Category Archives: Leadership

Decide What is Necessary

“The forecast was a bit optimistic,” Miguel observed. “We went back and looked at our sales activity. Not our sales results, because those were dismal. I gotta tell you, my guys were pounding the shoe leather. It’s funny. The same salespeople with the same customers, but not closing sales like they did this month last year.”

“Working harder isn’t working anymore?” I asked.

“No, I think my guys are going to have to work differently, not harder,” Miguel replied.

“And who will decide what they do differently?”

“What do you mean?”

“Whose job is it, to decide what is necessary? How to go to market? To make the efforts of your salespeople more productive?”

Miguel’s face slowly revealed a mild panic. He stared straight ahead. “It’s me.”

“It’s time,” I nodded. “It is the job of the manager to take the resources of the company and make them productive. It is only managers who make those resources productive. As a manager in this company, you are the only one who can make your sales team productive. The job of management is more important than ever. The decisions you make in the next twelve months will determine whether your company will survive.”

Identify Management Potential

Succession is not just when the CEO decides to retire to Florida. Succession happens all the time, all over the organization. Technicians become team leaders, team leaders become supervisors, supervisors become managers and managers become executive managers.

And, we are all getting older. How old will you be in five years? It’s a simple math problem, but the answer can be surprising.

We look for those team members who have matured and are ready to step up. Or do we? Most times, we wait until there is an open position and we scramble.

Often, we put together a leadership program to teach identified management skills. Should it be a matter of teaching management skills, or rather, putting people in position to identify their management potential.

I did not say give them a promotion, a raise or the corner office, because if you did that, and they failed, you would have a chocolate mess on your hands. You test people with project work.

The First Step is Not a Step

How to start? What to do before you start?

The first step is a mental state. How you get there is up to you. Before you start, your mind is wandering, aimlessly, subject to the whims of where you are, the circumstances in which you find yourself. The first step is to break the pattern, break the pattern of your mental state.

Some do it with meditation. Some do it with a mental exercise. Some do it with a physical sensation, as simple as rubbing two fingers together. Basic Assumption Mental State is a phrase coined by Wilfred Bion, made understandable by Pat Murray (BAMS).

It’s just a shift
How do you shift the mental state of a group? Focus each member on a common question. It could be as simple as a common experience, an understanding of purpose (Why are we here?), thoughts about mission (When we are finished, what does life look like?) or even just some Good News (tell us something positive that happened in the last two weeks).

Create a positive mental state. Now, you are ready to proceed to the first (next) step.

Growing Pains

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
As the CEO, I am stretched a bit thin. I have 10 direct reports, with the prospect of adding two or three more as we continue to grow. I have 1-1s with each manager for 60-90 minutes twice a month, but it leaves little time to spend as CEO. I feel a bit like I am pulled into the weeds.

Response:
Your company is too big to be little and too little to be big. Your company is in No Man’s Land. You have enough resources (budget) to make the hires necessary to relieve a bit of pressure, but these are critical hires, you don’t want to make a mistake, so you continue stretching. There is only one way out.

You have to build the infrastructure of your executive management team. You cannot work longer hours. You cannot work harder. You can only spread the burden.

This is a dilemma first faced by every entrepreneur startup, where the Founder makes all the decisions and solves all the problems. As the organization matures, what happens when all decision making continues with the Founder? What happens when all problem solving continues with the Founder? The speed of decision-making, the speed of problem solving slows down, sometimes stops.

You managed to get out of startup, but your inclinations continue. Others, I am sure, have told you that you have to let go. No.

You have to delegate. This is not a task assignment. What you have to delegate is decision making and problem solving. The most important thing you can do, as CEO, right now, is to build the infrastructure of your executive management team. If you cannot do this, you will end up with 13-15 direct reports and you will still wonder why you are stretched so thin.

What Did You Train Them To Do?

“But, my team never comes up with any constructive ideas to solve the problem,” Edward explained. “I ask them to think about the problem at hand and they just sit there, waiting.”

“How long has this been going on?” I asked.

“Not long after I arrived at this company. As the incoming CEO, I was briefed about this executive team. I was told they were bright, action oriented, made solid decisions. But, that’s not what I see. I wouldn’t call them dolts, they would never have gotten this far, but day to day, I feel like the quarterback who has to constantly scramble.”

“How have you contributed to the problem, meaning, how have you contributed to the team’s lack of constructive solutions to problems?”

“Now, don’t think you are going to pin this on me. I didn’t hire these people, they were here when I arrived. I am the same person I have always been,” Edward was firm.

“I want to take your description at face value, that at some point this executive team was bright, action oriented and made solid decisions. If they were once that way, what changed?”

“You are still looking squarely at me,” Edward replied.

“You’re the only one in the room,” I waited. “Think back to your early interactions with this team, tell me what happened in the first couple of meetings.”

“Well, the first couple of meetings, I was just sizing them up, seeing who was strong, who was weak, and where we could make improvements. I call it diagnostic work.”

“And, what was your diagnosis?”

