Simple – Complex – Simple

Simple   Complex   Simple image 2914 coach or criticSimple Complex SimpleAll I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is a book of short essays published in 1988 by American minister and author Robert Fulghum. It gained a lot of traction because it assured us that the secret to a successful life is really not that complicated. I have often had similar thoughts about leadership.

As CEO of a large organization that had many remote operating units, we struggled to find competent general managers. I came to the conclusion that the key qualities we should look for was those of a successful parent. After all, they would have great experience in strategic growth, planning, budgeting, capital expenditures, training of personnel, and dispute resolution. Managing a business should be simple for them.

Yet if you have spent any time leading people, you know just how complex it can be. Go to and enter “Leadership Books” and you will find over 86,000 titles. No one could ever read all that exists on the topic. Leadership can be very complex.

So, how do we resolve the tension between the simplicity and complexity of leading others? The answer is Simple – Complex – Simple. Think of a difficult task you have mastered, and you will see what I mean. The first time I drove up to a ski hill, I looked up to see people dancing down the steep hill with grace and ease. It looked very simple to me, so I rented some skis and hopped on the lift, only to discover that getting back to the bottom was going to be the most complex challenge that I had ever faced. The next number of years I invested in ski lessons and a lot of practice, until one day I realized that I was now one of those people who could dance down the slope and enjoy the view.

Managing people is very basic and simple. But as you move through your journey of leadership, you will encounter great complexity. Study, practice and develop your skills. If you invest the time and energy, the day will come when many of the behaviors will feel natural, and become simple.

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