Saturday, September 04, 2010

Step Two: Learn the Backgrounds, Experiences, Philosophies, Circumstances, Preferences, and Observations of Those Who Will Lead Breakthroughs

A wise man will hear and increase learning,
And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and an enigma,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
Proverbs 1:5-6 (NKJV)

Many people may feel discouraged about becoming
breakthrough servants because of the gap between what
they know now and what they need to learn about
breakthrough leaders and stakeholders. Such
discouragement may be increased if one of the
weaknesses of their organization is fragmenting
information on a need-to-know basis. In some
organizations, the preference for secrecy might make you
think that lives are at stake. More typically, information
scarcities are made worse by:

• desires to increase influence versus rivals in the
• not understanding the huge benefits of knowing more.
• lack of curiosity about what else is going on.
• ignorance about how to learn more.

The less formal authority an individual has, the less likely
are those with more authority to encourage or to support
the individual’s efforts to learn more. What should a
breakthrough servant do?

Many approaches can help, some of which are outlined in
this section. Choose the approaches that best fit your
situation. In any case, begin by praying for guidance.
There is probably an attractive route for quickly gaining
the information that the Holy Spirit can show you. It will
almost always be the right next step after praying to
learn more about the leaders who will have to develop
and implement the breakthroughs. As I point out in the
Breakthrough Leadership Blueprint, leaders usually don’t
know enough about each other to work well together. I
suggest that you assume that leaders are ignorant about
each other until you receive overwhelming contrary

As a step toward finding out more about leaders, start
by identifying some important task that the overall
organizational leader wants to do that would clearly
benefit from having all leaders learn more about each
other. Your supervisor probably knows what
important tasks are being planned or are about to be
implemented. You can safely assume that if the task isn’t
important enough to draw your supervisor’s attention, the
task probably isn’t important enough to persuade anyone
to want to learn more about the organization’s leaders.

Here are some of the circumstances to look for in
identifying an important task that can justify learning
more about the leaders:

• Concern that some leaders will resist doing the task
• Doubt that the leaders have the needed skill to do the
• Disagreement among the leaders about how to do the
• A need for more openness in order to implement the
• A history of unsuccessful efforts to do the task

Once you have identified a task presenting several of
these circumstances that the organizational leader
champions, find out more about how your supervisor sees
the task in terms of her or his responsibilities and career.
In most organizations, ambitious people see helping high-
priority tasks favored by the organizational leader as
opportunities to shine and to advance their careers.
Those who care about the organization’s success will also
be determined to do what they can to help. If your
supervisor indicates that he or she wants to help push
the task forward, ask your supervisor if she or he would
like you to prepare some thoughts about what might be
done to be more successful in performing the task.

Pray about what to say, and take at least a week (but no
more than two weeks) to get back to your supervisor with
your ideas. Then, share your thoughts informally in a one-
on-one meeting. Part of your purpose is to encourage your
supervisor to propose that leaders who will be involved in
performing the task learn more about each other. Chances
are that your supervisor hasn’t thought of this possibility
before. It may be that the supervisor doesn’t have any
idea how well the leaders know one another.

If your supervisor strongly disagrees that the leaders need
to get to know more about each other, you should drop the
subject for the moment. If your supervisor isn’t sure,
suggest that he or she informally check with her or his
supervisor to see what the supervisor thinks. Offer to
prepare a memo or paper that raises the issue so that
your supervisor can address the subject more easily with
her or his supervisor. If your supervisor agrees that
more information is needed, ask what you can do to
provide support in raising the issue with his or her
supervisor. Ideally, it would be good to present to your
supervisor’s supervisor with your supervisor present to
support you. In any of these communications, feel free
to share the Breakthrough Leadership Blueprint. Add to
that information anything that you can think of that
supports the need for gaining more information. If those
approaches don’t work, encourage your supervisor to
experiment with helping those who work for him or her
to know one another better. Describe the potential
benefits. Suggest that your supervisor involve someone
from the human resources department, a part of the
organization that will typically encourage and assist such
an initiative. After the experimentation, suggest to your
supervisor that he or she report the results to her or his
supervisor. Perhaps the supervisor’s supervisor will want
to try the same. The human resources department may
also decide to recommend that others duplicate the
initiative. Eventually, the organizational leader will learn
about one of these experiments and will probably
recognize the potential benefit from applying the approach
with her or his direct reports.

If none of those approaches are viable, ask for permission
to run an experiment in learning more about one another
just involving those who are your counterparts in other
parts of the organization. Because implementing the
experiment crosses organizational boundaries, such a
request will eventually reach high into the organization
and will often be granted. Again, a success will quickly
spread interest in doing more. If their subordinates are
becoming better acquainted across the organization,
leaders will eventually realize that they should do the
same thing. Someone will propose the idea to the
organizational leader, and that suggestion will probably
trigger such a desirable information-gathering activity.

