“He was tough and he was hard; as tough a man as I have ever known.”
“He kept pushing and pushing and pushing.’
“He drove you to exhaustion but was the most compassionate person I have known.”
“He suspended Joe Namath and Ken Stabler–two of his greatest quarterbacks–for breaking team rules.”
“He would tear you up on the field and then bring you into his office and ask how your Mom was doing.”
“He would find ways to help his players without letting them know that he was helping them.”
“He would jump in front of a bullet for his players.”
“He could pull people together, unify them and get them to commit to the mission.”
“His harsh, tongue lashings were not personal, he simply wanted to make you better.”
These are comments from players and coaches led by Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary football coach.
Today, a street, a museum and a stadium display Paul Bryant’s name. And more than seven hundred children of his former players have received generous university scholarships from the Bryant Scholarship Fund.
Of course, there are critics of Bryant’s methods. And many of his practices are surely not appropriate for most corporate cultures. Still, I think the leadership philosophy of “Demand a lot and care for the person.” is a sound one.
During a management meeting, the president said, “I’m not sure we can save the Western Division. Sales continue to decline, employees keep quitting and morale is in the pits.”
Managers sat quietly, fidgeting with their devices and avoiding eye contact. After what seemed like an eternity—probably fifteen or twenty seconds—Albertson spoke up, “I’m your Huckleberry!”
All eyes turned to Albertson. “What did you say?” asked the president.
“I’d like to lead the division,” replied Albertson. “I think we need to replace a couple of people, reduce the number of brands, and improve relationships with our dealers. Give me six months. Then we can reevaluate.”
When you observe a troubled department, consider volunteering to lead the group. But first, make sure you are empowered to replace personnel and improve customer service. If you do these two things, you have a chance of improving performance. Higher management will see great value in you. That’s how legends are made.
Of course, there is a chance you will fail; but if management has already labeled the department “terminal,” you will not likely be stigmatized.
The phrase, “I’ll be you huckleberry,” apparently appeared among the Knights of King Arthur and more recently as a movie line from Doc Holiday to Wyatt Earp. Translation, “I’m the person for the job.”
“Do they have a Fourth of July in England?”
Two of three responders answer, “Yes.”
When I asked a large group in managers in Canada, “Do you have a Fourth of July in Canada?”
Eight of ten said “No.”
We discussed the issue for a while, and a person commented, “I think they do have a Fourth of July in England, but it’s in August sometime.”
This exchange represents a common and frustrating aspect of human communication. Employees sometimes resist management communications, not necessarily because they disagree; but because they make different assumptions. For example, do you assume “July 4” to be a calendar day or a national holiday?”
While we commonly assume that words have the same meanings to all, this is often not the case. For example, we use the simple word “run” to mean very different things. “Let’s run to the store,” “My watch has run down,” “We scored three runs,” “Nice trout stream run,” “Running after kids,” “Run in my stockings,” and many, many more.
When there is apparent disagreement, the first action should be to explore and explain the assumptions of each party. Rather than assume disagreement, start the conversation with, “What did you interpret my message to mean?” A reply might be, “Here is what I intended for it to mean?”
Harrison said to his manager on Tuesday, “I need to take Thursday and Friday off.”
Harrison was in the midst of a complex analysis needed for a Monday presentation to key stakeholders.
A traditional manager might respond, “Harrison, you know I can’t approve your request at this time. Why do you think you need to take two days off?”
The resulting conversation would likely evolve into excuses, explanations, disagreements, and frustration. Both would have continued pushing hard; each trying to bend the other to his will.
A more effective approach is to look for options that work for both Harrison and the manager. As author Chris Voss says in his book, NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE, ask “what” and “how” questions.
For example, “Harrison, you know about the stakeholder presentation. What can you do to ensure that it is ready?” Or, “How do you expect me to handle your part of the stakeholder presentation?”
Avoid “why” questions, as they beg for persuasive excuses and explanations. “Why do you need two days off?”
“Because, I need to take care of ______.” You can bet that Harrison would fill in this blank with jury-convincing reasons.
The intent is to seek options that allow Harrison to meet his needs, whatever they may be; while at the same time, ensuring a quality presentation for the stakeholders.
We are running forty days behind plan,” complained Jeremy the plant manager. We’ve applied lean manufacturing concepts. We’ve reduced cycle time. We’ve maxed out overtime. Our only hope of catching up is to add people.”
“How many?” asked the site manager.
“At least thirty full-time plant workers.”
“How long to catch up after we get the thirty on board?”
“Should be meeting schedule in about four months after all are hired.”
After considerable debate, the site manager reluctantly agreed to add thirty employees. Fast forward six months. The additional wages and benefits spiked labor costs. And the plant is still forty days behind.
An influx of new people almost always challenges quality and safety practices, teamwork suffers, meeting time increases, decisions drag out, disruptive behaviors surface, and customer and vendor coordination requires more time.
Before adding headcount, in small or large segments, consider four actions.
1. Replace inadequate producers who have been given several chances.
2. Remove support personnel who are not critical and replace with operators.
3. Eliminate bureaucratic approval processes that bog down decisions.
4. Evaluate supervisors and replace those who are not effective leaders.
Should you still think you need to add employees, be deliberate and select carefully.
While the expression, “I really like my manager,” is about as common as “I really like snakes,” the expression does raise the question of whether likability is necessary for leader success.
General Patton achieved great victories in World War II under the most trying conditions. Even his defeated enemies heaped praise on his leadership. Yet, General Patton was often at odds with peers and superiors. General Eisenhower once suspended Patton for slapping two soldiers because they were in hospitals without an apparent physical illness.
By contrast, General Bradley became known as the “soldier’s general” and was almost universally liked.
More recently, Julie Bort reports in BUSINESS INSIDER that some of the least liked CEO’s today are leading successful companies.
I think most successful leaders spend even less time thinking about being liked than they do counting the candles on their birthday cake. Successful leaders do what they must do. Some like what they do; others do not.
I do believe the unlikable needle can drop so low it will cause leader failure. Al Dunlop, while leading Sunbeam Products, earned the nickname of “Chainsaw Al.” His ruthless approach, combined with massive accounting frauds, make him a fixture on lists of the worst CEO’s.
Leaders probably should not work at “being liked.” Still, they must earn enough loyalty to remain in charge when the situation appears hopeless.
Helena explained to her friend, “I just talked with my boss. She couldn’t say enough good things about how I handled an unhappy client. She went on and on. It makes me worry.”
“Why would that make you worry?”
“I think she may have an ulterior motive.”
“You know we are opening a new location, and I’ve told her that I do not want to transfer. She may be thinking about moving me to the new site.”
How is it that we have taken a concept like “sincere appreciation” and turned it into something suspicious?
Maybe it’s because we have introduced practices like balanced feedback—identify what is good and what needs improvement. Maybe it’s because performance appraisal systems discourage unqualified high appraisals—try turning in an exceptionally-high appraisal with no suggestions for improvement. Maybe the concept “you can always improve” pervades leader-employee relationships.
Unequivocal confirmation occurs when a leader tells an employee something the employee knows to be true without “if’s,” “and’s,” or “but’s.” Leaders practice pure confirmation so rarely that employees become suspicious when they hear it.
Employees (people) need to be confirmed. It is not a psychological need; it is a physiological need. Unequivocal confirmation releases endorphins (chemicals that create a sense of well-being) in our brains. Insightful leaders realize that unequivocal confirmation increases both employee engagement and satisfaction.