Leaders… You Really Need Truth-Tellers

by Bill, Leadership, Management

Leaders… You Really Need Truth-Tellers

No Comments 15 January 2015

My last real (corporate) job was an eleven-year run with a very fast moving “550 mph warehouse” as the company’s founder and CEO has been known to put it.

Shortly after I accepted the job offer but before the start date, my new boss, a blunt talking former FBI agent summoned me for a little extra pre-game face time. A central theme of his message was that, in my new role, he expected a lot of mental errors to be made, without which he said, “You won’t be moving fast enough to stay relevant and impactful.”

I intuitively got the part about making mistakes, but the “lots of mistakes” part was a little bothersome. The first image that came to mind stemmed from car racer Mario Andretti, who is fond of saying that, “if everything becomes clear, you’re just not going fast enough.” In the movie screen of my mind, that was quickly replaced with scenes of all those nasty on-track wrecks. I quickly set out to create some mechanisms and safeguards that would allow us to generate and try out lots of ideas, yet be able to quickly identify and avoid or remediate the stinkers.

Just as a race driver has spotters positioned around the track to advise him or her that there is a wreck in turn 2, an oil slick in the back straightaway, that the car is smoking, or a competitor is getting ready to pass, I wanted some real-time, ultra clear feedback on the issues and opportunities around us. I quickly became a proponent of having “spotters”, or people I affectionately referred to as “truth-tellers.” As a first step, everyone on staff, everyone was told that they had not just a right, but a responsibility to turn the streetlights to yellow or even red if they thought we were about to crash, and they had a better idea.

Occasionally, someone would use this permission (really it was encouragement) and act, but for the most part, my organization was like a lot of others where you find greater deference to authority than there should be and, even though it was about the last thing I wanted, fear.

So, within my direct team, I built enhanced relationships with four of the stronger performers, Diane, Bernie, Walter, and Brad, who were specifically and overtly tasked with being truth-tellers. All of them had specific instructions to find and interrupt me at any time, close the door, and tell me in no uncertain terms that my baby was ugly, that we were getting ready to do something really stupid, or whatever the case might be.

Thankfully, all of them took this role seriously, and as a result, kept me (and our business unit) from experiencing a lot of wrecks. Usually, I agreed with their counsel, some of which was pretty tough. Diane told me once that I had just offended someone, and if what she heard was true, she didn’t blame the person for being offended. She allowed that she had just sent a fruit basket as a peace offering, and that the only thing that basket needed was my apology to go with it. Yikes! Sometimes I didn’t agree with them, or was just hard-headed, but in every case, I tried to show my appreciation for their caring enough to say something.

So what does this have to do with you? In a word, everything. The pace of operating a business gets quicker by the day. The workspace is less collegial. Most managers no longer have the luxury of having an assistant sitting right outside their door to serve as an arranger, a fixer, a soother of ruffled feathers, a consigliore, an early warning system, a Diane. And despite the words that are widely mouthed, tolerance for mistakes continues to go down. That’s right, down. Think about it – most business analytics don’t differentiate very well between a learning-based error and a common variety screw-up. So, every error is recorded, quickly digitized, and your batting average just went down.

A few thoughts:

  1. It’s incumbent upon you to have a few of your own truth-tellers, people who care enough about the organization, its mission, and you to tell you how they see it, even when it’s something you really don’t want to hear, but need to know. Find them, cultivate the relationship, and show that you appreciate them.
  2. You need to be mature enough to not shoot or otherwise abuse the messenger. In the first two minutes of a “Got Your Six” presentation, former U.S. Army Lieutenant Becky Kanis Margiotta, @beckykanis offers a crisp, clear, professional, yet profane (think Army speak) example of how her boss reacted to being awakened in the middle of the night over a communication systems problem. Aside from a new expression, you’ll likely learn something from her example.
  3. Be courageous enough to provide the same service for your boss, if they want it… repeat, if they want it. If you do, bear in mind that this role involves having enough discretion to use the proper time and venue for the messaging, and then having the short-term memory of an Alzheimer’s patient once you’ve delivered the news.

