Winston Churchill, in the darkest days of the British Empire, visited Harrow, his old school, on Oct. 29, 1941, during, while England still fought alone.
He told the students, the oldest of whom would soon go off to fight, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” With these words, he gave hope to hundreds of millions fighting tyranny around the world.
Abraham Lincoln, as he took his oath of office as president on March 4, 1861, told a divided nation that it was the intention of his administration to “hold, occupy, and possess” Federal property in the states of the seceded South. Those words unified the North and left no doubt as to Lincoln’s aim and policies.
History can teach us useful and powerful lessons. So can things we see around town: the sign on the window said it all: “Gone out of business — we forgot what business we were in!”
Most businesses are in the business of taking care of the needs, wants and desires of their customers. It is a sad but true fact that many people employed in businesses don’t see it that way.
What are those employees concerned about? What business are they in? They are in the business of getting a paycheck. There is nothing wrong with that; it is commendable and understandable.
While the two views are in conflict with each other, they don’t have to be. Businesses can get what they want (every employee taking care of customers) and every employee can focus on doing the same thing, all while earning a paycheck and building security into the organization they work for.
This happens when everyone is “singing from the same sheet of music.”
Regardless of who is employed, whatever position they hold, the leader needs to create a central focus, then communicate and reinforce it from highest level to the lowest level in the company.
In its simplest terms, the “same sheet of music” is known as The Main Thing.
The Main Thing keeps people from being scattered and defused. It is probably the most underutilized management tool there is. It is the tool of choice of great leaders.
That is because all great leaders simplify.
Knowing and reinforcing The Main Thing organizes a group of people around a single principle that brings then together in pursuit of a common purpose. It is a great unifier.
Why did Churchill and Lincoln create their versions of The Main Thing? Their purpose was to have single, simple focus that everyone could rally around and support.
The responsibility of leadership in any enterprise is to make sure that everyone in the company knows what The Main Thing is and what the expectation is for contributing to it on an individual basis.
It is the responsibility of management to insure that The Main Thing of each individual is aligned at the team level and then to the company.
Some employees are unwilling or unable to buy into The Main Thing. In effect, by their actions and words, they are conspiring against the company by fighting against what it stands for and wants to achieve.
These people have no place in the organization; they are part of the past and not part of the present and future.
What business are you in? Now is as good a time as any to rethink what appears to be a simple question. Complexity gets in the way of success. Your role as a leader is to simplify and communicate The Main Thing.