Core Functions On this page:

What makes up leading

The art of getting someone else to do something
you want done because he wants to do it.

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

The good news for the charisma-challenged of us is that leading -- influencing people to take effective action -- doesn't really require an exciting personality. Leading is not necessarily getting people to do things they don't want to.

Leading can be broken down into these activities:

Decision making

"The buck stops here."
-- Harry Truman's desk sign, 1945

Decision-making includes all the work done to reach the conclusions and judgments needed for people to act. Leaders are counted on to make decisions -- and good ones.

Decisions can be classified as either spontaneous or rational. There are appropriate  circumstances for each type.

 A recommended procedure for reaching rational decisions is taken from the Scientific Method:

  1. State the apparent problem
  2. Gather facts
  3. Use the facts to define the real problem, which may differ from the apparent problem.
  4. Develop alternative solutions and assess them
  5. Select the best solution
  6. Determine a course of action
  7. Evaluate your decision

Here are some principles to  guide you

Past decisions tend to restrict or limit future decisions. For example, IBM's commitment to main-frame computers left it slow to see and respond to the personal computer explosion of the 1980s. In its rush to get its own PC to market, it let Bill Gates' Microsoft team retain the rights to the operating system.

Management Action Plan

The form on this page combines the aspects of planning and leading into one convenient place. It has proved highly useful.

Understanding & Acceptance, Style

Almost more important than the nature of the decision is the understanding & acceptance it receives by those to whom it applies. The more understood and accepted a decision, the easier its implementation.

The style of decision-making can heavily influence understanding & acceptance. Unilateral decisions te4nd to be poorly undertood and grudgingly accepted. Collegial decision-making processes tend to lead to fuller understanding and wider acceptance.


We'll take this up here because decisions are often made in meetings, though recently, many meetings are a series of e-mail and text-message exchanges. Regardless of the medium, there are some guidelines for success.

  1. Plan the agenda

    Set a tangible goal and the intermediate steps for achieving it. The agenda will show when the meeting is losing focus or spinning its wheels.
  2. Start and end on time

    Convey the message that everyone's time is valuable and not to be wasted.
  3. Start with a team-building moment

    Get everyone working together.
  4. End with "who will do what, & by when"

    Seal the deal with actions.


“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said,
but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

-- Robert McCloskey

"... And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!"

-- The blind men and the elephant, Indian legend &
19th century poem by John Godfrey Saxe

Communicating consists of creating understanding among people so that they can act effectively. Communication seems simple but as the quotations above show, it can be extremely difficult.

Communication is a process; its components include asking, telling, listening and understanding. Barriers include language, selectivity (hearing what one wants to hear) and emotion.

Many leaders confuse form with function. The forms may be many; the function is to create shared understandings. One respected manager advocated "management by walking around"; as he walked, he not only absorbed information for future decisions but communicated to workers that they and their work were important.

Communicating is a two-way street, or a multi-way intersection. It's not only about what the manager puts out, but also what he or she takes in. Objective facts are only part of the information; feelings and perceptions can be equally important.

You can improve your communicating as a leader by

  1. Knowing what you want to say -- get the message clear in your own mind; plan & rehearse (or re-write).
  2. Knowing your audience  -- start where they are; talk or write neither above nor below your audience's present understanding; gradually lead to more understanding.
  3. Getting favorable attention at the outset and maintaining it. (When they start to fidget or look away, it may be too late.)
  4. Securing understanding -- this is the communicator's goal and the key test of its effectiveness.
  5. Ensuring retention -- messages "here today, gone tomorrow" aren't effective communication.
  6. Encouraging feedback -- helps clear up misunderstandings and reinforce important points.

A leader also communicates by setting an example. His or her behavior either reinforces or undermines the intended message.


Since the 1980s, the importance of "organization culture" (the organization's internal environment) has become recognized. Some organizations celebrate innovation; others conformity. Some value profit; others social good. For example, how would you compare the culture of Goldman-Sachs with that of Google?

Leaders help to establish culture by how and what they communicate. An excellent article by John Kotter discusses how the culture of Eastman Kodak kept it from adapting to the change from chemical film to digital imaging. Once one of America's leading, most-profitable and most-respected companies, it filed for bankruptcy in January 2012. According to Kotter, Kodak developed a culture of complacency: "Of course all the people buried in the hierarchy who saw the oncoming problems and had ideas for solutions made no progress. Their bosses and peers ignored them."

The proper culture for a DNA genealogy project values rationality, objectivity, fairness, and open-mindedness. It discourages, prejudice and elitism.

