Tag Archives: leadership

Malicious Water Cooler Talk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I was recently hired in to a new organization as a manager. It is evident that one of my team members was passed over for the role. He has been here for ten years and contributes well in his current role, but I can see why he was passed over. Unfortunately, the rest of the team doesn’t see it that way and I am getting stone-walled. He is also well-liked by a couple of board members, so I am getting squeezed on both sides.

As I look at the staff, there is complacency, some have been coasting for years. The company invested in some new software a year ago and still no one is using it. It’s the software we used at my old company, so I know it works well. That’s why I was hired.

The team’s behavior is passive-aggressive. I get agreement in meetings and excuses on the back end.

  • Just too busy this week.
  • Not sure how the software works.
  • Our old system is better.
  • Easier to do it the old way.

At the end of the day, I will be held accountable if we can’t get this new software integrated into our routine. The water-cooler talk is malicious. I don’t have a single friend in the bunch.

Someone made a decision to hire you. And my guess is, unless you make some progress, that same someone will also fire you. But, for now, they are in your corner. That is where I am going to hang my hat.

You are the manager of the team, but you also have a manager. Your manager is your coach. Schedule regular meetings and play this straight. You have a job to do and you need solid counsel. But, do NOT go in empty-handed.

You are new, and in the beginning, you should be in high data gathering and diagnosis mode. You have been given an objective, get the new software going and people using it. What’s your plan? How long will it take? Is the software installed and configured? Is there training available or are you on your own with help files and manuals? What are your short term milestones, medium term milestones and long term milestones? This is stuff for you to review with your coach.

You have been given a team. What is your assessment of your team? You have talked to them and worked beside them for a couple of weeks. What are your observations about their capabilities, skill levels, interest and value for the work? This is stuff to review with your coach.

You need some small wins, and they might have nothing to do with the software. You need to get to know your team. What attracted them to the company? How long have they been there? Best part of their job? What gives them juice? What challenges them? Gather data. Your team will tell you how they work best together. When was the last time the team faced a real challenge? How did they approach it? What problems did they have to solve? What decisions did they have to make? I know you feel like this software is your project, but it is really the team’s project. This is more stuff for you to review with your coach.

Then work your plan. My guess is that no one has taken this team to a new place in quite a while. This can be a challenging journey or the team can stiff-arm you until you quit.

Could Have Been Fired

“So, you were surprised that you didn’t get fired?” I asked. Kim and I were talking about her near disaster with a forklift.

“I was certain I would get fired. It was a boneheaded move on my part. But my manager used it as leverage. He knew he had my undivided attention over the forklift. He also knew that I was motivated to make things right. So he got someone (me) to run the safety program, where it benefited the most.” Kim replied.

“How did that bring value to your thinking and your work?”

“Well, he could have fired me, he could have yelled at me. He could have embarrassed me in front of the team. He could have called me out to his boss. He could have suspended me. But what he did was to make me think.

“He had me motivated to sit down and learn more about how serious this safety stuff really is. It was one of the most important lessons in leadership that I ever learned.”

It’s All About Empowerment, Really?

But, as the budget dollars piled up, Kevin DuPont could smell trouble. “Look, guys and gals, boys and girls. I know you all have important projects, but all this costs money. And you know very well, I am accountable to the board to make sure this company is fiscally sound. I am afraid that I have to take issue with the budget you have presented.”

There was silence in the room. After all, the executive team just followed instructions. They followed Al Ripley’s instructions, before. They followed Kevin DuPont’s instructions, now. Finally, one person had the courage to speak, Javier Ramirez.

“Mr. DuPont, with all due respect. We are only doing what you told us to do. You said you empowered us with group decision making. Give us a problem to solve and leave it to us. Well, we decided on a budget, and I know that the expenses are more than our current revenue, but if we are going to grow, we have to take risks. The group is willing to take that risk, but now, you are pulling the rug from underneath us.”

Kevin turned a red tinge around the rim of his ears, his pulse quickened. “That was not my intention. I want each of you to feel better about being a part of this management team. That is why I empowered you. But I also know my board and they will not stand for another losing quarter. The government is auditing the subsidies on some of our routes. This airline has to learn to stand on its own.”

“But, you said you trusted us, it would be our decision,” Javier stood up. “It is a matter of empowerment.”

“I know, I know,” Kevin continued to defend. “But I am accountable to the board. If we lose money next quarter, you will all still have your jobs. You are not accountable to the board. It’s me whose job is on the line. You are only accountable for the performance of your departments. All I can say, at this point is, I’m sorry. Meeting adjourned.”

