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The Power of Subtraction

A sculptor creates through elimination. He starts with a chunk of stone and slowly transforms it into a beautiful shape that previously existed only in his mind. We tend to think of creation as an additive process, like when we add paint to canvas or introduce light to film. But we forget that we can also create by removing something. Our lives are also shaped by subtraction. When we say no to an opportunity or request, we are shaping our lives and future. ... Read more

How to Lead Without a Map

Have you ever gone backpacking? If so, you might be familiar with the unsettling experience of getting lost. The leader is usually the first to realize that something is amiss when the topography surrounding him stops corresponding to the map he clutches in his increasingly sweaty hands. Either because he is in denial or can’t openly admit to the group that he’s lost his way, the leader keeps quiet  and hopes that he can get back on track without anyone being ... Read more

Leading through the Fog of War

In a war, commanders of armies live with uncertainty. Reconnaissance and spying can supply them with some information, but they never have complete knowledge about their enemy’s troop positions, capabilities, and intentions, and they never know for sure what environments and weather conditions they will face when they go into battle. Military strategists refer to this condition as “the Fog of War.” The best commanders are very well acquainted with the Fog of War. They allow it to remind them that ... Read more

Wise Growth

37signals is a very unusual company. It started out as a web design company and transformed itself into a software company, almost by accident, when the project management software product it developed for internal use (called Basecamp) became extremely popular outside of the company. Without a single salesperson, 37signals had soon signed up thousands of customers. Unlike most software companies, 37signals is based in Chicago, not Silicon Valley, and it frequently turns down extravagant buy-out offers from venture capital firms and ... Read more

The Last Competitive Advantage

Your best people can be poached. Your technology can be stolen. Your processes can be mimicked. Your supply chain can be replicated. Possessing a unique method, asset, or idea used to be enough to ensure your organization’s long-term success, but not anymore. A massively interconnected and globalized world has transformed what used to be competitive advantages into short-term advantages. There remains only one true competitive advantage: a culture that propels its company towards its goals.  (more…) Read more

Learning from Lincoln’s Life, Part II

In the course of their lives, most people change slowly, and often, hardly at all. Intentionally changing oneself is particularly difficult. Read a biography about one of your favorite leaders and you will notice personality traits and tendencies that manifest themselves at an early age and continue on throughout the individual’s entire life. This stubborn persistence of personality can be frightening to someone who wants to develop leadership skills but feels that their various personality traits prevents them from doing so. What ... Read more

Learning from Lincoln’s Life: Part I

Why is it that reading biographies—even those of some of our greatest historical leaders—can be so boring? The uplifting character arcs that we’ve come to expect in novels are absent in biographies. And unlike novels, biographies lack the setups created in the first act that are all tied together by the end of the third act, bringing the whole story to a tidy ending. Reading a biography can even become tedious at times, especially when it is unclear how entire decades ... Read more

What’s Your Strategy?

Strategy--most leaders use the word, but do they understand it? In the context of business, defining what “strategy” means can be difficult. Let's imagine what it would (and would not) mean in a competition between teams racing to place a flag at the top of a mountain... “Let’s get to the top of the mountain!” This is vision, but it isn’t a strategy. “We’ll put all decisions to a vote!” This is not a strategy; it’s an aspect of a group’s culture. “We’ll buy the most expensive ... Read more


Your actions, like ripples radiating out from where a tossed stone hits water, affect your entire organization. First you influence your direct reports. They in turn impact their direct reports. And so it goes on down the line until eventually every person in your organization feels, in one way or another, the effects of your behavior and decisions. Although we can all agree that leadership does influence individual performance and organizational effectiveness in this way, defining and measuring that influence can ... Read more

Are You Coachable?

Have you ever noticed how every martial arts movie seems to have a scene in which the protagonist, beaten and defeated, must seek the instruction of a master? What you are less likely to have noticed in these movies is how the master tends to react. The master never unquestioningly offers his instruction or quickly takes in every individual that knocks on his door. Even the place where the master makes his home is remote and uninviting. After climbing a mountain or ... Read more
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