Bottleneck Leaders

In the past, I have blogged once a week, on Monday. I have decided that I will begin blogging twice a week.  Starting today (and ensuing Wednesdays) I will share a blog from some of my favorite blog writers listed on my welcome page.

As always, my desire is to put ideas, and resources out there that will help all of us be better leaders…led by Him, empowered by Him and honoring Him in all we do and say.

Today, something from Ron Edmondson, which he originally posted on October 6, 2011. What follows is his post, verbatim, without any of my words.

Leaders should aim not to be a bottleneck in the process of building a healthy and growing organization. In manufacturing a bottleneck can be defined as a point of congestion in a system that occurs when workloads arrive at a given point more quickly than that point can handle them.

 In an organization, the bottleneck can be the leader. When this happens, progress stalls and growth is limited.

Here are 7 characteristics of the bottleneck leader:

  • Every decision ultimately goes through the leader…
  • Dreaming is limited to the pre-determined boundaries of the leader…
  • Waiting for the leader to make a decision becomes awkward and wastes time…
  • There is no clear vision or direction for the organization…
  • The leader never delegates…
  • Potential leaders aren’t recruited…they are controlled…
  • Everyone waits on the leader to make the first move…

Leaders, ask yourself this question: Are you a bottleneck in your organization?

If you aren’t certain, perhaps you should ask your team.




Feeling overwhelmed? There's hope!

Some time ago, I heard Bill Hybels say that most of the people he knew were overwhelmed and over- committed. I thought to myself, small world…Bill is in Chicago and I’m in Southern California and he knows some of the same people I know, because most of the people I know are overwhelmed and overcommitted.

I have probably coached 150 leaders one-on-one over the last six years. Without a doubt, the biggest single issue they all deal with is staying ahead of work responsibilities, family obligations and numerous things they feel need to be accomplished. Many, if not most, feel like they are lying on the beach being hit by wave after wave and not being able to catch their breath…sort of like waterboarding.

Some time ago I tried to capture what I’ve learned and practice regarding being a good steward of my time and energy.  Here are those ideas…I call them “Priority Management Tips.” They are prefaced by two passages of scripture and a thought from Steven Covey.

Psalm 90:12 (ESV) “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Ephesians 5:15,16 (ESV)  “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best possible use of the time because the days are evil.”

The essence of time management is to set priorities and then to organize and execute around them. Setting priorities requires us to think carefully and clearly about values-- about ultimate concerns. These then have to be translated into long- and short- term goals and plans translated once more into schedules or time slots. Then, unless something more important — not something more urgent — comes along, we must discipline ourselves to do as we planned.

Highly effective people carry their agenda with them. Their schedule is their servant, not their master. They organize weekly, adapt daily. However, they are not capricious in changing their plan. They exercise discipline and concentration and do not submit to moods and circumstances. They schedule blocks of prime time for important planning, projects and creative work. They work on less important and less demanding activities when their fatigue level is higher. They avoid handling paper [and email!] more than once and avoid touching paperwork [and email!] unless they plan on taking action on it.” -Steven Covey

                     Priority Management Tips


1. Get what needs to be done out of your mind and on paper or in a digital system

2. Write everything in daily lists in a pre-determined system and place

3. Have this “Do List” with you at all times

4. Have one list with everything for the day on it--not separate home/work lists.

5. What you should operate with, and from, is a calendar and a “Prioritized Daily Do List”

6. You should have a separate, and short, list for each day--not a long list of everything you need to do that may overwhelm you

7. Only put on your daily list what absolutely has to get done that day

8. Create the list first thing in the morning or the night before

9. Adjust the list throughout the day adding/deleting as things get done

10. At the end of the day, everything on that list needs to be done, delegated or deferred to another day

11. Never go to bed with anything left on your list…NEVER

12. Organize your list into categories such as: E-mail, phone calls, projects, preparation for meetings. Try to work on similar things in blocks of time rather than bouncing from one sort of thing to another


1. Throughout the day you should be constantly working back and forth between what’s on your calendar and what’s on your list

2. You need to revisit your list frequently as your day unfolds. Make adjustments by reprioritizing, doing, delegating or deferring items to other days


1. Discipline yourself to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether you feel like it or not. Work the plan you decided on in the clarity of your quiet moments of praying, thinking and planning your day and don’t be too quick to change it.

