Category Archives: Leadership

Instinctual Action, Rhythmic Reflection

Peter Schutz was clear about context and leadership. There was a time to floor-plan the responsibilities in the pit at Le Mans, and a time for the crew to execute in the moment. Effectiveness is determined by the deployment of appropriate leadership skills based on context. It is context that determines which must happen.

Leadership is not a simple checklist, or even a complex checklist where boxes are ticked off on completion. It is context that drives what has to happen.

And do not mistake this context for stimulus response, requiring high levels of improvisation. Context can be understood in discrete levels of time(span). There are, indeed, circumstances that require immediate, instinctual action, balanced against long-term trends that require rhythmic contemplation and reflection. Effective leaders must have a sense for both.

Flawless Execution

This continues a dinner conversation I had with Peter Schutz several years ago.

“How is it possible, as a manager, to operate like a dictator,” he asked. “The crew in the pit, in the midst of a race at Le Mans, could operate like a dictatorship, heated in the moment, because they had spent months planning democratically.”

“Execute like a dictatorship, plan like a democracy,” he continued. “The problem in business, is that most managers get this exactly backward.”

“To execute flawlessly (like a dictator) requires a planning process to support it. And this planning process must be created under a very different form of government, a democracy.” Peter acknowledged democracy is slow, requires participation, accommodation, discussion with divergent points of view, but it is absolutely necessary.

If you get this reversed and plan like a dictator, you will experience execution like a democracy, with much discussion (grumbling), divergent points of view and resistance.

No Pleasant Conversation

“Hey, you! They didn’t care who I was.” Peter explained. I was talking with Peter Schutz, former CEO of Porsche (1980-1988) about car racing. Peter’s stories always had a point.

Standing in the pit, as the car came in for fuel and tires, there was no pleasant conversation. All energy was focused on the flawless execution of the fundamentals. They had mere seconds to get the race-car out of the pit and back on to the track.

“Can you imagine,” Peter explained, “what would have happened, if the guy working on the left rear tire had pulled the wheel, set it on the ground and then started a conversation. -You know guys, I have been thinking about a few things that I would like to bring up to the group.-

Peter continued to explain that winning the race depended on the dynamics of a rather stern dictatorship. “How is that possible on a management team?” Peter asked. The answer was simple.

Remembering Peter Schutz (1930-2017)

Unpacking from my recent move, I found some old notes from a dinner with Peter Schutz. Peter was the CEO of Porsche from 1980-1988. He helped me kick off one of my executive groups in 1996. Peter passed away in 2017, but he was a person you never forget.

At our dinner he talked about the difference between the democratic process and a dictatorship in a management team. As CEO of Porsche, Peter attended many of the automobile races where Porsche had an entry. Le Mans was his favorite. He loved to visit the pit area, but even as CEO, if he got in the way or his assistance was needed to grab a tire or a wrench, the orders were barked and by golly, he complied. He didn’t just comply. He enthusiastically grabbed the tire and delivered it port-side to the car, and just in time, because there weren’t any seconds to waste.

Was the action in the pit a democracy or a dictatorship?

Success and Personality?

“But, what about personality?” Emily asked. “Doesn’t personality have something to do with success?”

“What personality does it take to be an effective manager?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know. There are personality profiles, assessments we can take, that can tell us things about ourselves.”

“So, what is the profile of an effective manager?” I asked again. “I have seen hundreds of profiles of managers, different scales of dominance, influence, steadiness, compliance, introverted, extroverted, sensing, intuitive, perceiving, judging. I find little consistent pattern of what it takes to be an effective manager. In fact, I have seen unlikely combinations that yield high levels of effectiveness. I personally have submitted to those assessments, over time, decades, and while the output is always consistent (statistically repeatable), I would question there is a best profile to be an effective manager.

“The profile may indicate your tendencies in one direction or another, and that if you adapt away from your tendencies, you may place stress in your life. But who is to say, that one tendency is more effective than another. I am a visual person, quick to take in data, persuasive in moving people to my way of thinking. My brother is more kinesthetic, he has to feel something to understand, he listens patiently, subtle in his ability to gain willing cooperation and support. Dramatically different profiles, but it’s a thumb wrestle to determine who might be a more effective manager.”

Causing Change in Others

“Sometimes, I think I have to force things,” Emily said. “And forcing things doesn’t last long. I want to know how I can get people to perform, to perform at a higher level.”

“You want to know how you can cause people to change?”

“Yes, that’s it. Exactly. How can I get people to perform better, to stay focused, to pay attention, heck, just to show up on time would be nice.”

“So, Emily, when you look at yourself, how easy is it for you to make changes about your own life, your own work?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she replied. “Things are going pretty well with me. For the most part, things are under control.”

