Category Archives: Management

For The New Leader: Some Truths About Being a Boss

I wrote this post originally in July of 2012.  However, based on suggestions made by some of my very astute readers, I have added a few truths that weren’t included then.  While the additions made do not complete the list necessarily, they do round it out nicely.  So, with thanks to Jamie, Terry and Alex, I offer you a newer version of ‘that which went before’.

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boss_cartoonYou just got promoted. Congratulations! Now you’re in charge. You’re the boss… Le Grand fromage. It feels good…and if you’re honest, a little scary. You’ve read a lot of books about leadership and you have some ideas about what it takes to be a good leader, but now you have to put them into action. That’s the hard part.

So, how can I help?

Well, I can toss out, for your consideration, some simple and practical thoughts about what being a leader is about. It’s not going to be an exhaustive list of course, but hopefully it will help get you started on the right foot. So here goes:

You’re not going to “get there” quickly ~ The process of becoming a great boss is a slow one. In fact, you never really ‘get there’ because with each experience there is something new to learn. Books on Leadership and other peoples’ advice help, but mostly it is how you interpret, and act on, what you read, see and hear that counts.

Knowing yourself is an important part of leading others ~ One of your jobs as leader will be to build relationships of all kinds and at many levels. It’s easier to do this if you know yourself well and what you have to offer. If you are like most people, you will find self-examination tedious, humbling and even exhausting, but once you have a strong grip on who you are, it makes it that much easier to let go of your concerns about yourself and concentrate on other people instead.

Loyalty to the work will more often trump loyalty to you ~ If you think simply being the boss earns you respect and loyalty, you would be wrong. In these times, when organizations are no longer loyal to their workforces, the expectation of loyalty to any one leader is unrealistic. Instead, you must find ways to help people find meaning and satisfaction in the work. Engaging people in accomplishing something bigger than all of you, leads to success in achieving your collective goals and sharing a well-earned sense of pride. Now that is something worth being loyal to.

Even the best laid plans can go awry ~ It would be nice if there was a straight line between the beginning and the end of any undertaking.  But this is seldom the case.  Often, when you set a goal, something will happen to change everything.  And when the terrain shifts like this, so must your response to the new information it reveals. When plans go awry, it helps to step back and reconnect with  your organizational purpose.  Why are you in business? What and/or who are you there to serve? What values do you live and work by? If you know the answers to those questions, they will guide you through uncertain times and increase the odds that your decisions will be good ones.

And, when it comes to decision-making, know what you may, and must not, delegate to others ~ There are a number of reasons why delegation is a good idea. For one thing it ensures a reasonable distribution of workload. For another, delegation provides a means through which people can learn and grow. There will be times though, when delegation is the least appropriate course of action and you alone will have to make some tough decisions for the sake of the greater good, even when it makes you unpopular. Here are some examples .

Behave in the way you would want those who follow you to behave.~ Yes, this is the “lead by example” principle.  It comes up a lot.  But it is surprising the number of leaders who show through their actions that this idea, while good, is really meant for other people. Here is a post you may find useful. It’s called Leading By Example and Some Mistaken Beliefs.

Simple messages have more impact than fancy oratory or business-speak ~ The purpose of communication is to achieve mutual understanding not to look good or perfect your oratory skills. People will appreciate and be more willing to act on simple, clear messages than on those shrouded in the mystery of complicated language.

Power and politics are always in play. Use them both wisely and with respect ~ Both power and politics are part of organizational life. As a boss, you will have certain decision-making authority over others. But don’t confuse this with permission to exercise your will over them. Power is at its best when shared. If it is used to manipulate others or to advance the interests of only a few, it becomes something less useful and more destructive. The bottom line here is: When it comes to power and politics, handle with care.

There are always more questions than there are answers ~ If you think that as boss, you will be required to know all the answers, think again. Those who think they know it all, don’t. Those who think they should know it all place too much pressure on themselves to solve everyone’s problems. However, if you strive to listen more often than talk and develop your ability to ask powerful questions, you might just be onto something.

