Either You Run the Organization or the Organization Will Run You

A boss several years ago gave me a very important piece of advice without even realizing it. I was asking him what hadn’t worked out with my predecessor, and he responded with a one sentence answer that has stuck with me ever since:

“He didn’t run the organization, the organization ran him.”

At the time, it struck me as such a simple concept, so why would anyone not get it? How could you possibly “let the organization run you?”


Boy, was I in for a surprise. The organization was in chaos at the time. There were no priorities, only deadlines. There were no plans, only panic attacks. There was no order, only chaos.

That’s no way to run an organization, yet everyone was running ragged.

My boss did me a huge favor in that one statement…he summed up what I needed to do in my first 30, 60 and 90 days.

I needed to prioritize the groups work, I needed to put plans in place, and I needed to establish some order to the work flows and demands of the organization. Because my boss made that one statement to me, I didn’t get caught up in the demands, deliverables and drills that could have easily gotten me off to a bad start, just like my predecessor. If I hadn’t paid attention to that piece of advice, I might have also gotten caught up in a runaway train and perhaps never gotten control of it.

It’s so important to not let the demands of the day run you around, constantly forcing your priorities, and putting your plans on the back burner. If you let the fire drills take control, you’ll never get ahead of the work enough to be able to run the organization.

The organization will run you.

So how do you avoid this common mistake?

Delegate to others.

As a business leader, it’s important to not get too caught up in the work. That’s what the teams are for. Let your team manage the details and the deadlines so that you can focus more on the big picture. You can be a consultant to the team, for sure, but you don’t have to do their work for them. Delegate!

Determine firm milestones.

For key initiatives you are driving, it’s important to determine firm milestones and stick to them. Don’t let the demands of the day push back your timelines. Give project coordinators firm deadlines to meet, and treat them like you’d treat any other business priority. Stick to them!

Dedicate time.

Let’s face it, the days and the weeks and the months can get away from us. Sometimes there’s no avoiding the pressures of the moment. That’s why it’s so important to set aside time each day to do your own work…the work you need to do to run the organization. For me, it’s the early morning hours that work best for me to do my own work. But every one is different and every one needs to find their own way. Find your own time!

None of this is easy. As my dad says, “They wouldn’t call it work if it was easy.” But it’s a lot harder if you have an organization that is running you, rather than the other way around. Heed the strong advice given to me back in the day and you’ll see your work produce results.



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