I’m pretty sure you’ll find that if you give this a try, you’ll be able to operate a little faster, safer, and more productively. Your thoughts as always are welcome.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter @ContentedCows.

by Bill, Leadership, Management

Some New Year’s Coaching for You

No Comments 06 January 2015

Another new year has begun, and many of us are now in the process of embracing it, with hopeful ambitions to tidy up our bodies, our lives, habits, homes, you name it. Clearly, we do so with varying degrees of enthusiasm and Commitment (capital ‘C’ intentional), but to be sure, no one enters 2015 with the hope that things will actually get worse. Not to put a damper on the freshness of the season, but some things will get worse if we don’t pay proper attention to them.

Over the last year, most U.S. businesses have felt something of a breeze blowing, and for the first time in a long time, that breeze is mostly at our backs. As a result, orders are up in many organizations, to the point that the need to hire has reappeared. Yay!!

Indeed, throughout much of tech-world, and until recently the energy space, real hiring has been occurring, to the point that, for many job vacancies, the number of openings exceeds qualified candidates. In lots of other organizations, that same need is apparent, but management has resisted hiring, preferring instead to make do for a while longer by utilizing temps, contractors, and/or increasing hours of incumbent staff. Concurrently, workers in greater numbers are voting with their feet and leaving their current jobs for greener pastures.

As a result, we’re seeing some undesired, and thus far relatively undisclosed downside impact. Specifically, the candidate-challenged and tepid hiring approaches are leading to a growing number of people on the payroll who would otherwise have already had some closed door discussions, or been asked to leave. Managers in very large numbers, concerned about their ability to fill position vacancies, have silently but decidedly lowered the bar of acceptable behavior and performance, to wit they find themselves trying to get the daily wash out with a growing list of folks who really need to shape up or be on someone else’s payroll… preferably a competitor’s. We are seeing it throughout the entire spectrum of the employment market.

What to do about it?

Stop  Ignoring It: First things first, it’s important to realize that ignoring the problem only makes it worse, for everyone. Tolerating sub-par performance or people who, to put it charitably just don’t fit, is not the answer. Indeed, not only is their own output subpar, these folks are one of the greatest sources of frustration and annoyance to star performers, who quickly grow tired of carrying their own water and others’. Put  in more selfish terms, continuing to look the other way puts you at risk of being fairly branded a leadership failure. Let’s not go there.

Take Action: Make it a point (no, a promise) to begin having conversations, this week, with… 1. People who could at least become C-players with a modicum of coaching, 2. Some of the people you’ve been leaning on extra hard (your stars), to thank them for their extra effort, and let them know that you appreciate it and them, 3. Your own boss (and HR as appropriate) to initiate conversations about moving some people on to their next station in life.

Get Back in Recruiting Mode: The best managers I’ve ever worked with are always in recruiting mode, even when they don’t have any approved reqs, because they know that the likelihood of the ideal candidate having an opening in their dance card at the exact moment when they do have a need is slim.

Sharpen Your Own Skills: In all likelihood, this situation didn’t sneak up on you. Rather, you’ve been aware of it for some time, but avoided taking difficult action because you were a bit uncertain of your own skills, and besides, you had more fun stuff to do. Bone up on your own coaching skills. A good place to start is with a great book. We recommend “The Coach” by Starcevich and Stowell.   It’s not pretty, it’s not new, but it works. (We don’t get paid for recommending it.) Alternatively, look within your organization for a course or seminar that might be beneficial to you; or, find a coach to work with.

Whatever you do, get started. Time is not your friend at the moment.

 

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter @ContentedCows.

Guest Post, Leadership

Practicing Self-Care Amidst the Storm

No Comments 01 November 2014

Guest Post by Sylvana Rochet
As the events in Syria and Ukraine unfolded this summer, I got to thinking about how delicate it is for leaders to respond to others’ conflicts and emotional distress, while attempting to maintain their own balance. Not only because it must be hard to witness such turmoil around them – despite the trappings of whatever power they may have – but also because it seems that whatever they do will (almost always) be criticized. For President Obama, that meant being crucified for “going golfing” during his vacation as Putin rolled into Ukraine and an American journalist was beheaded in Syria. If we look closer, we can see much the same happening, albeit on a different scale in our own workplaces, creating negativity among employees and stress for the leaders.

