What is Synchronized Leadership?

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“The single most important element of success in war is leadership.”
Gen David Goldfein, USAF

As a young officer our formal leadership training consisted largely of learning our military specialty and a few vague lessons about balancing “mission and people.” They were lessons born of, simultaneously, thousands of years of military tradition and 20th century industrial mass production. In fact, our leadership classes were called “management” classes–which brings me to my point. Twentieth Century management theory and practice has it’s place, but management is no substitute for leadership. We manage things and processes, but we lead people. In the modern military as in modern business, we require agility–and we achieve agility only through good leadership.

But My Process is Solid!

When I was on a major command inspector general team many years ago, we went to a fighter wing for an Operational Readiness Inspection where we expected the wing to do very well. The unit had a great reputation, and reported readiness ratings in the top tier. When we arrived, however, we saw a different unit altogether.

The Airmen in the wing were so dispirited they could, literally, barely look up. I had inspected dozens of units prior and seen many dozens since, and have never seen 2,500 people shuffling around looking at their feet before. The wing commander–the equivalent to a CEO–had simply run them into the ground. They feared their commander, and worse, had lost confidence in their own ability. They felt defeated even though they were, in fact, highly professional and competent. All the inspectors saw it. The wing ended up passing the inspection, barely, but in spite of their commander and not because of his leadership. They were professionals, and wouldn’t allow themselves to fail. Frankly, it was a close run thing and several times during the inspection it could’ve gone the other way. Their processes were solid, they followed all the procedures, but without confidence in their leadership they were simply going through the motions.

It’s fairly common in business for a company to be doing everything right process-wise and see their performance fall precipitously when a bad leader is at the helm. Ruinous business partner relationships, poor ethics, or just plain ill temper are common reasons to see even highly profitable and well-known companies falter. The story of the leadership failures at American Apparel is a famous case, but there are countless others. Leadership, not just project or process management, truly matters.

Syncing It Up

Good leaders understand looking after the people on the team is a prerequisite to success, not the “icing” on top. As leaders, we certainly have to get the mission done, and we also have to serve the institution, but first we have to care for the people entrusted to our charge. This is finding the “sweet spot” in your leadership mission. Our institutions have requirements in the form of policies, culture, and profit or mission objectives. The individual tasks or projects we manage on also have requirements such as budget, timeliness, stakeholder communication, etc. The people on our team, likewise, have needs such as job satisfaction, growth and development, and compensation. Leaders must harmonize these three things and optimize the “sweet spot” where they converge. The bigger the sweet spot, the more the convergence, and the higher performance you can achieve.

Originally posted on General Leadership


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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Synchronize Leadership to Achieve Agility

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Sync to Swim

Take a look at any photo of industrial production during the Second World War and think about the scale and volume of it. Any way you slice it, it’s impressive! Millions of workers producing millions of items from bombers to Liberty Ships to trousers. The emphasis then was on process efficiency and so we developed dozens of management theories and practice to optimize quality and production. I’m sure there were many good or even great leaders in that most impressive of industrial eras, but that sort of mass production by the millions of people is just not how we work in the 21st Century. To be successful in the current era, we need to be agile. Enter the Synchronized Leadership Model.

Synchronizing Institutional, Project, & People

There is a “sweet spot” where leaders can cultivate high performance–the intersection of the needs of the Institutions we serve, the Projects we manage, and the People we lead. Twentieth Century management theory largely addresses only production efficiency or personal motivation. Those theories are perfectly fine for what they are, but they are inadequate to describe the total environment 21st Century leaders find themselves working in. Our companies and institutions have needs such as profitability, company ethics, culture, and governance. Similarly, the task at hand or project we’re working on has it’s own set of requirements such as schedule, budget, deliverables, and quality. Project managers know that list as the “iron triangle.” Finally, leaders are charged to care for and develop the people in our charge–those people have needs as well. Bob is creative, Sue is good with numbers, Alex likes to work alone, and Sally is a good leader; choosing the right person for each task and developing people in your organization are key requirements of leading the team.

Effectiveness and Efficiency

Project leaders have to strive for the “sweet spot” and avoid the trap of pitting one against the other. In seeking to serve the institution, accomplish the task, and lead the people we can’t simply pretend that efficiency and effectiveness are enemies. Certainly there are times when we must prioritize efficiency and focus on conserving resources and avoiding risk. Likewise, there are times when we must be effective above all and push the organization even to the point of over-consuming resources and taking risks to get the mission done. Those are the extreme cases, of course. It’s possible to develop and grow your people and serve the institution by alignment with policies and values and accomplish the assigned mission. I know there’s a “sweet spot” because I’ve seen exactly this behavior in high performing teams. The bigger the “sweet spot” in those three areas, the higher performing the team.