Managing emotion is critical to earning credibility with others ~ You will have days when you feel snarky, miserable, angry, or otherwise out of sorts. Hey you’re human. It happens to even the saints among us. But your workplace is not the place to ‘vent’. If you do, chances are, you will have bridges to build, or repair. This takes up time that could be used more positively and productively. In short, if you want to earn the trust of your colleagues, find ways to manage your negative emotions. It pays off in the end.

When you are the boss, there is nowhere to hide ~ Not only are you going to make mistakes but other people will too. As the boss, their mistakes, at some point, will become yours. That doesn’t mean you absolve them of the consequences of having messed up. However, it does mean it will be up to you to ensure that those who make them will learn from them. There is no hiding or finger-pointing here. Should you be tempted to deflect ultimate blame away from yourself, you will be rewarded with resentment from the very people you wish to engage.

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That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

P.S. If you interested in reading more ‘Truths’ about leadership, you might consider this:

The Truth about Leadership ~ by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

The Truth About Being a Leader ~ by Dr. Karen Otazo

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, Uncategorized

Leadership and the Challenge of Change

ten-tall-tales-climate-change-skeptics-29-Jun-11I am not a baseball fan. Nonetheless one day, I sat, somewhat reluctantly, in front of my television and watched the movie “Moneyball”. I say somewhat reluctantly because, well, Brad Pitt was involved… so I forced myself.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, “Moneyball” is based on the story of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. It’s about how he defied deeply entrenched tradition and beliefs and changed the game’s system of player selection forever.

There are valuable lessons and reminders in this story that are worth considering when it comes to making change happen. Here are just a few of them:

Begin by defining the problem correctly

Change usually begins with a problem. While everyone involved might acknowledge its existence, it would be a mistake to assume that everyone sees it in the same way. Here is a clip

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Billy Beane saw the problem as one of disadvantage. His scouts saw the problem, more traditionally, as one of deficiency. If, collectively, you fail to see the problem in the same way, resolving it will be that much harder.

To find a different solution, you have to employ different means and sometimes, different people

In order to better understand and resolve his problem, Billy partnered with a very unlikely individual. Peter was an economist, newly graduated from a prestigious University, who had developed an unorthodox method of player evaluation. It was an untested process and yet to Billy, it spoke of possibility. Sometimes to make change happen, you’ve got to take a leap of faith.

Once you’re committed, there’s no going back

Billy’s story made me think about just how hard it is to make a major change in any organization. At some point in the process the going is bound to get tough, often unbearably so. In spite of it, a leader’s belief in what s/he is doing cannot waiver, especially in the face of naysayers. Failure is always a possibility but giving up too soon, or not trying in the first place, is a kind of failure in itself.

In the face of immovable obstacles, go around

In the movie, the Oakland Athletics Team Manager was fiercely opposed to Billy’s new approach. Billy’s suggestions for player positioning fell on deaf, and very stubborn, ears. The manager continued to play in his time-honoured way, honestly believing that Billy was making a terrible mistake. No manner of persuasion would convince him otherwise. So Billy traded the players favoured by the team manager, effectively forcing him to do something different. Sometimes you have to rattle the cage hard.

Know when it’s your turn to take charge

The introduction of a new process and a new Assistant GM was a great boon to Billy in initiating change. When something is working it is tempting to become reliant on it for all the answers. However, good leaders understand that a system, process, or even the advice of others can only take you so far. That means that on occasion, decisions have to come from your own experience, your own talents and your own understanding of what’s going on. It goes with the territory.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

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Please Note: The clip used from the movie “Moneyball” is not used for commercial purposes or financial gain. It is respectfully borrowed from Sony Pictures for illustration purposes only and not intended to infringe on copyright.

