About geraldgraham

Professor, author and management consultant.

How to Make Leadership Easier–Learn to Read an Org Chart

(Part 4 or 7)

During an intense session a couple of front-line managers disagreed with the vice president’s (VP) decision to open an office in a new territory.

“This opening will place a lot of stress on my team and it is not going to succeed,” one front-line manager commented.

Another responded, “There is just not enough demand.  My staff will be stressed out.  I can’t get them to support the decision.  They know my position.”

After additional discussion, the VP closed the meeting with, “I understand the new opening is a challenge, but it is a risk we need to take.  I’ll need everyone’s support.”

At this point, continued opposition is bad for all.  It reduces the chances of success and likely creates financial strain.  Also, the VP may become upset with dissenters and remove them.

When you accept a leadership position, you become a part of the leadership team.  Teams are more effective when members passionately support and challenge decisions during meetings, while agreeing to row in the same direction once the decision is made.

When asked why he supported an unpopular decision, one front-line manager respond, “I can read an organizational chart.”

How to Make Leadership Easier–Embrace the Numbers

(Part 3 if 7)

A manager said to me, “Following your suggestion, I began discussing our team’s metrics at all of our regular meetings.”

“And I suppose you got some push back,” I responded.

“I did. One employee blurted out, ‘We are nothing but a number to management.  They don’t care about us.’”

The manager continued, “Another member said, ‘I spend too much time recording data when I could be doing work.’  And another complained, ‘Some of these numbers contradict each other.’”

I understand that some complain about measurements and metrics, but the metrics will set you free.  Every organization runs on numbers—volume, costs, inventory turn, items delivered, retention, customer complaints and on and on.

“I watch the numbers like a hawk,” a successful leader admitted.  “When the numbers move in the right direction, we celebrate and continue.  When they go South, it is a strong signal that we need to do things differently.”

By stressing numbers, some leaders create a culture that may denigrate humans.  But the more successful leaders explain how they rely on the numbers to ensure success for the organization while providing opportunities for growth and fulfillment for employees.   

How to Make Leadership Easier–Avoid Trying to Get Buy-In

(Part 2 of 7)

When facilitating a team’s discussion of whether to purchase software, a team member bombarded the leader’s suggestion with continuous questions. Each answer by the leader prompted added questions.  Eventually, the leader postponed the decision.

Afterwards, I asked the leader, “Why did you devote so much time answering the member’s questions.” 

“I was trying to get his buy-in,” the leader said.

Spending a lot of time seeking buy-in, I believe, is a mistake.  . 

A buy-in approach often gives too much attention to what authors Ella Ingram and Kerice Doten-Snitker call CAVE people—Colleagues Against Virtually Everything.  Decisions become win-lose contests.  The leader eventually prevails and the member loses, or the leader makes an unnecessary compromise and the member wins.  

Successful change agents operate from a shared vision of what decisions attempt to create and propose potential options, seek suggestions, and move toward a decision. 

When a CAVE person objects, the leader my validate the member with, “To be sure I understand, you are saying . . .?”  The objector will agree or attempt further clarification.

The leader can then move on with something like, “I understand you support another option.  I accept some disagreement as normal.”  

While it is important for all to have a say, not everyone will get their way.

How to Make Leadership Easier–Don’t Fix Others

(Part 1 of 7)

To workshop participants, I asked, “Do any of your high performing colleagues do things that irritate you?”

A participant quickly reported that he had a staff member who argued too much.  “Anytime I suggest something,” he said, “he tells me and everyone else what a bad idea it is.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Since he joined my team, almost three years.”

“What are you doing about it?”

“I explain my position and tell him he needs to stop being so critical.” 

“How many times have you told him that?”

“Too many to count.”

You can bet, many—parents, teachers, family members, friends, managers– have also told this argumentative individual about his galling habit.   

By the time people begin careers, their core behaviors are reasonably hard wired; and your odds of fixing others’ persistent negative habits are about as good as winning the lottery. 

Should persons with annoying ways be new to your supervision, should you coach them once or twice on how to better respond?  Of course, but if your coaching has little effect, and it probably will, discontinue coaching.  It is not working.  

Learn to tolerate or terminate (don’t rehabilitate) high-performing employees with irritating behaviors.    

Renewed Energy Indicates Stage 3 of Change

(Part 3 of 3)

“It took a while,” explained a manager, “but my team eventually began to lean into the change.”

“What is different?”  I asked.

“My informal leaders began embracing the new system and became quite adept using its features.  Almost all accepted the new ways and continued learning how to thrive under the “current rules.” 

One sign of Stage 3 may be a subtle energy renewal.  Workloads seem less heavy as members transition from tentative “I’m not sure I’m doing this correctly,” to confidence in how to perform at a high level.   

Members also become more open to learning about opportunities afforded in the new system or policy.  And contributors, once again, become self-assured in their roles and tasks. 

During Stage 3, it is important to verify the link between individuals’ work output and overall team goals.  Be sure to broadcast team accomplishments and individual contributions. 

Be aware that some members may be slower than others to arrive at Stage 3.  And some may experience frustration and lapse back into earlier stages.  Continue to enforce deadlines and encourage late comers but be cautious about spending too much effort on the laggards.  Ensure to all that it is the committed who drive the bus.

The Neutral Zone–Stage 2 of Change

“I’m confused.” 

“I’m unsure of my role in the new system.”

“The change is creating extra work for me.”

“We should be further along than we are.”

The comments above reflect team member concerns during Stage 2 of change.  Bill Bridges identifies Stage 2 as the Neutral Zone.  Some members continue to cling to the old ways, and most do not have a clear vision of the new.  Confusion, uncertainty, impatience, and fear may generate low morale, anxiety and skepticism during this stage.

Stay with targeted deadlines during the Neutral Zone but avoid the temptation to press issues.  Rather, consider deprioritizing some items and perhaps offer additional resources where practical.  

To guide members through the Neutral Zone, let people know that their concerns are normal.  Focus on short-term operational goals and key performance indicators (KPI’s).  Display metrics that show progress toward outcomes and give individuals frequent feedback on their individual contributions. 

Depending on the complexity of the change, the Neutral Zone may last for weeks or even months.  Just know that unsettling concerns and emotions are a normal and they will eventually pass.

Letting Go–The First Stage of Leading Change

(Part 1 of 3)

A project manager reported to me, “My team was very excited about our software upgrade.  We were having a lot of issues with our old system.” 

“I hear a ‘but’ coming,” I responded. 

“Yes, even though we noticed immediate improvements, some were reluctant to use many of the new features.  I guess people just don’t like change.”

Change consultant, Bill Bridges, explains that it is the transition, not the change, that some resist.  And Richards offers three stages of transition to the new:  letting go, the neutral zone, and the new beginning.

Whether change is perceived as good or bad, all changes require that people let go of something they are familiar with—a daily routine, contact with a peer, a meeting time, a routine report, etc. At this stage, people may feel fearful, saddened, frustrated or uncertain.

The first step in engaging members to accept the new is to help them let go of the old.  Encourage talk about memories and stories of the old while providing meaningful training and support for the new.  Most of us fear the unknown.  Show how skills and knowledge of the old will be essential in making the new work.  Accept that struggles in letting go are real.