Ode to a Hunter

I’m sure you would all be disappointed if I didn’t return with some sort of business allegory related to my absence. Of course, I hate to disappoint…

My book Hunting in a Farmer’s World focuses on the challenges of being a “Hunter” personality in a business environment that promotes focus on the “Farmer” tasks of management and process. When I present on Hunting and Farming around the country, however, I take a broader approach, not only recognizing the Hunters who are stifled by farming constraints, but also the Farmers who, regardless of the safety that lies in systems and processes, are called upon from time to time to make fast decisions, to go out on a limb, because people are depending on them and failure is not an option.

Dr.HernandezTimothy Hernandez MD, is an Internal Medicine Specialist, and my primary physician. I like having him as my “managing” health care professional. He is a Farmer; meticulous, systematic, and conservative. He pays attention to the details, and carefully tracks the smallest of changes from visit to visit.

On Tuesday, March 3rd, Dr. Hernandez worked me into his office schedule based on my wife’s description of my serious illness. I had been sick since Saturday, and the antibiotics prescribed by a weekend clinic were having no effect. In fact, I was growing noticeably worse.

Dr. Hernandez gave me a careful examination, showing surprising interest in what I thought were unimportant symptoms (earaches, eye sensitivity.) After some diagnostic manipulation, he called in his Nurse Practitioner. He repeated some of the manipulations, and had her do them as well. Although they agreed that my illness was serious, and probably required hospitalization, they couldn’t identify a primary diagnosis to justify an admission authorization.

Then Dr. Hernandez did something that, even in my deteriorating state, I recognized as dramatically out of character. Here’s a rough paraphrase of his directions to his Nurse Practitioner.

“I don’t think we have the time to go through an admission authorization process, so this is what we are going to do. I want you to listen carefully, because if anyone calls and I am unavailable for any reason, you are responsible for seeing the plan through.”

“You will put Mr. Dini in a wheel chair and walk him over to the hospital. When you get there, you will walk him through Emergency check-in without stopping, and tell them it is with my authorization and that we will do any paperwork later. By the time you get there I will have spoken to the physician in charge and told him what we need. You will get Mr. Dini into an ER room and get IVs started immediately.”

“Because he will be in the ER, Mr. Dini’s diagnostics can be all ordered stat. We will hold and treat him in the ER until a bed opens in the Intensive Care Unit and he can be moved there. Now go.”

In the next two hours my Septic Shock worsened dramatically, and I flirted with system failure for the next three days until my liver and kidney functions were stabilized enough to begin effective diagnostics. I spent 5 days in ICU and 5 more in telemetry before we got the upper hand, but without Dr. Hernandez’ decision to take immediate action, cut through the red tape, shortcut accepted process and recruit the cooperation of others, I would not be writing this. He is a Farmer, but his Hunter instincts and linear focus when failure wasn’t an option were exceptional.

There are clichés that we use and overuse in business. One we throw around when someone comes through with crucial information, or helps us achieve a goal, or makes us look good when we thought we wouldn’t. In all my career, however, I have never had the opportunity to use that cliché in its literal sense. I’m pleased and proud to be able to do so now.

Thanks Tim. You saved my life.



Posted in Entrepreneurship, John's Opinions, Leadership | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Ode to a Hunter

  1. Ed Kleinman says:

    I very happy to hear of your brilliantly orchestrated recovery.
    Your remarks about the latent “hunter” in the many diligent, systems driven “farming” executives out there that consistently read your blog will be most welcome. Glad to have you back in the saddle.

  2. Oswald Viva says:

    I am so glad that you defeated the illness. Having just gone through a scary episode myself I know the impact it can have in you and your family. My wishes for a complete recovery.

  3. John,

    I was alarmed to hear of your medical issue, and I’m so happy that you are on the road to recovery. As usual, you have nailed several essential truths about business and life – I don’t know where we’d all be without you.

    Keep getting better!


  4. Carol says:

    Thank God for someone willing to go “outside of the box!”

    Take care.

  5. Rusty says:


    I’m glad to hear you are on the road to recovery.. I think your story points out another aspect of being a hunter – even hunters need someone to watch out for them. Hunters can oftentimes have a “hero” mentality. I noticed that Leila was the one who made the call to the doctor to get you worked in…probably against your protests that it wasn’t necessary.

    Good to see you back in the saddle.


  6. Gerald Stowers says:

    Hey bud, only you..on your death bed…could come up with such a good story about your illness. Glad you are still with us, you had us worried.

    Looking forward to our next Gerald-Rita.

  7. Dr bernie Schayes says:

    Glad you have recovered John-you have a great doctor

  8. Bob Dodge says:

    We are all blessed that you are still with us.

