Coach’em Hard and Hug’em Later


“He was tough and he was hard; as tough a man as I have ever known.”

“He kept pushing and pushing and pushing.’

“He drove you to exhaustion but was the most compassionate person I have known.”

“He suspended Joe Namath and Ken Stabler–two of his greatest quarterbacks–for breaking team rules.”

“He would tear you up on the field and then bring you into his office and ask how your Mom was doing.”

“He would find ways to help his players without letting them know that he was helping them.”

“He would jump in front of a bullet for his players.”

“He could pull people together, unify them and get them to commit to the mission.”

“His harsh, tongue lashings were not personal, he simply wanted to make you better.”

These are comments from players and coaches led by Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary football coach.

Today, a street, a museum and a stadium display Paul Bryant’s name.  And more than seven hundred children of his former players have received generous university scholarships from the Bryant Scholarship Fund.

Of course, there are critics of Bryant’s methods.  And many of his practices are surely not appropriate for most corporate cultures.  Still, I think the leadership philosophy of “Demand a lot and care for the person.” is a sound one.

Employees and Leaders Benefit From Unequivocal Confirmation


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.”

“Like what?”

“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.

Sometimes Leaders Must Choose Between Mission and Morale


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.

Leaders May Sometimes Need to Temporarily “Burn” a Relationship


“I have a good relationship with Fred,” the manager commented.  “He is a good performer and team player, but he continues making excuses for not using our new scheduling system.”

“What are Fred’s reasons for not using the system?”

“I’m not sure Fred’s concerns are legitimate, but he says the new system requires too much documentation and takes too much time.”

“Does Fred’s failure to comply cause problems?”

“Oh yes!  We have to do time-consuming work-arounds.”

“Tell Fred that you will treat failure to comply as insubordination.”

“He would not like that.  It would surely dent our relationship.”

The manager is very conflicted.  Maintaining a good relationship means extra work and sets a bad example for others.  Requiring compliance burns a good relationship with a high performer.

Effective leaders are both demanding and friendly.  But sometimes they must require others (even friends) to do things they resist.  Such actions may cause the relationship needle to point south.

If fractured relationships reach critical mass, staff may in effect “fire” the leader.  Resisting staffers apply so much pressure that higher authorities decide they are better off with the leader being gone.

When leaders consciously sacrifice relationships in service to the mission, it is imperative that these leaders, in the following weeks, make every effort to restore their relationships.

 

Leaders Don’t Get Too Far Ahead of the Herd


Because the firm had been performing like an eighth-place team in an eight-team league, the board fired the president and hired Eldrin Wassermann.

Mr. Wassermann, who looked, dressed and talked like a leader announced in an all-hands meeting, “Our goal is to be number one in our industry.  We have a plan for increasing sales by twenty percent next year and we are going to double our revenue in three years.”

Wassermann refurbished facilities, ordered new technology, redid the landscaping, painted everything and transformed meetings into motivational speeches.

Year One sales increased only five percent; Year Two sales increased three percent.  Midway through Year Three, the board removed Wassermann.

Wassermann had a dreamy and unrealistic view of what he could accomplish.  Pie-in-the-sky visions are not enough for success; reality engulfs them in a beat down.  No matter the enthusiasm or the charisma, leaders cannot perform miracles simply by announcing they are going to perform a miracle.

Leaders who try to go from worst to first overnight get too far ahead of reality.  The team soon loses focus and commitment wanders.  Frustration follows.  Bickering, blaming and covering up sap energies.  If you are in tenth place, figure out how to get to ninth place and then learn how to be a little better the next year.

As the late Will Rogers said, “If you are riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to see if it is still there.”

 

Do You Participate in “Passing the Trash”?


In a hallway conversation Alberta said to a peer, “I’m having trouble with Wilks (an employee).  The Western Division manager highly recommended him.  He said Wilks would like to move to my territory because it was closer to home. I think Wilks is capable but his performance is pretty weak.”

The peer responded, “Well, why don’t you recommend him to another department?”

“I’ve thought about it.  It’s going to be hard to terminate Wilks.  Maybe he would work better under a different manager.”

Alberta faces a common dilemma.  If she recommends Wilks to another group, Alberta is just passing the problem along.  If Alberta recommends termination for Wilks, it looks like she is unable to get Wilks to perform.  Recall Wilk’s previous manager gave him a good recommendation.  If Alberta accepts Wilks’ sub-par performance, it will be unfair to others in her group.

I suggest that Alberta communicate clear expectations to Wilks.  If Wilks does not meet these expectations, he would be subject to consequences–including termination.  Alberta should also communicate to the Western Division Manager and to her immediate manager what she plans to do.

Because of the energy and effort it takes to terminate employees, I think too many large organizations handle problematic employees by continuing to move them from one position to another.  Employees refer to a once-popular card game–“Pass the Trash,”–to label this management practice.

 

Front-Line Supervisors–Two Different Approaches


Here is a brief account of what employees of two front-line supervisors said about their leaders.

Josie’s staff members commented:

“Josie is available and we can go to her at any time, but she does not look over our shoulders all of the time.”

“I’ll tell you one thing; you know where you stand with Josie.  She sure lets you know when she is disappointed with you.”

“I overheard Josie talking with her peers.  She was really bragging on us.”

Crew members who worked for Alexis had different comments.

“He is on the floor all of the time.  He knows how he wants things done and he watches us like a hawk.”

“I like that Alexis is very good about recommending people for salary increases and promotions.”

“Alexis is very smart.  He can do every job out here and he can do most of them better than anyone here.  He loves to talk about the work.”

Although both groups were doing similar work in the same company, Josie’s team performed significantly better.

Research by Sartain and Baker appearing in the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, conclude that the more effective front-line managers:  (1) allow employees a little more freedom; (2) they are more direct with performance feedback; and (3) they talk about their employees more than the work itself.