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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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.

Exciting Times

Organizations in all parts of the economy, at least those that made it through the Great Recession, are running pretty lean at this point. During the Recession organizations tightened their belts, reduced or eliminated  discretionary spending, and concentrated on survival. Positions were eliminated, projects scaled back or postponed, and in many cases headcount reduced. The organizations that survived are now leaner, more thoughtfully focused on core products and services, and have a changed workload distributed across a smaller number of heads, hands, and hearts. Whether you think the result is positive or not, it represents reality. The question now is, “How can we be successful over time in a rapidly changing world? ”

We see changing roles, expectations and challenges for supervisors, managers, and professionals all around us. Responsibilities and assignments change frequently, priorites are moving targets, and everyone is required to grow and adapt all the time. The increased pace and changing demands requires an adaptive and flexible approach at all organizational levels, and that means life-long, continuous learning.

Knowing what is needed for the future is only possible through knowing where you are right now. That’s where 360-degree assessments like the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory come in. They provide a baseline of valid, reliable feedback to serve as the foundation for an individual, team, or organization development plan. Click here for more information on the assessment tools we use; we know they work.

In addition to the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, we are currently completing a 360-degree management and leadership assessment process for two large teams. In both cases the organizations recognized that the need to invest in professional development was long overdue. Helping our clients to adapt and change – and being part of the individual and team growth that results – is exciting, rewarding and just plain cool!

What is your organization doing to develop the skills, attitudes, and behaviors needed today and tomorrow?

Building Nonprofit Capacity

This past week marked the final session of a 5-session course based on The 8 Essential Skills and delivered for ONEplace@KPL, a nonprofit resource center based in Kalamazoo, MI. With 40 supervisors, managers, and nonprofit executive directors participating, the course was lively and interesting. The work that Bobbe Luce and Monica Priest do in assisting area nonprofits is outstanding, remarkable, and a pleasure to watch. ONEplace@KPL provides one-stop resources, assistance, and advice for nonprofits of all kinds and sizes. From one individual with a new idea to long-established NPOs with a hundred employees or more, ONEplace@KPL has rapidly become the go-to place for nonprofit managers, executives, and boards of directors. ONEplace is funded by local foundations and provides its services free of charge to the nonprofit community and is housed in the outstanding Kalamazoo Public Library. Given the increased service demands and funding challenges faced by nonprofits in this economy, ONEplace is just a really great idea! If your community doesn’t have a resource like this, maybe it’s time to start one.

Why Managers Fail – 1

Managers fail for a number of reasons, and the failure rate is remakably high. Our friends at the Center for Creative Leadership ( they do remarkable and important work at CCL – they’re the Gold Standard when it comes to Leadership Development) have studied the issue of managerial failure for years. Their term for it is “derailment” and it’s a good term for what happens.  About 40 percent of supervisors and managers fail within the first 18 months in their positions (defined as being fired, demoted, having their job reorganized, or otherwise having their responsibilities significantly changed). In addition, the vast majority of these new managers failed due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • Not understanding their boss’s expectations
  • Being unwilling or unable to make tough decisions
  • Taking too much time to learn the new job
  • Failing to build partnerships & cooperative work relationships
  • Lacking internal political savvy
  • Maintaining an inappropriate work/personal life balance

We’ll take them one at a time over the course of several posts. Let’s start with the first one:

Not Understanding Their Boss’s Expectations

Expectations are always there. No matter who you are in the organization, you report to somebody else and that person is going to have expectations of you as a manager and supervisor. When those expectations are discussed out in the open, and mutually understood, the odds of your success go up considerably. When those expectations are unstated or unclear, it’s like stepping up to home plate with two strikes already against you.

Do you know what your boss expects from you? Have you discussed and mutually agreed to a shared vision of success for you and the organization? If you answered “no” to either of these questions, you may have a great opportunity for improvement.

Try this; first, make a list of what you think your boss’s expectations are. Then schedule a time to sit down with them and have a discussion about expectations. This should be a critical, top-priority item in your busy life; it could be the single most important meeting you’ll have this year.

Think about it.

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?

Skill 5 – Managing Change

Almost everyone agrees that the pace, degree, and effects of change on our daily lives is increasing. And many of us don’t like it! Whether the amount, rate, and scope of change is accelerating in your own life or not, we all live and work in an environment where change is pretty much a constant. In fact, many assert that change is the only constant in daily life. You can definitely count on things being different in the future than they are today.

What do you think? Of the 8 Essential Skills this one – Managing Change seems to be more and more of a challenge all the time. How do you keep your sanity in this rapidly-changing world? What techniques have you developed for helping your team be more effective and successful as the waves of change come at you?

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