How great Leaders “Get Stuff Done”

I just finished a flight from Salt Lake City to Orange County and thanks to JetBlue, was able to listen live to President Barack Obama’s remarks that came in the aftermath of historic GOP victories in the United States elections that took place yesterday. For those just tuning in, decisive wins were enjoyed by the Republican Party in both state and local elections from Alaska to Florida.

I believe President Obama was at least partially right about the reasons for this wave of Democratic losses.  He and others are coming to the stark realization that the American people are sick and tired of inaction and lethargy in Washington. And, in this instance, whether or not the American people were right, they laid the blame squarely at the feet of the President and his Party.

I absolutely agree with President Obama on a point that he made several times in his post-election remarks—The American people “want stuff done.” 

It got me to reflecting on great leaders that I have known and worked with over time and how they “got stuff done.” It also reminded me of those who were unable to make key actions.

I once worked for a man who was a terrific Senior VP of a big global company. His work in a big corporate enterprise in a series of increasingly important roles had apparently prepared him for his next position—Chief Executive Officer

But when the opportunity presented itself, he froze up. He became cautious that he would make a wrong move.  He was afraid of the Board and scared that a wrong move could cost him his job. He was right on one thing—his job was lost. But it was not because of any action he took but rather due to his inaction. His short tenure as CEO was characterized by meeting after meeting and committee after committee. He was more focused on getting consensus and being well liked than he was on leading, making his own decisions and being accountable for those decisions right or wrong.

With that as a backdrop, here is my advice to Barack Obama on how great leaders “Get stuff done”.

1. Be Data Informed—In other words, know your stuff. I once read that being data informed describes agile, responsive and intelligent businesses that can adapt to changing environments. Folks—knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have the better able you can build your business with action.

2. Drop Your Pride—Be agnostic as to where the good ideas come from. I have never been the smartest person in the room but I do know how to surround myself with people who have deep domain expertise; I trust them and take action based on their recommendations. It is also important to give credit where it is due.

3. Hire and value people who have differing points of view—Avoid Group-Think. While consensus is nice, the data shows that it’s not the best way to get the job done. So hire the unconventional job candidate and promote people who have had the courage to speak their mind—especially if they have had something worthwhile to say.

4. Listen with Real Intent—Robert Baden-Powell once said: If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk. While some people might be impressed with how well you SPEAK, the quality that distinguishes the great leader is their ability to LISTEN. I am fond of saying that you are the average of the five people with whom you surround yourself. So surround yourself with really, really brilliant people. But this adage ONLY works if you listen to them.

5. ACT – enough said.

Dale Carnegie once said:

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

People desperately want their leader to be a person of action. A fence sitter is cherished by no one.

The world’s greatest hockey player Wayne Gretsky once famously remarked that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Confucius added: The superior man (or woman) is modest in his speech but exceeds in action.

I gave a keynote address today to a large group of brilliant albeit somewhat unanimated tax accountants. I told them what their CEO’s expect of them. It’s ACTION. Every person in an organization needs to be accountable for acting with innovation.

Be part of that 5% who always and consistently exceeds what is expected of them. I don’t want to see Powerpoints; I don’t like to attend meetings of committees. What I want are people that will take action and get results. People often ask me in job interviews how many hours a week they are expected to work on the job. I hate that. The truth is, I don’t care how much time they put in. I only care about the results.

Someone was lamenting to me the other day that they had come up with the whole idea behind a new 3D technology that was embodied in the Oculus Rift, which was later purchased by Facebook for nearly $2 Billion dollars. And speaking of FB, plenty of people have said they came up with the idea behind Facebook before Facebook. The truth is that ideas are nothing UNLESS THEY ARE ACTED ON.

The man who essentially  invented the video game industry as well as the restaurant chain of Chucky Cheese, Nolan Bushnell, once wrote:

“Everyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the
person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something
about it that makes a difference.”

I often say that I would rather take a good action today rather than make a great decision ninety days from now.

The American people have spoken. They want action. They want results. They did not send their representatives to Washington to sit on their hands and bicker. In government as in business, one needs to act to win. The fence sitter is always a loser.


Posted in Posted in Lessons Learned, Up Principles, What I Learned From  |  22 Comments

22 thoughts on “How great Leaders “Get Stuff Done””

  1. David, I appreciate how each post is so well written and thought-out. I cannot agree more with the advice given here. My approach to my entrepreneurial career has been to continually move and figure things out as we go along. What we lack in experience and knowledge, we compensate for through hard work and vigor.

    Thanks for this great reminder. Looking forward to more of your posts!

  2. I couldn’t agree more about your remarks. There are tons of opportunities out there for those that want it. Opportunities are never lost, they go to someone else:) I really like this blog site. i continually use articles and quotes here. Thanks for taking the time and posting here.

    Ryan Burgon

    1. Ryan – thanks for the kind remarks. I know in your life you are a man of action. Go get em!
      BTW- are you coming to my keynote address in Orange County on Thursday night?

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Carl. Please feel free to share with others in the organization. You are one of those great leaders that get things done!

  3. Great Article David and right to the point. It’s too bad that those in Washington who need to read and or hear this message won’t.

    It’s time that we eliminate political correctness and to choose what is best for the country and the RIGHT choice to make for the people of America, rather making designs that are best for one party or the other.

    Thanks again for taking time to provide President Obama with a directive to get “STUFF DONE.”

  4. Thank you for these thoughts David. I especially appreciate you writing “The truth is that ideas are nothing UNLESS THEY ARE ACTED ON.” I am wondering if action is everything.

    Sure, there is what people call planning though there are different types of planning. Active planning seems to be more results oriented and passive, or regular, planning seems to be more consensus-based.

    It also seems that those who are overly concerned with consensus are also overly concerned with their pride. It seems as though the person does not really care about getting consensus; the person’s pride cares about getting consensus because pride does not exist well with contradiction.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. I look forward to your next post!

    1. Thanks for your nice comments, Ellie. I know from working with you that you are a person that takes action and I love that.

    1. Thanks, tom. Always good to hear from you. Hope the band is doing well. Thanks for the Follow Up. “The limiting factor on your success is not the size of the obstacles, but the size of your dream.”

      all the best – david

  5. Hey Dave, long time it’s been!
    My dad passed your article along, it’s a great article giving great points.

    The one thing I want to spout quickly about, is that I don’t think that many of the existing Washington pols are actually ‘gettings things done’ quite well, to keep their power and gain. Maybe you already feel this way and didn’t bring it out, but they are succeeding in their purposes to only helps themselves, not us people at large.

    Hopefully we can get some good, honest ‘freemen’ out there who will endure thru the muck of the ‘establishment’ to get good things done, which actually will help the whole country get out of the good bit of serfdom we are under with these ‘king-men’. Your article is a fine motivation for them, and also for us to help them do so.

  6. Hmpf, I misstyped a small part of my last post:
    ‘is that I don’t think that many of the existing’
    should be
    ‘is that I think that a good number of the existing’

    Important clarification there.

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