Tag Archives: leadership

Unconscious Skip

The problems you have with other people will largely depend on how you think about other people. If you think about people as obstacles, you will have obstacle problems. Solving an obstacle problem gives you a way-different result than solving a people problem.

It is an unconscious skip from people-as-people to people-as-obstacles. You end up there so quickly, you are unaware of the skip.

Becoming genuinely interested in other people requires conscious thought, effort. It is a subtle shift that does not happen by itself.

A Subtle Shift

Who you are is largely shaped about the way you think. If you need to make a small shift in who you are, you have to make a small shift in the way you think.

In a leadership role, your effectiveness will largely be determined by the way you think about people. If you think about people as obstacles –

  • The guy who cut you off in traffic
  • The person with three kids whose shopping cart is blocking the aisle
  • The co-worker in the next cubicle who you have to go around to get to the coffee machine

Your behavior will follow.

It’s a subtle shift to think about people as people (and much more difficult than people as obstacles). Your team members are not direct reports, you are not a manager so people can report to you. Your effectiveness will only be as large as the people you personally invest in.

Who Did You Walk By Today?

Most managers are unaware of the fishbowl in which they live. Years ago, I received some sage advice from one of my scoutmasters as a young patrol leader. “When you look at your own behavior in front of the other scouts, remember, you can’t go take a pee without everyone knowing about it.”

Every move a manager makes is amplified and remembered. If a manager arrives at work and walks past the receptionist without saying, “Good morning,” well, then, the business MUST be going down the tubes.

Jules Pfeiffer, a famous cartoonist, used to have a series, based on his play, Little Murders in which he depicted the little murders we each commit every day. Little Murders we commit, often without intention or even awareness. We may not be aware, but it is still a Little Murder.

Who did you walk by today, without stopping, without a cheery remark, without a smile? How many Little Murders did you commit today? Remember, amplification works in the other direction, too. A few moments, a kind word, a warm handshake, a listening nod may make all the difference in a team member’s day.

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.”

Commitment or Compliance?

“I am not satisfied with things,” Emily said. “I know there is more to being a manager than management.”

“You have been a manager for a couple of years, now. What exactly, are you dissatisfied with?” I asked.

“There are times, when it seems, I am only able to get people to do what I want by forcing them to do it. By being a bully, or threatening. Not directly threatening, but, you know, do it or else.”

“And how does that work?”

“Not well,” she replied. “I may get some short term compliance, but as soon as I leave the room, it’s over.”

“Emily, the pressure that people are not willing to bring on themselves is the same pressure you are trying to tap into. If they are not willing to bring it on themselves, what makes you think you have the ability to overcome that?”

“But that’s my job, isn’t it?”

“Indeed.”

The Game Changes Over Time

Howard didn’t like the list. The top three tasks I asked him to delegate were three that he enjoyed the most. He defended, saying these tasks kept his technical skills sharp, kept him in the game.

“Look, Howard, you are a Manager. You are now the coach who cannot step on to the field without getting a penalty flag. Five years ago, it was important for you to keep your skills sharp, to be the expert, to be faster. Your role has changed. The most important thing you can do now is to develop your team, make them faster, sharper. They are your new technical experts. Five years ago, it was important for you to be successful. Now, it is important for you to make your team members successful. If you fail at that, you fail as a Manager.”