Posts Tagged ‘Management’

Leadership: What Is It Good For?

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Actually, my real question is, “Leadership: What is it?” But every time I tried to type that question, the Edwin Starr song, War: What Is It Good For? came to mind.

So, what is leadership? That’s a big question. No, it’s a huge question. How about management – how does it differ? These are not questions I expect to fully answer here. What I am expecting to do is stir up some thinking.

And to start that thinking, here’s a couple of quotes:

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

John Holt, the renowned educational reformer in his excellent book, Teach Your Own, said, “Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. ‘Leadership qualities’ are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.”

What is the difference between a leader and a manager? I have my own thoughts in this, but I really want yours. So I’m pleading for everyone reading this blog to post a comment below, answering the question of what the difference is between a leader and a manager. I know for a fact that the comments will mean a lot more than my opinion or any definition found in a business book or course.

Take a few minutes to click on the comment button below and write whatever you want about my question.

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Egotistical Leaders & Managers

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Raise your hand if you have an ego. Come on, do it. Hey, we all have egos – every single person in this world has an ego. And some keep that ego in check. In fact, some put it to good use. But others…

One sure sign of an unchecked ego is this: Do you do more telling than you do asking?

If you find that you spend far more time telling people what to do than you do asking questions, that might be a sign of an unchecked ego.

For fear of coming across as someone who does not know all the answers, Ego Eddy likes to tell everyone around him what to do. He likes to comment on practically every subject, proving that he is “all-knowing.”

Questioning Quincy, on the other hand, is not afraid to ask questions – even when he knows the answers. In fact, especially when he knows the answers. And a funny thing happens when Quincy asks questions: people respect him more than they do Eddy. In fact, they not only respect him more, but they tend to go to him for answers. What? Why would they go to someone who asks questions for the answers to questions? You tell me.

Okay, perhaps Ego Eddy is at the far end of the ego spectrum, and you know you’re nowhere near there. Do you? How do you know that? Where are you on that spectrum?

A little challenge for you this week: Find three situations where you know the answer to a question, or exactly how to solve a problem, but hold back – do not answer the question or solve the problem directly. Instead, ask others how they would answer the question or solve the problem. Hold your ego in check and allow others to strut their stuff. Do this three times over the next week. See how it feels. Observe what happens to you and the others around you.

I’m not saying that answering all questions, or solving any problem is a sign of an out-of-control ego. Far from it. In fact, there are times when that is exactly what people are looking for – answers to questions, and solving of problems. What I am saying is that sometimes, just sometimes, this is the case. It’s your ego talking when you want to be the one answering a question or solving a problem. Of course, answering a question or solving a problem is not a bad thing. Again, far from it. But over time, if you’re the one that does that all the time… just when you think you’re making yourself invaluable – the one everyone must count on – you may find yourself being the one people resent. You may find yourself being the one people want to avoid.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When you keep your ego in check, when you give others credit for what you did, when you allow others to answer the question or solve the problem, when you allow others to strut their stuff, you make them feel good. And they will “never forget how you made them feel.”

How are you making others in your workplace feel? Could you ask more questions, and answer less often?

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Where Does Success Come From?

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

SuccessWhat makes some people successful, and others not so? I’m mostly talking about in the business world, although it could be in any activity. What makes some people perform so much better than others? This is a question I’ve spent a lot of time – years, in fact – thinking about, and studying. I get excited just thinking about it, I’m so passionate about human performance. Okay, I may not be “normal,” but that’s just who I am.

So, what makes some people perform better than others?

Is it talent? Not entirely, if you follow the latest research (most of which is written about in the excellent book, Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin). Sure, it’s important, but as I talked about in a previous post (The Myth About Natural Talent) it’s not everything. In fact, it may be much less of the performance equation than many people think.

Is it skills and knowledge? Well, one certainly needs skills and knowledge to do a job well, but is that the key? Have you ever met anyone who is extremely skilled and knowledgeable, but who doesn’t perform very well? Have you ever seen a person with an impressive list of accreditations and accomplishments fail at a new job?

Is it focus? You know, being focused on the right things at the right time? That’s important, isn’t it?

Is it motivation? Sure. But not without the skills and knowledge to do the job. And the focus. Motivated mayhem does not lead to great performance.

Is it fit – you know, fitting into the culture of the company or team? That’s part of it. But again, without the skills and knowledge, and without being aimed in the right direction, fit isn’t everything.

Is it personality? Hey, that’s important. I’m sure you’ve seen very talented, very skilled, very knowledgeable, very motivated people who fit the culture of the company or team who failed. Why? Because their personality sucked. Okay, maybe not that bad, but let’s just say their personality didn’t fit with their co-workers or teammates.

Is it the person’s manager (or sports coach)? Yes, the manager plays a big role in how well someone performs, and that is going to impact how much success they have – I talked about this in a previous post, too (How Important Is Management?). In fact, I’m sure you’ve seen poor performers who were transformed into superstars by a different manager, and vice versa. But is it just a person’s manager?

Is it communication? Without good communication, no one is going to perform very well, right?

Is it the person’s own mission being in alignment with the company’s mission? Very important. But is it the most important factor?

