Contracts and Bridges

May 22, 2009 on 1:26 pm | In Contract Drafting, Leadership | Comments Off

There are many things we attempt that literally have no value until they are completed. At the same time, there are some things that just getting them done “well enough” can be acceptable.

For example, if you are writing a position paper and you have thought out your arguments, gathered your facts, and written all of this is a logical manner, there is a good probability that what you have done is good enough for the purpose and you can submit it. If you are like me, however, you constantly believe that you can make it just a little bit better so you sleep on it “just one more night” and maybe you get back to it and maybe you don’t. In these cases, you need to discipline yourself to accept “good enough” and move on. The same can be said of a contract. Anyone who has attended my classes has heard me say that there is not such thing as the “perfect contract” (no matter what your boss or even Legal might try to tell you). No matter how many sets of eyes get to see it, there is always something that can be done to improve it in some way. It’s the nature of business transactions and the foibles of our human language. Good enough needs to be good enough, and you need to get on with other matters.

But there are some things where good enough isn’t. Suppose you were building a bridge. You might have the anchor supports, the girders, the suspension cables, and the mid-span supports (I’m no engineer, so there are probably correct names for all of this, but I think you get what I am saying), but unless you have laid the very last section of decking, you do not have a bridge. It is not functional. It cannot be used as a “bridge.” It might be a nice piece of art, and it might even be considered a “good start,” but if someone is trying to take a truck loaded with widgets across it, they won’t make it. And the results can be disastrous if not catastrophic.

In everything you do in the course of a day, which of them can be completed “good enough” and which ones must be fully carried across the finish line? Are you writing a contract or building a bridge? Each task you tackle in the course of your day fits within one, and only one, of these two categories. Do you ever confuse them?

I recently accepted the task of writing an agreement for a client. It’s a pretty standard agreement with mostly boilerplate language. It was relatively easy to locate a model, review it for applicability, accuracy, and currency and have it prepared. It was, as far as this type of agreement goes, “good enough.” The problem arose in that this client as not completed the formation of their business. They do not have an approved company name registered with the state. So while the agreement is “good enough” we cannot carry it across the finish line. There is an absolutely essential part that is missing – the name of the party.

So the next time you create your “to do” list, give some thought about into which of these two categories each task fits. Can you get it completed “good enough” and not waste any more time trying to make something perfect that never will be? Or is this a task that has a critical component that must be completed? What is that critical component? Have you set the wheels in motion to make that happen? Do you even know what that component looks like, who has to do it, and what resources will be necessary to get it done? We worked with a client who was frustrated over not having a website. They had drafted all the content, but could not figure out how websites are set up (let’s just say that IT and web searches were beyond their experience). We showed them how to register a domain name, how to set up a hosting agreement, and how to load webpages into the site. Any ONE of those things being missing would have prevented the site from being viewed by potential customers. We needed all three. And it made no sense to embark on building a website until all three were identified and someone was made responsible for making it happen. The content could be considered a good-enough task. The whole website was a bridge task.

How many projects do you have that have lain incomplete for what seems forever? Are they contracts or bridges? Can you make use of it in its current good-enough state? Or must you find that missing link to connect both ends of the bridge?

When you think about getting things done, considering this approach might be a useful tool in increasing your productivity.

Are Leaders Born or Made?

May 21, 2007 on 6:51 am | In Leadership | Comments Off

When you look at the literature, there are numerous “lists” of what to look for when trying to find (or define) a leader. Without belaboring all of them, the more recent leadership tomes suggest that “leadership” is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. A person who excels in one area of leadership, for example teaching Sunday school, might not succeed as a Donald Trump, and vice versa. In some cases there is a lack of the necessary knowledge about the subject matter (do you think Trump could teach Sunday school?) but it also has to do with credibility, confidence, and other traits that both business writers and psychologists have suggested. The things that made Patton a great military leader are not necessarily the same traits or behaviors that made the Beatles leaders in the world of pop music. Leadership is often situational – as when a leader is discovered because of a crisis. Many leaders (and heroes) were “born” on 9/11, for example.

If you accept that leaders are born, then what is the use of all of the books and training that is going on trying to teach people how to be a leader? If it comes only from a natural, innate “gift” that you either have or you don’t, the rest of us are just wasting our time trying to learn it. You can certainly learn to be an expert in any given subject matter, and you can learn various behaviors (such as negotiation skills, discipline of employees, mentoring, decision making, self discipline, etc.) that are traditionally attributed to leaders. The bottom line is, if you have people around you who choose to follow you, then you are a leader. Break their trust, and you lose the privilege of leading them. And as John Maxwell teaches us, one of the most important traits of a leader is the ability to develop those around them into leaders as well – at all levels of the organization. If leadership cannot be learned, he, too, has just been wasting his time telling us that!

It is certainly true that some of these behaviors are more easily and readily adopted by those we sometimes perceive as “natural” leaders, but I have also seen very charismatic people develop a following when in fact they were terrible leaders (and pretty awful people as well!). And with effort and dedication, I have also seen people who appear to have very little “natural” leadership talent develop themselves into very dynamic and productive leaders. And as noted by another commentator, having the desire to lead has a lot to do with whether a person will devote themselves to the process of developing themselves into leaders.

One of the best recent books on the topic is Goffee and Jones’ Why Should Anyone be Led by You?, and I strongly recommend it for anyone who wants to understand this dynamic and learn more about what it takes to be an effective (note, I use that word rather than “successful”) leader. My bottom line on this topic is that leaders are made, not born, but the traits that make people great leaders often come more easily to some than to others.

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