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Cat-herding for fun and profit

As I came upstairs from my basement office the other morning for Round 2 with the coffee machine, my wife yelled, "Come here, I need your help!" I dutifully responded and found her wearing exercise garb and straddling her bike just outside the front door. "You need to go tell Ike to come home," she said. "He's over there about to get into a fight, and I'm late for my exercise class!"

"Are you nuts?" I said as she rode off. But Ike was making demonic noises about 3 feet away from my neighbor's window, and it was 7 a.m. So I felt obligated.

As you probably guessed, Ike is a cat. We adopted him from the Humane Society, and he was a hurricane cat. By that I mean the Humane Society rounded up animals during hurricane Ike and sent them around the country, ergo his name Ike. The society must have found Ike in a dark alley beating up some other cats (maybe even some people), because he has the heart of a lion and the temperament of Attila the Hun.

Back to my cat-herding assignment ... I hadn't shaved, my hair looked like Kramer's from Seinfeld and I was wearing a T-shirt that a Salt Lake City friend sent me, emblazoned with "Polygamy Porter/Bring Some Home for the Wives/Why have just one?" I find it a terribly funny T-shirt, but I've been told not to wear it in public (I was not told to refrain from talking about it in public).

Off I went to try to reason with Ike to drop his belligerent behavior and come home. You can imagine how successful I was.

No-win assignments are handed out all day long in most companies, resulting in wasted talent, squandered dollars, frustrated bosses and even more frustrated workers. I now have the luxury of working with only those whom I chose to work with on assignments with clear and achievable objectives. I'm self-employed.

Those not at the top of the heap are sometimes asked to "catch a hurricane," and there may be situations where they cannot change that. However, the most successful executives whom I work with, whether CEO or a notch or two down the ladder, have a "self-employed" attitude, even though a company employs them. This doesn't mean they're not committed. It does mean, however, that they expect rewarding, ethical work where they can add value. And they'll do what they can to ensure that this takes place, even if they have to leave the firm.

What can you do to minimize no-win assignments? Ask three penetrating questions:

1. Clarify objectives. "Exactly what are we trying to achieve, and how does it tie to our vision and strategy?"

2. Define how to measure success. "How will we know if we won?"

3. Ask, "What value will we achieve?" Remember OMV: objectives, measures and value. A brilliant guy named Alan Weiss taught me this simple concept years ago, and it helped me dramatically increase my clients' levels of success. If you can instill this discipline in your company, you'll achieve the same.
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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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