* This post was written and originally published in June, 2012

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Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Vision, Leading Teams, Management

5 Actions That Help Create Stability in the Midst of Uncertainty

 According to a Mayan prophecy, on December 21, 2012, the World was to come to an end…again.  Obviously, it didn’t.  But these prophesied World-ending events  show up from time-to-time on the global radar.  The good news is that apparently one quarter of our planet is now online so, the next time it comes up,  we’ll  have some time to say our goodbyes before we all fade to black.  However, while my tongue remains firmly in cheek regarding prophesied catastrophes such as these, they serve as a reminder that there is always something afoot, something changing, interfering with, or otherwise upsetting our equilibrium.  It’s the way of the World.  And, through technology, we are choosing to make that World more intricate and more accessible which renders our day-to-day dance both exciting and sometimes  horribly stressful.

To me, all this suggests that a leader’s role, (at least one of them), is to create a platform for stability, often where none exists, because in a world of constant change and increased complexity, people need to feel anchored to something they can count on.

For some, it is as simple as knowing that in the face of the unknown, they can still be all right.  For example, during the Second World War, The British Government gave the people of Britain reassurance that they can still be all right through a poster campaign that said, among other things, “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Of course it wasn’t the only thing they did to help sustain the people but it served as a vote of confidence in the spirit and capability of the British people to stay the course and overcome the hardship, terror and uncertainty that war had foisted upon them.  They, in turn, rose to the occasion finding ways to support each other; share what little resources they had and keep their upper lips proudly stiff.

Today too, we are bursting with uncertainty. We have come to know that just at the moment we begin to feel steady, things are going to change. So finding ways to create stability amid inconstancy is, in my view anyway, a primary goal for the 21st Century leader.

The question is, how? The answer is…well I’m not sure.  But I have some ideas and here they are:

1.    Be Purposeful

Knowing our organizational purpose is a great beginning to creating stability. After all, while change affects the way we go about fulfilling the purpose, the purpose itself, more often than not remains the same.

2.    Extend the purpose beyond the confines of organizational boundaries.

Most organizations support charities or causes of some kind.  Just as the causes can vary, so can the motivation for supporting them. To me though, doing good works that align with the organizational purpose helps the company grow roots and contribute to the creation of stable communities, both inside and outside corporate boundaries.

3.    Keep Learning

Broadening our knowledge base creates a more stable environment.  In other words, the more we know and understand the less there is to fear.  So giving true value and support to learning, not just training, will build a company of people who are confident, resilient and eager to see and experience what comes next around the corner

4.    Be Guided by a set of strongly held values

World events, economic instability and a constant feed of both useful and useless information contribute to a dizzying existence for most people.  Sometimes we just need to stop and remember what’s important and what we stand for.   It’s kind of like being out in rough seas.  When we can’t see the shore and the boat is tossing us around mercilessly, our values serve as the lighthouse beacon that gives us the promise of solid ground.

5.    Take Blame out of the Equation

When things go wrong, and they do, it’s easy to panic.  When we panic we look to place blame.  Blame is the enemy of stability.  It rattles people and often for the wrong reasons.  Blame is not about accountability it is about passing a hot potato and making sure it lands in someone else’s lap.  By taking blame out of the organizational culture and replacing it with a more solution-oriented demeanour, more people will have the confidence to participate in solving problems rather than defending themselves or looking for places to hide.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Change Management, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Change, Management, Organizational Effectiveness

Why Do You Choose Leadership?

 This post, from 2012, poses a question about leadership.  It asks us to examine our motivation for choosing to undertake an organizational leadership role.  And, it highlights a couple of obstacles that can get in the way of our making the right choice, both for us and for those who will be affected by it.

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In many organizations, there is this implicit assumption that everyone aspires to be a leader.  As a result, leadership roles in these places are ever in danger of being populated by people who privately lack the interest or desire to develop the skill required to lead others effectively. We’ve probably all seen, and felt, the consequences of  this at some time or another.

