Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Rattle and Hum"

One of my Dale Carnegie participants in Defiance last night talked about how he handled a customer who was concerned about a "rattle" in their car. It was an excellent example of how to handle a person when they are potentially stressed and "disgruntled." He understood that the customer was concerned about her car performing well and she new that if there was a "rattle", there likely was a problem that could affect performance. His empathy helped him keep that customer a customer.

It caused us all in the class to reflect on how we treat people in business. Businesses tend to be accustomed to investing in the maintenance of their equipment. If a machine starts to "rattle", it gets maintenance quickly because the business cannot afford for that machine to be down. It makes good business sense to invest in this activity. Ideally, the business wants to maintain the equipment BEFORE a "rattle" shows up.

But what about the business' people? If they don't get "maintenance", don't they also start to "rattle"? Wouldn't it make just as good business sense to invest in the continuous maintenance of its people? After all, they are the business' biggest asset.

Friday, November 6, 2009

An Analogy of Leader/Follower Alignment

This is inspired by John P. Kotter, who said in the Harvard Business Review that leaders create vision and set direction while managers deal with complexities. With that in mind, here is an analogy of the importance of alignment between leaders in your organization and their followers.

Think of your favorite automobile. The wheels each have independent suspension so that they can better deal with rough surfaces that they may be driving over. Specifically, and those of you who are more mechanically inclined can help me out, when a wheel with independent suspension is driven over a bump, the independent suspension helps reduce the impact of that bump to the other wheels on the car. However, all four wheels are still tied together. These wheels represent your team. They each have a specific identity and personality but for best performance, they are somehow tied together.

The driver of the car represents the leader (foreman, project manager, President, CEO). The driver is determining where the car is going and communicates that to the wheels by turning the steering wheel. If the wheels are out of alignment, what happens when the driver wants to go straight? The car pulls to a different direction. This can happen when even one wheel is out of alignment. The driver then has to exert more energy to counteract the mis-alignment and must continue to exert that force for the duration of the trip. Sound familiar?

How efficient will a mis-aligned vehicle be when compared to a properly aligned vehicle? What will the fuel and maintenance cost be of a vehicle that is allowed to continue to be mis-aligned versus a car that is constantly adjusted for proper alignment? Think about tires, shocks, bearings, tie-rods, etc. Which provides the smoother drive? What about the physical impact on the driver?

Now, put this in terms of your organization. Are you aligned?

Friday, October 30, 2009

The accountability of a Coach

If you have team members who are under performing, before you become convinced of their ultimate failure, ask yourself this:

"What have I done to be a COACH rather than a BOSS?"

"Have I put them in a position to be successful?"

"Have I been proactive in their development?"


"Have I simply hoping that they would develop on their own?"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Want organizational change? Don't paint without primer.

Three years ago, a local manufacturing plant was faced with the news that they had been selected for closing by their corporate headquarters. The plant manager, who is a disciple of Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” and who exemplifies what Collins refers to as “level 5 leadership”, addressed the employees at the plant. He said that he believed there was a chance to save the plant if they all did some specific things. This moment was the catalyst for what Richard Daft refers to as a paradigm shifting radical change. In the context of Kurt Lewin’s 3-step theory ("unfreeze-change-refreeze"), the status quo was instantly “unfrozen.”

Over the next year, the plant focused on creating greater leadership alignment, encouraging a culture of discipline, and seeking opportunity for growing a continuous improvement mindset. The level of engagement was significant and change occurred rapidly as a result. Their efforts saved the plant. However, saving the plant removed the motivation to make those cultural changes permanent. In other words, the “field” in Kurt Lewin’s field theory was now dramatically changed .

It occurred to me that the change process was doomed from the start. There was not enough time devoted to the first phase of Lewin’s 3-step theory. The idea of the “unfreeze” stage is to make people “change ready”. The announcement of the closing of the plant provided the stimulus for unfreezing by providing a instant crisis to rally around. The problem was that the motivation was based around a singular goal—saving the plant—rather than the more broad goal of changing the organization. In other words, the scope was too small and that contributed to the failure to permanently change.