  9. Lindsay Allen says:

    John, so glad you are on the road to recovery. Like you I had a similar episode in 2008. And like you, my wife (a true Farmer) made me go to the emergency room. Turned out, I had a staff infection. My body functions were beginning to break down (kidneys, liver). The Kidney specialist that saw me said I probably would have died that night had I not gone to the ER that morning. I’m so glad that Farmers sometime know what’s best, even though us Hunters sometimes think we can take on anything. Best of luck with the rest of your recovery.

    Take care!


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Out of Pocket


Due to an unexpected illness, I will be taking a short break from writing my weekly articles on Awake at 2 o’clock?  I will be back online as soon as possible.  Thanks.


Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

6 Responses to Out of Pocket

  1. Susan MacKay says:


    I hope that you are feeling better soon. I really enjoy your articles! By the way, this would be a good topic for a future article, similar to disaster planning I’m pretty sure most small businesses/startups do not have plans in place for the owner getting sick and/or injured.


  2. Frank Benzoni P.E. Retired says:


    Best Wishes for a speedy recovery.

    Still reading and re-reading the H & F World – so much input to my favorite subject.

    Get well soon!!!


  3. Ray Walker says:

    Hope you get well soon John.

  4. Larry Amon says:

    Get well soon, John.

  5. Phyllis Pickard says:

    I wish you an expeditious recovery. As a small business owner, I have appreciated your articles so much and look forward to when you can return.

    Very sincerely
    Phyllis Pickard

  6. Mike Havel says:


    Hope you are back in the saddle again soon! Always learn something in reading your site and books.

    Prayers are with you!


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Five Steps to Defining an Employee’s Authority

When we delegate authority to an employee, we are actually delegating the power to make decisions. We all want employees who think for themselves, at least when their decisions work out in a way we like. When they don’t, we either chalk it up to the price of experience or forbid the employee from making “those kind” of decisions again.

Trial and error is an expensive training method. Eventually the employee learns the boundaries around his authority, and develops informal guidelines. Defining levels of decision making can save both the boss and the employee considerable grief.

Blanchard and Oncken’s great little book on delegating, The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, recommends two levels for delegating employee decision-making authority. “Decide, but ask before acting.” or “Act, then inform me.” While those guidelines are excellent, they still assume that you have some input in defining each decision before it is made. It would be better to teach employees what exactly lies within their authority without asking in advance.

I attended an excellent presentation last week by David A. Ladensohn, a family business dispute mediator. He parsed delegated decision-making authority into five levels that can be agreed between a boss and subordinate in advance. With a bit of editorial liberty and my thanks to David for his permission, I’d like to share them.

Level One: Decide, but ask me first. This is the basic level for mentoring, teaching critical thinking skills, and widening the employee’s vision of his or her impact on other areas. You encourage the employee to develop a solution, but make it plain that it requires your input, and likely modification, before proceeding with implementation.

Level Two: Decide, but check with me first. This is for an employee whose logic you are beginning to trust. You anticipate approving her decisions, but reserve the right to comment. It is an important differentiation to the employee. In Level One you are teaching basic decision skills. In Level Two you are recognizing the employee’s developing ability, but know there are other factors that she might not be aware of.

Level Three: Decide;  just tell me what you are doing. This is again incremental. You are delegating nearly-free authority. The process of informing becomes more casual, because you don’t anticipate having to review the decision-making process or reanalyze the factors that influenced it. You just want to know what is happening, and have a bit of insurance against a big mistake.

decisionsLevel Four: Decide and act; let me know later. This is the first level of truly dedicated authority. The employee has earned your confidence, and only needs to keep you in the loop.

Level Five: Decide and act; I don’t need to know. This can be limited to certain types of decisions. In its broadest interpretation, it should be reserved for employees who fully appreciate their impact on profitability and other stakeholders.

There is considerable value in defining subsets of latitude in decisions and actions. First, it creates a base of reference that both parties understand. It permits differentiation between types and levels of action; acknowledging that all decisions aren’t equal. It provides a means to for both you and the employee to track and recognize progress in decision-making skills. Perhaps most importantly; it says that ongoing development is both normal and an expected measure of managerial ability.

Most employees learn their authority level by the “naval bombardment” method. They overshoot, then undershoot, and gradually zero in on a target. Providing clear definitions of the differing levels can greatly speed up the process.


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Do Titles Make Leaders?

You’ve promoted a great employee beyond his capabilities. He is putting in long hours, but appears unable to keep up with the new responsibilities. In fact, he doesn’t even seem to understand what those responsibilities are, or what they should be. What do you do?

In one of my peer board conversations this week we were handed this issue by a Board member. He knew he had made a mistake, but was faced with the unappealing choice between humiliating the employee or leaving a weak player in a key position. As we talked, I realized that this was in many ways the mirror image of last week’s post (Do Leaders Need Titles?). Instead of an employee seeking a title to convey desired authority, this involved an employee given a title in the hopes that it would convey new job skills.