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, now available on Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

Who Carries the Keys?

“They called me KEYS,” Ryan explained. “I had the keys to every door and portal in the building. I was important. I was the person the company trusted with the keys.”

“And, what did you discover?” I asked.

“I thought the keys were a sign of power, and that power translated into being a manager.”

“And, why did you think that?” I pressed.

“No one could do anything without my permission.” Ryan replied. “I thought I had a great deal of authority.”

“And, now?”

“Now, I realize that carrying all the keys to the building has nothing to do with being a manager.”

“So, what did you change?”

“I found another trustworthy person to carry all the keys.”

Leading With Power

“But, I am the team leader,” Marion protested. “The company made me the manager. They gave me the authority to lead the team. But, when I look back over my shoulder, I am not certain that everyone is following.”

“So, you are the leader?” I asked, without waiting for an answer. “You believe, as the leader, that you are now vested with certain authorities?”

Marion shifted her posture. She was suddenly, not quite so sure. “Well, that’s what I understand about leadership,” she finally replied.

“Marion, let’s think about being a leader, not as a person, but as a role that has to be played. What is leadership? What are its authorities, what are its accountabilities?”

“Well, I assign tasks for people to complete. I determine what people do, or what they don’t do.”

“Anybody in power can do that,” I said. “Just because someone has the power, doesn’t mean they are a leader. Someone with power can simply be leading the team astray, screwing things up for everyone.”

What Determines CEO Effectiveness?

Here is an interesting question posed over this holiday weekend.

How does a CEO gauge effectiveness in the role of CEO?  Not conducting a 360 review for other’s perception, but how does the CEO track and consider those elements of CEO effectiveness?

Jack Daly describes the three most important pieces of the CEO role.

  1. Set the vision.
  2. Put key people in key roles.
  3. Build the appropriate culture to support the organization.

In some ways, gauging effectiveness may be in the selection of what the CEO should NOT be doing.  Your thoughts?

Tribal Leadership?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I just picked up a book on tribal leadership that suggests hierarchy is an old fashioned, out dated approach to organizational structure.  Your workshop suggests that hierarchy is the only approach to organizational structure?

I hear these things from time to time, about how hierarchy should be abandoned and replaced with throwbacks to earlier organizational models and, as you can imagine, I am not overly impressed.  First, understand that there are many purposes for groups to organize.  Groups may come together to worship, promote political causes, live as families and communities.  Each may engage in different organizational structures, collegial, political, religious, family.  When I promote hierarchy as a structure, I am referring only to those groups of people organized to get work done.

And some work does not require a complicated structure.  But, gather any group of people together and give them a task to do, they will self-organize into a structure to get the work done.  First, a leader will emerge.  That person does not have to be assigned that role, they will simply emerge from the group.  If the group task requires several separate, simultaneous actions, people will gravitate to roles and cooperate, under the guidance of the leader to complete the task assignment.  If the task is of sufficient difficulty, requiring problems to be solved and decisions to be made, that organized group will take on the shape of a hierarchy.

I know there are organizations, designed to accomplish work, that self-proclaim a flat, tribal, non-hierarchical structure.  Baloney.  If the work is of sufficient complexity, and you examine the related tasks and people playing roles to complete those tasks, you will find hierarchy.

No tribe ever sent a man to the moon.

Management Myths and Time Span

In 2001, I stumbled over some startling research.  For two years, I privately shared this research with two of my executive peer groups, who encouraged me to take it on the road.  In 2003, I presented the first public workshop called Management Myths and Time Span to a group in Plymouth MN.  Ten years and 350 presentations later, this workshop makes it to my own hometown.

Here is the press going out.

Every CEO, executive and manager struggles with this hidden key to performance, find out why!  Do any of these apply to you?

[ ] A Project Manager Blows the Deadline?  Again?
And you have to call the customer to explain that the project will be late.  There is no reason for the delay, just an excuse.

[ ] Your Top Performer Got Promoted to Manager.  Now Failing.
She has been with the company for 12 years, promoted to a game-breaker role.  What happened?  She is loyal.  Everyone likes her.  She is floundering.

[ ] You Sent Him to Manager Training.  The Same Person Came Back.
Your high hopes for this young manager are dashed.  He showed such promise.  Or did he?

[ ] A manager got promoted to his level of incompetence, WHY?
Unlock and understand the Secret behind the Peter Principle.

