Organizations and managers crave certainty. That's why the spreadsheet was invented. Put a lot of them in a three-ring binder, sprinkle in some pie charts, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

You cannot eliminate uncertainty. And, it’s impossible to create complete certainty. Some things remain uncertain, unmeasurable, unpredictable and, so, require faith as a tool of leadership.

We have no faith, so we live and work in a world of fear and mistrust. The degree of fear and mistrust are reflected formally by the intensity of an organization’s processes, systems, procedures and rules, and informally in the behavioral weaknesses of its leaders.

But, you say, fear and mistrust come along with the territory, the human jungle, the fight for survival. Yes, it's true. The human condition is a wretched state of affairs -- brutish, nasty and short. How's that working for you?

Leadership -- like all acts of creation, like all works of art -- is a rebellion. You must rebel against this wretched state of affairs.

Your job is to transcend what fear and mistrust do to an organization, how it pollutes people's problem solving passion and abilities. Remember this -- excessive and rigid processes, systems, rules and procedures are a tax you pay for being afraid and suspicious.

Lead, don't manage. Sprinkle in some faith instead.

AuthorJoseph Fusco
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Who is going to own this process?

It’s a question I’m sure is asked quite frequently, and more than likely in response to a thorny problem, the kind of problem many managers react to by kidnapping twelve people and calling it a meeting.

I think it’s the wrong question.

Do you really want someone to own the process?


The danger in creating ownership of a process is that it makes everyone — surprise — focus on the process. Success, and the value of everyone’s time and attention, is then measured by how good the process is. Or, by some perverse sense of how complicated and impenetrable the process is, or how many spreadsheet tabs it consumes, or how many work teams it sucked into its gravitational pull. You’ve created an organization where people get rewarded for process creation.

That's not good.

Words matter. Words create a culture in an organization. They reflect people’s thinking. They influence people’s behavior.

“Process” is the wrong word.

The right word — the right question — is “who is going to own the solution?”

Everyone’s focus needs to be on problem solving. Reward people for the quality of their solutions to an organization’s problems. Because we should come to work to solve problems, not design processes.

Maybe it’s nit-picky to focus on one simple word uttered by overwhelmed managers in the heat of a moment. I don’t think so. Like signposts, words direct people to what an organization values. Words create a culture.

And more than anything, you need a solution culture, not a process culture. After all, what do your customers want you to do for them — create a process, or solve a problem?

AuthorJoseph Fusco

 A fearful organization (one breathing the fumes of insecurity and mistrust) too often becomes a complex organization.

A complex organization too often becomes a control-obsessed organization, and values that control much more than it values masterful problem-solving.

An organization that values control over masterful problem-solving too often solves problems poorly, and goes broke and dies.

Fear kills businesses.

AuthorJoseph Fusco

We know so much, and have studied so much, and have imagined so much about what great leadership looks, smells, and acts like.

And yet.

And yet, we’re not very good at it, are we? As many people in organizational life often — painfully — suspect, we haven’t quite mastered it. This is not a criticism or a breathless statement of crisis. It’s just an observation.

Leading well is tough. As much as we love the idea of leading, and as full as our heads are with the knowledge and techniques of leading, it’s very difficult to do. Despite our attempts to quantify, analyze and simplify it in the laboratory, out in the wild it is a shadowy creature, escaping the traps we set for it.

The mystery, however, is not about what we still need to learn or invent about good leadership practice and behavior.

The mystery is this: why, with all we know, with all our wonderful, good and true knowledge, do we too often fail to realize the ideals of leadership in ourselves and in our organizations?

All of these approaches to leadership and personal growth, to their credit, describe a kind of utopia, where purpose, teamwork, success and joy flow like milk and honey. Why, then, do we have such trouble reaching this promised land? Where is the flaw?

Why, blessed with an abundance of insight and intellect about effective behaviors and principles of personal growth, are we unable to sustain the change and effectiveness we seek?

Why do we continue to struggle with results we don’t want or intend (but, nonetheless, our behavior and choices are perfectly designed to produce)? Why, after all those books and seminars, nothing seems to be different, or our progress is painfully slow?

Why do we find it so hard to change, when we know we should and we know what it’s supposed to look like?

Why do we mess it up?

We are addicted to cheap leadership.

At worst, we pursue this addiction intentionally. This intentional, or conscious, form of cheap leadership can be the cynical exercise of certain management behaviors that are a form of abuse, but what we claim are designed to “solve problems,” “get results,” or “win.” It can also be those behaviors we’ve simply learned or observed, and which we have come to believe without question are the best way to organize and conduct daily business.

More commonly, but no less toxic, we are simply unconscious of both the addiction and its consequences. Our intentions are good; we simply don’t realize what we’re doing, and why, nor do we always immediately notice the damage done.

Either way, cheap leadership is the biggest threat to our personal growth, an enabler of our ineffective behaviors, and a stumbling block to our success as leaders.

Cheap leadership mires our organizations in mediocrity, or worse. It erodes performance and sustainability. It steals, often silently and invisibly, from our bottom line.

Cheap leadership smothers the happiness and enjoyment of work, and the fulfillment that all of us — leaders and followers — seek in organizational life.

Our addiction to cheap leadership chokes the creativity, energy and problem-solving skills of everyone around us. It frustrates and weakens. It annoys and deflates.

Cheap leadership is poison.

AuthorJoseph Fusco

It’s never just the analysis, the processes, the procedures, the spreadsheets, the strategic plans, is it? There really is more to it, isn’t there?

So, why do managers rarely see their job is to understand and master the genuine, more powerful drivers of success — like “trust,” “resiliency,” “belief,” and “resolve”?

My guess is blindness, or fear. Or both.

AuthorJoseph Fusco