I’ll Be Your Huckelberry

During a management meeting, the president said, “I’m not sure we can save the Western Division. Sales continue to decline, employees keep quitting and morale is in the pits.”

Managers sat quietly, fidgeting with their devices and avoiding eye contact. After what seemed like an eternity—probably fifteen or twenty seconds—Albertson spoke up, “I’m your Huckleberry!”

All eyes turned to Albertson. “What did you say?” asked the president.

“I’d like to lead the division,” replied Albertson. “I think we need to replace a couple of people, reduce the number of brands, and improve relationships with our dealers. Give me six months. Then we can reevaluate.”

When you observe a troubled department, consider volunteering to lead the group. But first, make sure you are empowered to replace personnel and improve customer service. If you do these two things, you have a chance of improving performance. Higher management will see great value in you. That’s how legends are made.

Of course, there is a chance you will fail; but if management has already labeled the department “terminal,” you will not likely be stigmatized.

The phrase, “I’ll be you huckleberry,” apparently appeared among the Knights of King Arthur and more recently as a movie line from Doc Holiday to Wyatt Earp. Translation, “I’m the person for the job.”


What Young Leaders Can Learn from Wild Horses

horse-herd-17Leaders should focus on executing current processes (Make the trains run on time.); and, at the same time, strive for improvements.  (Build a better mousetrap.)

Executing current processes—most leaders do well; making things better—not so much.

A new manager said, “I’ve offered a suggestion here and there.  Usually, I get the response, ‘We’ve already tried that.’  Eventually, I quit trying.”

Horses in the wild, like humans in organizations, exist in groups and both establish rules for membership.  Among horse herds and human groups, the more experienced, smarter, and established members are reluctant to allow lessors to modify the current order.

Occasionally, however, a young ambitious colt will persistently challenge herd order and achieve greater influence.

I recall a CEO of a food franchise saying, “One of our new managers wanted to add a salad bar in his restaurant.  I said ‘Our customers won’t pay for salads.’  The new manager kept pestering me but I wouldn’t relent.”

Eventually, the store manager, acting like an ambitious and persistent young colt, took a risk and installed a salad bar.  Customers flocked to the salad bar—eventually the CEO required all stores to have salad bars.

The take-a-way for young leaders is, “Don’t underestimate the power of persistence!”

The Paradox of Power: Part 2

power-corrupts-16Ralph was a bright, young financial analyst who quickly gained the respect of all.  Co-workers described Ralph as insightful, cooperative, helpful and quick to assist others.

When the department manager retired, the CEO promoted Ralph to head the financial analysis team.  Because of his unusual talent and cooperative nature, the financial team was very supportive of Ralph’s promotion.

Over the next several months, team members noticed changes in Ralph’s demeanor.  “I don’t know what has happened to Ralph,” said one, “but he has become very impatient.”  Another said, “Ralph tends to get defensive if you disagree with him.”  A third said, “Ralph is more closed with information, and I saw him act vindictively toward a team member who questioned his decision.”

Psychology professor, Dacher Keltner, in his book The Power Paradox, suggests that power often tempts many leaders to hide unflattering data, manipulate, exaggerate, and punish those who do not support.

Said differently, leaders acquire power by being open, helpful, transparent, and supportive.  But when they achieve power, many leaders become more closed, manipulative and punitive.  

British historian, Lord Action said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Effective leaders guard against corrupting practices by surrounding themselves with capable people who have the courage to say, “But the emperor has no clothes.”

The Paradox of Power: Part 1

power-16“You can’t tell employees everything,” explained a manager.  “You have to select information that persuades them to do what you need.  There are things I do not tell my people.”

Another manager disagreed, “I think you have to tell all—the good the bad the ugly.   Even if the information is harmful to my position, I get it out.  If employees are going to follow your lead, they have to trust you to tell it like it is.”

Psychology professor, Dacher Keltner, in his book The Power Paradox, quotes numerous studies to show that most (not all) organizational leaders gain power by giving away the tools of influence.

Leaders rise in power by being grateful, generous and collaborative with their employees.  Followers believe these leaders to be looking out for the good of the whole and they want to contribute.

Leaders who try to influence by concealing, manipulating and deceiving actually lose power.  Employees eventually band together and, with the strength of numbers, refuse to execute the leaders’ directives.

Many of us, no doubt at some time in our career, have worked for a certified jerk.  Hopefully, we have also experienced leaders who downplayed their personal achievements while being grateful and generous in recognizing the help of others.

When it comes to giving the “extra effort” on an important assignment, the collaborative and generous leader gets my vote.