Can Clutter Equate to Leadership?

If you were to judge the man by his office alone, chances are you might not be all that impressed.

Aside from the 70s decor, which in itself would make Martha Stewart shudder, it’s clear that paper rules in his office. There isn’t one inch of surface in his office that isn’t covered with stacks of paper. And, describing them as stacks, isn’t an exaggeration. When he ducks his head a bit, you can’t even tell if he’s in his office. Meetings in his office are pretty much impossible as the couch, chairs and coffee table are buried. A recent visitor laughingly described his system as open concept filing.

Despite the clutter, the reality is the guy is a brilliant CEO. The paper in his office represents hours and hours of research that has provided him with the knowledge and understanding, as well as practical examples, of what his organization must do in order to be well-positioned for the future. That, in addition to his being receptive to feedback from others, has resulted in growing credibility among movers and shakers as well as the opening of doors to powerful offices that were once closed to the organization. As the result of his work, paths to government funding and corporate sponsorships are now much more than a pipedream.

While there’s no denying his filing system does need to be tamed somewhat, the reality is his passion for paper is one of the traits that makes him a successful leader.

Experts agree that being on top of trends and issues is essential for today’s leaders as is a willingness to take action on that information and knowledge.

Part of what facilitates that action is a focus on networking and viewing the world through the different lenses of others - two things he’s also good at doing. But there are other qualities of a good leader that he also reflects.

One of them is the ability to enjoy ambiguity. Leaders often find themselves in grey zones where there is no clear-cut answer, so they have to be able to thrive in those situations. While I’m not sure he really likes being in the grey zone, he does it well, somehow embracing the theory of chaos knowing that just when it seems it will never make sense it suddenly does.

While it may take a while to see the warm and caring guy he is, it is apparent he has a skill for, and interest in, developing talent and bringing out the best in others.

He has built a team reflecting diverse talents and abilities across a spectrum of ages. The combination of young, energetic and keen staff, together with the wisdom and experience of those more mature, is unbeatable. While very diverse, the team shares a number of core values. These include having a passion for their field, a strong work ethic, and a sharply honed sense of responsibility and accountability for their work.

They’re all just a wee bit quirky too, making for a fun, and at times, slightly wacky atmosphere. While it’s clear that as a hardworking CEO he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, he is also extraordinarily good at giving credit where it’s due.

It is rare for him to personally accept accolades for work done by his staff. He instead makes sure compliments are directed to those who performed the work.

All in all, it may be that a messy office might be more sensible than meticulous planning and storage for leaders. After all, it is true that Sir Alexander Fleming was also untidy and it was his untidiness that resulted in him not cleaning the petri dish that led to the discovery of penicillin.

While I’m not suggesting you want to let fungus grow in your office, perhaps it is as Albert Enstein once said, If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?

Posted on 11-28-07

Add your Comment here:






Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:

Next entry: Child Poverty Stats a Call to National Action

Previous entry: The Challenge of Community Engagement