Today, the plant is refocusing...and taking a step backwards in order to move forward. The goal is to change the culture of the plant and to make that change permanent. The key staff members have to be on board--they have to be engaged--they have to be ready to change. Think of it as painting the walls in your home. If you want the paint to stick--for a long time--you need to prep the walls correctly.

The change was flaking away at this company. Now they are spending time scraping and that the change sticks this time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Who am I?

I am going back to my Dale Carnegie roots for this brief post about names.

In this age of avatars and screen names, knowing the names of the people you surround yourself with, or depend on in business, is absolutely critical. We often just don't give it enough thought or make it important to us. Here is what Dale said:
Remember that a persons name, to that person, is the sweetest more important sound in any language.
You know how when, in a crowded room, you can hear someone mention your name? It's because you are tuned to it. It is who you are. It is your identity.

During the course of a day or week, we get so busy that when we meet someone new, we make very little effort in learning their name. We are a visual people so we will often recognize their face a week later at the mall...but their name will escape us.

Here's how you can improve:

First, you need to realize and accept the importance of a persons name and commit to putting some effort into it. Without effort, you will not improve. You might as well issue name tags to all you speak with!

Once you have committed, here is what you do when faced with an introduction to a new person.

Stop. Whatever you are doing, it can wait. Put down the pencil, the Blackberry, the remote, the burger, and give your full attention.

Look and Listen. Make eye contact. Notice things about the person while repeating their name in your head--but not so much that you miss what they are saying!

Impression. We all have the ability to get a "first impression" or a "feel" for a person almost immediately.

Associate. Connect this person with something significant about them. Perhaps they are from a vendor--so connect them with their product. Perhaps they are a teacher--connect them with a subject, or a school.

Doing these things automatically increases your effort in remembering names...and will increase your success. Being able to address people that are still new to you by name will win you points as a leader!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Myers Briggs--So what?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a popular test used by many companies to help develop leaders. Often, I will run into people who just underwent the assessment at a company-sponsored seminar and they are excited to tell me that they are a "ENTJ" or an "INFP" (I happen to be an ENTP based on my last assessment). People like to "be" something as long as that "something" tends to be positive. This kind of personality trait indicator gives people that ability.

But so what?

I mean, what do you do with that information after you have it? Do you now have to somehow memorize the types of every member of your team? Or do you just note it in your files? Do you reflect on what your own type means to you and your team? Do you change the way you approach things?

Unfortunately, for many of the companies I know that have done Myers-Briggs (or a similar program), the assessment is not the first step in a leadership development is the ONLY step.

Any time you can gain insight into why you or others do things in certain ways, your potential to be a great leader has increased. But to move from potential leader to actual effective leader, you must actually do something with that information. It takes more than just knowing that you are a "ENTP".

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's not about YOU!

Ego is one of the most dangerous enemies of the true leader. Yes, it is important to be confident in your abilities. Someone who is lacking such confidence cannot effectively inspire those around them to reach their full potential. But thinking that the success or your organization is dependent upon you alone is foolish and arrogant.

This is where many public figures fall down. In the near future, I will be writing articles for the Toledo Examiner. In those articles, I will focus on those in the public eye who hold positions of leadership. I will analyze them as leaders and make recommendations that will help all of us to learn from those examples.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Case for Mentoring

From the August issue of The Business Journal of West Central Ohio.

Several years ago, I was a Regional Vice President for a financial services firm and was travelling with my new boss. Our first appointment of the day was with a firm that I had been trying to get into for several months. The business potential with this firm was significant and I had been persistent in seeking an opportunity to speak to the decision makers there, so I was excited.

Jim, the Divisional Vice President—my boss, had been my boss for only a couple of months. I had met him at some training in Minneapolis a few months earlier and had a favorable impression of him. While in Minneapolis, I made a presentation that was critiqued by a panel that included Jim and he spoke in support of my style and my approach. He was held in high regard so I felt good about receiving those comments.