So, where is the source of the problem?  To be honest, I’ve been struggling a bit with this question but I have a few thoughts so here they are.

First, I think we have to look to organizational culture and practices.  And second, we have to explore the possible reasons people apply for leadership roles in the first place.

From an organizational perspective, these two questions come to mind:

What does the culture of the organization support?

Culture has a lot to do with the caliber of leadership existing in any company.  In many places, those who say they aren’t interested in leadership roles are viewed as having no ambition…or worse.  If the work environment does not support or value those who prefer individual contribution, some people will feel pressure to step into roles for which they are unsuited perhaps because they feel it is expected of them or they don’t see anywhere else to go to improve their lot.

What false assumptions might the organization be making?

In some companies, those who excel in one area of the work are often promoted and placed in charge of a group of others doing similar work.   The assumption is that s/he who excels is willing and able to bring the others up to his or her level of excellence.  In my experience, those who are good at doing are not necessarily good at teaching.  And so, often, the results of this tactic are disappointing for the company and frustrating for the individual.

There are of course other questions to ponder but the point is that if you find too many unhappy people in roles that don’t suit them, the first place to look is at how the organization may be unwittingly supporting it.

Okay, so aside from organizational concerns, why do people choose leadership roles?   Well, I think that’s a question that every person should be asked when making application because to make it simple, there are good reasons and there are bad reasons for choosing leadership.

For instance, I think you may be on the right track if:

You want to change something for the better

You have a genuine interest in influencing others

You see the reward and benefit of working with and through others.

You believe strongly in the power of collective effort

Coaching, teaching, and guiding are words to which you strongly relate

Building relationships and communicating with others is important to you

You accept that people will watch you, do what you do and say what you say… for better or worse.

You accept that not everyone is going to like you.

You are willing take the blame for group mistakes even if you didn’t make them.

Conversely, you may be barking up the wrong tree if:

Your primary interest is more money and a promotion

You like the idea of telling people what to do

Position or status is your principal motivator

You view this as an opportunity to delegate the work you don’t like to do.

You want a leadership role solely for the purpose of your own development

The Bottom Line:  Creating workplaces where leadership roles are filled only with people who are good at leading and want to be there, relies on the willingness of organizations to give greater value to, and make room for, those whose skills and talents lie elsewhere.  It also relies on the willingness of individuals to examine their real motivations before throwing their hat in the leadership ring.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?  Why would you choose leadership?  What else has to change?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, organizational Development, Organizational Effectiveness

Putting Rules in Their Place

This post, from 2012, examines the role that rules play in organizations and how easy it is to fall into a pattern of blindly following them even after they have long fulfilled their purpose.

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To live a civilized life, we need rules, but when do rules start working against us instead of for us?  I think it is when they morph into something that satisfies the few while serving to control and stifle the ideas, ambitions and progress of the many.

Witness the British Government in 1964.  This was a time when, musically, the British invasion was happening everywhere… except inBritain where the government there placed a ban on Rock ‘n Roll music.  In fact, British rock and pop broadcasters were allowed only two hours of airtime per week, despite a growing demand for it from the public at large.

Here, from the movie, Pirate Radio is an idea (although somewhat exaggerated) of the government attitude of the time on this subject.

Your organization may not look very much like that. But as its leader, or one of its leaders, you will also have rules. Some will have preceded you.  Some you will make yourself.  Some you will develop with others.  And some will be imposed upon you. Whatever their genesis, these rules were at one time or another put in place for a reason.  In my experience though, it is often the case that the reason disappears long before the rule that was developed to address it.  As a result, governments and organizations alike accumulate rules that no longer serve any useful purpose.  An example of this comes from the Province of Alberta where the law still states “businesses must provide rails for tying up horses”.

The point is, that while rules must be respected, they should never be viewed as sacrosanct.  As such, they are fair game for challenge.

