Category Archives: Leadership

Who Let Who Down?

Glen was working late. “What’s up?” I asked.

He stared at a project book on his desk. Not in a jovial mood, he took in a long breath and a measured exhale. Blood boiled behind his eyes, betraying his exterior composure.

Finally he spoke, “I thought this project would be done by now, but it’s not. It is due at the client tomorrow morning at 8:00, and is only half finished. My team let me down.”

“Who was the project leader?”

“Andre,” he replied.

“And what did Andre say?”

“Funniest thing. He said he knew the deadline was tomorrow, but since I never came around to check on the project, he didn’t think it was important anymore, he didn’t start on it.”

“So, where is he now?”

“Finishing a different project from another project manager, in Kansas City. Looks like I will be here until midnight.”

“So, tell me, Glen. What happens to the importance of any project when the manager fails to follow its progress?”

“I know. At first I was mad at Andre, but it’s my own fault. I set follow-up meetings and just blew them off. Now I have to pay.”

“And next time?”

“Next time, I will make the follow-up meetings, instead of having to finish the project on my own.”

Real Learning

“And that concludes my report. A well-thought out plan, perfectly executed.” Martin smiled. I knew he was lying. His plan may have been well-thought out, but life is never that perfect.

Carla was next up. She was nervous. Her plan was solid, but her team had hit some rocky patches. “I guess things didn’t go the way we thought,” she reported. “We had to make several adjustments as we went along. Our project required three additional meetings. In the end, we made the deadline and came in under budget, but it was tough. I will try to do better next time.”

Carla got a quiet golf clap from the room for her efforts. I moved up to confront the class.

“Carla thinks her project didn’t go so well. Carla thinks she should have had a better report for class tonight, but here is why her report is so important.

“You read these management magazines out there, about CEOs with well-thought out plans, perfectly executed. Some reporter shows up to write about every target flawlessly achieved. No pimples, no bumps, no bruises. Whenever I hear that, I know I have to get the guy drunk to get the truth.

“But, look at Carla’s report. Her team started out toward their first objective, they got off course.” I drew a line across the page with an abrupt turn. “It took an extra meeting to figure out where they went wrong, to get back on track.

“They met their first target, but immediately things went south again. Another meeting, another adjustment.” My line on the flipchart meandered across the page with another hard turn back to target number two.

“And it happened again, before the project was finished.” The flipchart now showed huge jagged lines criss-crossing the page. “And this is where the real story is. Not the neatly wrapped perfect execution. The real story is out here, where the team cobbled together a solution to an unanticipated event to get back on track. And over here where the client threw them a curve ball.

“And that’s why Carla’s story is so important. And that’s where real learning exists.”

When to Start Training for Succession

“But I was here until 10:00 last night. I am working myself to the bone and my company seems to want more. I can’t work any harder.” Victoria was tired. I could see it in her eyes, the hint of a glaze.

“What is it that your company wants more of?” I asked.

“I just don’t know. I have all the stuff I was doing before I was promoted and now I have new stuff.”

“Why are you still doing the old stuff?”

“Well, who is going to do it?” she snapped.

I paused, “As you left your old position, weren’t you supposed to train someone to take over those tasks?”

“Well, yes, I was supposed to, but there was just never any time to do that,” she said, calming down a bit.

“So, now you are in double trouble. You didn’t take the time to train someone else to do the work, so now you have even more work and less time.”

Victoria silently nodded.

“You have proved me wrong,” I said. “I always tell managers that they can never be promoted until they train someone else to take over their old job. But here, you have managed to do exactly what I said could not be done.”

Victoria started laughing. “No, I did not prove you wrong. You are still right. I have not managed this very well at all.”

“So, when should you have started to train someone to take over?” I inquired.

“The very first day on the job, of my old job. In fact, I should already be looking at my new tasks to figure out who I should be training right now.”

Necessary

Ted bit his lower lip. “I am ready,” he said. “Right now, being a manager is not much fun. If I was better at this, if I knew what to do, things would be easier. I want to make this happen.”

Wanting is not enough,” I replied. “You have to make it necessary.”

Ted looked sideways. “What do you mean, make it necessary?”

“You may think that high levels of performance are driven out of desire, team spirit and rah, rah. But that sputters out eventually. When you don’t feel well, your desire gets weak. When your team has an off day, the rah, rah disappears. All of that will impact your performance.

“The only way that high performance can be sustained is if that high performance becomes a necessity. It will only be sustained if there is no other way. Necessity. Necessity drives high performance.”

“I am still not sure I understand,” Ted said. “What makes something necessary?”

“Something is necessary only when there is no other way. Look, Ted, you think you want to be a better manager. That will only sustain you when you feel like it. Unless becoming a better manager is necessary, you will ultimately fail. But if there is no alternative, if becoming a better manager is a necessity, then you cannot fail.”

Change Comes With a Price

“If you want to change the team, first you have to change yourself,” I responded. “But, there is a price to pay.”

“Oh, I am willing to pay,” replied Ted. “And my company is willing to support me, to pay for training, whatever it takes.”

“Ted, the price you pay has nothing to do with the price of a seminar or a book on management. The price you pay has to do with you. The price you pay is in your commitment, your passion, your focus, your discipline. It is a high price. It is a price not many people are willing to pay. Most will pay for a seminar or a book, but few are willing to pay the real price.”