“Empathy” has made its way into the corporate lexicon, and this generates great benefits for the culture of the company when leveraged well, but empathy can also be confused with taking on behaviors like commiserating and being negative. So, how can a Conscious Leader show empathy for others during difficult times, while still remaining present to the task at hand – i.e. running a commercial enterprise?

As a leader you will inevitably get pulled into other people’s problems and conflicts. This is normal, as they likely see it as your responsibility to mediate human-related issues. Indeed, in his book, My American Journey, Gen. Colin Powell noted that, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them, or concluded that you do not care.”

To be fair, most companies don’t give employees much autonomy or tools for addressing challenges on their own, and the default position seems to be to “take it up to the managers or HR” at the first sight of challenge. A likely instance where you’ll be faced with people’s intense emotional states is during times of change. Because change at work feels directly threatening to people’s livelihoods (“Is my job on the line?”), it can violently shake an entire company if the leaders aren’t equipped to powerfully manage it. You must keep your pulse on the collective mood so you can prepare to weather the storm skillfully and, as captain, confidently bring the ship to safe harbor in the end.

By taking from the steps and examples presented, you might find some better ways to navigate hard times, while staying sane and clear-headed (and guilt-free!). These pointers apply to most situations, whether you are 1:1 with someone, or when presenting to the whole department after a particularly hard quarter.

  1. Validate people’s responses, fears, etc. You won’t be taken seriously until you have heard people out and recognized that this is difficult. When doing so, avoid using the “I” person (i.e. “I totally know how you feel”) as this can further pull you into the drama. As the boss, you’re expected to remain calm and objective, yet human. So your statements might sound something like: “Knowing how tirelessly you have worked on X, it is understandable / normal that you feel this way.” Usually, you can’t take ownership of their pain, so don’t try.
  2. Do not gossip or agree with any one story. You appreciate that everything is more complex than one person’s, or one group’s, perspective.
  3. Empower people to create their own solutions. Example: “It must be frustrating when IT does not respond quickly to emergencies. You have great problem-solving skills, so take a couple days to think up 3 ways to address this. I’ll be happy to go through them together and brainstorm some more, and I’m sure you’ll figure out a brilliant way to sort it out.” Bonus: it makes people feel great, and is less burdensome for you.
  4. Practice extreme self-care. Do you know what successful leaders do when things get stressful? They’ll meditate between meetings, sneak out for an afternoon massage or go for a mid-morning walk at the park. They have no problem telling their team: “I won’t schedule afternoon meetings before 2:00 pm because I’m doing CrossFit at lunch these days.” Why? Because they understand that their burnt-out self won’t be effective (or around very long). Your team deserves a leader who is present and energized, so it is your responsibility to do the necessary to be at your best – physically, mentally and emotionally.

If there is criticism for your practicing self-care (“Who does she think she is, going to Yoga after this morning’s meeting?”), first remind yourself that the company doesn’t benefit from you getting sucked into collective despair in order to prove your comradeship. It takes mastery to have empathy for others’ pain while keeping the healthy distance needed to stay productive.

This can also be a perfect opportunity to encourage them to do the same. Showing that you believe everyone deserves to tend to their well-being during stressful times will obtain their best support. This is what Conscious Leaders do: they model wholesome ways for all to become the best version of themselves too. Because that is what will get you through hard times faster.

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Sylvana Rochet is a NY-based executive coach and consultant. She works with leaders and organizations looking to optimize what they do with human-centered strategy and approaches.

by Bill, Leadership

Leadership Means Making Hard Decisions

No Comments 29 October 2014

HardChoicesAheadSignRecently, after a New York City-based physician returning from treating patients in Africa turned up with the Ebola virus (after having also traveled the streets of New York), and a nurse returning from similar duty seemed to evidence precursor symptoms of the disease, the governors of New York and New Jersey both reached decisions to involuntarily quarantine those deemed to pose a risk to the population.

At the urging of generals and military families alike, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has drawn a somewhat firmer line, announcing that, for the near term, military personnel stationed in Africa will (not might) be quarantined for twenty-one days before returning home.

