Don’t Make Your Job Hard


Part 2 of 3

“I was in management for a few weeks when a large company bought us,” Willard explained.  “The new owners said there would be no major changes.  But in the first month, they required us to transition to their IT system for tracking job status and costs.”

Willard continued, “I understood why the new company wanted consistent processes, but my staff was very confident in our current system.  A tug of war ensued between my staff and corporate.”

“How did you handle that?” I asked.

Willard said, “I waffled back and forth between supporting management and advocating for my employees.  My team fell behind schedule.  Corporate officials grew impatient and told me to get my group in compliance.  At the same time, my people became frustrated because they thought I was not supportive enough.  I just felt like I was caught in a vise.”

Managers who try to straddle the fence between their team members’ wishes and corporate requirements just make their jobs hard.  Willard’s job would have been easier had he explained corporate’s reasons and said something like, “I’m confident we can meet the schedule for transitioning to the new system, and I’ll support you every way I can.”

 

Don’t Make Your Job Hard


(Part 1 of 3)

“How do you like your new job?” I asked Willard who was promoted from a skilled position into management.

“It’s a much bigger challenge that I expected,” he replied.  “The first few weeks were fine.  Everyone seemed cooperative.  But more recently it just seems to be one thing after another.”

Willard and I continued talking and surfaced practices that were actually making his job harder.

For example, Willard spent a lot of time coaching, retraining and helping a staff member whose performance, at best, was marginal.  The staff member, a long-time employee, had never been great but Willard liked the person and was dead-set on making him better.

Even though Willard spent weeks coaching and mentoring, performance did not increase; but the employee’s frustration and resentment did.  The stress needle for the entire team popped hard to the right.

I suppose it is conventional wisdom that managers can improve departmental performance by strengthening the weakest link in the chain.  And the temptation to help struggling performers is even greater when they are friendly.

However, managers who focus their efforts on their lowest producers—and all departments have one or more employees who consistently produce less than others—simply make their job harder.  You can make your job easier by accepting this truth.

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 Communicate with a Difficult Boss


“My vice-president is hard to work with,” a manager said to me.

“Do others feel the same way?” I asked.

“Yes, there is general frustration.”

“Exactly, what does the vice president do that causes stress?”

“His meetings last way too long and we still do not agree on what we need to do. He sometimes gives different messages to our staff members than to us.  When someone brings up an issue, he listens.  Then he joins others in identifying why it is an issue, but we do not identify a solution.”

When experiencing noisome relations with someone (including your boss), it is necessary to communicate honestly with the person.  But communication with another about a troubling behavior is akin to walking on tacks.

Pick one, and only one, issue and avoid any mention of what you think the boss may be doing wrong.  Rather, begin with something like, “I think we may be missing some opportunities here.  During our meetings, how about I list the options being discussed?  At some point, I can summarize the ideas and see if we can get support for one of them.”

Don’t expect an immediate miracle turnaround.  Be patient, stay the course, and look for small improvements.

 

Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice!


At a crucial point in the game, the coach yelled, “Take care of the ball!  We’ve had two fumbles already.  We don’t need another one.”  All players focus on “don’t fumble” and too often there is a fumble or another mistake.

Managers see repeated mistakes as something akin to the pneumonic plague and admonish the team with, “We are supposed to learn from our mistakes–not keep making them!”

To reduce repeated mistakes, consider three approaches.

One, shine the spotlight brightly on successes, no matter how small.  Start catching employees doing things right.  Cheer all improvements.  Managers who focus strongly on mistakes, like coaches who prioritize fumble avoidance, create tense environments which actually contribute to error-making.

Two, require checklists whenever appropriate.  Pilots who have successfully performed hundreds of take-offs and landings still complete checklists.  Why?  Checklists are proven devices for reducing mistakes.

Three, consider removing an employee from a task if, after training and experience, the employee continues making dumb mistakes.  All tasks, no matter how simple, require some degree of talent to be performed well.  Remember Shaquille O’Neil, after untold hours of practice, could not improve his free-throw shooting.

You Behavior at Holiday Parties Counts


“I guess I should not have had that last drink,” Fred commented.  “But it was a party.  We were having a good time.  The vice president was in worse shape than I was.  I don’t think anyone will hold it against me.”

At the annual holiday party, Fred a front-line manager, had apparently told a couple of off-color jokes and sang a karaoke tune loudly and badly.  And that was after he spilled his food dish into the lap of one of his staff member’s spouses.

Like it or not, you are the leader twenty-four-seven.  Your behavior off-the-job, on the weekend, at the grocery store or during annual celebrations impacts your leadership.

Whenever and wherever you make a fool of yourself, descriptions of the incident will get back to your workplace; it may even be on YouTube.  And you can bet that all unprofessional behaviors will negatively impact your leadership effectiveness.

Do attend your company events and use the experience to enhance your leadership.  Initiate greetings with your staff and family members.  Make it a point to say something nice.  Visit with people from other departments.  Express your appreciation for their contributions.  Ask others about their personal interests.  Minimize the alcohol.