It’s the opening game of the season. The receiver for the home team takes the kickoff in the end zone and fearlessly charges up field.
The standing crowd claps and cheers as the under-sized scat-back flattens three defenders on his way to the fifteen-yard line. Spectators continue to roar.
Why? The youngster made a bad decision that cost the team five yards. If the receiver had downed the ball in the end zone, his team would have begun play on the twenty-yard line.
The crowd cheered because the youngster gave a heck of an effort, even though the result was less than desired. Fans and coaches know that fan approval motivates the team to continue striving during broken plays, fumbles and interceptions.
During the game, players (and coaches) make many mistakes; but fans seldom boo their home team. (By contrast, referees make very few mistakes and fans frequently yell bad words at the refs.)
Some days stuff happens. When stress and blood pressure rises, it is tempting for leaders to show their displeasure (“boo”) to employees. But this may be just the time that a loud cheer for “effort” is more beneficial.
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.
Wednesday morning, an employee said to his manager, “I need to take Thursday and Friday off.”
“Why?” the manager asked.
“My parents are passing through on their way to Colorado. They want to spend a couple of days with us.”
“I can’t let you off this week. You got to finish your cost estimates by Friday.”
“I’ve got most of the work done. Someone else can complete it.”
“I don’t have anyone else. You’ll have to work Thursday and Friday.”
Almost two thirds of the supervisors I survey say that morale is more important than performance. I agree that employee morale is very important. However, there are times when leaders must choose between morale and mission.
Unless the employee situation is extraordinary–an unexpected illness of a family member for example–I suggest that leaders prioritize mission.
By denying the employee’s request, the leader chose mission over morale. The employee fumed and complained bitterly to his peers, but he did stay and complete his project.
To avoid permanent morale loss, the leader will need to find some way in the coming weeks to reward the employee for his sacrifice. While leaders can survive short-term morale dips, few can successfully cope with long-term, low morale.
Askov, an employee, says to his manager, “I don’t work very well with Renfro.”
“What’s the problem?” the manager replied.
“He’s hard to communicate with. He doesn’t listen. Never makes eye contact. When I ask him about something, he doesn’t give me a good answer. It makes it hard for me to do my job.”
It appears that Askov is surfacing a problem between him and Renfro and asking the manager for help. However, Askov is most likely setting a trap for the manager.
Should the manager investigate, he will likely discover that Renfro has a very different take if he has an opinion at all. The manager may have the detective skills of a Scotland Yard lifer, but he will not likely be able to resolve the issue to Askov’s satisfaction.
However, Askov now has cover and does not have to be accountable for his behavior. After all, if the manager could not fix Renfro, why should Askov be expected to do so?
When employees try to give you assignments, don’t take them. The manager could have mirrored Askov’s communication, as in, “So you and Renfro are not working together so well?” Likely the manager will get from Askov, “That’s right, Renfro can’t communicate.”
Then the manager can refuse Askov’s assignment with a, “How can you deal with that and still get your work done?”