were only for grocery shopping.

Sometimes checklists are avoided simply because they are considered too simple. But where assuring and documenting the completion of multiple actions is critical - think taking off and landing a 737 - the checklist is the best tool around. Are there places in your business where routine actions completed more consistently would boost performance?

Tickler File
This productivity tool has probably helped me more than anything else since I became a small town mayor and had to keep track of lots of events and appointments without the benefit of an assistant. The type of file that I have is one described in Getting Things Done by Dave Allen.

It consists of 43 folders, one for each day - that is 31 - and one for each month. Invitations, directions, agendas, etc. are placed in a file that I reach for the day they are needed. The files are rotated so I always have exactly what I need for the next 30 days going forward. Anything further than that is put in a monthly file, which are also rotated.

Meeting Agendas
Agendas are the basic tool for planning and conducting a meeting, and no meeting should be without one. Essentially, an agenda is a plan about the the meeting’s purpose, content, and process. Purpose is about the results expected, content is about the range of topics to be covered, and process is about the what participants do (e.g. inform, discuss, decide). Effective leaders ensure an agenda exists for any team meeting, any sales call, any time people are brought together for any business reason - preferably prepared in advance and written. That agendas can be used flexibly and in unlimited formats does not mean they should not be used. Even if a meeting created on the fly, the first question asked should be “what’s our agenda?”

Name Tags
When you are part of a project, a committee, a nonprofit or association board, chances are you won’t know or remember everybody's name - even if you’ve been meeting these folks once a month for the last year. And having to ask for names becomes embarrassing.

People work best together when they have effective relationships and that starts with knowing everyone’s names. If you are in charge of a group where participants aren't likely to remember everyone's names, then provide name tags or name tents.

Post-It Notes
Post-it notes. What a great invention, maybe not up there with the wheel and fire, but pretty darn close. Post-it notes are under-appreciated as a tool for visually organizing thinking, either on your own or with a small group of people, such as your executive team.

When you capture ideas on Post-it notes, then you can move and group them in ways that you just can't do if you are capturing ideas on a flip chart or a simple piece of paper. For example, you could have everybody in your team each do their top three priorities, one priority per note. When you lay these on the table, then you can see where there is overlap and where there are unique contributions.

In addition to simple categorical groupings, organize the notes a step further by giving each of the ideas a rating on two different dimensions, like a scale of one to five for cost and then a scale of one to five for ease of implementation. Using those ratings, you can then arrange the notes on an XY chart - a very useful visual for determining priorities. (Post-It® is a trademark of 3M)

Mind Maps
Mind maps are another visual thinking tool easily used by individuals and small groups to capture and organize ideas. Human beings think by associations. A mind map takes a core idea and links other ideas to it in a very holistic way. If you are unfamiliar with this technique, Google “mind maps” or check at Wikipedia and you will find lots of information about how to do mind mapping. There is plenty of great software out there too, although a simple sheet of paper will do.

Handwritten Notes
Leadership is about influencing people, and that means connecting to people in a way that stands out. Want to show appreciation to a hardworking employee, important contact, or a special customer? A handwritten note is incredibly powerful. Organize your desk and workspace so note cards and stamps are easily available.

by Tom Stevens (c)2009
Tom Stevens helps leaders create and sustain exceptional organizations. To contact him, visit www.ThinkLeadershipIdeas.com or call 800 727-9788

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