Bottom Line

When leaders don’t force themselves into false choices like choosing effectiveness or efficiency then they are truly high performing leaders. Creating the “sweet spot” of Institutional, Project, and People needs means harmonizing and optimizing.  


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

“Sync To Swim”: The Synchronized Leader Model

Posted Leave a commentPosted in People Development Network, Sync to Swim

Twenty-first-century business requires agility–from teams, from institutions, and from leaders–and that agility comes from synchronized leadership. Despite the radical change in the environment, many institutions still cling to Twentieth-century management models. Those Industrial Age management models are ill-suited to guide leaders in the Information Age.

Perhaps the “king” of management models from the last century is the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid. The Blake-Mouton model (below) uses a 0-9 scale to quantify the “production vs people” tension, and is still in use in some circles, and is good for creating leader archetypes for discussion.

Blake Mouton Management_Grid

Fig 1. The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid

However, the Blake-Mouton model has a couple of shortcomings. First of all, the leadership environment is much more complex than a simple linear graph can describe. A two-axis grid implies there are only two things leaders must hold in balance, and those are dependent on each other. Secondly, a graph with a 0 to 9 scale implies a limit. By virtue of looking at a chart, some of us will set limits for ourselves and hold in tension those things that should be harmonized.

The leadership dilemma is not whether to balance people and mission, rather it’s how to synchronize the various needs and priorities a of task, institution, and team members’ individual needs. At a basic level,leadership means working with people and managing things effectively. That means the most effective leaders find the best fit for people to task within an institution to get something done. So how do we visualize that?

The Synchronized Leader Model

Leaders have many considerations and priorities to balance, but we can group most of them into three major categories: Institution, Project, and People.

The Synchronized Leader Model (c) Mickey Addison

Fig 2. The Synchronized Leader Model

As you can see from the figure, the Synchronized Leader Model is not linear, nor is it binary. This model reflects the complex nature of integrating people, tasks, and institutions into a single mutually supporting system. Leaders who maximize the intersection of all three categories of needs will get very high performance from their team.

There’s clearly tension between competing priorities, to say otherwise is to be Pollyanna, but “competing” doesn’t need to be “opposing.” In the Synchronized Leader model, leaders have the ability to move the circles around based on resources, staffing, and the situation. It’s a dynamic model that reflects the complexity of the environment with the realities of constrained resources. In the end, leadership is about people—but people operating in a real environment rather than a binary world. That makes the three sets of needs–Institution, Project, and People–independent variables rather than dependent. Being independent variables is a key point. It means it’s possible for a leader to commit energy or resources to something without necessarily reducing the ability to do the same elsewhere.

Institutional Needs

Organizations have institutional needs. Boards of directors and shareholders demand profits and efficiency, donors want to know their money is going to the mission, manufacturers are concerned about quality, and everyone wants to have a good reputation in the community. Leaders must work within a structure or institution, and with other leaders who set agendas and distribute resources. They have to be respectful of culture and process within that institution. Leaders who ignore their parent organizations and its institutional needs at their own peril. The institution’s needs are legitimate, and must be part of a leader’s calculus. Leaders have to take on their institution’s values as their own, and transmit those values to their teams. As I’ve written before, if you can’t respect your institution get yourself another institution. It’s leaders’ responsibility to help their teams understand and accept their institutions’ needs and internalize their institution’s values. Leaders who do that successfully will inspire confidence in their teams and give them a mission with which to connect.

Project Needs

Each individual project has it’s own set of “needs” leaders must consider. Leaders can succeed by understanding and accounting for the various demands on their resources. Project needs are time and resource driven, and so managing those things is usually a math problem. This is an area where many leaders prefer to “live”–math is straight-forward and easy to understand. We can produce charts and graphs to use in decision-making, and we can even allow the “data” to make our decisions for us. Accounting for project resources is certainly important, as I wrote above, but it can’t be the only way for us to lead. Said another way, because we manage things and lead people, the data isn’t the only answer.

People Needs

The third set of needs are the personal needs of the individuals on the team. Each person has their own reason for what they do, as well as their own skills. Leaders have to know their people well enough to understand each person’s motivation and ability. By way of illustration, consider the case of professional football teams. Team managers will actively recruit players for their athletic ability and even for particular positions: goalkeeper or striker, for example. But those same managers also understand that not every player fits in with the team’s culture or the other players. That same team manager might pass on a very talented player because they “don’t fit” with the team dynamic. The goal is to find out, by knowing the player well, where a particular person is best suited and will be happiest. Happy players are usually the most productive.