Listening & hearing

Understanding another's intended message is equally important to communication. It is often taken for granted and neglected; many people would rather talk than listen.

This requires "active listening" or, in written communication, "active reading". Techniques include:

The goal, at this point, is not to press your own point but to understand theirs and establish trust that you can and do listen.

In the Kodak example above, the company's leadership had developed a culture antithetical to listening.

TFG Communicating

Communicating is a vital part of the administrator's job; it will take up more time and effort than any other single activity. You will need to communicate with

The above list shows a wide range in levels of understanding. The real problem is to communicate at a level, and in a way, that makes sense to the other party.

Timeliness is an important aspect of communication. Endeavor to respond within a day.


"Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings."
-- C.D. Jackson
“Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.”
-- Bo Bennett

Motivating includes the activities to the inspire, encourage and impel people to take effective action. In the final analysis, it is done by the motivated, not to them. A manager's role is to create the climate for motivation to occur.

The key test of motivating is understanding & acceptance that a particular action is necessary, not necessarily enthusiasm or agreement, Many of the men who rushed Omaha Beach on D-Day 1944 would have rather been somewhere else; they acted bravely because they understood and accepted that it was necessary.

Part of motivating is explaining the organization's needs. Many bosses have won my understanding and acceptance of an undesirable assignment by simply saying "We need you to do this."

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is helpful: Motivation comes from need satisfaction. As people satisfy their most basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) they move on to higher needs, among which is self-actualization.

Communicating and motivating are closely related.

A very effective way to motivate -- especially, project participants -- is to start from the needs of of those you wish to motivate. This topic is worth its own,separate page.

Selecting people

“He who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads to."
It is the means that determines the end."

-- Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1878-1969

“The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”
-- Vince Lombardi

Finding and choosing the right people to work with and/or promote is one of a manager's most important activities. The people chosen will determine accomplishment (or not) of the objectives and affect the organization's success, perhaps long after the manager.

Future performance potential is often best predicted by past accomplishments. We look for demonstrated performance, work habits, and how a candidate's qualifications fit with the job requirements.

We are all, perhaps, familiar with the standard hiring procedure of applications, first interviews, follow-up interviews, etc. Before that process begins, the manager should be sure the job is necessary and specify qualifications for it.

During the 2008-2012 recession, many employers received more applications and resumés than they could handle. Their follow-up wasn't perhaps, as prompt as it should have been. 

TFG Admin Team

Volunteers may be hard to find, particularly in such a narrow field as genetic genealogy. One looks for those with an interest more general than his or her own family history, a willingness to learn and motivation to give a few hours per week to the project.

Introverts and Extroverts

Good people come int all types. Personalities differ widely.

Many attracted to genetic genealogy are introverts. We have some hints for working with them.

Developing people

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day;
teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."


"The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches
but to reveal to him his own."

-- Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister

As important as selecting the right people is to help them improve their knowledge, skills and attitudes. It's often said that one duty of every manager is to train his or her replacement.

Performance evaluation

Performance evaluation is at the heart of development and, therefore, ties into measuring performance. It communicates to the employee how he's meeting the standards and should not be confined to an annual formal appraisal; it should be done continuously.

Many managers procrastinate on performance evaluation or give it short shrift. An honest appraisal may require saying things the person doesn't want to hear. However, attempted firings are often overturned because performance evaluations said the employee was doing a good job.

Criticism Sandwich

Performance evaluation, in a volunteer environment, is more difficult; a bad evaluation could cause the volunteer to quit working. And yet, we don't want to ignore the need to improve performance. Here is a way to frame the "needs improvement" aspects:

  1. Lead with a positive statement, what the person has done well.
  2. Follow with the difficult part, the criticism
    1. Describe the expectations. (You'll need them clear in your own mind.)
    2. Describe the actual performance.
    3. Show how expectations and performance differ and how it affects the work
    4. Ask the person for ideas on how to improve.
    5. Keep asking until the ideas turn into tangible actions. (A suggestion or so may help guide the process.)
    6. Seal the deal; make it a contract between the two of you.
  3. Close with another positive.

Once you've gone through this, you aren't done. You'll need to follow up.

Other development options

Other ways of developing include formal training and developmental assignments. A manager might delegate an activity which requires an employee to stretch his or her abilities in order to complete it.

Counseling, or coaching, also aids development. It starts with discussing the work the person is doing and the results they're getting. Then, it proceeds into advice, help and encouragement.

Sometimes, "counseling" is the last procedurally-required step before "de-selecting" (firing). Here, the important aspect is to point out what the employee was supposed to do, what they actually did and how the two differed.

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