But on this given morning, Jim destroyed my confidence.

We arrived at the firm ten minutes before our presentation and were shown to the conference room by Kathy, the spouse of the firm’s president and a co-owner of the firm. The presentation lasted for just under an hour (as I had promised) and went very well. The staff of the firm was very interactive with me and the mood was light and cordial. Many questions were asked and there were many “buying signals” given by the staff. After the presentation, Don, the president of the firm, invited us back to his private office where he spent an hour telling us all about the philosophy of his firm. His pride was clear and I felt that he was welcoming us to his business. After he was done, he walked us up to the front desk and instructed his assistant to schedule a private follow-up meeting for me. This appointment was now, officially, a success!

As Jim and I walked out of the office toward my car to continue with the rest of the day’s appointments, I commented that “this was a great way to start the day!” “You think?” said Jim. “Sure. What did you think?” I asked. Jim replied with a stern look on his face “It was awful.” All my enthusiasm drained out of me as if I was a tire that just ran over a spike. Jim offered no further explanation and, frankly, I was no longer interested.

Each appointment that day produced the same negative feedback from Jim. That is, until the completion of the very last meeting. After that meeting, Jim said nothing. I reluctantly asked why he hadn’t said anything about it. He replied that I “did nothing wrong” and that it wasn’t his job to tell me what I did right.
Within six months, neither Jim nor I worked for that company any longer and sales in my former territory dropped to 20% of what they had been while I was there.

Clearly, opportunity was lost here. There was, of course, the opportunity for increased business for my company. Beyond that, because there was no mentoring relationship between me and Jim, I missed a chance for me to grow in my skills in my position. Whatever it was that made that meeting “awful” could have been made into a coaching opportunity. If it had been handled correctly, I could have become an even more valuable member of the organization. There was opportunity lost for Jim as well. At the end of the day that he invested in me, he ended up with someone less connected, less motivated, and less likely to excel. In other words, instead of a stronger team, Jim ended up with a weaker one.

To be a mentor is not a simple proposition. Chip Bell, author of Managers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning, says that mentoring is “more about a mutual search than imparting wisdom.” He goes on to say that mentoring is more “art than science”. In its truest sense, says Dr. Bruce Winston of Regent University, mentoring is about helping the protégé “be all they can be.”

Can your organization afford to NOT be mentoring?

Friday, July 24, 2009

What is "Servant Leadership?"

The term “Servant Leader” is largely based on the work of Robert Greenleaf. He describes a servant leader as someone whose first focus is on serving rather than leading. One of the tests that Greenleaf talks about is whether those served grow as persons. There are 11 generally accepted characteristics of servant leadership:

1. The leader Chooses to lead
That is to say, even if this person is not in a leadership position, they have made the choice to act as a leader. Or, if this person IS in a leadership position, they have chosen to actually behave in the manner of a leader rather than just occupying the position and exerting authority.

2. There is a focus on Listening
Communication is two-way rather than just an "edict from on high." This develops a relationship based on mutual respect. There is often much more experience and knowledge on your team than you are aware. Without listening, you would be giving up a significant asset.

3. The leader has Empathy for those he leads
The leader truly identifies with those that are led. There is a genuine concern for the well being of the entire team. This is especially important when there is change occurring in the organization. Whether it is implementing a new warehouse management system or a major reorganization, change creates anxiety.

4. The leader is interested in Healing
The lines between work life and home life are more blurred than ever. Servant leaders recognize that their team does not function in isolation from whatever challenges they may have personally.

5. The leader is highly Aware
Team members believe that the servant leader has a high level of awareness of what is going on. This includes organizational matters locally and corporately. It also includes, by virtue of the leaders listening ability and empathy, issues facing individual team members. This fits with what Dale Carnegie describes as having a "genuine interest" in other people.

6. The leader uses Persuasion rather than authority
This produces a higher level of cooperation amongst the team. One plant manager I recently interviewed referred to his style as being very "collaborative." During his collaborations with his team, the team often came up with solutions. Because it was their idea, they took more ownership of it. This is another example of building a relationship based on respect.

