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.”

 

A Thin Line Separates Leaders from Followers


“As I discussed options for resolving a major issue, I realized that my team was divided,” a manager said to me.

“What is your position?” I asked.

“I have an idea but I’m not too confident.  I’m sure the vocal members of my team oppose my view.”

“Have you clearly stated your position?”

“Probably not. At this point, I guess I’m inclined to go along with the strong voices on my team.”

Should leaders listen to their team members?  Yes.  Should leaders voice their positions?  Yes.  Should leaders persuade and be persuaded?  Yes.

Then how do leaders handle divisions created by muscular voices promoting contradictory solutions?  This dilemma, I believe, is the thin line between leading boldly and following aggressively.  Persons in leadership positions who simply strive to get in front of a parade are not leaders.

When facing critical issues, often more complicated than the tax code, real leaders birth their own vision and create their own parade.  They may observe, listen, consume data, consider several alternatives–even encounter multiple failures—but their passion, regardless of obstacles, promotes their unique dream.

Leaders who are blessed with insight plus high moral and ethical standards lead us to greatness.  Leadership that is absent of moral and ethical standards take us down a rabbit hole.

 

How to Lead During Turbulent Times

Image


“It seemed that every time I turned around, something broke or blew up,” Eric said.  “In a weak economy, we lost two major accounts, a new product roll out was behind schedule, and a warehouse burned.”

Eric explained further that his team members exchanged numerous phone calls, emails and held many meetings.  Another manager said, “It was total chaos.  There was no system.  Members interrupted each other and did not listen.  Suggestions bounced around randomly.  A few focused on blaming someone or something.  A ‘woe is me’ pall emerged.”

Eventually, Eric’s vice president joined the meetings and put forth a way to proceed that included the following:

  1. Rank the issues according to impact on mission.
  1. Identify actions to address the high-priority issues.
  1. Make decisions quickly and do not strive for consensus.
  1. Assign “owners” to carry out the action plans.
  1. Review actions weekly and adjust.

Some leaders mistakenly attempt to resolve all of the issues simultaneously.  Others allow too much discussion.  Input is important but incessant bickering eventually sucks up all of the team’s energy; members become dispirited and lose focus.

In short, avoid spending time on forces beyond your control, make decisions on high-impact issues and adjust as you go.

 

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.

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.

 

The Participative Planning Illusion


(Part 2 of 2 Parts)

After assuming his CEO role, Harris’s message to employees was, “I believe we have a lot of opportunities for bringing on new products and improving our promotions.”  Harris further explained that he had scheduled a retreat with his seven direct reports to firm up a strategic plan.

Prior to the retreat, Harris and his team researched industry trends, competitors’ strategies, and the company’s internal strengths and weaknesses.

During the retreat Harris unfolded his vision of investing heavily in product development and changing promotions to rely more on social media and celebrity sponsors.

After vigorous and extensive debates, team members enthusiastically agreed that they emerged from the retreat with sound plans for improving products and promotions.

Following the retreat, Harris and his team presented goals, timetables and metrics to all operating managers.  After making a few modifications based on managers’ suggestions, all divisions understood and readily accepted their responsibilities.

The antidote to the illusion of participative planning is for the leader to initiate a clear vision and strategies.  Of course, the leader should encourage suggestions and accept improvements.   Also, particular departments should have some latitude in how they execute their contributions to the plan.