Some Leadership Lessons From The Hunt For Bin Laden

Leadership is leadership. The same principles apply when leading in sports, music, business and war. But these principles may be expressed in different ways. Sometimes seeing elements of good leadership on display in another realm can help to us to understand these lessons without so much background noise.  How about the hunt for the most wanted man in history?

“The CIA is a global institution that undertakes high-risk missions to defend the United States. Its analysis is scrutinized every morning by no less an exacting customer than the president of the United States. Its successes are largely unknown; its failures are legendary. Simply put, CIA has one of the toughest jobs in all of government.”

And it should be no surprise, the main lessons have to do with priorities, focus, and taking the long view.

Source: The Former Head of the CIA on Managing the Hunt for Bin Laden

Essentialism Chapter 6 Discussion Questions


Finding What matters

Questions for Essentialism

Chapter 6

This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown.

You can Essentialism Questions Ch. 6

Major principles:

It is easy to get lost in the raw details and miss the significance of the facts. We have to learn to find the “lead” in our lives the way journalists analyze a story.

Key examples/illustrations

  • Nora Ephron’s experience in journalism class in finding the lead of the story.
  • Eastern Airlines flight 401 crashing a sound airplane by getting focused on a broken warning light.
  • Thomas Friedman filtering the conversation
  • The at Stanford and the development of the affordable incubator for premature babies, the “embrace nest.”
  • The importance of clarifying the question you are trying to answer when solving problems.

Questions for Reflection

  1. On p. 73-75 Nora Ephron’s account about the epiphany in high school journalism class is told. What is the difference between the “facts” of a story and the meaning or significance of a story?
  2. According to Ephron a good jounrlist is one that can not only see, sort and analyze the facts, but also give a sense of why it matters.  She says this works in life as well as journalism.  Are there areas in your life where you are swamped with data but don’t know what it all means? How can you make sense of this?
  3. In discussing the crash of flight 401, the crew focused on the light. The malfunctioning light was important, but not important enough to distract the crew from flying the plane. What are the warning issues in your life right now?
  4. Write a list of the top 5 priorities in your life (limit it to 5). How might the warning light issues in your life distract you from these?
  5. What is the 1 single problem that leads you to consistently hyper focus your attention from the big picture?  Explore the story of how this has been happening?
  6. McKeown recommends keeping a journal as a tool to see the lead in our lives and identify subtle patterns.  Complete one of the following sentences:
    1. I don’t take time to journal because _________.
    2. I do keep a journal but struggle with this because __________.
    3. I do keep a journal but I need to do better in this way ____________.
  7. If you keep a journal, go back more than 3 months and read over at least 1 month worth of entries. What are the headlines? What is the meaning of what you read?  What are the trends?
  8. McKeown tells the story of a design team attempting to create an affordable incubator (less than the $20K average cost) in order to save the lives of premature babies. The team was successful when they visited places like Nepal to see where children throughout the world are born.  Name 3 challenges that you are facing right now and think about how you can step away, and get a longer perspective for clarity.  Reflect on ways you can “get out into the field.”
  9. sometimes we face problems that are resistant to classical solutions. Think of the problems you listed in #8 and write down some of the unusual details. What are the ways in which your problems and context are unique?

Helping People Learn By Letting Them Fail Is Essential – 6 Recommendations To Fail Well

randy pausch

Here is a great (and brief) article on the importance of failure in developing character, growing businesses, and helping people have a good life.  It turns out that trying to spare people (ourselves, our children, our employees, etc) from experiencing the pain of failure is bad in the long run.  Why? We can’t gain deep wisdom without the process of learning from our failures.  This is a list from the article at of ways to help people fail in a way that is positive for them and the organization.

“Here are some ways to increase employees’ comfort with the risk of failure, and to be resilient when it happens:

  1. Share past stories of struggle. Everyone’s been there.
  2. Practice recovery so people aren’t paralyzed by failure. When I was coaching sports, we didn’t just diagram plays. We always developed a Plan B. That’s why great organizations scenario-plan. It helps people think of struggle as part of the process.
  3. Help people around you think like long-term investors in their own ideas and their own careers. The aim shouldn’t be to try to have one uninterrupted string of successes, but rather to have a portfolio of some winners and, yes, some losers.
  4. If someone is struggling, your job is to figure out how to get them on the right path. The real job of a manager is to help people learn from failure and move forward.
  5. Champion failure that turns to innovation. Find examples where ordinary failure has led to extraordinary opportunity.
  6. Encourage failing fast. Sometimes we recognize that something is failing, and our instinct tells us to push harder to make it succeed. Knowing when to pull the plug is always difficult but is necessary.”

Source: Helping People Learn By Letting Them Fail Is Essential – Forbes

Questions for Essentialism Ch. 2

Questions for Essentialism. You Can download a pdf here: Essentialism Questions Ch. 2

Ch. 1 questions are here

Chapter 2

This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown. Why discussion questions? Because interacting with the material and thinking through how the principals apply in your own circumstances is more likely to produce real learning and lasting change.

Major principals for this Chapter:

The non essentialist believes 3 false Ideas: “I have to do it… All of it is important… I can do both.”

The essentialist replaces them with 3 key truths: “I choose to… Only a few things matter, I can do anything but not everything.”

Questions to help you work through the Material:

  1. Which things are crowding you the most? Make a list of tasks/responsibilities that seem to be crowding you right now.
  1. Choose the most troublesome item from #1, and reflect on it through these questions based on those three truths:
    1. Do you feel compelled (by outside pressures) or are you making a deliberate choice that something is important?
    2. Is this item truly important for you to make the highest possible contribution? Why? Why not?
    3. Can you seriously give yourself to this task as well as other things you believe are important? If you had to confidently give something up, what would have to happen for you to realize this? If you have come to this conclusion in the past, what helped you see this?
  1. What are the areas in your life/work where you are performing at a mediocre (or worse) level because of your aptitude? How did you come to this conclusion? Why are you still doing these things?
  1. Have there been times when you were “fed up” and realized you couldn’t do it all? What events or feelings brought you to that point?  What did you do when you got there?
  1. Look in your closet or garage (or your bookshelf). What items do you see that you believe are not really important to you? Think especially of ones that you purchased.  Which of them did you feel were important when you bought them? What has changed for you to view this differently now?
  1. On p. 33 McKeown says he felt that even though he was working really hard, he was not failing, but not really succeeding either.  Which areas of your work do you feel that you are not either succeeding or failing at? How much time are you giving to these activities?
  1. If you could only do one thing with your life right now, what would it be? What are you doing right now that doesn’t fit into that?
  1. “Keep your options open” sounds like a good plan. But it can lead us to attempt too many things. Are there relationships, projects, to do lists, etc. that you are holding onto just to keep your options open? What are they?
  1. McKeown says, “Choice is not a thing, it is an action.” What actions do you need to take to move forward with determining and doing what is truly important?
  1. Where do you feel stuck because you feel you do not have a choice? Are there areas of your responsibility/work activities that you would change or abandon if you could?
  1. The author discusses the concept of learned helplessness that leads to us surrendering our prerogative to choose. Are there areas of your life and work where you believe that your work or choices don’t matter?  Are there areas where you have given up?
  1. Where is hyperactivity a sign of loss of choice in your life? Where do you believe you have to have it all or do it all?
  1. Are there areas where you have had to say “no” that feel like a loss? Are there feelings or fears of loss that are driving your decisions?
  1. Which opportunities have you passed up that you most regret? Which opportunities have you passed up that you look back on with satisfaction? Is there any difference for you?