The process of putting rules under scrutiny does not necessarily have to be a big undertaking.  It could be simply a matter of developing a habit of examining them through different lenses, like these three, to confirm their continued effectiveness:

 Relevance in the current environment

If the rule in question seems more to hinder than contribute to your progress, it may be time to give it closer examination. Why was it made in the first place?  Do those conditions currently exist? What purpose might it continue to serve? If you abolish it, what are the risk factors associated with doing so? How will it affect other areas, or people, in your organization?

Alignment with organizational purpose, and values

In my mind, rules must fit with purpose and values, not the other way around.

For example, in Florida, a young lifeguard was once fired for going outside the bounds of his designated area to save a drowning man.  The company’s argument for firing him was that he disobeyed a rule and they were concerned about being exposed to litigation.

It seems to me that the organization’s purpose was essentially to keep people safe from drowning. In fact, as it is a private lifeguarding company, keeping people safe from drowning is  its whole reason for being.  But, had this particular lifeguard obeyed the rule and stayed within his designated area, a man might very well have lost his life.  So, while there may still be a place for this rule, in order to fit with the organizational purpose, it requires examination and change for alignment.

Accuracy of assumptions

Sometimes rules are made based on false assumptions so it’s always a good idea when examining a rule to consider the beliefs on which it is based.  Simply asking, ‘by enforcing this rule, what might we be assuming?’ could trigger a useful discussion about its continued place in the organization.

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So here’s the bottom line.  Rules have their place but they form only part of the framework that allows people the opportunity to do their best work.  Outdated, irrelevant, self-serving rules can get in the way. If you are a leader, you can’t afford to let that happen.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

Please Note: The clip from the movie “Pirate Radio” is not used for commercial purposes or financial gain.  It is respectfully borrowed  for illustration purposes only and not intended to infringe on copyright.

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Closing the Gap between Authority and Power

Last week, I published a post that highlighted the fine distinction between caring and care-taking.  While on the topic of making distinctions, this post, from 2012 explores the difference between authority and power.

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George Carlin once said, “I have as much authority as the Pope. I just don’t have as many people who believe it”

This started me thinking about what authority and power in organizations really mean. Some people believe these words are synonymous. Well, perhaps, but I’m more inclined to believe that authority and power, while linked, are two different things.

For instance, it is possible for you to have authority without power if you are a newly appointed manager. People reporting to you will likely have little or no experience with you as a leader. As such, they may be reticent to follow your directives. Your authority only carries real power when you have earned their trust and respect and when they can see merit in the direction you want to take them.   In short, the power kicks in when they give it to you.

Conversely, it is possible to have power without authority when as a well informed, competent and reliable team member, people seek out your advice and guidance.  While you may not have the authority to make certain decisions on your own, you influence other team members who have come to respect your judgment and are eager to follow your lead.

Of course, as George Carlin so succinctly reminds us, the challenge is to optimize on the authority we are given by persuading others to not only believe it but also endorse and respect it.  When we have accomplished that, then  words like authority and power become more easily interchangeable.

So how does one go about closing the gap between authority and power?  Well, here are some thoughts about that:

Be yourself

Some people believe that when they are awarded the mantle of authority, they must behave in a certain authoritative way.  However, to me, authority has no particular personality trait.  It is simply a mechanism provided to some people that facilitates decision-making and getting things done.  When you represent yourself honestly, people are more likely to accept and trust you and that’s where the power lies.

Listen and learn

The decisions you make are only as good as the information on which you base them.  Effective decision-making happens when the leader, and those who follow him or her, learn from each other.  Your authority gives you permission to make decisions.  The power behind the authority lies in the willingness of the leader to listen, learn and make informed ones.

Roll up your sleeves and join in

There are times when the leader becomes the ‘servant’.  This is when everyone is clear about what must be accomplished and you, as leader, do whatever you can to support the process.  You may certainly have the authority to command work to be done without participating yourself.  However, sometimes rolling up the sleeves to help is just what is needed to inject enthusiasm into the mix and create positive working relationships. And that can be pretty powerful.

