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?

Alligators in the Swamp

‘When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remind yourself that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.‛

Most managers can easily relate to that statement. It often seems that really important things – initiatives, projects, and ideas that could make a major positive difference – drown under waves of problems to solve and details to handle. Most experienced managers agree that they sometimes feel overwhelmed and out of control when they try to deal with the challenges and changes they face. They describe what they do as something like herding cats or grasshoppers. It’s a job that’s complex, ever-changing, challenging, exhilarating, frustrating, satisfying, and never boring.

The traditional view of what it means to be a supervisor or manager has materially changed in the past decade. You may supervise a team or functional unit with a group of full-time employees reporting to you. But these days you’re just as likely to manage a variety of people working on several different projects. Some of them might be employees. Others might be employees who officially report to someone else. They might be independent contractors. And then there are freelancers who work for several different organizations. In this era of rapid change, globalization, and contract workers, you need to look beyond past notions of what a supervisor or manager does.

What’s your job like? Does it fit the traditional mold or is your position and organization radically different?

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.

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 2

This past weekend’s Indy 500 is probably the 10th time we’ve been a part of this event. Over the years I’ve watched the physical plant evolve and observed changes in the way in which the event is managed.

Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships – there are all kinds of people associated with the business of producing the spectacle called the Indianapolis 500. Many of them, particularly some of the drivers, owners, team managers, officials and pit crews have fairly strong personalities. Despite a huge amount of talent and some pretty Type A personalities, all these people come together and create solid working relationships to create this event. Competition? Certainly, but plenty of cooperation among the various functions within that spirit of competition. It’s exciting to watch; it’s almost ballet.

Skill 4 – Managing Others – IMS is a big place with lots of different functional teams working together. Still, in each team, there is a “boss” of some sort; the person who choreographs the team’s activities and directs its reponse to rapidly changing circumstances. In the pits it may be the crew chief who directs the pit crew as they refuel and change all four tires in less than 10 seconds. All around the track there are teams who spring into action when an emergency occurs. In the stands the staff in their yellow shirts handle some 400,000 fans and help keep them safe. But in every case there is a manager or team leader who helps keep the team focused and supplied with information.

Next Time – Skills 5 & 6

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!

Why Managers Fail – 6

Recent posts have described five reasons why 40% of the superivors and managers moving into a new position are likely to fail within the first 18 months in the job. The sixth and final reason is:

Maintaining an Inappropriate Work/Personal Life Balance

Having balance in your life is generally viewed as desirable. It means taking time to build and nurture your family and other personal relationships as well as your professional network. It might mean volunteering in your community for a cause you believe in. And, yes, it means actually taking vacations. Balance means working hard but not becoming a workaholic. Research has shown that if your workweek regularly goes beyond 52-55 hours, your ability to be productive and make good decisions goes downhill quickly – something that no organization wants. Routine 60-70 hour workweeks are a recipe for disaster.

There will be times when a long week (or even a few long weeks) might be necessary, but you can’t effectively sustain that kind of schedule without paying a severe price personally. A failed marriage, missing your children’s lives as they grow up, and generally not having a life other than work are the results of inappropriate balance. At the same time, if your boss can’t count on you to be at work regularly because you are always gone with a family emergency or crisis, you’ll be viewed as someone who isn’t reliable. In the end it is, after all, a question of balance.

How’s your work/personal life balance?

Why Managers Fail – 5

 Another reason the failure rate for supervisors and managers is so high has to do with your ability to do your job within the context of the organization’s culture and way of operating. The fifth reason cited by CCL’s research is:

Lacking Internal Political Savvy

We may complain about it, but the reality is what we call “office politics” is often simply the relationships that help move an organization ahead. Having internal political savvy means understanding how decisions are made, who has real (positional) power, and who the informal leaders are in your organization. As a manager and leader it’s essential that you build a solid internal network within the organization, and that you know how an agenda you’re pushing will affect other parts of the organization.

An important part of political savvy is the approach and tone you use. Constantly raising issues in an aggressive, complaining, tactless manner will be seen as being a P.I.A. (Pain In the Ass) by those above you in the organization. As one executive recently said, “If you are constantly in my face, run me down to others behind my back, and generally behave as a pain in my rear end, why would I want to promote you?”

In every organization there are ways to get things done, raise issues, make suggestions, and transmit important information. Having internal political savvy means understanding how to effectively communicate and interact with others in the organization. Being successful does not mean kissing ass, being a toady, or a yes-person but it does mean understanding how to do a good job within your organization.

What do you think?

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.

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?

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