Great Leaders Have Agenda Moving Skills

The major leadership challenge is to lead innovation and change. In that sense, leaders need to move ideas through the maze of the organization. In today’s organizations, with multiple businesses, numerous teams, and changing expectations, leaders need to figure out how they can overcome resistance and get support for their ideas. Indeed, a good idea is not enough. Without the capacity to get others behind your agenda, you’re not really leading. The problem is that super-heroic characteristics, grand personality, and shining charisma are not going to drive ideas through the organization. Successful leaders are agenda movers who engage in the micro-political skills of execution to get people on their side and keep them there.

Agenda movers know that their good idea, no matter how brilliant, is not enough and they need to actively win others to their side. To accomplish this, they develop four key competencies: to anticipate where others are coming from, to mobilize others around their ideas, get the buy-in, and finally to go the sustain momentum and go the distance to get things done.

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How To Give Constructive Feedback

feedback tips
Nothing is harder than giving feedback to an employee or team member. Oftentimes even the best of managers will either want to sweep problems under the rug or grow too critical. Pragmatic leadership is about finding a balance. On Yael Bacharach discusses five invaluable tips for having productive feedback conversations with employees.
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Occupy Isn’t Enough

You can dream and dream, but unless you focus on what you want to get done and how you want to get it done—it’s not going to happen.

It’s all nice and good that our friends on Occupy Wall Street are above institutional politics. It’s fine that they want to maintain a Don Quixote air and struggle with windmills. It’s great that they have a vision and have hope in a dream.

But nothing burns out more quickly than a vision. A vision unrealized becomes a hallucination.

Occupy Wall Street has been successful in rallying people around an amorphous vision—now the question is, can that vision be translated into tactics, goals, and agendas?

The reality is that the world changes through institutions and organizations. And as much as you want to ignore it institutions are the mechanisms by which we change the direction we move. Intuitions and organizations are effected by pragmatic politics.

In any organizational or institutional setting, weather you’re an entrepreneur, a mid-level manager, a CEO, or a political activist, leadership is about getting beyond being occupied with your vision and dealing with nuts-and-bolts.

If you want to change the school district, if you want a better education for your kids, get involved in school politics.

If you want the pot holes covered in Brooklyn, see your city councilmen.

Politics is the way we impact change through institutions and if there’s a lesson that Occupy Wall Street should learn from the Tea Party—it’s that occupying without leadership gets you nowhere.

The Tea Party has achieved its success not simply because of its ideology, but because it was pragmatically savvy.  This pragmatic political savvy is somewhat lost on Occupy Wall Street.

Put it simply, what’s needed is a concrete agenda that’s directed at specific individuals or institutions that can make a difference. This emphasis on leadership as a pragmatic skill seems to be lost in many sectors in our society. It’s as if we believe that vision and aspiration will move things ahead.

Steve Jobs has often been cast as a wondrous visionary.  But it wasn’t his vision alone that brought us the ipod, the powerbook, or the ipad. It was his pragmatism. It was his ability to create coalitions, persuade people, manage his projects, and move things ahead.

In corporate settings as with political movements the challenge is to know how to move your agendas ahead. It’s an art that we don’t see exercised in Washington and it’s an art that few of our young entrepreneurs appreciate. It’s an art that we have to bring to the forefront if anything is going to get done.

Until then we’re all just be occupying space.

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Word Processed Plagiarism

I used to doze off at night chanting obscure citation formatting rules from all the major players in town: MLA, APA, Chicago, even Turabian on some particularly insomnia-stained evenings. For a brief period before I fabricated some semblance of a social life, my homepage was As a law-abiding citizen who only jaywalked when a red light obstructed a closing kitty-corner Chipotle, plagiarism seemed like a surefire way to win a date with the 5-o. I figured citations would avoid (police) citations and I cited to within an inch of my life. I even fantasized of winning a Pulitzer someday for one of my immaculate bibliographies.

Why then do I feel like a corrupted, plagiarizing criminal? Maybe it is because even as I compose this confession, I wage a literary crime spree. I plead the Fifth as I reveal that everything from that last paragraph to this clause is riddled with lifted language. If someone handcuffed me now I would start typing with my nose because you should know of the unprosecuted plagiarism saturating our word-processed existence.

The culprit: Almost everyone

The mechanism: A Thesaurus

Aliases: Review: Proofing: Thesaurus; Shift-F7;;

I’d pause for dramatic effect but my thesaurus suggests that I might alternately adjourn for theatrical suspense. So go to the bathroom/lavatory, call your lawyer/attorney, and we’ll resume/commence in the next section/paragraph.

Ok welcome back…We’re all guilty of the occasional thesaurus indulgence. Personally, when my creative juices run dry, I’ve leaned on the thesaurus like it’s a Segway that will effortlessly transport me to my conclusion. My thesaurus probably deserves a Cornell degree for its brilliant text on subjects ranging from “Scientology and American Dissent” to “Andorra’s Crisis in Democracy”. You can argue that the thesaurus is as innocuous as an internet translator but when you’re translating from shoddy slang to polished prose is it really a pardonable offense?

Well you tell me. I think similar to sourcing Wikipedia and leaning on a Smartphone during a trivia competition, thesaurus plagiarism falls into a certain ethical purgatory. Is it dishonest, corrupt, amoral, immoral, devious, deceitful, wrong, unethical, and dishonorable? Possibly. But maybe it’s also practical, proactive, pragmatic, realistic, and sensible.

Fundamentally, does a leader use a thesaurus? Is leadership synonymous with plagiarism?

Pic Credit: autumn_bliss

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Chairman of the Bored

I have a friend in a leadership position for a major accounting firm. He has ascended the ranks at his company rapidly, he’s been promoted three times in as many years, and is on the fast track to make partner.

His rise within his company is due, in part, to his accounting skills—his extensive knowledge of tax law and his ability to anticipate new laws and changes to existing laws. This isn’t the reason he’s an effective leader though. And his climb hasn’t been a result of having schmoozed the right people or because he babysits his boss’ children.

He has succeeded as a leader because he’s politically competent. He networks across departments, partners with other team leaders within his organization, gains the trust of his clients outside the organization. He’s also a leader because of managerial competence. He has the ability to motivate his team, to develop those under him, and point where he can grant them a larger degree of autonomy.

He hasn’t maintained and excelled in leadership positions within his company because he’s a great guy and everyone likes him.

It should be noted, however, that my friend is smart and funny in his own way and a loyal, decent human being.  That being said, he’s not exactly the kind of guy that lights up a room with a magnetic charisma that draws people to him. He’s been an amazing friend, but quite frankly, my friend is kind of boring.

The term “boring,” is of course, subjective, but when he talks about his work, my eyes tend to glaze over and I retreat into a happy place inside my head.

It’s clear when he speaks about it, through the glimpses I grab as I fade in and out during his work-related speeches, that he really knows his business and knows how to get the most out of those he works with.

My friend doesn’t have a larger-than-life personality; he’s not the type to fly off the handle, he’s not prone to angry outbursts or outward expressions of ecstatic joy (in public at least.) He can come off as kind of flat, or, boring. It’s quite possible that this ‘flat’ effect may also serve him well as a leader. He’s rational, fair and isn’t guided by emotion in his day-to-day life and is, apparently, an effective operating style in his role as a leader.

In some fields, being boring is not only acceptable; it might even be an asset.