Category Archives: Leadership

If We Lie Down with Dogs

If we lie down with dogs, the saying goes, we get up with fleas.

We become like those people we hang out with. We are programmed with mirror neurons to imitate those around us. Human learning is based on imitation. We connect with those around us because we imitate them, their mannerisms, their language, their behavior. One person yawns, contagious. Our mirror neurons cannot resist.

In paleolithic times, this was survival. Walking down the path, confronted with our friend, we can see the terror in his face. Our mirror neurons kick in and contort our face identical. That contortion stimulates hormones in our body so we feel the same fear, the same panic to turn around and run. We do not have to see the dinosaur to feel the fear, we only have to see our friend’s face. The good news is that we do not have to outrun the dinosaur, we only have to outrun our friend.

We are programmed to be like those around us. Beware who you hang out with. You will become like them.

Be intentional about who you hang out with. You will become like them.

Slide Food Under the Door

“Why, do you think the company made you a manager, last week?” I asked.

“I am not really sure,” Maggie replied. “Many, on my team, have been here longer than me. They are smarter than me. They are older than me. And most of them are men.”

“All true,” I smiled. “So, why you?”

“My manager told me, things run better when I am around.”

“And, why do you think that happens?”

Maggie paused. “These guys are really smart. Engineers, you know. But, they don’t seem to work together very well. It’s not like they fight, they just focus on their own work, without thinking of what is going on around them.”

“And, you?”

“I knock,” Maggie laughed. “I knock and slide food under the door. Not really. I pull them out of their shell, get them to talk to each other. In that instant, they can be quite helpful to each other. Doesn’t seem like a big thing, but, bigger problems get solved when that happens.”

“So, why do you think the company made you a manager, last week?”

If Nothing Changed

“Everything seems to change, every day,” Charlotte whispered. She felt the change, but never said the words.

If nothing changed in your company, what would your team members do at work, today?

They would continue to do the same thing they did the day before. And life would be good.

But things do change, and that is why you have a job as a manager. Change is your job security. As long as there is change, you will have a job to do.

As your customers change, specifications change, technologies change, your role as a manager is to modify systems and processes to accommodate those changes.

The more things change, the more your company needs competent managers.

No Drill Sergeants in the Jungle

Drill sergeants yell and scream and get results. Why can’t a manager?

Most of us have either worked underneath or know a manager who behaves like a drill sergeant. The descriptions come easy. He runs a tight ship. He manages like his haircut.

But, it occurred to me, there are no drill sergeants in the jungle. Let’s say a squad is on patrol in hostile territory and one team member falls behind, cannot keep the pace. There is no drill sergeant around to demand 50 pushups. There is no yelling in the jungle. Communication may be whispered or signaled, but there is no “I can’t hear yooouuu!”

Drill sergeants work in an artificial environment called training. Their purpose is to instill discipline to exact trained behaviors. Managers work in the jungle. It’s real in the jungle. Production is real. Quality is real. Customer satisfaction is real.

As a manager, the next time you have the urge to yell like a drill sergeant, you might find a whisper more effective.

To Kill A Project

Apoplectic, enraged, irate, spitting mad. That described how Theo felt during his brief encounter with Brad. Two weeks ago, they sat in a delegation meeting, everything according to plan. But here they were, three hours to deadline and the project had not been started. Theo’s ears rang as Brad defended himself, “But you never came by to check on the project, I thought it wasn’t important anymore. So, I never started it. You should have said something.”

Lack of follow-up kills projects. In the chaos of the impending deadline, the manager gets caught up, personally starts, works and finishes the project, often with the team standing by, watching.

One small change dramatically changes the way this delegation plays out.

Follow-up. Schedule not one, not two, but, three or four quick follow-up meetings to ensure the project is on track. Segment the project, and schedule the follow-up meetings right up front, in the planning stages of the project. Check-ins are more likely to happen if they are on the calendar.

Just a Little Bit of Truth

One inch higher on the left and the magnetic white board would be level. It had been the subject of much speculation on the shop floor that morning. There were several theories floating around, but no one had correctly guessed what the boss had in mind.

While the shop floor was organized according to a logical work flow, production had gotten further and further behind. The right jobs were late, the wrong jobs were early.

Last Friday, the boss had taken an informal poll. “George,” he said, “tell me, how do you know if we are ahead of schedule or behind schedule?” It was a fair question, but one that George did not know how to answer. “Well, boss, I guess if we were behind schedule, someone would come out here and tell us.”

