Category Archives: Leadership

Stuck in a Pattern

“I just do what comes naturally,” Morgan started. “I manage my team the way it feels right. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.”

“Sometimes not?” I asked.

“Sometimes, what feels natural, puts me right back in the same problem as before. What feels like progress is just staying stuck.”

“Staying stuck?”

“In the past, I made managerial moves that didn’t work out. Like delegating a project, then dissatisfied with the result, taking the project back. Next project, same thing, over and over.”

“Over and over?”

“Like a grooved, routine behavior. I got used to taking projects back. Almost like a habit, even if it didn’t work. Taking a project back was comfortable. The project got done (by me) and the quality was up to standard. Problem solved,” Morgan explained.

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“Just because we do something over and over, doesn’t make it the best move. I have to do something different to interrupt the pattern, when the pattern doesn’t get what I want.”

“What do you want?”

“I want my team to solve the problem, and I want the output up to standard,” Morgan replied.

“So, how are you going to interrupt the pattern?”

Underperformance and Overperformance

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I was curious about a study in IT that showed that while managers can see underperformance, they can’t see who is over-performing.

Response:

Actually, the results of the study may be correct, however, the conclusion may be flawed.

The results show that managers easily recognize or identify underperformance, but they do not as easily recognize or identify over-performance. The conclusion is that managers do not have the ability to recognize over-performance. I believe that to be false.

Managers do not recognize or identify over-performance because they do not focus on it. Managers allow the distractions of underperformance to dominate their vision and efforts.

It is simply a matter of focus. It is a conscious choice to focus on over-performance, and once that decision is made, the focus becomes quite natural. But it’s that choice that is difficult. It is too easy (unconscious) to see things wrong and too difficult to make the conscious choice to see things going right. -Tom

Failure of Front End Influence

“So, what do you think was missing?” I asked.

Jamie retraced the steps of her company’s Quality Circles program. Like many good ideas, there was nothing wrong with the program. It was clearly designed to bring out the best in her people. It had short term results, but, in spite of a great deal of up-front planning and expense, the program experienced an early death.

“You are suggesting,” Jamie began, “that we did our front end work well, but we were missing something on the back end?”

I nodded. “One primary function of a manager is to influence behavior. Indeed, to influence behavior, we spend a lot of time in meetings, developing programs, teaching, training, writing manuals. We spend a lot of time up front, trying to influence behavior.”

It was Jamie’s turn to nod. I continued. “While those things we do up front do have an influence, most behavior is not prompted by what comes before but by the consequences that happen after. As Managers, we spend a lot of time training. We see high performance in the training room, but a week later, nothing has changed in the field. The fire is out, the behavior gone.”

Working Leadership Comes to Austin TX

Since 1995, our Working Leadership program has been training managers. More than 1200 have graduated from this program in managerial leadership. This six week behavior-based program covers the essential skills that managers are never taught.

  • Role of the manager
  • Communication one-to-one
  • Time management
  • Leadership styles (using the DISC program)
  • Team problem solving
  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Planning
  • Delegation
  • Decision Making
  • Accountability
  • Effective meetings
  • Coaching

If you would like more detail about the curriculum in each of these subject areas, just ask here. I will send you a more colorful sheet.

Here are the dates –
Session One – Aug 25, 2017
Session Two – Sep 1, 2017
Session Three – Sep 8, 2017
Session Four – Sep 18, 2017
Session Five – Sep 22, 2017
Session Six – Sep 28, 2017

Each session is 3-1/2 hours and includes field work assignments between sessions. This program is intended for Hi-S-II supervisors and S-III managers. The class will be held in Austin, TX.

Your coach for this program will be William Foster. William has been in the classroom for 27 years, is a Board Member of the Caldwell Independent School District, and received his certification to teach this program in 2016.

Space is limited to 15 students. If you have an emerging manager in your organization that would benefit from this program, you can pre-register here. Program tuition is $1600. Vistage members receive a $100 credit per participant (includes all materials and textbooks.) VISA-MasterCard accepted.

If you have questions, would like more information or if you would like to pre-register, please drop me an email or follow this link.

Curriculum Details –

Session One
Orientation. During the initial Session, participants will create both a company and a personal framework, setting expectations and direction for this program. Participants, through directed discussion, create the connection between the program course material and their day-to-day management challenges.

Role of the Manager. Introduces the distinction between supervisor and managerial roles. Clarifies the specific goals necessary for effectiveness. This module creates the foundation on which the rest of the course material builds. Incorporates source material from Requisite Organization – Elliott Jaques.

Time Management. Introduces the textbook Getting Things Done by David Allen. (Text included as part of the program).

Session Two
Leadership Styles. Participants will complete a DISC survey (DISC is an online instrument published by TTI) and report on their own identified strengths and working style.

Communication. The largest challenge, for most managers, centers on issues of communication. This Session will introduce participants to a new level of conversational “reality.” Introduces the text, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott, as reference material. (Text included as part of this program.)

Session Three
Positive Reinforcement. This segment reviews the management research of Elliott Jaques and Abraham Maslow regarding “why people work.” Explores the role of positive reinforcement outlined in by Aubrey Daniels – Getting the Best Out of People.

Team Problem Solving. Expands Fierce Conversations to the group setting. Designed to move a group into “real work,” using a team problem solving model. Demonstrates how to build a team through problem solving.

Session Four
Planning. This segment introduces a results-oriented planning model, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which participants can quickly use in any situation where planning would be of benefit.

Delegation. Participants are introduced to a specific model of effectivedelegation. Most managers hold certain mental blocks to delegation that prevents them from using this powerful developmental tool. This delegation model challenges these mental blocks so the entire team, manager included, can benefit from delegation.

Session Five
Decision Making. This segment introduces three decision models that participants can use to make decisions in specific circumstances. All models can be used in a team setting or for an individual decision.

Accountability Conversation. Introduces a results-oriented method to hold individuals and teams accountable for desired results. This combines concepts of Time Span, QQT Goals and Management Relationships.

Session Six
Effective Meetings. Moves from theory to the practical application of team dynamics. How to run a more effective meeting.

Coaching. This segment takes the communication models we have previously used and integrates them into a conversation specifically designed for coaching subordinates.

If you would like to find out more about this program, please drop me a line.
-Tom Foster

New Team, New Manager

It is always tough to become a new manager to an existing peer group or a new team. A new manager always means change. And most people don’t like change, at least the unknown parts of change.

Respect comes, not from the authority of the position, or the experience of the manager. Respect comes from bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of the individuals on the team.

In fact, team members will always seek out the person in the company that brings value to their thinking and their work. If it happens to be their manager, that’s great. All too often, it’s not.

We all work for two bosses. We work for the boss who is assigned to us, and we work for the boss we seek out. The boss we seek out is the one who brings value to our thinking, our work and our lives.

So, if you are the new manager, which boss are you?

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?”