That Derailment Thing – Again

Our friends at the Center for Creative Leadership have studied the reasons behind managers derailing and crashing. It seems to come down to three things: 

They don’t successfully adapt during transitions

They are difficult to work with

They fail to lead in a team-centered way

As I look back at supervisors and managers who derail somewhere along the line, I see lots of examples of people who failed due to one, two, or occasionally all three of these reasons. How about you? Can you think of examples that stand out in your own career?

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 1

Just returned from a visit to friends in Indianapolis on Memorial Day weekend and attended the warmest Indy 500 ever. 97 in the stands and 130 degrees on the track. In spite of the heat, I saw ample evidence of “The 8 Essential Skills” at work. Let’s see . . .

Skill 1 – Managing Yourself: from the drivers to the pit crews to the officials, to the volunteers, everyone knew their job and did their job. Everyone has a plan for how they will do their job, they manage themselves with that plan in mind, and when surprises occur (and they always do!) they manage their response with inspired professionalism.  Self-Management at work.

Skill 2 – Communicating for Results: the systems at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are top-notch and in spite of IMS’s size (2.5 miles around) information flows rather freely and quickly. Communication flow is clear and focused on getting the job done; people get the information they need to do their jobs well, and the fans are in the loop quickly with the variety of communication channels.

Next Time – Skills 3 & 4 go to the Indy 500

What do you think?

Help Me Discipline My Inbox

A few years back I had the priviledge of teaching in one of George Washington University’s outstanding Leadership courses, along with Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry Smith (Ret.) – the author of several excellent works on leadership. Like most pilots, Gen. Smith believed in checklists and created several that have proved quite useful. Among his “Useful Phrases for Leaders” checklist is one that has become one of my personal favorites; “Help me discipline my inbox; don’t send me issues you are competent to decide”

Why do I like this one so much? Think about the implications of his statement and what it says to your employees. It works well on several levels: 

  • It says, “There are issues that are within the scope of your job and expertise, and I think you can figure out which issues those are and what needs to be done about them.”
  • It says, “I’m confident in your ability to make good decisions on those issues and implement them.”   
  • It says, “When you face an issue that you think I can help with, let me know how I can best do that.” 
  • It even says, “You decide what to keep me informed about and when to do so.” 

What an affirming, empowering viewpoint! From personal experience, I know it to be a very effective guide to leading, empower, and managing others.

Gen. Smith is currently the Secretary of the Medal of Honor Foundation and a noted speaker and author on Leadership. His military career spanned three decades and included several stints on the faculty of the Air Force Academy, 150 missions as an F-4 pilot during the Vietnam war, Commandant of the National War College, and various other leadership posts. His final active duty post was as Air Force Director of Strategic Planning. He knows leadership!

What do you think? How about trying Perry’s approach to empowering your people? You might just be pleasently surprised!

Ken & His Talents

Ken was a middle manager in a manufacturing company. He had a talent for communication – for vividly passing on to others the company’s and unit’s vision and strategy. Like most managers at his level he also had budget responsibilities, for which he had little talent or interest.

Many companies would send Ken through a series of budget or financial training programs, trying to improve his skills. Over time he might improve his skills to the point of basic competence, but the financial end of the unit will never be a strong suit. Instead, Ken’s company recognized his strengths. He went through a basic training program in the company’s budget process and then delegated most of this responsibility to a trusted team member who understood the process and enjoyed working with financial data. This freed Ken to concentrate on doing what he liked and what he did best. He continues to work hard to improve his communication skills, keeps up to speed about industry developments, and is seen as a high-potential candidate for movement into corporate planning and executive management.

Lessons Learned

Thanks, in part, to his company’s support, Ken was able to focus on one of his talents and turn it into a significant strength. By building on his talents and managing around his weakness in budgeting, he is in line for the executive suite and the company is growing a highly valuable employee.

Lessons Learned?

The past couple of posts have dealt with real cases from our files, as they used to say on old cop TV shows. You’ll see these cases from time to time, and they will always have some sort of lesson we learned from dealing with the situation. We change the names, alter the industry, rearrange the furniture, and otherwise make sure you don’t know who we are describing. But they are real enough.

I know I’ve learned a lot over the years from my mistakes; probably more than what I’ve learned from my successes.  Certainly I’ve learned more from the negative examples I’ve observed; the boss who is a total jerk, the coworker who seems to alienate people wherever they go, the manager who cannot (or will not) deal with the unmotived and results-challenged workers on their team. But what about the positive role models? We learn from them too.

What Lessons Learned would you have to share? It would be interesting to see what others have experienced and what was learned from the issue, incident, or situation. Post a comment, a question, or share a story from your own experience. What lessons have you learned?

Bill & the Company Goals

Bill was CEO of a 1,400-employee manufacturing company making precision components for the aircraft industry. His vice presidents seemed to be unclear about the overall goals and strategy of the company as the industry and marketplace were going through some rapid changes. When this confusion was first mentioned to Bill, he got visibly agitated and said, “I don’t get it. I told them the goals six months ago!” When he was asked if the goals were in writing, his response was, “No! If you write that stuff down your competition can find it out!”

There wasn’t much danger of the competition finding out because Bill’s own vice presidents didn’t even know! As a result no one else under them did either. The company continued to falter as employees tried to meet goals no one understood.

Lessons Learned

A verbal list of goals spoken in one meeting more than six months earlier wasn’t sufficient in this case. If Bill really wanted his vice presidents to “get it,” he should have provided the goals in writing, reviewed them with the team, and then discussed with each vice president how their particular area was going to accomplish those goals.

Don’s Derailment

Don was a manufacturing expert whose personal style of being “one of the guys” on the shop floor (including crude language and hard-drinking, back-slapping, dirty-joke-telling, in-your-face, confrontational communication) helped him turn around the operations of a large manufacturing company. An expert in lean manufacturing, he had been popular with the work force while obtaining excellent productivity from his employees.

Don moved from operations director to vice president and then to president over the course of two years. Then he began having problems with his board of directors. His demeanor hadn’t changed from his “one of the guys” persona, and he failed to understand that the board expected him to become more diplomatic, more sophisticated, and more “presidential” in his demeanor, communications, and personal style. He aggressively argued with the board one too many times and was fired after barely six months in the corner office.

The board members didn’t clarify their expectations prior to elevating Don to the presidency, and he didn’t ask for clarification. Too bad. His considerable talents were lost to the company and Don was unemployed for more than a year before finding a plant manager position at a much smaller company.

Lessons Learned

As you move to progressively more responsible positions your reporting relationships – and the expectations that go with them – are going to change. Don didn’t take the time to step back, clarify expectations, and decide how his approach to others needed to shift. The board was unhappy when he didn’t intuitively understand what they wanted. Do you think Don learned his lesson from what happened to him?