Compass Associates

Strategic Direction


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A Consultant's Caution about Consultants

Posted on March 25, 2014 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (2)

Steven B. Sample began his work as the tenth president at the University of Southern California in March 1991.  In 2002 he wrote The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership.  He began his professional career as an electrical engineer.  His patents in the field of digital appliance controls have been licensed to practically every major manufacturer of microwave ovens in the world and hundreds of millions of appliances have been built using his inventions.  

He worked for a time as a consulting engineer.  It is from this context in a chapter in which his point is that while leaders need "experts," (his word for consultants), a good leader hires wisely and stays engaged, not just in the consulting engagement, but in his primary role.  

In the SAMPLE Service Agreement link I've included on the Services page of this website and in my statement of Our Approach on the About page, I have incorporated principles from Sample's  counsel excerpted below from the concluding paragraphs of chapter three entitled "Experts: Saviors and Charlatans."

"Experts, God love 'em, are as necessary to the modern leader as cellular telephones and e-mail.  And they're all out there eagerly awaiting calls from leaders to come in and be of assistance.  The question is, whom should you call and what exactly should you ask them to do?  

It helps to know what it is you hope to get out of an expert before you ask him to become a part of your team. . . . it helps to develop mutual sympathy and trust between you and the expert before going too far down the garden path together.  Finally, it's very important that the expert be able and willing to explain to you, in terms you can understand, everthing he's doing or plans to do.  

Experts, for their part, need to be able to see themselves as bona fide partners of the leaders and organizations that employ them.  When the experts themselves can practice artful listening, they are much better able to understand the true objectives of the leader and contribute to the achievement of those objectives.  

I myself was a practicing expert (as a consulting engineer) for a number of years.  I almost always put my client's interests first, and almost never let my ego get the better of me.  But as I look back, I can see that those of my clients who benefited most from my services were leaders who never became too dependent on me, who always maintained their intellectual independence, and who never kidded themselves that expertise could be a substitute for leadership."  Well said, Dr. Sample!  Wanted: Discerning Leaders.

"The Revolutionary Insight"

Posted on March 24, 2014 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)

In their book First Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman assert the following "revolutionary insight" understood by great managing leaders:  "People don't stray far from their God-given designs.  Don't waste time trying to put in what God left out.  Try, rather to draw out what was designed in. That is hard enough."

The Right Questions

Posted on March 22, 2014 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Often effectiveness is not about having the right answers; it is about asking the right questions.  We now speak of the "Socratic method" because Socrates become known for mentoring his students by asking key questions.  Five classic questions attributed to Peter F Drucker lead the list of great diagnostic questions:  #1:  What business are you in?  #2:  Who is your customer?  #3: What does your customer value?  #4 : What are your results?  #5: What is your plan?  Here is one more question.  Do you have a collection of great questions?


Posted on March 20, 2014 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The most common description I hear people make about me is that I'm very detailed.  This can be true, but is not really my "driver." I like what management consultants Tregoe and Zimmerman wrote: "If an organization is headed in the wrong direction, the last thing it needs is to get there more efficiently."

My driver is not doing things right--as important as that can be.  It is doing the right things.  Focus. StrategyAchievement.  All three of these Gallup Talent Themes are in my Gallup Top 5.  

Only when the mission is clearly understood, a strategic vision supports it, and clear long-term objectives have been crafted, does implementation of the action plan, including the "little things that truly make a differnce," matter.  People who know me intimately understand that I care about details only after I first understand the context of the big picutre.  The telescope for me always precedes the microscope.  My favorite bumper sticker?  "The first step to accomplishing your dream is to wake up!"  Implmentation is worthwhile only when one is certain that the "vision" is not merely a dream. 

The Test and Purpose of an Organization

Posted on March 19, 2014 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

One of my favorite quotes about leadership comes from the late Peter F. Drucker who wrote the following:

"No organization can depend on genius.  The supply is always scare and unreliable.  It is the test of an organization to help ordinary human beings perform better than they seem capable of performing, to bring out whatever strengths there are in its members, and to use each one's strengths to help all the others perform. The purpose of an organization is to enable common people to do uncommon things."