When a position becomes available, it is hard not to look at the people immediately below it as a potential solution. They are known quantities. They understand the framework of the job and your company culture. They have worked hard, and expect a chance at advancement.

Your controller knows everything about the components of each line item expense, communicates with the bankers, maintains the cash accounts and closes the books flawlessly by the tenth of each month. Why shouldn’t he get a shot at the CFO job?

Your top salesperson slam dunks every product promotion, maintains an enviable gross margin, and almost never loses a customer. Shouldn’t she be given a chance at sales management?

Short puttIn such cases, the employee clearly lacks experience in the role, but might have the ability. You are confident that he or she won’t undermine a new superior (If you aren’t confident, you shouldn’t even be considering the promotion.), but what if the employee perceives it as a door-closing career event? Having lost a key player, can you afford to lose the strongest backup?

There are three questions to ask:

  1. Is it time to upgrade the position? If the company or the job scope has grown, filling it with someone whose only frame of reference is the abilities of the last person who held the job may not be enough.
  2. If the skill set remains roughly the same, does the candidate understand the gap between his or her current abilities and what is needed? Is he or she willing and able to commit from day one to a fire-hose program for obtaining and developing new skills?
  3. Are you trying to make a Hunter into a Farmer, or a Farmer into a Hunter?

If the answer is “yes” to questions one or three, or “no” to the second question, there is no future in trying to work around it. It’s much better to deal with someone’s disgruntlement at being “passed over” than to have the top two positions (the promoted employee’s new job and their replacement’s) both undermanned. Just as a new title does nothing to convey real authority, it also doesn’t upgrade ability.

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Do Leaders Need Titles?

When should an employee be promoted? Over the years, I’ve often had this conversation both within my own companies and with owner-clients. An employee is handling responsibilities above his or her official job description. We naturally want to acknowledge the effort, and a new title sends a strong message of recognition. Why not bestow it as soon as possible?

There are a number of reasons to wait. As selfish as it sounds (and is…), as an owner I want to announce a new title when it causes the least grief for me. I’ve had middle managers ask why we hadn’t yet named a leader in a given department. My answer was “I’ll do it when I’m sure the reaction is “Of course” and a shoulder shrug from everyone who will report to her.” If I have to handle fallout following the announcement, it was probably premature.

Perhaps the team is working on a big project or under an exceptionally heavy workload. Even though one person is clearly coordinating and directing the efforts, the team feels that their accomplishment is a group effort. Singling out one person for recognition right  at that moment might make the others feel undervalued, and upset the group’s chemistry.

lead cyclistIf the employee-leader has only recently stepped up performance, I may want to let them season a bit before making a title change. Leadership is easier when things are going well. I like to see someone go through a few challenges, perhaps dealing with an uncooperative co-worker or a project that’s in trouble, before deciding they can handle it over the long term.

I consider whether the employee has raised his or her game on personal effort, or by coaching and helping others to succeed. I appreciate a hard worker as much as anyone, but individual production isn’t the same as improving the production of others.

Is the prospective promotee making decisions, or merely enforcing already existing processes? Is she solving problems, or referring to higher authority for all the answers? Middle managers love to promote leads or supervisors who come to them for every decision, but that does little to strengthen the organization.

Finally, there is one argument that will always make me postpone a promotion. It’s “He needs the title to get others to do what he says.” For a leadership role (which includes any manager, regardless of level or responsibility), you have to get people to accept your decisions because they want to, not because they have to.

I understand that assigning someone responsibility includes giving them the authority to make things happen. The best leaders, however, take on responsibility first. They evidence a natural authority by figuring out how to get others to cooperate willingly, and to accept direction as being in their own self-interest. Those who need the crutch of titular authority before they accept responsibility seldom advance more than one rung up the ladder.

If you’d like to share this or any column as a printable pdf, contact me at jdini@mpninc.com


Posted in Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Managing Employees | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Do Leaders Need Titles?

  1. Mark says:

    Great post John:

    I fully agree, Promotions are much better received when they are “earned” in the hearts and minds of the peers. Although, this can’t always be the case; it is ideal whenever possible.

    Far too many times in the corporate world I have seen promotions given that were not deserved; ultimately demoralizing key members of the organization.

  2. From my experience a title and $5.95 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. A leader creates an emotional link with his workplace team and excels without a change in business cards.

  3. i agree mostly, John, but where I disagree is where an inappropriate title and/or job spec leads others in the organization to resist and even undermine the efforts of a leader to the point of doing damage. Good Leadership qualities will generally motivate the team and help them see the virtues of the results being sought, but in most organizations, there are those who refuse to see the light and are only interested in protecting their turf and “superior” level in the organization. An appropriate title and job spec makes the role of the leader clear to all.

  4. Linda Christ says:

    Great post and great discussion.
    Shows it not such an easy decision. Different things motivate different people – some the title, some the money and some probably all the recognition

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