Multiple Failures of More Than One Skill

As a resident of SW Michigan I made occasional visits to the Detroit area over the years. I enjoyed watching the Tigers playing at Briggs Stadium, particularly during the years of John E. Fetzer’s ownership of the team. The Detroit Zoo is a great place to spend a lovely spring or summer day; Greenfield Village and the Detroit Institute of the Arts are world-classs must-sees. And there is little need for a description of what the word Motown means to music fans. As a life-long “car guy” I’ve followed the automobile industry’s ups and downs over the years. The city of Detroit has always been there and although it was a big-city wonder for a small town kid it has gradually become a mere shadow of itself as the population within the City’s boundaries fell from 1.8 million in 1950 to less than 715,000.

As the news featuring Detroit became more and more about less and less – poverty, of the grinding, relentless, no hope, no future kind; abandoned and crumbling homes, commercial buildings, factories, roads and bridges; “ruin porn” photo spreads, vacant blocks and empty streets; I found myself increasingly frustrated by my inability to understand what I was seeing and learning. How does a world class City become a hollowed out shell of its formers shelf? What causes 60% of the population to head for the exits – either to the suburbs or to another state in the hopes of finding work? The news media certainly provided little that would help one understand; “if it bleeds, it leads” is still true, particularly for the electronic media. The seemingly endless description of the results of the latest stabbing, shooting, drug bust, “devils night” torching of abandoned homes, financial woes and eventual bankruptcy . . . night after night the only news datelined Detroit were mind-numbingly negative. How did we get to this point?

So I started to read about Detroit and learn more about the history of this city, how it came to be the home of the auto industry, and how it came to its present state. While a number of sources were useful in seeing examples of Detroit yesterday and today, I did not find the one resource I needed – something that helped me understand the flow of time from earliest days to current reality. And then I happened upon “Detroit: A Biography” by Scott Martelle. (2012, Chicago Review Press). I recommend it highly; it helped me understand Detroit’s present tense in the arc of its history, its leadership, its successes and its failures. And it got me to thinking about it from the standpoint of “The 8 Essential Skills” – which of the 8 Skills failed to materialize within the fabric of Detroit’s past?

Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships was clearly a failure, from the history of terrible labor relations among owners, managers, and the people they hired to work in the factories, to the rampant racism that grew out of the “Great Migration” of immigrants and rural poor who eagerly moved north for jobs paying perhaps 10 times what they could earn in a year as a farmer. From divisive city vs. suburb political fights to a sometimes The Rest of Michigan vs. Detroit mindset in the Michigan Legislature; it’s obvious that a lot of people failed to build relationships that were successful.

Skill 4 – Managing Others was also a significant failure as labor unions and management engaged in destructive “bargaining” where each side succeeded only if the other side of the table lost. Bureaucracy within the auto companies as well as in municipal government resulted in insanely complex work rules, no-show jobs, and an entrenched sense of entitlement at all levels. From the Board and CEO level down to the first line supervisor in the assembly plant, the common sense of managing other people went out the window long ago in favor of “what’s in it for me?.”

Next time . . . Other Failures in the Detroit Story

What do you think?

Paul

 

A Bit of Irony

Picture this: Driving on the Interstate, it’s 11 pm. There isn’t much traffic. Two billboards appear off the right side, first one and just as the first fades in your mind the second  billboard appears out of the darkness. The first is an ad for the gambling casino at the next exit and features the “120k Giveaway Every Friday in January” as an enticement to stop at that exit. The next billboard is for the small liberal arts college located in the  town five miles away. The second billboard says, “Invest in Your Future” and shows the college’s logo. An interesting little bit of irony, don’t you think?

Vision without …

Vision without execution is hallucination. Thomas Edison

Thanks to Steve Case for mentioning this Edison quote; it’s worth remembering. Another favorite is Henry Ford’s “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” Emphasis mine. So, what step will you take tomorrow to make your vision real?

Becoming . . .

We are all a work in progress, don’t you think? One way or another we are in the process of becoming the person we will be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Too many times the process of becoming that person is left to random chance as we react to what is happening to us and around us.

Are you becoming the person you really want to be? If not, what does the person you really want to become actually look like? Self-knowledge builds self-awareness. Self-awareness helps us to understand our individual strengths, weaknesses, talents, and preferences. And that understanding can help us take a long view of our life. What we do today – the decisions we make, the choices we take, the forks in the road that will appear this week without us realizing that they are forks and choices – all of it will influence the “me” who we become tomorrow, next week, next year.

We all have choices every day. Choose wisely.

What will your choices be today? Who are you in the process of becoming? Food for thought.

Paul

What Did You Learn?

What did you learn from each of your previous bosses? Maybe you worked for one of those rare “natural” supervisors or managers. I’ve met a few, but they are few and far between. Most of us who have worked inside organizations have worked for a series of bosses. And we probably had no difficulty finding things about their style that bugged us, frustrated us, even made us angry from time to time.

But at the same time, looking at it from the rear view mirror, I bet you also learned some valuable lessons from each of them. I know I did. Some of those lessons were positives – things to emulate, copy, and modify to fit me. And some were negatives – things to not do when faced with a similar situation.