2. Don’t let more important things be at the mercy of less important things. Stick to what you originally wrote unless you have strong reasons not to do so.

3. It’s better to work your way into feeling than to feel your way into working. Discipline yourself to do what needs to be done and the good feelings will follow.  If you wait until you feel a certain way before acting, you may never get anything of lasting value done.

Allow me to wrap this up by sharing my most favorite passage of scripture on feeling overwhelmed. 

“Are you tired? Warn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30 Msg.

What did Jesus make clearer to you as you read this post?  What are one or two simple things you can begin to apply right now so you don’t drown in feelings of being overwhelmed?







Lencioni on Discipline

February 2012

The Beauty of Discipline

I have to admit, I’ve always hated discipline.

But at an early age my dad told me that discipline was key to success in life, and because I could see implicitly that he was right, I practiced discipline diligently in just about everything I undertook, from sports to school to work.

Looking back I can’t deny that discipline was critical in everything I did well (as well as the culprit in everything that I didn’t do so well). I can say without doubt that my dad was right, that taking extra steps to do things the right way, again and again, really is key to success.

But there was a problem.

See, in my mind, the ultimate reward for years of discipline would be the arrival of the day when I could discard it. Someday, I promised myself, I would be successful enough to live a discipline-free life, to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. No two days would be the same, and no one would be able to expect anything of me that I didn’t feel like doing. That would, in fact, be the definition of success.

I don’t think I’m terribly different from many entrepreneurs and leaders out there. Though we all understand the importance of hard work and diligence in meeting our daily responsibilities, many of us quietly yearn for the day when our businesses will be in a place where we can be spontaneous and free, where we can choose how to spend our time depending on what we feel like doing at any given moment, on any given day.

Well, things don’t always turn out the way we think they will. For me there were two flaws in my thinking:

First, when it comes to having a family, freedom and spontaneity are really rare. There always seems to be an appointment, a game, a recital or a family activity to attend when you’re a parent or a spouse. And on that day when there are no activities, there’s usually an illness or an unexpected emergency.

But even if my home life was out of my control, I vowed to find a way to be discipline-free at work. That meant that whenever I wasn’t working with a client, writing a book or traveling to give a talk, I would free myself from time commitments and responsibilities that I didn’t enjoy. I would go to the office and bounce from one conversation to another based on whatever whims moved me that day or that hour. I would be as free from discipline as I had ever been in my life.

Well, to a certain extent, I was able to achieve that goal. And that’s when the second flaw in my thinking became apparent: freedom from discipline left me feeling empty.

Not only did my productivity diminish – which wasn’t a total shock – but something else happened that surprised me. I came to dread any activity, even relatively enjoyable ones, which prevented me from exercising “freedom.” I found that even though my days began with the promise of spontaneous creativity, they almost always ended with a sense of sluggish disappointment. I’d drive home feeling like a conscientious seventh grader who had spent his entire weekend playing video games. Aimless. Wasteful. A little ashamed.

In a very limited way, I think I caught a glimpse of what it must be like for professional athletes and famous actors who, when they’re between projects or seasons, have so much freedom in their lives and still seem unhappy. There is just something ultimately lonely and unfulfilling about not having any clear responsibilities, even if those responsibilities aren’t exactly stimulating.

And there is a point here for leaders and managers who, like me, often dread having to live more structured, disciplined lives than we think we want. After having indulged my life-long desire for freedom, I am now a reformed advocate of discipline, not just because it works, but because it has its own rewards.

Don’t get me wrong. I still greatly appreciate and understand the need for occasional freedom and unstructured time. We all need that. But I have to admit that I didn’t realize that freedom becomes its own kind of prison without a general sense of structure and limits. By embracing the need for discipline in our lives, at work and at home, we receive a sense of peace and humility that is far better than freedom. And ironically, it makes occasional opportunities for freedom much more enjoyable.

And so, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my wife and my children for filling my world with so many to-dos, which I probably never would have chosen for myself, thereby preventing me from the misery of too much freedom at home. And I’d like to apologize to my colleagues for tolerating my random interruptions during my prolonged period of adolescent rebellion. I guess it’s better to learn something at age 46 than never at all.


Pat  Lencioni

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Leaders Make Decisions

“Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader.”   Businessman T. Boone Pickens

The higher you move in any setting, the more difficult the decisions become. The bottom line is that leaders make decisions…that’s what leaders do. 

