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A consultant, a business school professor and an executive walk into a bar.  The executive says, “Geez, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”  Concerned, the consultant and professor asked what was going on.

“The CFO told me that if we are going to hit our targets for the first couple quarters that we’re going to have to cut expenses by 10% ASAP.  We just went through this fire drill six months ago.”

The consultant nods sympathetically and says, “You know, in times of crisis it is imperative for you to be visible to the organization, to rally the troops, to engage them in making changes, to acknowledge their anxiety, to communicate constantly and lead them towards the light.”

To which the professor adds, “Research shows that in the most successful Fortune 500 companies these moments of downturn are actually the beginning of transformative reinventions.  The best CEOs pull together a tight group of advisors that lead their organizations into greener pastures.”

The executive picks up a double martini, takes a good, long drink and turns to the consultant and professor and declares, “I can’t believe you get paid to say crap like that.  You clearly have no idea what it takes to lead in the real world.”

Folks, it’s time to have an honest discussion about the challenges of leading and managing in reality.  I have no qualms with all books and guidance out there.  But when it comes down to implementing those lofty ideas a lot can get lost in translation.  Those case studies don’t highlight all the daily bombs that go off to derail the best laid plans or address the doubts you face when making tough decisions that effect thousands of people.  As you try to apply solid theories to your reality you keep falling short of the intended outcomes.

I’m here to say that you are not alone.  You are the norm (which is not to imply that you are not special).

This blog is about the intersection between all that good guidance and what really happens in organizations.  It’s a no-nonsense view of leadership with some helpful bits of advice.  My hope is that you will realize that you’re probably doing a decent job as a leader even if you don’t sound like all the executives in the books you read.  And with a little tweak here and there you can do an even better job.

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