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Simplicity and Structure Lead to Success

Complexity and good intentions are for losers


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“One of our most dysfunctional beliefs is our contempt for simplicity and structure.”

—Marshall Goldsmith

Why can Warren Buffett repeatedly make successful multibillion dollar investments with little due diligence and a corporate staff the size of a family meal at my house? Meanwhile, many hedge funds have legions of staff and complex models, but get their ass kicked by Buffett every year.

Why can some leaders successfully drive change with speed and others overcomplicate issues?

I think the answer to both is the same.

Leaders who drive dramatic change – whether in strategic direction, team effectiveness or their own behavior – realize that simplicity and structure are the sharpest tools in their shed (or best apps on their iPhone, if you aren’t fond of yard work).

We often complicate things out of fear or anxiety. I once worked for a guy who wouldn’t make a decision to save his life. You hear criticism of leaders with a “ready, fire, aim” orientation, but this guy’s was worse: “Ready, aim, aim, aim. …” He used complexity – always looking for more information or a better tool for analysis – to avoid decisions. “Study the issue until it becomes a crisis, and then blame someone else for the problem,” was his unspoken mantra.

Simplicity and structure have the most impact for me when coaching executives. Changing behavior is always about modifying simple things in a structured way (and being accountable).

I learned from Marshall Goldsmith that we all need to structure our lives to be successful. If you’re an alcoholic, don’t go to the bar. If you want to do more of something, put it on your calendar. If you wish to be in better shape, get a trainer.

If your team members don’t like working for you, your behaviors are causing them to feel that way. Identify what they are and eliminate or replace them. Find a structured way to force the change.

Complexity and good intentions are for losers. Simplicity and structure is the way to win.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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