Adopting The Book

My recent post (Out of the Blue!) mentioned the adoption of “The 8 Essential Skills” by a large international law firm. As the sequence of orders (50, then 350, then 70 more) occured, we were initially focused on getting the books produced and making sure they were delivered on a timely basis. Fortunately, we had selected CreateSpace to produce our book “on demand” and that is what they do, and do well. Based on previous orders, my level of confidence about their capabilities was fairly high. Their track record was quite good with the few gliches we’d experienced in the past having been well-handled. The turnaround time from placing the order until the cartons showing up on the client’s loading dock was typcially about 10 days; pretty incredible.

As we got the production and shipping process moving along, two questions were of major interest to me:

  • How were they planning to use the book?

  • How did the firm “find” the book?

The firm is in the process of rolling out a 14 month developmental program for all of their supervisors and managers, and “The 8 Essential Skills” had been selected as the central text for that long-term program, along with their own internal resources. With all the long-term management development programs I’ve worked with over the years, hearing that was really gratifiying. It confirms and validates the central themes of “The 8 Essential Skills.”

My second question – how did they come to select this book? After all, there are hundreds, even thousands of other books on supervising and managing available. The answer was an indicator of how carefully this firm went about designing their program. First, they convened a task force and charged them with examining a wide variety of resources – materials that could be used in central and supplemental roles in their year-plus development program. Then the group compared what they found. One of the members downloaded the Kindle version of “8 Essential Skills”, liked it and showed it to several colleagues. Then, they ordered the printed version for task force members, who evaluated it individually. After aligning the Skills with their core competencies, they ordered copies for their 450+ supervisors and managers. That’s the kind of vetting process we think makes great sense, and I’m delighted to see the “8 Essential Skills” get such a thorough validation.

The firm kicked off their management development program this week. As you would expect, I’m looking forward to learning how that process went. Stay tuned!

Retreating to the Front

This summer has provided several opportunities to leave work behind for several days at a time. Some time to myself to relax and reflect. Some time with colleagues thinking, planning, and collaborating together. The experience reinforced for me the wisdom of stepping backward to go forward. The opportunity to gain some perspective on the past year, look ahead to the next 12-18 months, and give some thought to the longer term future helped me to celebrate accomplishments, clarify values and priorities, set goals, and do some planning for myself and our business. It was a great experience.

How many of us set aside time to really step back to gain perspective on a regular basis? We all know the value of reflection and but it is often hard to “get away” from the daily rush and workload. We suggest an annual multi-day retreat such as I did a few weeks ago; it works wonders. But . . . you have to get it on your schedule and then actually do it!

When will you invest in yourself, your relationships, your business, and your future? Is it time for you to Retreat to the Front?

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?

Employers and Employees

The Kalamazoo Gazette on Friday, September 10, contained a Viewpoint by Karen Momber titled “In today’s work environment, employers hold all the cards.” In her Viewpoint, the writer paints a thoroughly negative image of employers as nasty, mean-spirited, scheming, abusive, unethical, and downright evil. I have no idea where Ms. Momber has worked in her career, but it certainly has not been in any place I’ve ever seen.

With more than 20 years of working, teaching, training, and advising hundreds of organizations and thousands of managers all over the U.S., I have found the vast majority of employers and managers to be the opposite of Ms. Momber’s description. Sure, there are lousy jobs and crummy managers. Some actually are jerks. Unfortunately, the writer uses a broad, all-encompassing brush to paint a wholesale indictment of business organizations and those who own and manage them. If personal experience has informed her views, she has my sympathy. But I believe the portrait she depicts represents a tiny fraction of the private sector.

The vast majority of managers understand that building and running a business means generating a reasonable profit over the long term. Otherwise, the business simply disappears, taking everyone’s job with it. They also understand that treating employees well yields much better results than treating them poorly. Employees who are treated as Ms. Momber describes will be minimally productive and will leave the first chance they get. If enough employees do this, the business ultimately disappears.

In any event (and thankfully!), organizations and managers that embrace “The 8 Essential Skills” don’t look anything like Ms. Momber’s Viewpoint. In the unfortunate event that your employer or manager does look like she describes, buy a copy of the book and leave it on their desk. You’ll be glad you did!

Order your copy today at Amazon.com

When Things Go Wrong

Communications Stories from the Trenches – II

Nearly 30 years ago I sat in one of David Allen’s seminars on personal productivity and heard him say, Virtually every problem that would show up in your business can be traced back to communications; somebody didn’t talk to somebody about something.” The truth of that statement was brought home to me recently as I met with a long-time client. Our monthly discussions tend to be an equal mix of business strategy and people management issues. The CEO realized that on those rare occasions when people’s performance fell short or when a project did not turn out as planned, the cause was almost always a breakdown in Communication. Indeed, somebody didn’t communicate something to somebody.  

Much of the time, when things go wrong, the cause is a lack of clear expectations. You’ve hired good people, you’ve brought them on board and have come to rely on them to produce the results you’re looking for. And they become pretty good at getting things done well most of the time. When things go wrong, ask yourself, “what did I do or not do that contributed to the results? Was I clear about the outcome we were looking for? Did our focus shift somewhere along the way so we lost sight of the objective? Did priorities change? Did we overload the person or give them conflicting guidance?”

When things go wrong, instead of looking for “who screwed up,” look in the mirror and ask yourself what you could have done differently or better. Whether you are running a large organization or a front-line team, the results they achieve are an outgrowth of the communication you have with them.

You may want to check out Skill 2 – Communicating for Results in “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” To ordervisit Amazon.com.

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?

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