Not a Matter of Motivation

“It is difficult to lead the charge if you think you look silly on top of a horse.”

I am often asked to describe the most important qualities of leadership. What does it take to make a good leader? There are many qualities. Today I am thinking of Mastery.

Mastery is the beginning of self-confidence. Many times, people believe they can pump themselves up with a motivational book or by attending a motivational seminar. While there are temporary positive feelings of invincibility, it doesn’t take more than a few hours for that to wear off.

True self-confidence begins with mastery. “Mastery over what?” – just about anything that requires some new degree of skill, anything that requires a person to truly push performance beyond their current level of self-confidence. Most folks seldom push themselves beyond their current limits, for fear of failure. It is in the facing of that fear (fear of failure) that I see true growth, a new level of mastery. There can be no mastery without the possibility of failure.

When was the last time you pushed yourself beyond limits? When was the last time you engaged in something new, something that required you to think in a new way, that required more tenacity than you have ever mustered before? It doesn’t come from a book. It doesn’t come from a seminar. Get off the couch, go do something new.

Goal Setting is Not the First Step

Miriam crept into the conference so as not to disturb the rest of the meeting. Everyone was working hard on their business plan for 2020. “I’m having a bit of trouble,” she said. “I know all the steps for the plan, but I am just stuck.”

“And, from our structured planning model, step one is what?” I asked.

“Step one is to create the vision for my department. And that was easy. I think I got it all captured in a couple of sentences. It’s the rest of the plan that I am having difficulty with.”

“Interesting,” I replied, “that you can capture that much detail in two sentences.”

“Well, you are right,” Miriam confessed. “There isn’t a lot of detail, but I thought it would be better if it was short.”

“Miriam, here is the way the vision part of the plan works. The more detailed it is, the clearer the images are, the easier it is to write the rest of the plan. Instead of two sentences, write two pages. I want to know who your customers are and what services you provide. You probably have more than one customer segment, tell me how they are different and how your services to each are different? Tell me what position you hold in the marketplace, what your market share is? Who are your competitors? Tell me what your competitive advantage is, what are your core competencies? Who are your key personnel, how do you find them, how do you grow them? Tell me about your facilities, your plant? How do you control quality? How do you guarantee performance?”

Miriam left the room with a bit of thinking to do. A couple of days later, I read her vision statement. It contained all the detail we talked about and more. The plan that followed was clear and detailed, all driven by a carefully constructed word picture of the future.

The first step in the plan is vision.
—–
Vision
Inventory of Current State
Goals
Action Plan
Resources (Budget)
Communication Plan
Follow-up Steps

How to Define Decision Making in a Role

In a role, until we identify the specific decisions to be made and specific problems to be solved, the hiring manager will never hire the right person. This is not magic.

For a technician –
In this key area, what are the decisions that have to be made?
What is the time frame for those decisions?

  • Am I working fast enough to accomplish the output assigned to me today?
  • Does my output meet the quality spec assigned to the work today?
  • Does my attention to quality slow down my output?
  • If I work faster, does quality suffer?

In this key area, what problems have to be solved?
What is the time frame for those solutions?

  • Is this machine noise normal or abnormal?
  • If the machine noise is abnormal, do I need to shut the machine down, now?
  • Can I wait to shut down the machine when it finishes its current cycle?
  • Can I wait to shut down the machine at the end of my shift? And then, call maintenance?

For a project manager –
In this key area, what are the decisions that have to be made?
What is the time frame of those decisions?

  • Is the average output of production this week, sufficient to meet the output target for the month?
  • If output will fall short, what things can I shift in production to speed things up overall? More hands on deck? Overtime?
  • If output will overshoot, are we cutting corners in quality? Did I overestimate resources required? Can I temporarily reassign team members to another area?
  • If output will overshoot, are we using up raw materials in one process that may be needed in another process? What are the lead times on the raw materials? Re-order thresholds?

In this key area, what problems have to be solved?
What is the time frame for those solutions?

  • How often will we sample output for quality problems?
  • In what step of each process do we sample output for quality problems?
  • Should we discover a quality problem, what is our first step to prevent more output that does not meet spec?
  • When we solve a quality problem, how does that change our sample frequency?

It’s all about the work. Every role contains appropriate problem solving and decision making.

Four Power Questions Before the Interview

It’s all about the work. Most managers make hiring mistakes because they didn’t know what they were looking for in the first place.

  • How to know what you are looking for?
  • How to transform that vague picture into specific deliverables?
  • How to communicate that picture and deliverables to the hiring team, to make sure you are right?

I will know it when I see it, sets up the hiring manager for failure. Success is based on luck.

Work is a funny notion. Many managers focus on getting in touch with candidates, all warm and fuzzy. Not my purpose. Instead, get in touch with reality. The purpose of hiring is to get some work done.

Work is making decisions and solving problems. Few hiring managers think about the problems that have to be solved and the decisions that have to be made in a team member’s role. That is where it starts. The hiring manager is looking for someone to make specific decisions and solve specific problems. Until we figure that out, we will never hire the right person.

Here are the power questions to answer before you get into the interview room –

  • In this key area, what decisions have to be made?
  • What is the time frame for those decisions?
  • In this key area, what problems have to be solved?
  • What is the time frame for those solutions?

Nagging Questions Before the Offer Letter

You are ready to extend the offer letter, but there is this nagging hesitation in your mind.

  • Is this the right person?
  • Am I making a mistake?
  • What happens if I am wrong?

But, you have a 90 day probation period, so if it doesn’t work out, no harm, no foul.

And, you will have to start over again, 90 days down the road.

  • Why do you have to wait 90 days to find out if this is the right person?
  • How can you eliminate mistakes in your hiring process?
  • How can you up your batting average, reduce the times you are wrong?
  • What separates the average hiring manager from the few who most consistently make good hires?

There is no magic, no fairy dust, just a little managerial work. Most managers make hiring mistakes because they didn’t know what they were looking for in the first place.

Trust is a Choice

Based on truth, trust is a choice. Trust does not happen. Trust is not a feeling, it is a decision.

Trust cannot exist in a circumstance of deception or ambiguity. The choice of trust is always tested by the consequences of reality.

Trust can be broken. Attempts can be made to repair a broken trust, but its repair can only be chosen.

I can engage to earn your trust, but only you can choose to trust me.
—-
Taking a break for the US Thanksgiving holiday. See you back here Monday, Dec 2, 2019. -Tom

Pompous Poser, Wandering Journey

Much ado is made connecting success to the leader. But the effectiveness of a leader is dependent on the effectiveness of the surrounding team. Without the competent execution of the team, the leader is simply a pompous poser.

The most important contribution of the leader to the organization is to build that competent team.

Much ado is made connecting success to teamwork. But the effectiveness of the team is dependent on the effectiveness of the leader. Without the competent execution of the leader, the team will churn energy in a wandering journey.

Purpose. Picture. A sequence of steps. Observation of progress. Execution. A brilliant dance.

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.