Management Articles


Leading for Breakthrough Success

By: Donald Mitchell

Donald Mitchell is coauthor of six books including The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, and The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook. You can read about his work on creating 2,000 percent solutions by registering for free at .

A doctor in Africa found a way to enable hospitals there to reduce costs so that they could handle many more patients.  He was excited about the potential to introduce this method as widely as possible so that more lives could be saved and more people served.

But he was discouraged to realize that his current method for training hospital personnel would take eight more years to complete.  That realization made him decide to work on creating a breakthrough for providing this education. 

By focusing on breakthrough management methods for education, the doctor designed a program that would only take four months and cost 97 percent less.

All over Africa, people are being treated today for life-threatening diseases and conditions that would otherwise have suffered without treatment because of this breakthrough.

I'm sure you have important opportunities like this in your work.

If our organizations could produce breakthroughs, we would all be enjoying exponential increases in results. Did you know that such breakthroughs often require a different focus than making modest improvements?

How can we replace our improvement projects with breakthrough progress?

Breakthroughs usually take the sweat and tears of many people. But those efforts won't bear fruit unless the right mix of skills and experience is involved, properly directed by exceptional leaders and by the right thought process.

Recruit and Coach a Winning Team

People are the critical resource for any organization. Without the right people, it's hard to make a breakthrough.

Keep in mind that few people, no matter how talented, function well in a changing environment. Still fewer can work well on a team instituting changes. One naysayer can discourage a whole team. Someone who uses too much influence can stifle others. You're looking to create a rare and delicate balance in your dream team of change makers.

Change? Over My Dead Body!

It might seem that the best way to implement any change is to work with those who know the job best -- those who actually work with the process every day. But if big changes are needed, this approach isn't always a good idea. Use only the old crew and you are likely to run into a very serious foot-dragging stall. Even the best workers lose their perspective over time.

Experimental evidence shows that people new to a job have a much easier time with understanding the need for and enjoying the pursuit of changes. They can be taught whatever history they need to know without being stalled by it. The current crew can play devil's advocate -- to keep the new team honest.

But don't hold their experience against the current crew. Provide them with a new challenge in a different part of the organization where they are unfamiliar with the operations.

You need very capable relative strangers to take on a change project, but they don't have to be people from outside the organization. Look for as wide a range of perspective, skills, and knowledge as you can.

Select and Improve a Dream Team

You must find people who are energized or excited by a change. Your ideal team members must see change as a challenge that will help them grow personally. Select team members who will feel that being chosen to work on approaching the ideal best practice is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to them.

Beyond enthusiasm, what do you need? Open-mindedness. Take a cue from Abraham Maslow and his concept of self-actualization: what a person can be, he or she must be. Maslow characterized the self-actualized, among other characteristics, as displaying higher levels of:

  1. Efficient perceptions of reality
  2. Comfort with reality
  3. Accepting oneself, others, and nature
  4. Spontaneity
  5. Simplicity
  6. Naturalness
  7. Focus on problems outside themselves
  8. Detachment
  9. Preference for privacy
  10. Autonomy and independence from culture and environment
  11. Freshness of appreciation and richness of feeling
  12. Transcendent experience
  13. Identification with mankind
  14. Deep interpersonal relations
  15. Preference for democratic processes
  16. Ability to differentiate between means and ends
  17. Nonhostile humor
  18. Creativity, originality, or inventiveness.

Maslow also spotted significant drawbacks among some of the self-actualized who could be vain, irritating, cold, uncritical, and overgenerous. Obviously, you should seek team members who present the fewest of these drawbacks . . . even at the risk of losing some creativity.

Don't be restricted to Maslow's concept. People who can adapt rapidly to unexpected problems are even more valuable because they point the group in a new direction when everyone else is stuck. You can spot these people by asking them how they solved seemingly impossible problems in the past.

Is There a Leader Available?

Naturally, choosing the right team leader makes a big difference in your results. Look for a leader who shares the enthusiasm of each team member and knows how to harness that enthusiasm. In addition, you want someone who places the interests of the team and the organization ahead of any desire to exercise power as top dog.

Avoid borrowing a leader from another organization (whether they be consultants or outsourced service providers). Such outsiders will have a harder time reflecting the values of those they lead. If you cannot find an appropriate leader in your organization, be sure to hire someone who will help create the excitement necessary to bring off major changes and who matches your company's values as closely as possible.

Four leadership qualities determine success:

  1. Shared values with the organization 
  2. Understanding the problems thoroughly before beginning the mission
  3. Ability to persuade others that the project will succeed 
  4. Skills relevant to the task.

If your top candidate is in good shape except for skills, consider how you could use some training to fill in those gaps. It's easier to fill in for ignorance than for a lack of values.

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© Copyright 2008, Donald Mitchell

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