My point here is that performance is not a simple thing. It’s not just one thing. Of course, everyone knows that, right? Then why do so many people look for the silver bullet, that one simple thing that is going to transform themselves or others into superstar performers?

I’m sure I’ve missed many factors here that lead to great performance, and to success. This is one of those posts that provides more questions than it does answers, so I’m waiting to hear your thoughts…

I Said Invisible, Not Non-Existent

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Last week I talked about how leaders, managers and coaches can be so subtle that they’re almost invisible to the people they’re leading, managing and coaching (The Invisible Coach). That’s not an excuse to do nothing! Not an excuse to abdicate, rather than delegate. Not an excuse to simply wish or hope that your people do a good job and produce the results you’re after. Not an excuse to be non-existent.

In my last post I asked whether you’re a controlling type of leader/manager, or a subtle one. Based on what I’ve seen, there are many managers who think they’re the subtle type, when really they’re the ineffective type! They’re non-existent.

If you answered my question last week by saying you’re the subtle type, my next question is just how effective you are? You may think of yourself as the subtle type, when really you’re just fooling yourself. Perhaps I’m a bit harsh, but sometimes one has to look at the brutal facts.

Some differences between an ineffective leader/manager (non-existent) and a subtle, almost invisible one are:

  • People that work for ineffective leaders/manager don’t know what’s expected of them. The leader/manager thinks he or she is giving them room to discover things on their own, when really the person is struggling with direction, whether they’re doing things right or not, or knowing what to do next. And the leader/manager is afraid to ask.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers feel isolated, or unsupported. They often feel they’re working in a void. There is little connection between them. People working for subtle/invisible leaders/managers know they can always go to that person for help or support.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers feel that projects or tasks are simply dumped on them because the leader/manager is not willing to do them.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers often feel criticized and judged by the words of the leader/manager, rather than having received effective and productive feedback.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers rarely see how their work impacts the bigger picture. They’re own goals and visions are not in alignment with the organization’s that they work for.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers are often afraid to do something for fear of being blamed for anything that goes wrong. They’re constantly checking over their shoulder to see what they will be blamed for, or have to deal with next.

And that’s just the start. The obvious question is how do you know whether any of these are symptoms of your people. Awareness is a valuable tool. Ask yourself if any of these symptoms fit your employees. Or, you could ask them. In fact, sitting down and asking your employees if they have any of these symptoms will go a long way towards building or enhancing a productive working relationship. It will go a long way toward you being an invisible but effective leader/manager.

Of course, it’s easy to simply assume that you’re the subtle, invisible and effective type. It’s easy to assume you’re doing a great job and any lack of results is the fault of others. It’s easy to assume that…

How Important Is Management?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Within a one a week period of time I spoke to two different people who had worked as a store manager for Starbucks. Interestingly, one said it was one of the best jobs he had ever had, and the other said it was the worst. What do you think was the difference?

Many of the people who work for Starbucks love it. One wrote a book about it: How Starbucks Saved My Life. Wow, that’s an endorsement for a great place to work, isn’t it?! In his book, Michael Gates Gill talks about how it was the perfect job for where he was in his life. But there was something else that made his time as a barista so rewarding. His manager.

The person I spoke to lately who loved his time at Starbucks talked about how he interacted with his regional manager at least twice a week, with a weekly in-person visit to talk through the details of the business, and a monthly visit from the regional manager’s boss.

And while the regular interaction was important, what really made this a great place for this person was the feedback he got. He knew what he was doing right, and what he needed to better. It wasn’t a case of “No news is good news” – the NNIGN problem. In so many organizations, the only feedback a person gets is when he or she does something wrong; if they don’t hear anything from their manager they can assume things are okay.

Of course, the problem with the NNIGN management approach is that humans often assume the worst. If they don’t hear anything, they begin to think something is wrong, or they are doing things wrong. So, unless they go out of their way to ask for some feedback, they stumble around, hoping they’re doing a good job. That’s not the ideal state for a person to perform well in.

Actually, what often happens is this: “Dianne” does a great job on a project, but gets no feedback from her manager. Her boss has the attitude that she should do her job, and if something needs fixing, he’ll let her know. Since Dianne doesn’t know whether she did a good job or not, the next time she is faced with a similar project, she tries something different. After all, the first approach didn’t get a response, so she might was well try something different. Dianne approaches the project differently, and if she gets lucky, she hears nothing; if she does it wrong, she’ll hear about it, and likely become frustrated by not knowing how to do things right.

In their book, How Did That Happen?, Roger Connors and Tom Smith writes about a job satisfaction survey conducted by the U.S. military, where jet fighter pilots were at the bottom of the list and cooks at the top. Why? Apparently, the fighter pilots rarely received any positive reinforcement; it was only when they got a chance to do what they were trained to do that they received any. Cooks, on the other hand, received immediate positive feedback three times a day. People are more engaged in their work – and more satisfied – when they fully understand what they’re doing right, and receive positive reinforcement.

The person who said that Starbucks was one of the worst working experiences he’d ever had complained about this very situation – a manager that would only communicate with him when he had done something the manager felt was wrong. The only feedback he got was to point out all the things he’d done wrong.

