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.

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A Labor Day Thought

Since most of us spend a large portion of our waking hours working at whatever it is we do, it makes sense to do something that makes you happy, whole, complete, and satisfied. Labor Day, along with the start of the post-summer, let’s-get-busy fall season, is a good time to take a look at what you’re doing when you “work.” Might even be a good time to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Am I doing what I truly want to be doing?
  • Am I proud of what I do – the results I produce?
  • Am I proud of the organization in which I work?
  • What am I committed to achieve by the end of the next quarter?
  • What longer-range goals, projects, and challenges are important to me now?

Those are a few questions that come to my mind. How about you? What questions would you like to answer for yourself?

And for every leader who is committed to a true partnership  between labor and management . . . Thank you!

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 3

Stepping back for a bit of perspective on the Indy 500 as an example of The 8 Essential Skills at work, we continue to see lessons for all of us who supervise and manage, such as:

Skill 5 – Managing Change: a 500 mile auto race with 33 cars on the grid at the start is a study in Change. Often rapid and abrupt change. And it can (and does) happen at any point in the race. Davy Hamilton returned to the Indy 500 after a nine year hiatus, only to crash on the first lap after Thomas Scheckter took Hamilton’s line in Turn 2, causing Hamilton to swerve, lose control, and hit the inner wall. Sarah Fisher, on the other hand, steadily worked her way up in the field over much of the race only to graze the wall on lap 125, ending her day. Often the 500 is lost or won in the pits and when a driver is given the “Go!” signal before the fuel hose is fully disconnected, a return to the pit on the next lap causes a delay and may affect that drivers finishing order. Constant change is the norm; how it gets handled and what adjustments get made makes all the difference.

Skill 6 – Solving Problems & Making Decisions: over the course of a 500-mile race each team will have literally scores if not hundreds of decisions to make. Do we bring our car in for fuel now or wait a lap or two on the chance that there will be a yellow flag (forcing everyone to hold their positions in the standings) later? How many of our 15 our “push-to-go” turbo boost uses do we save for the final laps? Should we adjust the front wings for more downforce or more speed? Given the heat (130 degrees on the track) how often should we plan to change tires? Problems to solve and decisions to make are just a normal part of the process and are treated as such. Frustrating perhaps, but “that’s racing.”

Next time – Skills 7 & 8

Why Managers Fail – 3

 We live and operate in a rapidly changing world. Stepping into supervision for the first time is a combination of several emotions; excitement, uncertainty, a bit of fear.

Taking Too Much Time to Learn the New Job

This is the “not getting up to speed fast enough” problem. The days when managers were gradually brought along through a series of carefully planned steps are long gone. Our work force has become highly mobile as the old job-for-life concept has fallen away. Roles, responsibilities, and assignments are often in a state of

This means we must constantly take on new tasks and projects and operate outside of our comfort zone in an ever-evolving, dynamic, ambiguous environment. Rapid lifelong learning will always be necessary. You need to accept that you’ll never feel you’re really up to speed. So it’s important for you to understand what your boss and others think that phrase means, and then give it your best shot.

Above all, getting clear about expectations is crucial. Complete clarity may be impossible, but having ongoing conversations about expectations just make sense. “What are the expectations? And how am I doing in relation to those expectations?”

What are the key expectations for you and your job?

Skill 6 – Solving Problems & Making Decisions

Supervisors and managers make decisions – lots of decisions – every day. Most of the time those decisions are made more or less automatically; we make choices almost without thinking. That’s fine for many routine issues, but other decisions require careful thought. They carry the potential for far-reaching consequences; you need to consider alternative approaches, weigh the options, and then make the decision carefully.

Problems crop up every day. Some can be solved based on your previous experience. Other problems are not routine, but they’re fairly simple and the correct solution is obvious based on common sense. Still others are simple, there are several workable solutions, and which alternative you select really doesn’t matter much.

But as your responsibilities increase, you will face complex problems that require more sophisticated problem-solving and decision-making skills. In addition to the more objective, logical techniques and skills typically associated with problem solving, you’ll need to use your own intuition – your “gut feel” for what the best choice might be in any given situation. If you want to be truly successful as a supervisor and manager, you must develop and practice your problem-solving and decision-making skills.

What do you think? What kinds of problems do you deal with as a supervisor or manager? How do you go about solving them and what kinds of results do you get? Do you have a perferred method for making decisions? What works for you? Solving Problems & Macking Decisions is surely one of The 8 Essential Skills.