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 – 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?

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?

Why Managers Fail – 2

As noted in the last post, 40% of newly appointed managers and supervisors fail within the first 18 months. One of the major reasons is:

Being Unwilling or Unable to Make Tough Decisions

It’s normal to make your first decisions carefully and thoughtfully. After all, being newly promoted or hired means upper management will keep a close eye on you for awhile. That’s fine. And certainly your first or second personnel change will come under rather close scrutiny. The successful supervisor or manager makes personnel changes carefully, keeping at least the next higher level in the loop throughout the process.

In fact, most of the truly tough decisions you’ll face are people-problem decisions. Certain issues can doom a new supervisor or manager to failure, such as being unwilling to confront poor performers positively and help them improve or move on, or ignoring interpersonal disagreements and conflicts. And while the toughest decisions are often people issues, they can also involve equipment, systems, or process problems; new product/service decisions; or other issues posing risk to your team or the organization.

Making decisions and solving problems are part of the deal when you become a supervisor or manager. Just goes with the territory. We cover a wealth of information on navigating that territory in Skill 6 of The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors and Managers – due out in June.

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 8 – Growing Yourself

All of us have some ideas about how we’d like to grow and improve. You may want to get better at providing performance feedback to your employees and coaching them about your expectations. Or you may want to improve some aspect of your communications skills. Perhaps you want to improve your organizational, personal productivity, decision-making skills. Or you might want to develop your skills in more “big picture” areas, such as strategy, teamwork, or project management.

As you think about your current job, are there areas that could stand some improvement? What kind of job would you like to do next? What skills do you need to acquire to be ready if the opportunity comes along? Whatever your current situation, start thinking and behaving like your growth and development is your own responsibility. Because it is.

How about you? What areas are you growing in these days? What are your developmental plans for the rest of this year? Growing Yourself may be the most important of The 8 Essential Skills. What do you think?

Skill 7 – Leading & Empowering

No matter where you work or what you do, if you are going to be effective in managing your team and getting the job done, you will need to be a leader. If managing yourself (Skill 1) is the foundational skill that begins your path to success, then leadership helps you expand beyond yourself and your immediate team. Becoming a leader provides you with a chance to dramatically widen your sphere of influence

Both leadership and management involve acquiring and developing knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors. Once you are reasonably adept at Skills 1 through 6, you will be ready for Skill 7 – Leading & Empowering.

What do you think? How do you go about leading your team to success? Are your employees truly empowered? How did you get that to happen? Let us know what works for you.

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.

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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