The howls from the media, medical professionals, and others have reached, dare I say, a fevered pitch, and that’s okay. We’re all entitled by the Constitution to voice our opinions. There are two things we need to understand, though:

  1. Our rights as individuals end at the tip of our neighbor’s nose, lip, ear, what have you. I have every right to say what I want and to risk my own life, but that right doesn’t extend to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater or imposing my risk on my neighbor, let alone an entire population. Those rights that we enjoy come with certain responsibilities.
  2. Whether in the workplace, government, or military, leaders bear the burden of making decisions that impact both individual and collective rights. That’s what they are appointed and get paid to do. Sometimes we like those decisions and sometimes we don’t.

For those of us who hold a leadership role, formally appointed or otherwise, I will submit that we have at least three obligations with respect to our decision making:

  1. To actually make the decision. Those who would follow us need to know that when a decision is required, we will actually make one. Making no decision is in itself a decision, and almost always the wrong one.
  2. Our decisions should be timely. Perhaps the 2nd greatest failing in our decision-making (next to not making a decision at all) is deferring the decision until it’s too late. In his book, My American Journey,  Gen. Colin Powell advocates against waiting until you have all the information: “Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70% range, go with your gut.” In other words, don’t wait until you reach the end of your runway to take off.
  3. Utilize an appropriate fact-gathering process, then make your decision(s) on the basis of what you genuinely believe to be the right thing to do, NOT  what is popular, politically correct, or aimed at pissing off the fewest people. In the aforementioned book, Gen. Powell’s 18th precept is that, “Command is lonely.” Yes it is, General… yes it is.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter @ContentedCows.

 

by Bill, Leadership, Think About It...

Ebola and a Lesson on Leadership

No Comments 20 October 2014

Since passage of reform legislation in March 2010, the U.S. healthcare industry has struggled with wrenching change brought on by movement of the tectonic plates underneath the delivery and payment sides of the industry. With the introduction of competition from new sources (e.g., diagnostics and urgent care via Doc In a Box), and the early melting of fee for service payment models, much of the industry is under tremendous pressure to adapt to completely new realities.

Particularly among hospitals, which are seeing demand for their services and assets shift, and in some cases decline, new fiscal pressures abound. As is too often the case whenever there is belt tightening going on, one of the first shoes to drop inevitably lands on the organization’s training regimen, as if working your way out of an earnings problem by dumbing down the organization is ever a workable idea.

We saw some of that play out on the world stage recently with the Ebola episode in Dallas, where it became painfully evident that protocols for handling even one Ebola-infected patient had not been fully worked out, let alone communicated and trained. The patient died, and a lot of good, talented people were unnecessarily exposed to potentially lethal health risk. So what’s that got to do with leadership, the focus of this blog? In a word, everything.

As leaders, our first obligation to the women and men who follow us into work every day is NOT to improve market share or optimize next quarter’s earnings, but to make sure that they leave work at the end of the day in the same (or better) condition than they got there. Second, it is our duty to see to it that they are equipped, by virtue of training, tools, and trust to do their very best work, and accomplish their mission. In other words, they deserve a fair shot at success. Indeed one of the cruelest things we can do to someone is to put them in a position where they are destined to fail (or worse).

As you go about your business this week, take stock of how well prepared and how safe the people on your team are. Do they have what they need in the way of training, tools, information, and trust to do their jobs successfully? Safely? Make sure, damn sure, unless you want to get to write a letter like this:

http://texashealth.org/images/letter-to-the-community-101914.jpg

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, Leadership

On Caring and Waiting

No Comments 09 October 2014


Recently, oral arguments on what could prove to be a landmark labor relations case (Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc v Busk) were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case hinges on claims by two former employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, a Nevada-based contract staffing firm, that, in their assignment at an Amazon.com fulfillment center, they were required to wait upwards of twenty-five minutes (on their own time) at the end of each shift, to clear security before exiting Amazon’s premises. The two workers have advanced a claim that, as the wait was purely for the benefit and at the behest of Integrity (and Amazon), they should be compensated for the time spent waiting. Integrity feels otherwise. What makes this an even bigger deal is that copycat suits against other retailers are in the cue.

