A Shift in Focus

As you can plainly see, this is my first post in quite awhile to this blog. In the past the blog’s focus was directly linked to the content of my 2010 book, “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers.” Now that the book is getting wider recognition it’s time to reactivate the blog and provide a broader focus. We’ll see where this goes and who decides to join the ride. I’m always on the lookout for what I call “neat to hang out with” people. Maybe you?

3 Leadership Traits

What leadership traits will be needed 10, 20, 50 years from now? Recently I was part of an audience of business and community leaders, faculty, students, and others who attended the first event in the Frederik Meijer Lecture Series at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center. Distinguished author, thinker, and businesswoman Dr. Jill Ker Conway. The first female president of Smith College, Dr. Conway serves on numerous corporate boards and took as her topic “The Next 50 Years in the World.” Frankly, anyone willing to tackle that topic deserves my attention.

While Dr. Conway’s talk, and the subsequent Q & A addressed wide-ranging global issues, I found her answer to the following question the most interesting:

Q. – What kind of leadership traits will be needed in the future?

A. – Effective leaders will need the following three attributes:

1. The ability to deal with, communicate with, and work with opposition without demeaning them.

2. Confidence in their own ideas but open to the ideas of others.

3. The ability to find and attract good, bright people and to then nurture them.

The 1st trait would certainly come in handy today, when elected “leaders” tend to demonize each other.  When the relations between tribes, countries, even regions become excessively polarized, there is no search for common ground, compromise, or a way through our disagreements to a solution that works for all of us.

There is certainly no shortage of confidence in our own ideas, but far too often it seems we are, in the words of Ambrose Bierce,  “never in doubt, but often in error”. Win-Lose thinking, I’d say.

The 3rd trait is essential if a manager and their organization are to successfully grow and develop. We may be able to find and attract excellent candidates when a job becomes available, but if we fail to help them increase their capacity and capability to contribute the talented employee will either go elsewhere or settle into mediocrity.

What do you think?

8 Essential Skills for Nonprofit Managers

For those of you managing nonprofit organizations – we’ve been asked to develop a 5-session workshop series for our friends at ONEplace@KPL. This series is designed for entry to middle-level directors and managers in all areas of nonprofit organizations (executives, programs, services, administrations, operations, fund development, communications—anyone who supervises others). Each session will be 2.5 hours and will run on five successive Monday’s from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Interested? You can learn more by visiting the workshop announcement and topic schedule at ONEplace.  And while you’re visiting, don’t forget to check out the rest of what Bobbe Luce, her staff, and her network are doing – it’s great stuff!

Next Time: More Communications Stories from the Trenches.

PS – watch for my upcoming interview about “The 8 Essential Skills” on Mary Jo Asmus’ outstanding blog, Leadership Solutions.

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 4

Slightly more than a week has passed since we attended the Indianapolis 500 and time to finish reflecting on examples of The 8 Essential Skills in action.

Skill 7Leading & Empowering: I saw examples of Leadership and Empowering behavior from the time we walked in the gate at IMS. With few exceptions, and I mean really few, the staff know their jobs . . . own their jobs, whether they are full-time, temporary, or volunteer. There has been quite a bit of change at the top of the organization in the past year as Tony George was forced out as CEO and head of the Indy Racing League. And sometimes that sort of change can throw a lot of people off their game. Not in this case. You can see leadership in crew chiefs managing their pit crews, race strategists adjusting to changing conditions and challenges while maintaining an overall race plan. It’s not quite choreography, but more a large, fluid team, all committed to helping create the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Skill 8 – Growing Yourself:  Over the years I’ve watched a series of drivers develop from rookies into seasoned veteran drivers. Team owners like Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti graduated from the ranks of champion drivers. Their sons have “gone into the family business” and are now drivers. Sarah Fisher was a rookie in 2000 and Danica Patrick was a rookie in 2005. Both are seasoned veterans now and the 2010 race had five women drivers on the starting grid. The Indy 500 is the pinnacle of oval-track racing and to win one 500 is a remarkable achievement and is usually the result of years of preparation. Winning four 500’s like Al Unser, Rick Mears, and A.J. Foyt have takes a huge commitment to getting better all the time.

It was interesting to look for The 8 Essential Skills while at this year’s Indianapolis 500. Let me know when you spot examples in your own travels.

Teacher vs. Coach

When you manage you fulfill a number of different roles in the course of your work. In this post I’d like to take a brief look at two of those roles; Teacher and Coach.

Teacher

Managers and supervisors work with employees who have a wide variety of skills and knowledge. This means you’re frequently placed in the role of teacher with employees, particularly if they’re new to your organization or team. You will, in effect, be teaching them how to do their job. At the very least you’ll need to teach your employees about the expectations that will affect their success.

 You also teach employees what they need to know to help them be ready for new challenges and opportunities. Being a mentor is a form of teaching; you are imparting knowledge that will help the employee prepare for a new assignment, position, or project.

Coach

The role of a coach is different from that of a teacher. As a coach you’ll be a guide, motivator, encourager, and supporter in your interactions with employees. When you coach employees you’re less focused on telling or showing and more focused on asking questions or involving them in figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it.

When you coach employees you’re actively demonstrating your confidence and trust in them. If you don’t trust your employees to do their jobs, then you either have the wrong people in the jobs or you haven’t sufficiently trained them. In either case the problem isn’t with your employees but with you as their manager.

What do you think? Are you teaching and coaching your people?

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.

Harry the Patriarch

During the past 25 years Harry had built a successful trucking business. The company had grown from four employees and three trucks to 150 employees and a fleet of more than 100 vehicles. Harry was nearing 50 and wanted to slow down a bit. Most of his management team had been promoted from within, typically starting behind the wheel of a truck or in an entry-level office job.

As founder and CEO, Harry had been the focus of the business for 25 years: making the decisions, guiding and building the team, regularly driving trucks just to remember where he came from, and otherwise acting as the center of the universe. He expected his long-time, dedicated employees to now make more decisions and take more initiative. Unfortunately, his “at the center of everything” approach for so many years meant his managers had little ability and willingness to step up to their new role; they hadn’t been properly prepared. Harry had great difficulty letting go and was visibly impatient when his managers didn’t immediately rise to the challenge. The management team expected Harry to stay around and be “daddy” for a lot longer so they wouldn’t have to make tough decisions.

Lessons Learned

As an organization grows and expands, the role each person plays is likely to change too. Harry and the managers had mismatched expectations. Harry failed to understand that his expectations for sudden independent decision making were unrealistic given his history of having to be at the center of everything. The managers didn’t understand why their usual expectations suddenly weren’t being met.

What would you have done in Harry’s situation?

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.

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