It was an interesting response, seeing as how the floor was running only 28% on-time delivery. The boss walked over to the foreman’s office, leaned in and asked, “Say, John, when we are behind schedule, which I know is most of the time, do we ever tell anyone out on the shop floor?”

“Oh, no, boss, if we did that, they might get discouraged and quit.” Another interesting response.

You see, the boss had just heard of an experiment in a plant where they simply published production numbers on a daily basis to everyone in the plant. Every time there was an improvement over the previous day, the manager would circulate and thank everyone. No bonuses, no pizza, just a complimentary remark. The slow group in the plant improved from 83% efficiency to 87% efficiency. The fast group, however, improved from 96% efficiency to 162% efficiency (62% beyond predicted capacity.)

One inch higher on the left and the magnetic white board would be level. I wonder what your numbers would be?

The Managerial Fishbowl

Most managers are unaware of the fishbowl in which they live. Years ago, I received some sage advice from one of my scoutmasters as a young patrol leader. “When you look at your own behavior in front of the other scouts, remember, you can’t go take a pee without everyone knowing about it.”

Every move a manager makes is amplified and remembered. If a manager arrives at work and walks past the receptionist without saying, “Good morning,” well, then, the business MUST be going down the tubes.

Jules Feiffer, a famous cartoonist, used to have a series he called, Little Murders in which he depicted the little murders we each commit every day. Little Murders we commit, often without intention or even awareness. We may not be aware, but it is still a Little Murder.

Who did you walk by today, without stopping, without a cheery remark, without a smile? How many Little Murders did you commit today? Remember, amplification works in the other direction, too. A few moments, a kind word, a warm handshake, a listening nod may make all the difference in a team member’s day.

The Underlying Problem

Often, the problem we seek to solve is only a symptom of something underneath. We examine the symptom to identify its root cause. And, sometimes, even root cause analysis fails us.

Sometimes, the root cause does not lie in the problem, but in the way we see the problem. The way we talk about a problem is a function of what we believe, our assumptions about the problem.

Does the way we state a problem have an impact on the way we approach the solution?

What we say is what we believe.

Before we grapple with the problem, it is important to understand our beliefs and assumptions about the problem. It could be the problem is not the problem. The problem could be what we believe about the problem that is simply not true.

Work is Personal

“I don’t understand why people have to bring their personal lives to work,” complained Marjorie. “I don’t need the drama. Can’t they just put up this virtual wall between their work life and their personal life?”

“So, why do you think people bring their personal lives to work?” I asked.

“I don’t know, because they have them, I suppose.”

“If there is no drama in a person’s life, what do most people do?” I prodded.

“Now, that’s funny. If there is no drama, people create it,” Marjorie spouted.

“If there is no drama, at work, what do most people do?”

“I told you, if there is no drama, people create it.”

“Please, understand that an absence of drama is a pathological condition. Drama is the meaning, the interpretation of our human experience. If there is no drama, at work, most people will bring it. And, in the absence of drama, in the absence of meaning, most people will bring it. If you, as a manager, have not created the context for the work, people will bring it. If what happens outside of work is more meaningful than what happens inside of work, you notice that people bring that outside in.”

Marjorie was listening. She spoke. “So, what you are saying is, that work is personal.”

It’s The Manager

It used to be that employee empowerment was all the rage. Now it is employee engagement. With unemployment at an all time low, there is a huge war for talent, finding it and keeping it.

“We are having a problem with employee engagement. One thing we would like to consider is an Employee of the Month program.”

I hate Employee of the month/quarter/year programs. They conspire to make one person a winner and everyone else a loser. Bad idea.

Employee engagement, as an issue, has been around for a while. Gallup, in their extensive research on employee engagement, well documented in a book called First, Break All the Rules, details the number one reason that people leave a company. It’s their manager.

A company can have the greatest benefits, competitive compensation, employee of the month programs, but if the team member has a lousy relationship with their manager, they quit and leave. Or worse, they quit and stay.

A company can have sub-standard benefits, on the low side of competitive compensation, no recognition programs, but if the team member has a great relationship with their manager, they stay.

So, if you want to focus on employee engagement, focus on every managerial relationship in the company. The most powerful managerial practice to create and sustain this relationship is the monthly 1-1, where the manager sits down, present in the moment, and has a dialogue with each team member.

This is dedicated time, each and every month talking about updates, projects, goals, aspirations, obstacles, ways around those obstacles. The focus is on the team member. If you really want to increase employee engagement, schedule 1-1s with each of your team members. You don’t need permission, you don’t need a committee, just start. -Tom