Recognize and Reward good work

If you want to put power behind your authority, good work must never go unrecognized.   As humans, we all need to know that we, and our efforts, are appreciated. And, in the workplace, recognition is very much valued when it comes from a person in authority and is offered with sincerity.  Most of us, when given such recognition, are eager to do more and to do it happily. And that’s where the power comes from.

There are, of course, other ways to close the gap between authority and power and I invite you to share your ideas here too.

In the meantime, I leave you with another thought.  Some people in authority believe they can grab power by using fear as their primary motivator.  It’s a poor and often painful strategy that may work for a while but does not usually stand the test of time.  Even the Wizard of Oz was found out eventually.

So, What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Servant Leadership

Leadership: 5 Ways to Build & Sustain Battery Power

Human energy is a precious commodity.  It fuels creativity and  extraordinary accomplishment.  It is worthy of active consideration and is especially critical to good leadership.  This post from 2011 explores some ways of preserving and generating energy both for leaders and  their organizations.

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You are now running on reserve battery power”.

That’s what my laptop informed me the other day.  Rather whimsically, I wondered what it would be like if we had similarly obvious warnings built into our bodies with little red flashing lights designed to tell us exactly when we were about to run out of juice.

I don’t expect my laptop to go on forever.  I know, from time to time I’m going to have to connect it to a power source so it can build itself up to full strength again.   The irony is, I don’t always do this for myself.  I suspect this may be true of many of you as well.  For some reason, we believe ourselves to be capable of expending unlimited amounts of energy without attending to the restoration process with equal dedication.

I believe that leaders are particularly vulnerable to this kind of energy depletion.  Some will say that people depend on them to be there.  They expect them to be present to make decisions, lead the charge, and champion the cause.  The demands on them are such that there is no time to think about holidays or recreation that doesn’t involve a client, a supplier or a prospect.  They can’t afford to be seen as tired or weak and must find ways to soldier on no matter what.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

Here’s another.

In order for any organization to successfully fulfill its purpose and achieve its goals, it must learn to recognize, nurture, and manage its collective energy.   This means that everyone involved, including the leader, must take responsibility for not only the generation of human energy in the workplace, but also its ongoing replenishment.

So, from this perspective, what does it mean for the leader, in practical terms?  Well, here are some things that come to mind for me:

As Leader:

My job is to become dispensable

We all like to be needed but we do no one a service if we strive to make ourselves indispensable.  If this should happen, it means that as leader, I have not done a good job of training, mentoring, coaching or encouraging those around me.  As such, not only will my own energy be depleted quickly but the energy of others who are capable and eager to do more.

I must find ways to create flexibility in how we do things.

It’s easy to follow a well-worn path when it comes to how things are done.  The trouble is that the path can easily become a rut and that has a way of sucking the energy out of everyone.  Finding, and accepting, alternative ways of working, presents an opportunity to keep the workplace vital and the people in it creatively free.

I must make time for rest and quiet reflection

Some continue to believe that if they are not engaged in doing something, they are achieving nothing.  I believe that periods of rest and quiet reflection restore energy and give rise to creativity that cannot possibly come from a tired mind.

I must make room for fun, laughter and celebration

Simply put, a good laugh does wonders for the energy levels in any room.  Uncontrived celebrations and fun can do the same.  Life and work are full of little absurdities just waiting to be appreciated.   Energy soars when people laugh.  And it costs nothing.

On a cautionary note there is a cardinal rule associated with this. Laughter at any one person’s expense is unacceptable.  It’s mean.  And, rather than infusing the environment with energy, this kind of laughter will defeat the purpose by vacuuming it out.

And finally:

I must remember that I am human

When we are in charge of something, it’s easy to get carried away with our sense of importance.  We begin to believe in our own indestructibility.  We push through our tiredness; ignore our aches and pains and work through our illnesses.

It’s a mistake.  No one is that important.  Really.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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