Ted took a deep breath. It was not a sigh, but an attempt to get some extra oxygen to his brain.

“You are telling me this is not going to be easy,” he finally replied.

“Oh, it’s easy to be a manager, and only slightly more difficult to be a mediocre manager. But, what I am talking about is more than being a good manager, it is a question of being a great manager. What price are you willing to pay?”

A Manager’s Speech

Hank surveyed the floor, timecards in hand, shaking his head. “I don’t understand it,” he observed. “They know they are supposed to be here at 8:00a sharp, but, look at this, only two people punched in on time. The next nearest one is 8:06, then 8:09, then 8:12. A couple of people were 20 minutes late. And it’s this way everyday. So, everyday, I have to make my little speech, but it just doesn’t seem to work.”

“And you know this just by reviewing the time cards?” I asked.

“Of course, that’s why we have punch clocks.” Hank looked sideways at me, wondering if I had never seen a punch clock before.

“I understand, but you didn’t actually see when they got here.”

“Oh, no, I don’t have to be here until 8:30a when my manager’s meeting upstairs starts. I’m a supervisor now, I don’t have to be here until then.”

“And, your team doesn’t listen to your daily speech about being here on time?”

“Nope, I will remind them again this afternoon before the shift is over, just to make sure they remember,” Hank replied confidently.

“Here is the thing, Hank. Sometimes, what we do speaks so loudly, they can’t hear what we say.” -Tom

Competence and Habits

“How are habits connected to competence?” I asked.

Muriel looked at me and remembered. It was a short trip down memory lane. “When I first became a manager,” she started, “I was awful. I thought I was such a hot shot, walking around telling everyone what to do. Within a couple of weeks, productivity in my department was at an all time low, and I couldn’t figure it out.

“So, I started asking questions. Instead of telling my team how to do the work more efficiently, I began asking them how they could do the work more efficiently. I didn’t do it very often, but when I did, remarkable things happened. Over time, I got better at asking questions. Practice. Practice makes permanent. Now, asking questions is a habit.”

“So, describe the competence connected to the habit?” I pressed.

“The competence is challenging my team. Challenging them to higher levels of performance, productivity, efficiency.”

“So, competence is about acquiring a new habit.”

The Aretha Franklin Rule

From the Ask Tom mailbag.

Question:
I’m going to be promoted in July as a manager and I will have to manage 5 people who are older and more experienced than me. I have been working with 2 of them for a year and 2 of them are new to the company, the last person has no experience. My boss knows this will be a real challenge for me. He is promoting me because I have the technical ability to do the job. I need to work on my soft skills. I have strong analytical skills which are not always an asset to manage a team effectively. Do you have any advice?

Response:
Age and maturity is always a problem for a younger manager working with older team members. You will have to earn their respect and you will not be given much room for error.

Here is the principle I follow.

Every team member of an organization, in their pursuit of doing a good job, will always seek out the person who brings value to their problem solving and decision making.

Wouldn’t it be great if that person was the manager? Often, it’s not, and that is where the trouble begins. My advice to any manager who wants to be successful is very simple.

Bring value to the problem solving and decision making of your team.

That’s it. What can you do, as a manager, to bring value to the thinking and work of your team members? -Tom

What the Manager Must Know

Welcoming a new group of students to my leadership program in Fort Lauderdale.

In 1999, Marcus Buckingham, with the help of the Gallup organization published their findings of an extensive survey on employee retention. First Break All the Rules documents the most important reasopn that a team member leaves a company, is not for money, but the relationship they have with their manager.

A company may have the best benefit package, the best food in the cafeteria, flexible working hours, free car washes, but if the team member has a lousy relationship with their manager, they will leave. On the other hand, the company may struggle to provide benefits, make everyone bring their own lunch and wash their own car at home, but if the team member has a good working relationship with their manager, the team member will likely stay with the company.

What do I expect from every manager. I expect every manager to know their team. I expect every manager to engage in regular 1-1 meetings with each team member. And, during that meeting, I expect the manager to learn something about the team member, outside of work.

Become genuinely interested in other people. – Dale Carnegie. It’s the most important retention tool for every company.

The Internal Change in a Manager

“I used to have passion for the output of the project,” Miriam repeated. “Now, it’s a matter of placing value on the development of other people.”

“We often focus on managerial tools,” I replied. “Give me a template, give me a technique, but being an effective manager has more to do with you than a managerial tool. Transitioning from an individual technical contributor to a managerial role requires self-reflection. It’s more than a change in role, it requires internal change.”

“I can feel it,” Miriam said. “It’s a bit scary. I look at a problem in a project and I want to fix it. But, I have to stop and move the team to fix the problem.”

“It is a change in you. You have to ask yourself reflective questions.

  • What is the value of my new managerial role?
  • How does my new role fit in with the output of the team?
  • What do I care about? What is important to me?
  • Is there connection between what I care about and the value of my new role?
  • What new behaviors and habits do I have to develop to be effective in my new role?

“It will take some time,” Miriam replied. “I still feel an allegiance to solve the problem, I just have to do it in a different way.”