Two admissions before proceeding further:

1. We tend to be well-satisfied Amazon customers and vendors who are generally in admiration of their operation.

2. As evidence of the fact that I am a recovering HR exec., I couldn’t care much less about the arcane legal arguments as to whether or not Amazon, or Integrity Staffing in their stead are legally liable to pay for the time. That said, if you’ve never seen a dozen well dressed attorneys dancing on the head of a very small pin, this could be the time to watch.

What does matter is that this should never have become a legal issue in the first place. About the second time that someone from Amazon or Integrity management noticed the backed up security line, efforts should have begun to overcome it. Really. Think about it. This is a company whose very existence is based on convenience and speed. How I can order something on Saturday, or even Sunday sometimes, and have it Monday is amazing. Never mind what they can do with their Kindle devices. Remember who has been talking lately about using delivery drones in order to get stuff to you faster? Nothing, nothing sits around there and waits.

The very presence of a long queue (that should keep our British fans happy) is evidence of the kind of systemic defect that keeps people from doing their very best work (or even wanting to), and when prolonged, drives them crazy. It’s just the kind of thing that good leaders are supposed to take care of. We get paid to get the system off our teammate’s backs so that they can do their best work.

In a speech at the U.S. Army War College, Gen. Melvin Zais told a group of assembled officers that, “If you care, you make sure that your soldiers don’t have to stand around and wait… because the only (repeat, only) reason that soldiers stand around and wait is because some dumb, jerk officer didn’t plan it right, or planned in such a fashion that his soldiers would have to pay for him not wanting to miss a deadline.” Nuff said.

Our suggestion to you is this: Make it a part of your daily (yes, daily) routine to find and root out the kind of systemic defects that keep your people from doing their best work. They will appreciate it, and then reward you with better work.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Richard, Exemplars, Favorite Folks, Leadership

Truett Cathy: A Life Well-Lived

No Comments 08 September 2014

truett-cathy A mighty tree fell in the forest of business leadership today, with the death of 93-year-old Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A. Truett was a pioneer, an innovator, and a true gentleman of character and courage. He improved the lives of millions, way beyond “sellin’ chicken”, and leaves a legacy that makes him a real standout in the annals of American business.

I’ll quickly dispense with the elephant in the blogpost and acknowledge that not everyone likes Chick-fil-A, whether it be their food or their values. But I’ll allow to speak for itself the fact that their supporters overwhelmingly eclipse their detractors. Just drive by any Chick-fil-A restaurant any day of the week (except, of course, Sunday, on which they’re closed), and you’ll see what I mean.

It was my privilege to meet Truett on a couple of occasions, while we were conducting leadership training for Chick-fil-A, and he was gracious enough to let me interview him in 1997, while Bill and I were writing our first book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk.

 

Here are 3 things I know about Truett Cathy:

 

1 – He was authentic. Truett’s faith was his life, and he uttered no apologies for it. He went from millionaire to billionaire years ago, but continued to teach a boys’ Sunday School class at his church until his health failed. You could count on his word. Many, many people did, and have built very successful businesses and fulfilling careers.

2 – He was a giver. In addition to his personal philanthropy, Truett’s company has given more than $68 million to more than 700 educational and charitable organizations in the last three years alone. Since its inception, the company’s Team Member Scholarship Program has provided more than $30 million to help more than 30,000 employees attend more than 500 different colleges and universities. Through its WinShape Foundation, it has invested millions in programs directed toward helping young people. And the company regularly donates food to people who are hungry, and provides organized relief for victims of natural disasters.

3 – He was a forgiver. Here’s a story we relate in our 2007 book, Contented Cows MOOVE Faster: It was told to me by Truett’s son, Dan, Chick-fil-A’s Chief Operating Officer, when Dan invited me to travel across the country with him on a whirlwind grand opening tour to the Midwest and California.

Dan and his father were walking around the original Dwarf House restaurant (the forerunner of Chick-fil-A) one evening, inspecting the premises. It seems that a gaze upward revealed a fresh collection of empty beer cans on the roof of the Dwarf House. As alcohol never has been on the menu of the Dwarf House, or Chick-fil-A, it was determined that, unfortunately, the spent vessels most likely came from an employee engaging in off-label activities on the job. As much as Truett didn’t like to think of any of his beloved employees drinking at work, he suspected a middle-aged fellow named James.

