Open Thinkering


Tag: Just a Minute

How to Lead: Being Positive

how_to_leadThis is the second of three posts outlining my notes and thoughts on Jo Owen’s excellent book How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed. I encourage you to buy and devour it if you’re in, or are likely to soon be in, a leadership position.

You can view my previous post on this book here: How to Lead: Focusing on People

The first section of Owen’s book is entitled The Foundations of Leadership and this second post outlines his thoughts on Being Positive.

Owen begins by re-iterating what the surveyed 700 top leaders look for in emergent leaders: adaptability, self-confidence, proactivity, reliability, and ambition.

He believes that these can be summed up by being positive. By this Owen means:

  • seeing opportunities instead of problems
  • learning to be luck consistently
  • moving from analysis to action
  • living better

Owen states that there are six aspects of being positive, which will form the section titles of the rest of this post.

The art of being positive in everyday life

In order to come across as a positive person, emergent leaders need to:

  1. Focus on strengths rather than weaknesses
  2. Manage your feelings
  3. Visualize (focus on your goals)
  4. Do something worthwhile (work or elsewhere)
  5. Move to action (look to the future, not the past)
  6. Wear the mask of leadership (look professional, don’t be negative)
  7. Take control (focus on the things you can do)

The art of being positive in business life

To be seen as someone valuable to the organization and your boss, Owen recommends the following:

  1. Bring solutions to the table, not problems.
  2. Respond to new ideas by looking for positives, not negatives.
  3. Volunteer for special projects.
  4. Take measured risks.
  5. Don’t whine when given menial work (it’s a ‘right of passage’ and you get to see how the organization really works)
  6. Don’t gossip about the boss or colleagues.
  7. Don’t duck responsibility.

The art of being consistently lucky

Owen attributes the quotation, “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get” to golfers, but I’m pretty sure it was originally from Thomas Jefferson. In any case, it’s a sound guiding principle and adorned the wall of my previous classroom! :-p

Making your own luck, says Owen, is down to the 3P’s:

  • Practice (‘experience is to the leader what practice is to the sportsperson’)
  • Persistence (‘if you have never failed, you have probably never tried hard enough’)
  • Perspective (it’s one thing to see an opportunity but quite another thing to act upon it)

Being smart vs. being positive

Emerging leaders respond to challenges with one of the 4A’s:

  1. Apathy (never going to become a leader)
  2. Analysis (needs to be fused with experience)
  3. Answers (brings solution to the table)
  4. Action (‘easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to seek permission’)

I don’t think this is Owen’s strongest section, to be honest. I can see why apathy isn’t a good reponse (obviously!) and I don’t think the other A’s are insightful. 🙁

Problem-solving positively

Problem-solving is not – or should not be – a purely intellectual exercise; it should drive action. ‘The perfect solution,’ says Owen, ‘is the enemy of the practical solution.’ A structured and mechnical approach to problem-solving will only get you, at best, a ‘B+’ answer, he says. Intsead, the insightful approach would be:

  1. Find both the problem the owner of the problem – is it a cause or a symptom?
  2. Find an alternative perspective – go and talk to people!
  3. Challenge the data and definitions – find alternatives.
  4. Don’t ‘boil the ocean’ – look for ‘killer facts’.
  5. Build a story based on a hypothesis – don’t be neutral.
  6. Pre-sell the solution to interested parties – address concerns before going public.

When analysing data, put into practice two principles:

1. 80/20 rule: 80% of the results can be achieved with 20% of the effort, so focus your efforts on the areas most likely to yield results. Ways to decide which is the 20% worth focusing on:

  • impact on organization
  • importance to owner of problem
  • feasibility of potential solution
  • ease of analysis
  • cost of analysis of potential solution

2.  The issue tree: break down complex problems into bite-size chunks – then apply the 80/20 rule. Create a simplified flow diagram (or tree) to assist with this.

Owen makes a great point about people being confused when presented with lots of choice. They want advice and a story to tell – give it to them! Take people out of the office or make videos to help tell your story (social engagement).

Reputation is an important factor when dealing with people within organizations. Each person, says Owen, is like a brand with different levels of trust and quality. Get the support of people who are trusted; either get them to present or get them to vouch for you.

Making the most of your time

It is fairly obvious that time management techniques are of no use to you if you are doing the wrong things. There are therefore three important questions you should ask of yourself:

  1. What are the 3 most important things I need to achieve over the next 3 months? (apply the 80/20 rule)
  2. What are the most important things my boss needs to achieve, and am I helping achieve those goals? (i.e. am I doing something worthwhile?)
  3. What is it I can do that no-one else can do among my team and colleagues? (delegate!)

Ultimately, Owen believes, using time well involves using the rules from the radio programme Just a Minute – no hesitation, deviation or repetition:

  • Hesitation – delaying work creates more work and reduces its quality.
  • Deviation – at a simple level this involves being distracted, but at another involves making sure you are working on the correct issue.
  • Repetition – Owen invokes the 3D’s:
    • Ditch it – if it’s not necessary, delete or abandon it.
    • Delegate it – if someone else can do it, let them!
    • Do it – if you are going to do it, do it now.


Whilst not quite as strong as the first chapter, this second chapter does involve some useful insights. Not least the 80/20 rule, the importance of not whining or gossiping, and time management involving working on the correct thing! 🙂

The final post in this series can be found here: How to Lead: Being Professional

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