“Interesting,” I said. “We think we have the ability to cause change in other people when we have great difficulty seeing the need for change within ourselves.”

Catch Every Package

“You see, Reggie, in the beginning, as a manager of a small team, you can take the brunt of the responsibility, because the responsibility is small. As time goes by, if you want to step up to larger responsibility, you will find that strategy will fail you. You, as the manager, can no longer solve all the problems, catch every package that falls off a forklift, fix every little discrepancy that comes roaring at you. If you try to do it all, by yourself, you will fail.

“So, you have managers who know they have to get their teams involved, to get their teams to hold themselves accountable. But they don’t know how. So, some consultant recommends a bonus program to get buy in. And you have seen, first hand, what that does to accountability.”

Reggie took a deep breath. “So, it was okay when things were small and times were good. But now that we are growing, more and more people are trying to game the bonus system.”

“And, lord help you, when times go bad, and they will. A bonus system during bad times is a sure-fire morale killer.”

“I think, the biggest lesson, for me,” Reggie replied, “is that, as things grow bigger and more complicated, I have to learn how to hold my people to account to the performance standards we agreed to. And a bonus system doesn’t substitute for that skill.”

Nobody is Happy

“Reggie, when you are barking all the orders, and telling people, if they will just perform to this standard or that standard, they will get an extra bump in their paycheck, where does that place accountability?”

Reggie looked at me for a minute, shook his head, “I’m not sure what you mean, where does that place accountability?”

“Reggie, the reason this is a difficult concept, is that most managers rarely talk about accountability. Back to the question. Where does a bonus system place accountability for performance?”

“I still don’t know what you mean?”

“The manager says, if you perform to this standard, you get an extra $100 in your paycheck this week. What happens to accountability for performance to the standard?”

Reggie was working through this in his head. “Well, the manager has done his job. He defined the performance standard and calculated the bonus, so it’s now on the team member?”

“Not quite,” I said. “The team member now has the choice to perform, or not perform and understands the consequences. If the team member underperforms, $100 of their promised pay will be withheld.

“So, the team member underperforms and does not receive the bonus. They’re okay with it, because, in the end, they didn’t have to work that hard after all. And the manager must be okay with it, because he doesn’t have to pay the $100.

“So the performance standard is not achieved. Who is accountable for the underperformance? Is everybody happy?”

The Heart Attack Cycle

People don’t fear change, they fear loss (that might be caused by the change). Five stages of every change initiative –

  • Denial – there is no change, any suggestion of a change must be fake news.
  • Anger – Denial turns to anger, to steel the subject, emotionally, against some negative outcome. Anger is almost always rooted in fear of something. Fear of loss.
  • Negotiation – The realization or awareness of the change begins to set in. Resistance to the change takes the form of bargaining. Negotiation, compromise to stop the changes, or at least mitigate the loss the change may bring.
  • Depression – Through negotiation, the emotion of anger turns to depression, resistance is futile, powerlessness sets in.
  • Acceptance – As the reality of the change emerges, in all the shifts that take place, acceptance finally replaces depression and forward movement can finally begin.

This sequence was originally coined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to describe the emotional cycle of terminally ill patients facing their disease. She adapted the cycle to describe a similar cycle of grief. I call it the heart attack cycle.

First, there is denial you are having a heart attack. Anger replaces denial, what an inconvenient time to have a heart attack. Negotiation sets in, attempting to trade the reality of a heart attack for future church-going, swearing off drink or pasta. Depression sets in as the heart attack drains the power of the individual. Finally, acceptance. Yes, a heart attack is happening. The time it takes to make it through all five stages determines the amount of time it takes to call 911.

And, so it is with management, to assist our teams through change, to cope with the fear of loss. It’s not a heart attack, but we have to move through all five stages before we can move forward.

Getting Your Juice

“What is the hardest part about delegation?” I asked. Matthew winced. The more we talked about delegation, the more he hated it.

“Giving it up,” he said. “I was the best technician in the field. I could handle two more stops than any of the other service trucks. At the end of the day, I put my numbers on the wall, and they were almost always at the top.”

After a moment, he continued, “Now, I have to wait. It is really tough to know whether or not what I do, as a Manager, is really having an impact. Numbers will be down for a service tech and I wonder if it is my fault or is he just having a bad day.”

“You are pretty results-oriented, aren’t you?” I asked.

“I guess so,” Matthew replied.

“It’s more than a guess, Matthew. That is why you really liked being a technician. You got results (your juice) on a daily basis. You could stick your results on the wall and look at them. If you wanted, you could even pull your results off the wall, take them home to show your wife. You are in a different game now. The results are not so tangible. You don’t get your juice every day. The results have to do with growth and development of your team. Welcome to management.”