When Truett confronted him, he gently extracted a genuine confession. What happened next owes to James’s greatly improved judgment in having told the truth about the incident and to Truett’s exceptional maturity. Name any employer. Drinking beer on the clock and then littering the premises with the evidence would pretty much be grounds for dismissal without intervention from even the most liberal of unfair labor treatment folks.

Instead, Truett forgave James. James didn’t get a lecture about how wrong it was to drink on the job. Truett figured James was an adult and therefore knew what he did was wrong. He didn’t get fired. He didn’t get written up. He barely got a reprimand. He got forgiven. Which is not to say his deed got overlooked. By forgiving rather than firing James, Truett took the bond of trust between the two men to a completely new level, something that was not lost on James over the balance of his long career with the company.

Many prayers, including ours, are being said today for the Cathy family, and in thanks for a life well-lived. Godspeed, Truett.

 

Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

by Bill, Leadership

A Physics Lesson for Leaders About the Use of Power

No Comments 27 August 2014

The first lesson learned by every new leader, one that should be permanently tattooed onto their gray matter, is that by virtue of occupation they have inherited a simple, high school physics problem – There are more of “them” than there are of you. Repeat, there are more of “them” than there are of you. Translation – You are outnumbered, perhaps vastly by the group of people whom you are expected to lead. You shouldn’t let that rattle you, but neither should you forget it.

In Einstein’s theory of Mass-Energy Equivalence, Energy [E] equates to the Mass [M] of an object, times the Speed of Light [C] squared. It rather elegantly ties together the relationship among three seemingly disparate elements. Having slept through high school physics, that’s about the extent of my physics knowledge.

But here’s something I do understand. In human interactions and especially the workplace, the “Energy” of a group of people relates to their Number (mass) times the Leadership that is applied. A group of people, even a tiny group, well led, can accomplish truly amazing things. Conversely, that same group of people led poorly (or not at all) can and will become disengaged, uncooperative, or downright unruly.

Witness recent events in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, where, following the tragic shooting death of a young man, the town’s police attempted to put down a street demonstration with automatic weapons-toting officers wearing gas masks and dressed in battle fatigues.

It didn’t turn out well. Yet, the very next night, an even larger crowd was considerably more peaceful and better behaved as the result of fresh leadership in the person of Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain, Ron Johnson.

What Captain Johnson clearly understands, and what every leader needs to grasp, is the fact that just because you have a big stick doesn’t mean that you’re well advised to wave it around or use it indiscriminately, especially when the power of your personal presence and persuasion will work a lot better. Captain Johnson didn’t just permit another night of demonstrations, he led them, from out front, using his personal presence to set the tone, a more orderly and peaceful tone.

Some lessons for us:

Keep Your Powder Dry – A leader’s position power is a necessary tool, and we mustn’t be afraid to use it, but use it sparingly. There is a finite supply, and once you’ve deployed it, you have nothing left to resort to.

Keep Your Ego in Check – Being in a leadership role is not about you. Rather, it’s about your team and its mission. You needn’t remind people of your position and the fact that you can shut their water off. They get that already, and don’t react well to having it rubbed in their faces.

Envision – Jack Nicklaus, doubtless one of, if not the greatest golfer in history, encourages players to envision their shot before swinging. See the ball arcing past the oak tree, landing ten yards short, and running onto the green, pin high. Leaders should similarly think through and mentally rehearse their next move, especially if that move involves a use of position power.

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A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Richard, Leadership

Be the Boss You Always Wished For

No Comments 18 August 2014

good-bossWe’ve all worked for bad bosses – people who attained their lofty positions by virtue of one of the following two qualifications: 1. They were good at their non-management job, or 2. Their last name happened to be spelled exactly like the name on the building. I once reported to a boss who felt her job had not been done until she’d demoralized every member of the team into quitting; another was a nice enough guy, but had the backbone of an amoeba, and all the organizational skills of the painter Jackson Pollock. No hate mail, please. It’s a metaphor.

