Author Archive for John Anderson

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Finding Simplicity in Complexity

Monday, January 31st, 2011 by John Anderson

Creating simplicity out of complexity is the essence of leveraging leadership and a non-negotiable ability for the CEO.  Before you can simplify for others, however, you must first do it for yourself.  Start by identifying the fundamental principles that drive your success and review those principles on a daily basis.  For me, those principles are captured in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  I have found that both my successes and failures over the years can be directly attributed to how well I practiced those seven habits.  Therefore, I now read Covey’s book for fifteen minutes each morning.  I even listen to it in my car.  I find the only way to truly digest a great book is to read it, listen to it, and break it down into small chunks that I can share with others at work and at home.

An equally important discipline for me is journaling.  Each morning, I spend about twenty minutes (enough time to fill up one page) recording my thoughts.  This has proved invaluable in fleshing out new ideas, identifying priorities, and sorting through challenges.  Those who know me well encourage me to complete it each morning because they know how influential it is on my performance. 

A couple years ago, a good friend of mine developed his own set of simplifying habits and disciplines.  Michael Brennan is the CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan (UWSEM).  His CEO Mastery Success Plan was the foundation for a formal six-month mentoring program he developed for select members of his team.  The Mentor Series consists of a simple 3-step process: 

  1. Attain piercing clarity of your unique ability and strengths.
  2. Define success for your life and criteria by which to measure it. 
  3. Establish a daily discipline of “deliberate practice” to execute your goals.

To read more detail about this CEO Mastery Success Plan and how Mike is using it to develop the future leaders in his organization, read “Finding Simplicity in Complexity” in the 2011 CEO Advantage Journal. 


Don’t “Address” Problems; Solve Them!

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by John Anderson

As an advisor, I frequently find teams who address and analyze problems yet are reluctant to hold one another accountable for solving problems. These teams consist of bright people, and in most cases, they enjoy addressing organizational issues. After all, that’s why they work in leadership positions. However, when it comes to investing the necessary time to tear apart an issue, consider multiple points of view, and garner the collective wisdom of the entire leadership team to implement a solution, they frequently fall short.

Here are some practical suggestions to help you and your team solve the actual problem rather than just address it:

1. Deliberately create a “container” (physically and mentally) in which you focus solely on the problem at hand. Daily huddles and weekly meetings are great times to identify problems, but you must reserve adequate time to drill down on one issue if you ever hope to solve it.

2. Before entering the session, mentally prepare yourself for constructive conflict. Titles, personal feelings, and biases must be checked at the door. Your purpose is to use the collective intelligence of the executive team to solve that one issue, and any conflict should be related to that issue, not personal qualities or abilities. If one team member had all the answers, you would not need to meet. This is not a “me” problem; it’s a “we” problem.

3. Stick to the subject. Straying off on various tangents will only raise additional issues that distract from the matter at hand. Once a problem is identified and defined, set aside a minimum of 20 minutes to focus on it before moving on. If you cannot commit 20 minutes to it, then you should probably table it for a later meeting.

4. At the conclusion of the problem solving meeting, the CEO must ask, “Have we done our best work?” and, “Can you all support this solution?” If anyone gives a “no” to either question, you need to further discuss it now or schedule another “container” when you can.  You are not seeking consensus; you are seeking honest debate followed by agreement to support the final decision, regardless of who initially agreed or disagreed with the idea.