Tag Archives: leadership

Good? Leadership

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Continued from yesterday –
Question:
I recently had a conversation with a leadership guru that stated that you don’t need formal structure in a small business, if you have good leadership. He indicated that you don’t need documentation, role descriptions, or even much for KPIs.

Response:
The problem with “good leadership” is that it becomes person dependent. We are juggling three balls in the air.

  • Leadership
  • Small Business
  • Good Leadership

Leadership
Leadership vested in a single individual, is person dependent. It may work in a small business because there aren’t that many people. A handful of people can follow a single individual, because if there is any doubt as to who has the authority to make a decision, the team can just ask the leader. That also means the leader must be available (proximity). But, if all decision making must go through the leader, as the company grows larger, what happens to the speed of decision making. Slows down, or stops.

Small Business
All decisions going through the leader is a hallmark of a small business and assures that the business will remain small. If all problems have to be solved by the leader, as the company grows larger, what happens to the speed of problem solving? Slows down, or stops.

Good Leadership
Good leadership requires competent management skills. Good management requires competent leadership skills. You can’t have one without the other (please, no discussion about leader vs. manager). Effective leadership, among other things requires clarity. Poor leaders will be uncertain in their decisions and communicate ambiguity to the team. Good leadership requires clarity. So, if your leadership guru says all you need is good leadership, I might agree, but only if that definition requires the formalization of things like role descriptions, documentation and KPIs. That’s what good leadership is, it’s clear.

No Formal Structure Required?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I recently had a conversation with a leadership guru that stated that you don’t need formal structure in a small business, if you have good leadership. He indicated that you don’t need documentation, role descriptions, or even much for KPIs.

Response:
If life were only that simple. Let’s break this down over the next couple of days.

You don’t need a formal structure.

You have a structure. Every company has a structure. Structure, or organizational structure, is simply the way we define working relationships between people. Org structure is a mental configuration, usually starting with the mind of the founder (or current CEO). But, everyone else in the organization also has a mental configuration of those working relationships as well.

We translate that mental configuration to a piece of paper, with boxes, circle and arrows and call it an organizational chart. It’s a two dimensional representation of that picture we have in our heads. Important in that org chart is the way we define two things –

  • Accountability
  • Authority

In the working relationship between two roles in the organization, what is the accountability and what is the authority (to make decisions or solve problems the way we would have them solved)?

So, on the face of the statement made by your leadership guru, I would disagree. It is important to define the working relationships and to put them on a piece of paper so we can discuss them. The purpose for the discussion is to ensure that what the founder, or CEO, thinks is pretty close to what everyone else thinks. Without that agreement, friction occurs in the form of personality conflicts or communication breakdowns.

Like Herding Cats

“So, how long could they keep that up?” I repeated. “As long as nothing changed, how long could your team simply repeat what they did the day before?”

“Well, forever,” Nathan exclaimed. “But things do change.”

“Bingo!” I said. “Things do change and that is what management is all about. Customers change, technology changes, raw materials change, processes change, even our people change. Management is all about change. Change is your guarantee of a never-ending employment opportunity as a manager.”

I smiled, but Nathan didn’t appreciate my jovial attitude.

“I think I am tuned in with that. So, why am I having so much trouble with my team. They don’t listen to anything I have to say.” Nathan’s head swirled as if his thoughts were making him dizzy and he was trying to stabilize.

“Here is the problem,” I replied, waiting until Nathan’s eyes were settled. “Everyone talks about managing change, as if it is the prime directive. We manage this and we manage that. Here is the clue. People don’t want to be managed. People want to be led. Oh, there is still plenty to manage, processes, systems and technology. But try to manage people and it will be a bit like herding cats.”

Traits of a Leader?

“You look like you have a question,” I said.

“I have been studying leadership, but it is a bit confusing,” Maria replied. “So, many books, so many perspectives. You would think if I read all the books, I would know what traits I should possess to be an effective leader?”

I nodded. “So, it would seem. Any study of leadership rarely considers the context of leadership, so the discussion appears jumbled and confused. Leadership never stands alone, it is always in a context.”

“Okay?”

“Was Churchill considered a great leader?” I asked.

“Yes, for those of us who have seen the movie,” Maria chuckled.

“Yes, in wartime, but not so much in peacetime. To truly understand leadership, first you have to understand the context. Connect the context and things make more sense. Most often, I speak about managerial leadership. But, there are other contexts, parental leadership, political leadership, military leadership, spiritual leadership, academic leadership. The context will demand the qualities necessary for effective leadership in that circumstance, and eschew those characteristics that detract.”

Maria nodded, so I continued. “Before we look at the person (qualities and traits), first we have to look at the context. The biggest mistake most companies make in hiring is to look at the candidate without understanding the work in the role. It’s all about the work.”

The Obligation

“Look, it didn’t take long after I started my company,” Pablo continued, “that there were three things up to me. No one else in the company has the obligations that I have –

  • First, I have the obligation to provide for the success of the company. It is my baby. I created it, no one else has the passion for it that I have.
  • Soon after, as headcount increased, I realized that the success of the company rested on the social good of the team members employed by the company. Without them, the enterprise would stall, and eventually die.
  • I also had to look at the larger context. I have an obligation to support and strengthen free enterprise. It is the capitalist political system that creates individual economic independence against the seduction of a centralized controlling government.

Pablo looked me square in the eye. “I come from a foreign country,” he said. “I have seen the other side.”

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.

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?”

Process and People

“I feel a bit overwhelmed,” admitted Melissa. “There are so many things that can go wrong on this project, and I’m just not sure if I can manage it all.”

“You are right,” I replied. “You cannot manage every detail. Success consists of the execution of a hundred things, most of which cannot be managed.”

“Then how?”

“Most things we accomplish as managers consist of process and systems with elements that can be measured and managed. But that is only part of the story. Success also requires elements like focused attention, cooperation with team members and commitment to the result. Those are elements, difficult to measure, but more importantly, almost impossible to manage. You cannot manage focus, cooperation and commitment. This is the people side of management, and people don’t want to be managed.”

Melissa was silent, thinking. “The people side is more difficult than the process side, and maybe more important. I think I would take a mediocre process with some fired up people, over a spectacular process with a poor attitude.”

Trouble in River City

In the midst of Covid 19, we had an earthquake (5.7) yesterday here in Salt Lake City. As we look forward, evidence of economic contraction is appearing, for some, aggressively attacking. This is not a time for panic, but a time for rethinking.

Lee Thayer, (Leadership 2004), speaks about necessity and its importance in the workplace. The entrepreneur, who starts a business, only puts in place that which is necessary. Only necessary equipment is purchased. Only necessary people are hired.

As time advances, and the business becomes more complex, necessity becomes more complex. And management decisions are made to bring on more infrastructure to support that complexity. Sometimes those decisions are accurate; sometimes those decisions miss the mark.

During this rethink time, look around. Re-think your work-flow. Re-think your personnel structure. Carefully examine what your customer wants, to make sure what you deliver is necessary.

Some of you are already hurting, do not give up hope, rethink. Some of you are thriving, don’t think you have dodged a bullet.