Under Pressure, Effective Leaders Slow Their Metabolism


During a passionate discussion regarding a warranty issue with an important customer, comments bounced around the conference table like ping pong balls.

“I think the customer abused the product.”

“Our assembly instructions were very clear.”

“My team offered help many times; they said they did not need help.”

“We are probably going to have similar problems with other customers.”

“I say let the attorneys resolve the issue.”

Under pressure, some leaders (like athletes) rise to the occasion and perform superbly.  Others “choke” and flounder.  What is the difference?

Stressful events arouse primal instincts which encourage fight (attack weaknesses) or flight (protect yourself by escaping).  These forces, in current society, may lead to rash decisions and/or destructive behaviors

In the discussion on warranty issues, voices grew louder, more persistent and even harsh.  Defensive comments flourished and non-verbals leaned aggressive.  Suggestions focused on blaming the customer (fight) or establishing procedures designed to protect the company (flight).  There was little effort to summarize or analyze rational options.

High-pressure performers slow their heart rates, breathe normally, relax their muscles, remain calm and speak confidently.  Frenzied actions appear to slow down. Important data separates itself from jumbled facts.  Clouds dissolve.  Murky situations clarify.  The path forward opens.  Winning decisions and productive behaviors occur.

Effective Leaders Make Hard Decisions


An administrator of a group of professionals said to me, “My team knows more about their responsibilities than I do.  I rely heavily on their input for major decisions.”

“Are there times when your team disagrees?” I asked.

“Oh sure.  But we talk it out.  Sometimes, when there are strong opinions, we may postpone a decision until we have more information.”

When I talked to team members, I got a different perception.  One said, “Our administrator does not like to make decisions.  We discuss and discuss.  Sometimes we put important decisions off too long.”

Another said, “Eventually, we grow weary of discussing and agree to things we may not even support.”

I think many leaders, under the guise of participative leadership, allow discussions to continue to a numbing point.  Fatigue sets in and members accept a compromised, water-down decision just to get rid of it.  In addition to a weakened decision, members show little passion for executing.

It is important, I believe, for leaders to get input from their team members when making complex decisions.  However, decision making is a key responsibility of leadership. Effective leaders collect data, offer suggestions, seek input and then make clear and unequivocal decisions.

How to Survive an Inept Boss


As Samuel described his former leader, “He just didn’t know what he is doing.  He trusted no one and tried to control everything.”

“How did you handle it?” I asked.

“I focused on doing my job well.  I did not want to give him any basis for criticizing my work.”

“Did employees complain about the leader?”

“Absolutely, constantly.  I listened but did not offer advice.

“Did you have a candid conversation with your manager about how he could improve?”

“I didn’t even try.  I knew he wouldn’t listen.”

“Did you go around your manager to talk to higher ups?”

“I did not.  I assumed they knew.  And if they didn’t know, I don’t think they would have listened to me.”

“Why didn’t you quit?”

“I liked my job.  I liked the company and I had bills to pay.”

The employee further explained that he would often help others with their work challenges, and many started coming to him with their questions.  In spite of their frustrations, the team performed fairly well.

Efforts by employees to “fix” an inept leader’s faults rarely work.  While quitting is always an option, a better initial strategy may be to continue performing well and help others.

Coaching Tone May Make A Difference


Elsie admitted that she had a tendency to procrastinate and get distracted. Her manager said, “Elsie, I expect you to verify all invoices, complete payments on time and enter data into the computer accurately.  Otherwise, there could be consequences.”

Elsie improved for about four weeks, then she drifted into carelessness—making mistakes and missing deadlines.

The manager said, “I like Elise but I get frustrated because I have to spend too much time micromanaging her.”

Eventually, Elise’s manager was transferred. Her new manager commented, “After observing Elsie’s performance for a couple of weeks, I sat down with her and in a friendly way worked out checklists and deadlines for completing her tasks.  At least weekly, I reviewed with Elsie her work.

The manager “thanked” Elsie for even her slightest improvements and patiently noted mistakes.  Elsie quickly apologized and immediately corrected the errors.

After about four months, Elsie’s performance, while not perfect, became much more reliable.  “Eventually,” her manager said, “I got acceptable performance from Elsie by asking her to give me weekly updates on her metrics.”

Elsie said, “My first manager made me very nervous.  I knew he didn’t like me, but I really like my current manager.  I don’t want to disappoint her.”

 

 

When Placed in Command, Take Charge


Ellis, a newly-appointed supervisor joked to his group, “Well, I guess they couldn’t find anyone else to take the job.  I’ve worked alongside you for three years.  You know what to do.”

In another division, Janice was also promoted from her group to be the supervisor.  On her first day, she held a meeting and laid out her expectations.

“My top priorities are: (1) we meet our quality metric 100% of the time, (2) meet 98% of all deadlines, (2) improve customer satisfaction scores by 15%, and comply with all attendance and safety policies.”

Performance in Ellis’ group actually declined.  One employee said, “Some just waited to be told what to do; others more or less plodded along with half-hearted efforts.”

By contrast, one of Janice’s employees reported.  “We all knew what she expected and we stayed focused.  Both performance and morale soared.”

As the late General Schwarzkopf said, “When placed in command, take charge.”

This does not mean that you know everything, refuse to listen, rule by fear or turn into a dictator.  It does mean that you should have a plan, be clear, stay humble, listen and act like a leader—a good one.

All Employees Are the Same; All Are Different


Eric’s manager said to me, “Eric will not take initiative. He knows his job but does only what I tell him to do.”

“What have you tried?” I asked.

“I’ve told him to do what he thinks needs to be done and don’t wait around for me to give him an assignment. He wasn’t responsive, so I started giving him detailed checklists.”

“How did that work?”

“Not so well.  Eric made a half-hearted effort to do a few things but mostly he just conjured up excuses.”

Effective leaders are attentive to each employees’ uniqueness.  Some like detailed instructions, some like broad guidance.   Some like public praise but public attention embarrasses others.  Pressure motivates some people to rise to the occasion, others buckle.

If your current way of dealing with an employee is not producing the desired results, then change your methods.

Since micromanaging did not work with Eric, maybe the leader could try giving him specific outcomes with deadlines and a lot of freedom in performing his tasks.

Of course, if a leader tries several ways to motivate an employee and none seem to work, it is likely that the employee just does not have the talent or commitment to perform.

Tell Employees Now or Wait?


Maybe Yes No Red Dice Representing Uncertainty And Decisions

“I’ve just reviewed our recent performance data, and we may need to change some work assignments,” the vice president reported in his Monday morning management meeting.  “But I want you to keep this in the room for now.  I’ll know more in a couple of weeks.  We can communicate the changes at that time.”

Although the vice president’s decision represents a typical approach, the result is usually exaggerated rumors and fear.

In most employee surveys, among the highest ranked items is, “the need to know about changes that impact me.”

“I believe in quickly communicating changes,” a manager said to me.  “But I don’t want employees worrying about things until we know for sure what we are doing.”

Employees are great at reading the tea leaves.  They notice whether orders have ticked up or down, and whether their managers spend more or less time in meetings, on the phone or traveling.  Many employees have contact with customers, vendors, information technology staff, regulators and truck drivers; all of which are information sources.

I say it is far better to err on the side of communicating too much too soon.  Employees will have greater confidence in leaders and the rumor mill will be less active.