Tag Archives: management

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.”

Who Sits on Your Shoulder?

My mood was upbeat, but this conversation with Nathan was not lifting his spirits. His team was not on a mutiny, but they weren’t paying much attention to him.

“So, you have had a bit of difficulty getting out of the gate with your team. As you think about yourself, as a manager, who comes to mind, from your past? Who is that person sitting on your shoulder, whispering in your ear, giving you advice?”

Nathan looked stunned. “That’s weird,” he said. “As I go through my day, I have this silent conversation in my head with an old boss of mine. Whenever I have a decision to make, he pops into my head. It’s like he is watching me and I still have to do it his way. That was years ago, but he still influences me.”

“Was he a good boss?” I asked.

“No, everybody hated him. That is why it’s so weird. I think he was the worst boss I ever had and I am acting just like he did.”

“So, why do you think he has such an influence on you, today?”

“I don’t know,” Nathan said slowly.

“Would you like to be a different manager than your old boss?”

Finally, Nathan smiled. “Yes, absolutely,” he replied.

“Well, that is where we start.”

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.

Is Manipulation a Bad Thing?

“I just don’t like to think of myself as a Manipulator,” Helen said. “I want to believe that, as a Manager, I am perceived as a Motivator.”

“Great cover-up, isn’t it?” I smiled. “Listen, Helen, I am not suggesting that you do things, as a Manager, through deceit and trickery. What I am saying is, don’t fool yourself (11th commandment). Most of what we do is Performance-Reward or Underperformance-Reprimand, external inducements to get desired behavior.

“So, tell me, Helen, is manipulation necessarily a bad thing?”

Helen paused. “I just don’t like it. It doesn’t sound good.”

“Have you ever been working on a project, where you needed everyone to stay an extra half hour, to staple and bind all the reports, or to get a truck loaded with an emergency shipment to a customer; a situation where you needed just that extra bit of effort? So you tell everyone that you are ordering in a pizza, if they would just stay on for the half hour?”

“Well, sure, it happens, but what’s wrong with that?” Helen replied, then chuckled. “It’s a good thing my team likes pizza.”

“Exactly, just understand it is Performance-Reward. It is NOT Motivation.”

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.”

Just a Few More Simultaneous Projects

“Sounds like you are not so sure of yourself?” I asked.

“I know it’s just another project,” Andrew replied. “And, my experience is deep in project management. My company always gave me the tough projects, the ones with the longest critical path, where Murphy has plenty of time to play.”

“Then, why your doubt on this project?” I pressed.

“When I was successful at managing one project, my company gave me a second project. I did the second project the same way I did the first project and everything was fine.”

“And?”

“And, so my company gave me a third project,” Andrew said.

“How did you do the third project?”

“Same way I did project one and project two. Everything was fine, on-time, on-spec, on-budget.” Andrew paused. “So, they gave me 20 projects, all at the same time, and, six junior project managers to go along.”

“And now, what’s the problem?”

“Managing 20 projects is different than managing three projects. It’s a different level of work. It is a different level of problem solving and a different level of decision making.”

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.”