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.

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.

 

You Are Only as Good as Your Team


At the time Helena was promoted to supervisor, the crew was successfully assembling about thirty vacuum cleaner components per shift—the lowest among twelve teams at three different sites.

“I knew I had to do something,” said Helena.  “I began coaching our slower, mistake-prone employees.  Most appreciated my help.  We did reduce our rework a bit and assemblies increased to about thirty-three per shift–still way to low.”

Eventually, Helena extended her training efforts to all employees.  Most seemed thankful but production remained flat.

Next, Helena began strictly enforcing attendance policies.  “Some employees grumbled,” she said.  “A couple quit. Four weeks later we were producing only about thirty-five assemblies per shift.”

“Having run out of options,” Helena lamented, “I bit the bullet and released two of my lowest performers.  I felt bad.  I knew they had bills to pay but they just couldn’t do the work.”

Over the next few months, Helena replaced more low producers with better workers.  Production quickly improved to forty per shift.  And after two more months, Helena’s team set a company record of fifty-two units.

As Dominique Wilkins, the former NBA basketball great said, “You are only as good as your team.”

To Get “Buy-In,” Ask People To Do What They Are Capable of Doing


Shortly after Julie Walsh assumed the role of plant manager, she discussed with her front-line supervisors the need to reduce rework.

“During the last three quarters,” Julie announced, “only about fifty percent of our product passes all inspections on the first effort.  I think we need to get this down to ten percent by the end of six months.”

“That’s too much,” responded a supervisor.  “We won’t get buy-in from our employees.”

“How do you suggest we get buy-in?”

“Well, I think we need to discuss these metrics with the employees and get their suggestions on what is realistic.”

“Based on my experiences, with the changes we are implementing, I believe this is realistic.”

“You may think the goal is realistic, but I’m not sure our employees think it is.”

Push back is common when leaders ask employees to step up their performances.  Many leaders respond by asking employees for their opinions.  This usually results in some haggling followed by an eventual compromise and grumbling on all sides.

Leaders, in my view, have a good idea of what their people are capable of achieving.  When leaders’ and employees’ perceptions differ, as they often do; I say leaders should stick with their opinions.

At the end of the period, we may hear from employees, “I didn’t think we could do it.”  From leaders, the winning comment is, “I knew you could.”

Avoid Complaining, Explaining and Blaming


During a regular monthly meeting, the general manager (GM) prodded division manager Darrel Winston.  “Darrel,” said the GM, “your actual- to-planned revenue is underwater.”

“I know,” complained Darrel,” I’m dealing with some new customer contacts and they are questioning everything.  Every time new people come on board, they think they have to rework our agreements.”

The next month, Darrel is behind again and he explained, “Well, it took me awhile to reassure my new contacts.  That has caused a delay in approving shipments.  I think my numbers will look pretty good next month.”

But Darrel’s numbers did not look so good the following month and Darrel blamed regulations.  “The new environmental regulations are ridiculous.  I’ve spent a full two weeks compiling data to meet some bureaucrat’s red tape demands.”

Low performers who react by complaining, explaining or blaming see themselves as victims–as in “Woe is me; I must be the unluckiest human on the planet.”

Victims are not motivated to change their behaviors.  Rather, they focus on selling their victimhood and escaping accountability.   From low performers, I want to hear sincere commitments to improve supported by thoughtful actions intended to put a charge in their performance.

As one wit said, “Just because you can explain what happened does not mean that you get to keep your job.”

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.”