7. The leader encourages Conceptualization
It's not only the leader's vision that is is also the team's. In fact, the leader encourages their team to think of what "can be." Defiance Metal Products in Defiance, Ohio recently completed a restructuring of their manufacturing facility. The project was led by their Lean Champion, Mary Short. But what really made the project successful was that Mary's relationship with her maintenance team enabled some very creative and highly efficient solutions.

8. The leader has good Foresight
The leader has the ability to pick up on trends and to understand their implications for the future. They also can "see" what the future consequences will be from a decision made today.

9. There is a strong sense of Stewardship
Followers of a servant leader feel that the leader has a strong sense of "making the world a better place." The leader seeks to prepare the organization to contribute to the greater good.

10. There is a commitment to the Growth of others
Servant leaders tend to be mentors and have a strong desire to have their team become "all that they can be." They have the "ability to see ability" in their team and they position their team to be successful.

11. There is a strong sense of building Community
Followers of servant leaders typically will feel part of something more than just an organization. Often, followers will describe the organization as a "family" because of the connection that exists. The leader enjoys a position more than simply as "boss" or "supervisor."

In the end, servant leadership is a style that focuses significantly on the relationship with the followers. It requires setting aside ego in the interest of accomplishing tasks through the followers.

In other words, a servant leader seeks the success of their followers rather than accolades for themselves.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Definition of "Mentor"

Mentor: Someone whose hindsight can become your foresight. (anonymous)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Most Pressing Leadership Issue of Today

In his book “Lincoln on Leadership…Executive Strategies for Tough Times”, Donald Phillips shares examples of Lincoln’s leadership style during the Civil War. In explaining why he relieved Gen. John C. Fremont of his command in Missouri, Abraham Lincoln said "His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with".

It seems that we have not learned that lesson well enough because, almost 150 years later, leaders continue to struggle with how to deal with their people on a personal level. Specifically, leaders fear getting too close to their teams and so, they often distance themselves too much.

There are plenty of reasons for keeping your distance if you are a leader. The military has always had a policy against fraternization. Simply put, leaders were forbidden from socializing with their subordinates. It applies to all leader-subordinate relationships. Many companies in Corporate America have instituted similar rules feeling that maintaining a strictly business relationship amongst team members and leaders promotes the most efficient and trouble-free environment.

Another reason that leaders may create a rigid boundary between themselves and their team members is to prevent a perceived vulnerability. As people open themselves up to each other more, flaws may become evident. Some leaders may feel that they cannot afford to have their flaws exposed. They may feel that it undermines their authority or credibility. This idea, itself, is flawed because the reality is that leadership is not derived from authority. A person in authority MAY be a leader…but it is not always so. On the other hand, someone with no authority at all may still be a leader.

The risk to creating this distance is that no relationships are built. According to Roger Looyenga, then Chairman and CEO of Auto Owners Insurance, you cannot coach or mentor someone without entering into some sort of relationship with them. One of the current “buzz words” in the industry today is “engagement”. You simply cannot inspire true engagement of your team if you do not have a foundation of a positive relationship with them. It is actually essential to have some element of a personal nature in the relationship. The more levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that you can connect with, the more likely you will be successful. How will you know what it will take to touch someone in that way if you never really get to know them? Auto Owners has apparently done this well because earlier this year, they were recognized with the Dale Carnegie Leadership Award.

And speaking of Dale Carnegie, it’s not enough to just start asking personal questions. The attitude of sincerity and genuineness must go hand in hand with such efforts. In his ground-breaking book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Carnegie advises to “become genuinely interested in other people”. Obviously, the key word is genuine. Insincere gestures made in an attempt to build rapport will more often than not create a greater void in the relationship than existed previously.

