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 self? 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 highly recommend it; 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?.”

There is an object lessen here for all of us: Think beyond your own self-interest and take care of the community in which you live, regardless of where you live. We’re all in this together!

Paul

 

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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.

Collaboration

Recently I gave a brief talk to InterCom, the regional group for communications professionals. The topic was collaborative organizations, using our Midwest Consulting Group as a model. We believe MCG is the oldest virtual corporation in Michigan, and probably one of the oldest in the U.S. Building business through collaboration is what we have been about since 1990. The bright, diverse, neat-to-hang-out-with people who make up MCG are involved in both individual and collective projects and collaborating has become part and parcel of how we operate. Clients and projects may differ considerably, but working, thinking, planning together has become part of our hardwiring. The common denominator is helping organizations, individual professionals, and teams get great at what they do.

Whether it’s helping a nonprofit agency to create a strategic plan, guiding a university faculty member through the process of publishing in an academic journal, helping create a brand identity for a business or nonprofit, coaching executives and professionals, teaching and training people to be better supervisors, managers, and leaders or creating a comprehensive management development program  . . . the commitment to collaborate, cooperate, and help each other grow our businesses is in everything we do.

Who are you collaborating with? And what have you achieved through collaboration? Would be an interesting discussion, I think.

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?

An Irritating Guy!

Communications Stories from the Trenches – III

Once upon a time I worked with a colleague – we’ll call him Ralph – who seemed to have a great deal of difficulty in looking directly at me when we talked. The moment I walked into his office he stood up and did not sit down until our conversation was finished. At first I thought it was me. Then I discovered he did that with everyone. He also had an irritating habit of jingling his keys or the change in his pocket when anyone was speaking to him. He would stop that whenever he was talking. And since we had daily interaction with him, these annoying habits became a form of subtle torture for some of us, to the point where several of his coworkers went out of their way to avoid having to deal with him. He was a clear Introvert although his senior level required him to speak regularly in staff and divisional management meetings and he was reasonably effective in that setting.

Ralph was either completely unaware of the effect his irritating habits had on others, or he didn’t care, or he was at least somewhat aware at some level and couldn’t help himself. I don’t know; I’m not a psychologist (and I don’t play one on television). I do know that his nonverbal messages seemed pretty clear to most of us:

  • Ralph was clearly uncomfortable in face-to-face, one-on-one communication situations.
  • He was not paying much attention to what we were saying
  • He would like us to leave as quickly as possible

To say the least, Ralph was a poor listener. He violated most of the basic rules of effective listening. What do good listeners do?:

  • They maintain eye contact with the other person
  • They show non-verbal interest in what the other person is saying; they nod occasionally, have an open expression, and smile if it’s appropriate
  • They avoid fidgeting, crossing their arms and legs, looking at their watch. Ralph violated this one constantly.
  • They ask questions to clarify what the other person is saying
  • They repeat or paraphrase the other person’s message to check for understanding
  • They are patient and allow the other person to make their point fully

How are your listening skills these days?

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.

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?