One company, two completely different experiences. The only difference was the manager, and specifically the amount of positive reinforcement or confirming feedback the person got. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Feedback on Feedback

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

Generally, feedback is considered a good thing, and in most cases it is – depending on how, when and where it’s given, and by whom. Contrary to popular belief, there are two kinds of feedback, and they are not positive and negative.

The two types of feedback are confirming and corrective.

As the term suggests, confirming feedback tells the person receiving the feedback that what they’ve been doing is good, and to keep it up. Ideally, it’s much more specific than just that – much more than just a slap on the back and an “Atta boy!” In fact, what makes confirming feedback effective is its specificity – the more specific and the more focused it is on the exact action or behavior, the more effective it is. A simple “Atta boy!” does not tell a person much about his or her actions or behavior.

If you want someone to do more of what they’ve been doing – to perform well – then give them positive reinforcement of it. Give them confirming feedback. And make it specific and focused on the action or behavior. Do not focus it on the person. Telling someone, “You’re smart,” for example does little towards ensuring the person will do the same action or behavior again. But telling the person, “You must have thought long and hard about that. To analyze all that information and come to the conclusion you did took great insight and thinking,” will lead to the person doing more of what you want in the future. Notice the difference between the two pieces of feedback: the first was focused on the person, and the second on his or her actions and behaviors.

Corrective feedback is just what it sounds like: feedback with the intentions of correcting some action or behavior. And once again, keeping it specific and focused on the action or behavior, and not the person, is important. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that calling someone a “dummy” is not productive feedback!

Not long ago I was talking with a senior level executive about feedback. We were discussing how so many managers provide their direct reports with so little confirming feedback, and yet so much corrective feedback. We agreed that is seems to be easier to point out what someone is doing wrong, since it stands out from what we expect and want.

This executive then commented that in training dogs, it’s all about providing confirming feedback. If a dog does something right, we give them a treat. Eventually, our “Pavlov’s dog” does the desired action or behavior without the treat, and we’ve train it. And yet, when it comes to people, we seem to provide much less confirming feedback. But we’re quick to “scold the dog” when someone does something wrong!

I’ve always felt that managers should provide at least three to four times as much confirming feedback as corrective feedback, but the timing of it needs to be just right, too. The old “sandwich” rule, whereby you sandwich one piece of corrective feedback with two pieces of confirming feedback can backfire. Often, the person does not hear what you really want them to hear when using this method. If you need to give corrective feedback, do so in isolation so the person hears it; the same can be applied to confirming feedback.

Always give corrective feedback in private, unless there is an opportunity for others to learn from it. But even then, be very careful not to embarrass the person you’re giving it to. This can be a very delicate thing. It’s okay to give confirming feedback in both private and public settings.

Finally, ask yourself this: What percentage of a person’s job does he or she do well? If it’s over 90 percent, perhaps less than 10 percent of the feedback you give should be corrective. At least, if a goal of yours is to see these people perform better.

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Challenge + Belief = Performance

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

If I was your manager – the manager of a team that you’re part of – and we had just won a big contract, there are a couple of ways I could present the contracted project to you and the team.

First, I could say something along the lines of, “Congratulations, team. We won the bid – we got the project! So, here you go. You’ve seen the project bid. Get at it.”

Another approach would be something like…

If I was your manager – the manager of a team that you’re part of – and we had just won a big contract, there are a couple of ways I could present the contracted project to you and the team.

First, I could say something along the lines of, “Congratulations, team. We won the bid – we got the project! So, here you go. You’ve seen the project bid. Get at it.”

Another approach would be something like, “Wow, we won the bid! This is going to be a tough project – lots of challenges with this one. But this team has shown in the past that it can step up and handle the tough ones. Let’s go.”

Which approach do you think would be best? While neither is perfect (and yes, there would typically be more discussion than just this), the second approach provides one significant advantage over the first: It’s more likely to trigger the team to get “in the flow.”

If you read the research on the state of flow – that magic time when you perform at your best, when you get lost in the moment performing the activity, when things just seem to happen, when the sense of time changes, and it all seems somewhat effortless (but not easy) – by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (see his book, Flow), you would understand why. (You also get bonus points for pronouncing his name correctly!)

When you are faced with a task that appears to be easy, with no challenge, you almost become bored with it. Your effort will not be there. And, if you believe you are not up to handling a task, your confidence level will be down, and you will likely feel anxiety.

But when you are faced with a task that you know will be challenging, and yet you believe deep down inside that you have the ability to handle it, you are more likely to perform at your peak, and in the flow. When you feel stretched, and yet have confidence in your ability to deal with it… ahhh, that magic time.

As simple as it seems, as the manager of your team, I can play a big role in how likely it is for you and your teammates to perform in the flow. It’s all in how I present a project or task to you, and how I follow up on it. With every conversation about the project, I should be reinforcing the fact that you’re faced with a very challenging task, and yet you have the ability to step up and handle it. It will not be easy, but if you use every bit of your talent and skills, you can do it.

Challenge, plus belief, equals flow – and that means a great performance. I’d love to hear about an experience you’ve had that relates to this.

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