These relationships that a leader must build are truly the most pressing issue in leadership today. Leaders are constantly being asked to do more, better, faster, and with fewer resources—today more than ever. Today’s business environment requires creativity, sacrifice, foresight, and determination. Those traits will likely be thriving in an organization whose leadership has built relationships based on genuine interest in its people.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Leadership Principles by an Apprentice Winner

Kelly Perdew is a West Point grad who, while serving in the Army, was a Ranger and an Intelligence Officer. Today, he is an entrepreneur and CEO of Probably, you would recognize him mostly for the fact that he was the Season 2 winner of Donald Trump's "Apprentice."

Here are some leadership principles that Kelly adapted from his military background and writes about in his book TAKE COMMAND: 10 Leadership Principles I Learned in the Military and Put to Work for Donald Trump.

Take the harder right over the easier wrong.

Do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it.

Be passionate about what you do, or do what you’re passionate about.

If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

There is no “I” in TEAM.

Selfless Service:
Give back.

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Up, down, and across your organization.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

The person with the most varied responses wins.

One thing you might wish to reflect upon as you look at Kelly's principles is that these are not merely "Leadership" principles. In every organization, success also requires people with a good sense of "Followership." Each of these principles can also be applied in that context.

In other words, the practice of leadership is not reserved to those in leadership positions.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Great Quote About Leadership

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves. (Lao-Tzu)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Follow up to "Yet another definition of Leadership"

It certainly is critical for a leader to be able to recognize the skills, talents, and abilities of their team members. But that is not enough. What good is it if you, as a leader, can see ability in your people, but you DO nothing about it? You MUST tell those people that you see that talent in them. And, you must find a way to put those people in positions to highlight their talents. This is what Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, refers to as "having the right people in the right seats on the bus".

Recently, I worked with a client who runs a manufacturing plant. He and his leadership team hired a talented young woman with a particular set of skills that the plant was lacking. The young woman would report directly to the department head who did not have the same skills as the new hire, but who had a different set of complimentary skills. My client thought that the match would be ideal. There was even thought that the new hire would develop into becoming the successor to the department head.

A few months later, my client was disappointed in the performance of the new hire. She was "rubbing people the wrong way" and seemed to have an overall abrupt nature to her. My client had come to the conclusion that she was just not going to be the person to succeed the department head. She just didn't have the people skills, my client said.

Upon some investigation, including a conversation with the department head, it became clear that the new hire was never put into a position to succeed. She was not given an opportunity to use the skills that the company had hired her for...and she had become frustrated. For one reason or another, the department head required to be involved in all aspects of the new hire's job. If another department had a question that was in the area of expertise of the new hire, she was not allowed to answer it directly. She had to first go to the department head. The new hire was being micromanaged.

This type of management might be appropriate to use with someone who has demonstrated a lack of competency or trustworthiness. But that was not the case with this new hire. She had never been given the chance to prove herself. She was hired, with great excitement, being told that she was going to be a great asset to the company. But after starting, the actions did not match the words.

Consequently, when the department head took a leave of absence, the performance and attitude of the new hire improved dramatically! She finally felt like she was doing what she was hired to do. The positive change was felt throughout the department.

Remember, the talent on your team wants to be "in the game." People are happiest and most productive when they feel that they are contributing. You, as a leader, NEED that the highest possible level. If your talented team members don't feel that way in your organization, they will likely find another organization where they will. And they make take others with them.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Yet another definition of "Leadership"

Here is a new definition of leadership that I have been rattling around in my head for a while. As far as I know, it is completely original and it fits perfectly with my core beliefs.

A leader...
has the ability
to SEE ability
in someone
who doesn't have the ability
to see that ability
in themselves.

Think of mentors, coaches, or other leaders you have known in your life. Didn't the good ones fit this definition?

The question is, do YOU?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

One Simple Thing to Improve Your Organization

Yep. One simple thing. Just one thing. My mind is going back to that scene in City Slickers where Jack Palance is telling Billy Crystal the same thing!

Here it is: In every interaction you have with people in your organization, make the focus THEM. Make it a goal for yourself to have each person who talks with you feel better than they did before they talked to you.

What? What about the "problem children" in my organization?