Although I, too, was made a manager far too early in my career, with a hard-earned Bachelor’s Degree in Management from an accredited university, but scarcely an hour’s worth of leadership training, I did give a considerable degree of thought, during my pre-management days, to what a good manager should be like.

I’ll bet you have, too.

At one point, to divert my attention from griping about the clowns I was working for at the time, and do something a bit more productive, I decided that when I became a manager, I would do my level best to be the kind of manager I’d always wished for. Mind you, I had had, in the past, two or three really great leadership examples as bosses, and so I was hardly starting from scratch.

This is anything but an exhaustive list of leadership qualities, but it represents three of the traits and attributes I hoped to emulate and develop when I was entrusted with the leadership of others. Perhaps these three rose to the top of my list because they had been so sorely lacking in some of the bosses I’d toiled under:

  1. Focus
  2. Compassion
  3. Encouragement

Here are some ways I’ve learned to develop each:

  1. Focus: go to your team, today, and ask this simple question: “What do you believe to be our top three business priorities?” Compare the responses you get. That will tell you everything you need to know about the current focus of your team. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t blame them! Tighten your focus. And then teach your team what the real priorities are. This is where repetition can really help. I’ll say it again. This is where repetition can really help.
  2. Compassion: No, I’m not talking about being a pushover, or falling for every excuse in the book. But I am talking about engaging your heart, not just your head, in the leadership of those you need to follow you. I heard a great CEO/leader once tell his management team, “When a team member is enduring a personal hardship, go the extra mile for that employee. When you do, you’ll have their full attention when you talk about going the extra mile for your customers.”
  3. Encouragement: Here’s something else you can do today. You know that team member of yours who’s having a rough day? Yeah, that one. Find something encouraging – in their work or elsewhere, and go out there and remind them of it. An act like this has one of the highest ROI’s going.

 

 

Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

by Bill, Leadership, Management

Struggling Supervisors – Coach ‘em Up or Move Them Out

No Comments 04 August 2014

Confirming what many had been sensing for some time, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President, Richard Fisher said recently that increasing numbers of workers are quitting their jobs voluntarily, and concomitantly, employers are finding that it’s taking longer to fill open positions. Those are two fairly strong indicators that the job market is heating up.

But they aren’t the only indicators. For several months, we’ve been watching managers going into a defensive crouch and lowering their work performance standards in an ill-advised effort to hang onto people rather than coach, discipline or terminate, and then face the prospect of replacing them. In many cases they’re turning a blind eye to problem performers, the existence of whom is aggravating to fellow workers and customers alike.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. They’re not yet well-assured that they can get quick internal approval to replace.
  2. They know that hiring a replacement off the street will take time (the talent pool isn’t deep yet for many positions), and it will likely cost them more money.
  3. There’s more than a little guilt involved, as the involved managers know in many cases that the individual is struggling because they themselves have not had (‘er taken) the time to properly train and coach their staff members.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of level 1 supervisors and managers. And, sadly, nowhere do we pay a higher price for this condition. Having an inept or uncommitted level 1 manager wreaks havoc in an organization. Think about it. These are the folks who represent the “last mile” in the management communication and strategy execution chain. They have more daily touchpoints with frontline workers than anyone else, and thus have the capacity to disenfranchise greater numbers of solid performers – the very last people you want to lose.

Three suggestions:

  1. Take a hard look across your organization at your level 1 and 2 managers. Which of them seem to be struggling or experiencing abnormally high rates of regrettable turnover? Find out why, and get them some help if needed. If it’s too late or they are misplaced in their role, take action now, while you still have options.
  2. Resolve to make leadership ability a “must have” for anyone placed into a management position. Specifically, before putting someone into a leadership role at any level, there should be credible reason to believe that they have the courage to make and communicate tough decisions, the humility to realize that they put their pants on just like everyone else, better than average judgment and interpersonal skills, and that they are comfortable in their own skin. Absent any one of these factors, it doesn’t matter how smart or talented they are. Keep looking.
  3. And speaking of looking, you could do a lot worse than to spend time daily working on your talent pipeline. Make daily efforts to give internal candidates, your leaders of tomorrow, some coaching or encouragement. And at the same time, make sure that your external pipeline is well stocked.

****

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

ABOUT US

Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.

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