One of my first bosses was The Chief. He was a Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy and was the lead admin for the Supply Officer on my ship. He’d been in the Navy about 25 years and had risen steadily to become one of the senior people in his logistics specialty. Since our ship had one of the first on-board computers in the Navy (a Univac 1500 that took up a lot of room and was one of the few air-conditioned spaces on the ship), we were dealing with state-of-the art in some ways, and very old technology in others. Remember 10-part carbon paperwork?

From The Chief I learned precision and the importance of doing the job to the best of my ability. He also served as a role model of how to handle a difficult boss who had spent his entire career on shore duty. When we were at sea, the Supply Officer spent the whole time holed up in his cabin, alternately hollering at somebody over the ship’s phone and bouts of throwing up .

Some years later I worked for a boss I’ll call Sam. I was running an organization-wide system with multiple locations and nearly round-the-clock operations. From Sam I learned the value of building effective cross-departmental relationships and the wisdom of seeking multiple opinions and perspectives before making major decisions. My mid-20′s shoot-from-the-hip, get-it-done-now style sometimes backfired on me, particularly when I failed to identify key stakeholders and give them a “heads-up” regarding plans. Sam showed us all how to lead a diverse (and often highly competative) group of department heads in a positive direction by “communicating lavishly,” to use a favorite Max DePree quote. Sam knew where we were heading, kept us all in the loop, and ran interference with other senior leaders when necessary. Quiet leadership, practiced daily.

Those are just two of the people I learned from. What did you learn?

Think about what you’ve learned from some of the people you’ve worked for over the years. If you’d like to share a thought or two, that would be great. If not, at least think about it.

Adopting The Book

My recent post (Out of the Blue!) mentioned the adoption of “The 8 Essential Skills” by a large international law firm. As the sequence of orders (50, then 350, then 70 more) occured, we were initially focused on getting the books produced and making sure they were delivered on a timely basis. Fortunately, we had selected CreateSpace to produce our book “on demand” and that is what they do, and do well. Based on previous orders, my level of confidence about their capabilities was fairly high. Their track record was quite good with the few gliches we’d experienced in the past having been well-handled. The turnaround time from placing the order until the cartons showing up on the client’s loading dock was typcially about 10 days; pretty incredible.

As we got the production and shipping process moving along, two questions were of major interest to me:

  • How were they planning to use the book?

  • How did the firm “find” the book?

The firm is in the process of rolling out a 14 month developmental program for all of their supervisors and managers, and “The 8 Essential Skills” had been selected as the central text for that long-term program, along with their own internal resources. With all the long-term management development programs I’ve worked with over the years, hearing that was really gratifiying. It confirms and validates the central themes of “The 8 Essential Skills.”

My second question – how did they come to select this book? After all, there are hundreds, even thousands of other books on supervising and managing available. The answer was an indicator of how carefully this firm went about designing their program. First, they convened a task force and charged them with examining a wide variety of resources – materials that could be used in central and supplemental roles in their year-plus development program. Then the group compared what they found. One of the members downloaded the Kindle version of “8 Essential Skills”, liked it and showed it to several colleagues. Then, they ordered the printed version for task force members, who evaluated it individually. After aligning the Skills with their core competencies, they ordered copies for their 450+ supervisors and managers. That’s the kind of vetting process we think makes great sense, and I’m delighted to see the “8 Essential Skills” get such a thorough validation.

The firm kicked off their management development program this week. As you would expect, I’m looking forward to learning how that process went. Stay tuned!

A Great Simple App

I’ve been a fan of David Allen’s philosphy for more nearly 30 years. I think so much of his research, teaching, and writing on personal effectiveness that I’ve used it as a fundamental part of Managing Yourself (Skill 1) in The 8 Essential Skills. Beginning when I brought David to Kalamazoo and WMU’s Fetzer Center back in 1985, I’ve used and taught his ideas with our clients. In the 1980′s and afterward the state-of-the-art tool for effectively keeping track of all those commitments, tasks, projects, and information was the vaunted Time/Design “system.” Then came the Palm series of PDAs, which were sure an improvement in portability. Until the iPhone (and its offspring and clones) the Palm was the way to go.

Ever since the iPhone showed up, I’ve been looking for an App that will let me do what the Palm almost did; make simple lists to track the task and project part of my system. Then I found a brief story onTapTask, and decided to give it a try.

As I said in my review on the App Store, “I’ve bought, used, and discarded all the complex list-making Apps. Waiting in vain for a simple yet flexible ways to replicate my lists from the Time/Design-based loose-leaf “system.” Finally, along comes TapTask. The new iPad version works great without trying to be super-slick. No colors, only two font options, no complex multi-tap menus just to get something written down. This App just flat out “works.” . . . this fills a big hole in the App Store. Hat’s off to Sonny Fazio and the folks at Sonster Media. A Great App!” And with the iPad version it’s easy to have my lists sync via iCloud so both the iPhone and iPad are always up to date. I like it!

For those using other tools, please pardon the digression. For iPhone etc. users, Yea!

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