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Effectiveness is like the transmission of a car. It turns potential into results.

Of course, there are two implications here. The first is that an individual has skills or characteristics that can lead to the desired outcome, or that a machine or process has the right capability and enough capacity.

Just having the skills is not enough, though. A college degree doesn’t make a person effective at a job. It just tends to raise the potential of high performance. A fast machine doesn’t guarantee that the machine will be effective in a value stream. It just means that the manufacturing math can work out.

The second thing is that there has to be some goal to measure effectiveness against. Without a specific target, you can’t possibly judge effectiveness. Which is a more effective car-one that goes 200 mph but gets only 8 miles to the gallon, or one that goes 70 mph, but gets 55 miles to the gallon? If you are in a Nascar race, the first is more effective. If you are in the rat race and have to commute to your job, the second would be more effective.

Efficiency is often confused with effectiveness. Being efficient is good, when the output aligns with goals, but in truth, efficiency just means being able to get a lot done quickly with little waste. It doesn’t judge whether what the output of a process is desirable.

This is most common in non-Lean companies when a machine is very efficient at quickly churning out parts that sit in a warehouse for weeks or months. “Hurry up and wait” is not effective.

People can be organized, efficient, and trained, without being effective. Effective implies results.

In school, there was always that person who seldom studied, yet earned good grades. What made her successful? Obviously, raw talent helps-in this case a sharp intellect. Efficiency in preparation helps, but it is not all there was to it. A person can say they are able to study 300 pages a night, and still do poorly. He might even do a good job at studying, but he may be bad at figuring out what is important to study, and go over the wrong 300 pages.

The highly effective test-taker may have been able to intuitively figure out what 30 pages were most likely to be on the test, and study those. Here’s the catch-she may not have actually learned the subject better than another student. She just focused better on her desired result-getting good grades. The person who studied all 300 pages may have been more focused on learning than on getting good grades.

Keep that point in mind. Effectiveness is targeted. A leader may be highly effective in one role, but not in another. A leader’s talents and abilities are often well matched only for a few particular role.

Becoming more effective at something entails a few steps.

  • Identify predictors of success at what you want to do. The wheel’s already been invented. Any reason not to look at the existing design when deciding what you want to be good at?
  • Do an honest self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses in those predictors. This is actually extremely hard for people to do. I saw a study once several years ago, and it basically said that strong performers have a high likelihood of underestimating their results, and low performers are more likely to overestimate their outcomes. In other words, top performers don’t have a grasp on how strong they are, and weak performers are oblivious to their shortcomings.
  • Develop a plan to improve your skills in those areas. This is where the rubber meets the road. Being effective is not easy. Some people luck into it-the things they are good at or like match what they want to be successful at. Most people have to work to round out their skills.
  • Stop focusing on irrelevant skills. Many people spend a lot of time doing what they like to do. A manager may spend a lot of his time figuring out how to program in Visual Basic. It may be fun to him, and a nice skill to have, but it is unlikely to be a predictor of success in other top managers.
  • Simply put, spending your limited learning resources learning a computer program will make you a great programmer, but most rising leaders do very little software writing.

    What you don’t do is almost as important as what you do. Time demands on leaders are immense. Use your time wisely.

  • Be fit. Health brings energy, which is critical. Some people have vast reserves, even without being fit. Most do not. Get some exercise every day to keep you focused and energized.


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