April Fool or Strategist: How to Swim Faster in Mud


Everyone wants to be a leader, but observe how leaders are increasing questioned, their professionalism challenged, and reputation ruined! Take one Olympic swimmer and place them in mud. This obsession with the belief the LEADER IS ABLE TO LEAD causes most project nightmares. It is the MUD of bureaucratic thinking that stops or drowns them.

Up front, everything looks do-able, exciting, and everyone seems ready. Leaders are even certified to Lead! And then, things just start falling apart as people cite lack of direction, unclear commitments, overload, conflict, poor prioritization for stalls in the plan. Dilute the muddled thinking with these steps from the beginning as leader or member and keep doing it!

1. Get the authority you need to decide things; get “maybe” authority so you can be creative and strategic with rules and processes.

2. Get access to people and information without delays or excuses.

3. Barter for the resources you need which will NEVER be enough.

4. Ensure people in every direction (above, below, around) want to be accountable for their part.

5. Get the training you need and some time to practice.

6. Keep diluting the mud and get it out of your path.

7. Take it slower with a clear plan–or you will be stuck!

MUD: I recall my own experience as project leader on “work simplification” and had to bring to my boss’s attention that there were 122 discrete steps in the simplification process! Yes, the capability to automate meant lots of stuff was added of no value. By some miracle, I got it down to 20 steps by focusing on the big picture strategy–make things easier not complex!

MUD: Consider the recent Walter Reed hospital debacle costing yet another great leader’s head.

According to an article by Donna Borak Associated Press, the Army contract to prioritize maintenance was delayed by 3 years of meetings, documents and haggling. A major cause was the impact of departing intellectual capital, (OWLS or older workers leaders and staff), from 300 to 50 in the infrastructure; the other causes were over-kill review an diligence by the reduced hospital contract staff , Congress, the contractor. The real reason from officials: “The Army did not devote sufficient resources to upfront PLANNING: ” Or was it bidding, contracting, and appeal processes that kept it in mud? It is both.

POINT: A smaller bureaucracy can be worst than a larger one!

Finally, consider the now popular and classic story of honored leader Ernest Shackleton, who survived Antarctia for over two years 1912-1914. What was the secret besides chocolate, and good cheerful messages in the worst of times? Well, it occurs to me that Ernest DID NOT suffer the horrors of the bureaucracy. All communications that were frivolous (unnecessary meetings, rules changes, power plays, and bureaucratic process) were conveniently eliminated during his horrific survival experience.

MUDDY thinking and muddled responses kill progress!

Keep adding fresh communication, not more meetings to the process and dilute that mud. Project leaders need to really focus on those special causes that delay projects related to very long paper processes, and very complex sets of review or decision protocols.

Part II Get the O.W.L.S. to help you clear out the mud (Older Worker Leaders and Staff)

Michele Jackman


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