A friend works at a company with a split personality. Everyone below the director level is open, direct and willing to talk about the real issues facing the business. At and above the director level, it's just the opposite; no one wants to deal with reality. Response to superiors is couched in the sweet tones of agreement. Response to subordinates is usually derision and rejection.

This impenetrable barrier between rational and irrational is on the verge of bringing down the once successful company. It's easy to see the underlying reason for the difference. There's more at stake at the top, so the penalty for stepping out of conformity and failing is very high. Conversely, when you are part of group-think, failing is practically anonymous.

It's natural to want to work with and reward people who are most like ourselves. This is the emotional basis for most of the politics that move certain people to the top of an organization and shut out others. However, it also has the potential to create a form of collective narrow mindedness because everyone has pretty much the same view of things.

To prevent yes-men, who are really no-men, from killing your business you need to create a cohesive organization where everyone makes an important and necessary contribution to success. Commonly held objectives-not the ability to tell the boss what he or she wants to hear-should form the basis for judging the effectiveness of an individual's actions. Every level of the organization should contribute its full share to a balanced, distributed effort.

But people won't spontaneously do the right thing and follow this better path. For any organization to be truly effective it must be driven by strong individual leaders who are actively engaged at all levels. Leaders have to go where the value is added because that's where the company's wealth is being generated. Leaders only exist to enable others to do the tasks that really count, so get them out on the line to learn the real needs of the business. The timing of their actions should be driven by the needs of others, not by what conveniently fits into their schedule.

Teach your leaders the principle of Mission, People and Me. They first must get the job done, and then take care of their people. Their own needs will be met by accomplishing the first two. Take full advantage of the most valuable asset you have-yourself. You should be engaged in leadership activities for at least 70 percent of your day. Throughout, be sure to:

  • Work on the important stuff. But be careful who defines what's important.
  • Put first things first, after you make sure you know what should come first.
  • Work together and avoid duplicating effort.
  • Be flexible. Bend; don't break.
  • Take care of one another. Don't make things more difficult than they already are.
  • Attack each task with a consistent goal in mind. If you don't know the goal, don't start the task.

Take a look at the tasks you're doing each day. Are they actually adding any value? Do they contribute to getting the real job done? Will anyone be affected if you stop? Weed out the junk, but watch out for the laws of unintended consequences and unforeseen side effects.

Take a critical look at your senior staff. If you discover that you're surrounded by yes-men that are insulating you from your business, get up and get out on the line. You'll probably find that your senior staff are actually no-men to the rest of the organization. It's your responsibility to get your leaders back to dealing with reality, or face the consequences.