Wednesday, October 24, 2012


As I’ve written about before, leaders are called upon to do many things for their organizations – we’re called on to articulate a vision for a better tomorrow, mobilize people, constantly drive improved outcomes, and on and on. However, there’s one thing I constantly see the best leaders do that I’ve never seen anything written about – they are masterful at simplifying things.


Here are some examples of how this happens in real life…

Leaders simplify the mission. Exactly what are we trying to accomplish? If your answer takes more than a sentence or two, you may not have simplified the mission enough. Drucker is quoted as saying, “If you can’t put it (the mission) on a t-shirt, you don’t have it yet.

Leaders simplify the values. What are the beliefs that you want to drive the behavior in your organization? The longer the list of values, the less the impact they’ll have on your organization. So, how many should you have? I don’t believe there’s a RIGHT answer, but I do think it’s closer to 5 than 10 – Which values are CORE?

Leaders simplify the scorecard. What are the key metrics you use to drive your team and organization? Again, the watchword is simplify. I’ve seen organizations with 20+ KEY metrics. You guessed it, it didn’t work. Everyone picked the 3 – 4 they wanted to pursue. The result: no organizational focus, no traction, no improvement.

Leaders simplify problems. Admittedly, many of the problems we face as leaders are very complex. Don’t let that stop you from breaking the problem down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Leaders simplify processes. The best leaders I know don’t like bureaucracy. These men and women are always interested in streamlining the process. The questions they ask include: how can we make it easier, make it faster, reduce the number of steps? How can we simplify the process?

Leaders simplify the strategy. Can you write your core business strategy or strategies on the back of a napkin? Better yet, can you do it in a picture a 10-year-old could draw? If you want everyone implementing the strategy, they need to get it.

Leaders simplify communications. The next time you’re tempted to present a 40-slide PowerPoint deck, try to reduce it to FOUR slides. Here’s a sobering test: After you speak to a group, would the audience agree on your core message? They should.

Leaders simplify next steps. Leaders ensure clarity on who will do what by when. If next steps are not clear, next steps may not happen. I had a business leader tell me, this single practice revolutionized his organization. Clear and simple next steps help.

Just recently, I was confronted with a statement that actually prompted this post. Someone said to me, “Smart people make things complicated.” My response, “The smartest ones can make things simple.”

If you’re looking for a way to add instant value in your organization, look for something to simplify.



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Comments (20)
  1. Excellent post. So true. When you think about leaders who are making an impact with large groups of people, it is because they are taking an intimidating topic and breaking it down to smaller pieces.

    - Kevin
  2. I think the greatest service I offer to my employer, to my employees, and to my customers is to transform the complex into the simple, something they can understand and take action on even when I’ve left. In this way, my impact is magnified as they continue to act on those matters, while I make other ones simpler for them and others to act on again. It is probably the highlight of my day when I empower someone to do what they previously could not.

    - Joseph Iliff (@SeekOutWisdom)
    • Well said, Joseph! Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts with the Great Leaders Serve community!


  3. I love “leaders simplify problems”.
    Jesus was a leader who was so good at taking layers of complexity & simplifying it down with just one statement – particularly when conflict was involved.
    There were several issues – of power, gender, morality, law, precendent, enforcement, religion, leadership etc – involved in the woman caught in adultery.
    Jesus cut through it all with “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone”.
    When you study the gospels from a perspective of simplifying, it’s amazing how many other examples there are!

    - Miss Shaz Jones
    • Thanks for your comment! Jesus is a great model for leaders who want to learn how to simplify the complex. I appreciate you sharing your comments with the Great Leaders Serve community!


  4. Great article. I’ve already shared with my leadership team. You are spot on. Too many times, “smart” people like to look smarter by making things complicated – so only they know the answers and understand the data. My experience has taught me that this only makes the data useless and the “smart” person tends to get ignored.

    Keep up the great work! Love reading your blog.

    - Jim Johnson
    • Jim, thanks for your comment! I’m trying to get smart enough to make things simple. If I look at my work and it is still complicated, that just reminds me I’m not smart enough yet!

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with the Great Leaders Serve community!


  5. Thank You.

    - Tracey L.
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  10. We call this “to dumb it down” in the HVAC business.

    - Chuck
    • I might not use that language… however, that’s my goal on just about everything! If I can say something or write something a child can understand, I feel like I’ve communicated well. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

  11. I am considering starting a women’s program for those who are 40 and older than are struggling with life’s issues – (i.e., – addressing personal concerns of being a single parent or grandparent with their children, fellowship and mentoring for a positive motivational change on the inside that affects and infects their community and persona to being able to directly impact on how they see, relate, and respond to their community). Alot of times you would think by 40 or older women have it together well the fact is they don’t depending on where they live and how they grew up. And I am interested in putting together a strategy that would catapult them into being able to thrive better mentally, socially as well as economically. We are the surroundings of our experiences…

    - Henri Pontes
    • Thanks, Henri for your message! Unfortunately, it was truncated on my end. Is there a specific question I could help you with? Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

  12. And Leonardo Da Vinci’s response is “Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication”.
    See also: ‘A smiling business in 30 seconds’ at

    - Herwig W Dierckx
    • Love the quote! Thanks for sharing it. Mark

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