Were they always problems? Remind them of what you saw in them when you hired them. Tell them why they are important to the organization and how much they impact it.

Try it. People need to feel important and they will perform better when they do. You may even find that your own stress is reduced! What have you got to lose?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Economy Leaves Little Room for Leadership Mistakes

This column appears in the July 2009 issue of The Business Journal of West Central Ohio.

I don’t need to tell you that belts are being tightened all over the State of Ohio. Businesses of all sizes are working with reduced staff in an attempt to keep overhead low and the chance of survival high. Employees are being asked to do more, do it better, do it faster, and with less resources than ever before. It is a time like this that reminds me of a quote that is often attributed to John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame (even though the originator of the quote was actually a sportswriter named Heywood Broun): “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” In a leadership context, an appropriate version of this quote might be “Crisis does not create leaders, it reveals them.” Now is the time for the leaders of your organization to reveal themselves.

The department typically under the most pressure right now is human resources. The key word here is human. Your staff is your greatest asset…and they are coming to work stressed right now. Even if your particular business is doing well, your employees may still be bringing the stress of their spouse’s job with them to work. If your business is not doing well, just imagine the concerns that your employees may have. Many companies have laid off staff and the remaining staff may be wondering “am I next?” Stress may manifest itself in the form of increased sick time being taken by staff, lower morale, increased workplace violence, and a general decrease of productivity. None of those are a desirable outcome.

It may be obvious to you that this is not simply an HR issue. Rather, it is a critical issue that leaders at all levels of the business need to be concerned about. It is something to be proactive about. Consider these steps:

  1. Keep communications open and honest. Avoid spinning the situation to convey a contrived positive. Your employees are smart and can smell when they are being “fed a line." Such actions tend to reduce the credibility of the leader. When a leader needs to make tough decisions (such as reducing hours or benefits), credibility is essential in gaining the understanding of the staff.
  2. Increase the personal touch. Get out of your office and implement MBWA (Management by Walking Around). Spend time listening to your people. Try honestly to see things from their point of view and resist the urge to debate decisions. Let them do a great deal of the talking!
  3. Set goals (or adjust ones you already have). Give the staff something to work toward. This gives them something positive to focus on. Perhaps create productivity competitions between shifts.
  4. Include more people in strategy. If you have a strategic planning team, ensure that it has representation from every level of the company. This increases employee engagement and could improve implementation. People tend to take ownership of programs that they feel they had significant input in.
  5. Invest in your team. Too often, companies shut down all programs that can improve productivity in order to keep overhead down. This is actually the exact wrong thing to do at the exact wrong time. It’s akin to stopping maintenance on machines in the assembly line. Appropriate training can yield significant benefits in productivity and morale for your organization. You may want to focus on your “front line” managers. These are the people that are “getting it from all sides”. Investing in these managers can often yield the greatest dividends in the shortest amount of time.
  6. Handle mistakes carefully. Your team is made up of humans…and they make mistakes. Assuming that the offending employee is not a chronic problem, look at the mistake as a coaching opportunity. Your goal should be that the employee, after having the mistake addressed, should come away MORE engaged in what the company is doing. In other words, a mistake can be an opportunity to improve an employee. Handled incorrectly, however, the mistake might just turn into a chronic issue. In good times, disgruntled employees will leave. In times like this, disgruntled employees are more likely to stay because there are fewer options. But if they stay, they will not be a model employee. Chances are, their performance will continue to degrade and they will take up more of your time. Remember, employees don’t leave companies. They leave managers.
  7. Keep a long-term view. One of the greatest mistakes I am seeing companies make right now is making choices that are too heavily based on the short-term. These companies have cut everything to the bare minimum and are focused simply on reducing overhead. There is very little thought given to strategy. These companies have essentially succumbed to a self-induced business coma. When the economy starts to turn around, these companies will still be slumbering and will lose valuable time and consequently, market share.

With the right attitude, focus, and leaders in place, your company can avoid the business coma and leap ahead of your competition.