You can count on a few things as you make decisions--especially the controversial and difficult ones:

  1. Some will like your decision
  2. Some will not like your decision
  3. Some will not understand why you made the decision
  4. Some will understand why you made the decision, but still not like it
  5. Some won’t care what you decide
  6. Some will leave because of the decision you made

As a Christian leader, your most important responsibility is to hear from God.

After that, it’s important that you process with your key people… not pronounce to your key people what you’re thinking of deciding.

  • Take time to listen to the Lord
  • Bring your people along in the process
  • Listen well to the feedback you receive
  • Make the best decision you can as you depend on Him and seek to honor Him.

If you wait until you have all the information you think you need, or wait until everybody thinks your decision is amazing, you will never make the decisions you need to make as a leader.

Your goal should be to go into a meeting with a decision you are thinking of making and walk out with a better and more well-thought-through decision after receiving honest feedback.

Keeping people happy is neither biblical nor possible.

“You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you will not please all of the people all of the time.”  (Per Google/Wikianswers…This quote is an adaptation of a quote by A. Lincoln)   Rather, seek to please the Lord.

It was Bill Cosby who said, “I don’t know what the secret to success is, but I do know what the secret to failure is and that’s trying to keep everybody happy.”





Never select this person for a prominent leadership role!

I have (in previous articles and posts at addressed the issue of the kinds of people you are looking for in order to hire or bring onto your leadership team as a direct report. This is one of the most important decisions you will ever make as a leader.

Currently, four of the men I coach are in the process of making the selection of a key person to join their leadership team. Many more of them will make such decisions over the next year or two.

This time let’s look at some characteristics of the person you should definitely NOT SELECT or HIRE!!

The germ idea for this post came from some excellent thinking by Perry Noble.

Don’t HIRE/SELECT the person …

1. You have to talk yourself into bringing on, against your better judgment…

If you have grave doubts before you bring them on, imagine what it will be like after you bring them on. If you don’t truly believe they’re the right choice, it’s not fair to the team, the organization, or to that person whom you will not be able to support with a whole heart. You will more than likely regret it until the day you wind up letting them go.

2. You would not trust with your credit card number or your children…

Years ago I listened to a talk by Don Cousins at Willow Creek in which he strongly discouraged bringing a person into a key and prominent leadership role who had MAJOR character issues.  Don said you will spend lots of time re-parenting them. Character is a huge issue. More leaders fall over character issues than competency issues. There is a big difference between someone with flaws or issues (which we all have) and someone with MAJOR character flaws. Ask for wisdom to know the difference and the ability to discover it in the interview process.

3. Who can do the job as it currently is…

You should be looking for someone who is not only adequate for the job as it now is, but has the emotional, intellectual, competency and relational capacity to grow with the job and responsibility. The last thing you want is to spend countless hours training and developing a person and then, a few years into it, have to let them go because they couldn’t keep up with the growth taking place. And now, painfully, you have to start all over again with somebody new.

4. Who has a victim or entitlement mentality…

You know who I mean…constantly whining and complaining. No matter what is done for them, it’s never enough. They never had a job in their life that they had anything positive to say about.  They never take responsibility for poor work and performance. Everything is always someone else’s fault. They are envious, jealous, nitpicking, back-biting and back stabbing toward their co-workers…the office gossip. Don’t let the resumé and perceived brilliance blind you to who they really are.

5. Who you really don’t like to be with…

Your personal chemistry with this person is extremely important.

I love something Perry Noble says on this…

“I once had a leader tell me to never hire friends, which was a bit odd to me because as I read the NT, I’m pretty sure that the guys who worked together liked one another and actually spent time with each other outside of work.  Call me crazy…but I hire people that I like, or at least believe I will enjoy spending time with.  Why in the world would a leader hire people that they do not like and then complain about the people that they have to spend 40-50 hours a week with?”

6. Who has no gas in his tank or fizz in his Coke…

I want to have people on my team who love what they do and consider it a privilege and joy to do what they love and are suited and gifted to do so. Passionless team players will suck the life out of a team and be a downer over the long haul. Too much is at stake to have people with no passion or who have a passion leak due to any number of issues going on in their lives. Passion is high on my current list of qualities I’m looking for.