November 20, 2013
Everglades University
Boca Raton, FL
Management Myths and Time Span
Reserve Now

On Wednesday, November 20, Tom Foster will present the 50 years of scientific findings of Elliott Jaques.  According to Foster, “This is the missing link to human capability. This missing link is based on a simple principle and touches every element of a manager’s work.”

Date – Wednesday, November 20, 2013
8:00 – Coffee
8:30 – Program begins
Noon – Adjourn

Reserve today $200 Only $99*
Seating is limited to 60 participants.
* Vistage/TEC Member guest discount

We select our top performer and promote them to the next level, introduce them to the team as their new leader, only to find them floundering and earning no respect.

In the hopes of filling a position in the corporate org chart, we diligently interview, do personality testing and check references. We hire the person with the best of intentions only to find them failing after a few short weeks.

You just promoted Sally — she is now in your office complaining that her new boss has his head in the clouds and is completely out of touch with the real problems facing the department. Ten minutes later, Sally’s boss, Joe, is in your office complaining about Sally, his new direct report, saying that she is totally incompetent and cannot see the big picture. What did we miss?

Tom Foster will present the research and statistically significant scientific findings of the late Elliott Jaques, the psychologist who discovered a correlation between workers across industries and their internal capability to handle different levels of work.

Particular areas that will be addressed are:

  • Most hiring managers underestimate the level of capability required for success in the role.
  • Personality conflicts in an organization are often smokescreens for a misalignment in structure.
  • Most CEOs mis-understand the true nature of executive work and often, are drawn into activity that pulls them away from higher-levels of work.
  • The flat organization is a misguided management fad — organizational hierarchy is essential and exists for very specific reasons.

Note: Participants may find it helpful to bring a current organization chart, starting with the CEO and driving down three levels.  And if they exist, a short paragraph description for the CEO role and each senior management position.

 Biography: Tom Foster works mostly with CEOs in executive peer groups.  He conducts classroom training for managers and supervisors in the areas of delegation, planning and communication skills. He spent 14 years in the television production industry and another 10 years with a large CPA firm. A Vistage Chair since 1995 and former trainer with Dale Carnegie Training, Tom holds a B.S. in radio-television-film and a master’s degree in communication, both from the University of Texas at Austin.

Reserve your space now.

Charles “Red” Scott – RIP

If you are lucky, you will meet someone in your life that changes your life. I was lucky.

In 1995, I found myself across a breakfast table from Charles “Red” Scott. We soon learned, like in the first five seconds, that we were both children of the great state of Texas, both born in the same part of east Texas, Paris, Texas and Tyler, Texas and both attended the University of Texas. Though Red graduated before I was born.

If you are lucky, you will meet someone in your life that changes your life.

Red interviewed me for a job. Not really a job, but a life-long venture, to be a teacher, to be a learner to a very special group of people that I had not met. Yet.

He asked me if I was lucky.

That was his favorite interview question. He told me how his life was changed on the turn of a dime. From a small town in east Texas, he was the president of his high school class. Leader of his class, that automatically earned him a ride at the University of Texas. I would follow a couple of decades later.

His birthday was the same as Texas Independence Day. And Red was independent. I think Red was lucky to be born that day.

And I was lucky to have known Red.

Charles “Red” Scott left us yesterday. He left behind many friends and a loving family. Yesterday, he left me, behind. And from behind, I can only look ahead. We will miss you, Red. I will miss you. You were a great teacher.

In December, the doctors told him not to buy any green bananas. He knew and we knew that life was moving on. As much as we braced for the day, told ourselves it was inevitable, when it came, it came. That brave face, our brave face, stopped and felt the rush of sadness.

Today, I will venture to find the greenest bunch of bananas, and I vow to outlive them, if I can.

Identifying Talent

“How do you identify emerging managers in your organization? As you look around your team, what do you observe, what catches your eye?” I asked.

Wendy spoke first, “I watch them in meetings. I look to see, when they speak, do other people listen? It’s funny; I am not listening for something brilliant to come out of their mouth. I observe others’ response to them. For a person to be a leader, someone has to follow.”

Marion was next, “I look for someone who asks questions. It’s easy for a person to just spout off, how much they know about this or that. But if someone is asking questions about purpose, why we do things, what is the impact of a process? Not dumb questions, good questions.”

Jeremy raised his hand, “I look for someone who is thinking ahead. We may be working on something right now, but this person is two or three steps ahead, laying out material, staging equipment for the next setup, even if the next setup is tomorrow.”

I am curious. How do you identify emerging managers in your organization? As you look around your team, what do you observe, what catches your eye?

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off January 25. Pre-registration is now open.