That same principle of hiring compatible people and placing them where their skills are best used and motivations are best “fed” applies to any team, not just athletics. In my own military experience, we trained our people for particular jobs but we also were keen to place people where they were happy and productive. It does no good for a leader to recruit a star performer only to have him or her drag the institution down because he’s unhappy. So how does a leader make the right choices? There really aren’t any shortcuts–leaders have to engage individuals on their teams and understand them. Put more simply—the most successful teams aren’t always the ones with the most talent, but the ones where the entire team is made up of people contributing, collaborative, and happy.

Bringing It All Together

The real aim of the leader, then, is not to simply parrot their institution’s values, minimize cost, or create a happy workplace; rather, it’s to synchronize all three to make the “sweet spot” in the middle as large as possible. It’s a constant balance of sometimes competing priorities, but if done skillfully can create an impressively productive and happy team. Understanding and transmitting institution needs effectively to the team leads to them internalizing institutional values. Effective project management reduces the stress on the team, and gives them creative space to innovate. Hiring and coaching “players” into the right spots in the institution so they can be their best harmonizes the workplace and inspires people to be their best. The larger that “sweet spot” becomes, the higher the performance of the team.

Originally posted at People Development Network.


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Spring Cleaning: Getting Rid of “Extras” in Your Life

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Sync to Swim

The theme of this month around the Addison household is “spring cleaning” as we prepare to move our household from Hawaii to Texas. We do this every Spring, but before a move we start about six months out to get rid of the stuff we don’t need–preferably to a good home, recycled or donated, and into the landfill as a last resort. It’s a good way to get ourselves ready for an organized move–after 16 moves we have this down to a science and we execute each move with military precision! It’s also an exercise in removing distractions from our lives and prevent ourselves from accumulating what my wife charmingly calls “crapola” in the house.

What Do You Actually Need

The very first thing we do is take an inventory. What is it that we have: what do we actually need at the next place, are our clothes, furniture, home decor, tools, etc. relevant in the next locale? This move is a special case, because we don’t yet have a “final” landing spot but we usually have a floor plan and sometimes photos of our new house by now so we can begin to plan out the furniture layout, decide who gets what room, etc. But even without a physical move it’s possible to do some planning in April and May that has bearing on how you’ll live in the next 6-12 months.

Think critically about what you actually need to live and work in your home. If you’ve got two of the identical item, think hard about whether you really need two or more of them. Clothes are the same way. It’s easy to collect t-shirts you never wear or socks with holes, or pants you can no longer fit. Think about climate, social events, formal and informal. What do you need to live your life?

Sorting Your Stuff

Approach Spring Cleaning in your household as if you were going to move into your house as its unoccupied. Take an inventory of your stuff and bin everything into three categories: (1) Stuff we need here, (2) Stuff we like but maybe don’t need, and (3) stuff we don’t like or need.

Category 1 is easy–that stuff goes into the house. It might be in the same place it is now or it might be time to move it somewhere else, but it stays.

Category 3 is also easy–get rid of it! Take it to the local thrift store, donate it to the DAV, give it to a friend or family member, or throw it out. But once you decide you don’t like or want something, get it out of your life! Again, if you haven’t used it, worn it, or played with it in a year–you don’t need it.

OK, so Category 2 is definitely the most difficult because it’s stuff you like but you might not need. We all love our favorite jeans, but if you can’t wear them out of the house because they’re full of holes–well, then maybe those need to go to the rag bin. That shirt Aunt Susie gave you that’s still in the wrapper? Yep, Goodwill Store. That lawn mower you’ve been planning to fix? The one that’s been sitting in the garage for 2 years? Get it out of the house. The point is, Category 2 requires a person to look himself in the mirror and answer the Do I need this? question honestly. This category is an opportunity to be a gift to another person, provided the stuff is worth giving away, or at least declutter your life if it’s not.

Follow Through

The most important part of any spring cleaning is to follow through. It serves no purpose to simply move things from your closet to a pile to the garage, you have to get the extra stuff out. No matter how often I do this, the feeling after getting rid of the “extras” in my life is always surprising lightness. It truly feels as if I’ve unburdened our household and my life. It feels good to come home to a clean and uncluttered house. It’s true in life and work as well. When we unclutter our life through personal “spring cleaning” we can really reach for high performance.

This Applies to All Aspects of Your Life

A horse runs faster with a lighter jockey and a car gets better mileage when it’s lighter as well. That principle applies to our life, too. Uncluttering your life by removing “stuff” is powerful, and uncluttering your life by removing unnecessary distractions, commitments, and sometimes even negative people is even more powerful. Always strive to be a friend and a peacemaker, to serve others, and be useful–but if all else fails, get it out of your life. You’ll be the better for it, and so will those around you.


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!