In any encouragement to have leaders become better
acquainted, be sure to point out the benefits of having
those who report to the leaders also become better
acquainted with their leaders. If that encouragement is
acted on, you should be able create a forum where you
will gain information about the other organizational
leaders by asking those who are in your part of the

If none of these other activities work, get to know whoever
writes the company newspaper or newsletter that is sent
out to all employees. Honestly tell the writer what you
like about the publication and share your interest in
knowing more about other people in the organization.
Suggest how great it would be for you and others if
profiles were written about the organization’s leaders.
The writer will know that most leaders enjoy being
interviewed and written about, and he or she will probably
follow through. If the writer indicates that there’s no
time to do all that, offer to help by conducting the
interviews and drafting all of the articles.

A lot of information about leaders can also be gathered
from sources that aren’t within your organization. Check
the Internet for any speeches, articles, and videos that
include your organization’s leaders. If you learn of other
organizations the leaders have worked for, it may be that
you can use mutual friends or acquaintances to learn
about what the leaders did and acted like in those
previous roles. If you find out what schools the leaders
attended, you may also be able to read profiles in alumni
publications. In doing any of this research, be sure that
your activity is very low profile and undetected, or your
research can be viewed defensively by the person who is
being studied.

You can also learn more about the leaders from internal
sources. Start by reading any press releases your
organization has made about the person. There’s usually
one that describes a leader’s background at the time of
hiring or promotion.

In addition, you may know people who work with the
leaders. Buy those people breakfast or a cup of coffee
after work. While chatting, ask about what it is like to work
with the various leaders and why the leaders operate in the
ways that they do. Inevitably, some personal background
and perspectives will come out.

At some point, you will have done all you can to learn more
about the organization’s leaders. Congratulations on what
you’ve accomplished! Now, turn your attention to learning
about stakeholders. Once again, start by praying for
guidance from the Holy Spirit. Because of the wide scope
of this task, exhaust internal resources before you
consider external ones. Starting internally will speed
learning while reducing the amount of work involved.

Much of what you want to learn about stakeholders will
need to be interpreted in terms of what customers and
end users (or beneficiaries) perceive, think, do, and feel.
In addition, many organizations have market research
activities that collect and analyze information about
customers and end users (or beneficiaries). Such
information is usually not kept too secret because many
people involved in marketing, sales, and developing new
offerings need to know that information. Further, many
salespeople are perfectly happy to describe in detail the
customers and end users (or beneficiaries) that they
come into contact with. If any of your normal
assignments involve anything to do with marketing,
sales, and developing new offerings, you should be able
to simply ask to see what you need. If you don’t have
such an assignment, volunteer to work on one.

While a lot of survey-based customer and end user
(or beneficiary) information is pretty abstract and dry,
you may also find that videos were created of some
visits and round table discussions that include these
people. Try to see these videos. You will learn more
rapidly if you hear their thoughts and ideas expressed
in their own words and with their own gestures. Many
organizations also invite key partners, distributors, and
suppliers to visit, and you may also find video and
audio recordings of many of the speeches and
discussions that occurred during these visits. As you
watch and listen to what they have to say, consider how
accurately they perceive the customers and end users
(or beneficiaries). Try to understand why their vantage
points might be incomplete or inaccurate. Whatever else
you cannot explain about any misperceptions is probably
related to individual backgrounds and opinions. You can
supplement this information by speaking with those in
your organization who normally work with partners and
suppliers. If you have any assignments that would
benefit by your visiting partners or suppliers, be sure to
do so. While visiting, you will quickly get a sense of the
perspectives and personalities of those people and

Employees are obviously more accessible to you than
any other stakeholder group. Most will be happy to speak
with you. If you have a friend who works in your human
resources department, you may also be able to learn
about or read surveys of employee perspectives and
attitudes that can help you. The organization’s employee
newsletter will often contain information about
individuals throughout the organization. From those
profiles, you may learn the names of people who would
be well worth interviewing because of their unique
perspectives. For instance, if someone recently led a
reorganization of the organization’s reporting structure,
that person can tell you a great deal about the
knowledge, attitudes, and actions that the leaders hope
to affect through the reorganization. If such surveys
haven’t been conducted, you may be able to persuade
someone in the human resources department to do so.

Employees’ families are a group about which a little is
known by each part of the organization, but often the
total picture is blurry except in the smallest
organizations. Human resources people can again provide
helpful information if any surveys have been done or if
you can encourage them to conduct such surveys. If no
surveys are available or can be commissioned, attend
employee activities to which families are invited. While
there, converse with family members to find out more
about their circumstances and how the company affects
their lives.

If your organization is a large one, it probably has a
department that works in governmental and local
relations. People in that department often have a
detailed understanding of how your organization affects
the communities in which it operates. Interactions with
the communities your organization serves and in which
it operates are usually pretty visible. You can search
online for references in local publications that describe
your organization. In such articles, critics and advocates
will probably be quoted. Lawsuits are also disclosed
publicly, which can reveal some problem areas. In
addition, you would do well to speak with local
government officials, business leaders, and heads of
local nonprofit organizations (with your organization’s
permission) to find out how they see the effects of your
organization that you haven’t been able to gain from
any other sources. It’s always valuable to find out as
much information as you can from any organized,
continuing critics of your organization: They have
often done more research than your organization has
into its effects on communities and society in general.

Copyright 2010 Donald W. Mitchell, All Rights Reserved.

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