“There must have been a reason I was hired in to take over from the outgoing CEO. This team was okay, but needed some firmer guidance and direction.”

“And, if you see those first few meeting as a training session, led by you, what were you training them to do?” I wanted to know.

“They needed to look more clearly at their mistakes and listen to me, to help guide them to make better decisions.”

“And, isn’t that what you have now trained them to do?”

Not Warm and Fuzzy

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I have been reading a couple of books on Servant Leadership. It makes sense, but seems kind of warm and fuzzy. I am not necessarily a warm and fuzzy person.

Response:
So, let’s shift your viewpoint of Servant Leadership from a warm and fuzzy concept to getting some work done. If you read this blog, you know I define work as problem solving and decision making. In your role, as a manager, you have a team to perform some organizational function (marketing, sales, account management, ops, quality control, research & development, HR, accounting). In the work of your team, they have appropriate problem solving and decision making. When things are stable, your team can manage all the routine problem solving and decision making.

And, when things change, and the level of decision making creeps up, sometimes they struggle. And, that is where you come in, as the manager. It is your role to bring value to your team’s group and individual problem solving. You do not do this by telling people what to do, you do this primarily with questions.

So, the concept of Servant Leadership has little to do with warm and fuzzy, everything to do with decision making and problem solving.

Not the Surrounding Circumstances

I woke this morning, looked around to see. This new normal is emerging, funny that today looks a lot like yesterday and I anticipate that tomorrow will look a lot like today.

Five months into this journey, things have changed. And, our ability to react, nay respond, nay adapt depends not on the surrounding circumstances, but on us.

What have you learned in the past five months, not about the world around, but what have you learned about yourself?

Bring Value to Problem Solving

“What were the specific things your manager did that brought value to your problem solving and decision making?” I repeated. “We have already established that it is not barking orders, bossing you around or yelling at you when you screwed up.”

Kim had to think. She could easily tell me all the bad experience with previous managers, but, thinking about positive experience was much more difficult.

“There was this one time,” she started, “where I was working on a problem and I had no idea what to do next. After an hour thinking about it, I finally went to my manager, who I knew had all the answers. I expected to have the best solution right away, so I could get on with my job.”

“Apparently, that’s not what happened.” I said.

“Not at all. My manager asked me to describe the problem, asked me what I thought was causing the problem.”

“Sounds reasonable,” I agreed. “Your manager couldn’t give you the solution without understanding the problem.”

“Then, she asked me what the alternatives might be. She said I was closest to the problem, I probably had an idea how we might be able to solve the problem.”

“You said you had already been thinking about it for an hour and couldn’t come up with anything.”

“Yes, but that is because I was trying to come up with the perfect solution. My manager wanted a bunch of alternatives even if they weren’t perfect.”

“And?”

“Since I wasn’t looking for the perfect solution, I had four or five things that might work or might not work.”

“So?”

“So, my manager asked me, of all those alternatives, which had the best chance? Actually, I think they all would have failed, but if I put solution number two with solution number four, then it might work. So, she told me to go and try it, so I did and it worked.”

“So, your manager did not give you the answer. Didn’t tell you what to do, didn’t boss you around or yell at you?”

“Nope. Just brought value to my problem solving by asking questions.”

Not in the Job Description

Across the lobby, I spotted Kim. Out of seven supervisors, she had just been promoted to manager. She had a good team, positive vibes, but I could see Kim was a bit nervous in her new role.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Pretty good, so far,” Kim replied. “I think I can handle all the stuff I am supposed to do. It’s that other stuff, I am worried about.”

“What other stuff?”

“Team stuff, morale, the stuff not in my new job description. You talk about bringing value to my team. I want to do that, but I am not sure what it means.”

“It’s not that difficult,” I replied. “Just think back, when you were a supervisor. What did your manager do that really helped you, I mean, really helped you become the manager you are today? Was it barking orders at you? Bossing you around? Yelling at you when you screwed up? Solving problems for you?”

“No,” Kim replied. “It was none of those things.”

“So, think about it. What were the specific things your manager did that brought value to your problem solving and decision making?”

What Are You Working On?

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“Just trying to finish this project,” Andrew explained.

“What’s the hold-up?”

“Things always move slower than I want. You know, getting my team to push things along.”

“And, when things don’t move fast enough, how does that make you feel?” I pressed.

Andrew smirked. “A little annoyed, impatient, anxious.”

“Anxious, about what? It’s just a project.”

Andrew nodded. “Yes, it’s just a project. But, it’s my project. I know I have to work through my team to get it done, but ultimately, it’s up to me.”

“So, it’s not just a project? It’s about you?”

“Yep, on the face of it, the project has a spec, it has a budget, it has a deadline. But the project is also a test about me. Can I organize it? Can I gain the willing cooperation of the team? Can I put a sequence together to keep us on track? If we get off track, how quickly do I see it? Will I know what to correct? Can I keep the team pulling in the same direction? It’s more than just a project. It’s more than just the team. Do I have what it takes to be effective?”