The story you're about to read is true. The names have
been changed to protect the innocent. Ok, you may not be old enough for that
line to make sense (Dragnet), so I'll stop. Plus, these people weren't
"innocent." Further, I'm not changing the names, I'm simply omitting
the company name, and only because a client suggested I do so.
So, I was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa a while back working with
one of my largest clients--Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). I'd just spent the
last two days facilitating multiple half-day sessions with three separate
groups of up-and-coming leaders and was relaxing before dinner.
Sitting in the hotel's lobby lounge, I couldn't help but
overhear a fairly rowdy bunch next to me. They clearly worked together, or at
least for the same company, and were having quite a time. Several were
discussing where they would go to "continue the party" that evening.
Though I didn't hear the initial exchange, apparently one
of the crew questioned the wisdom of a traveling party, since they all had to
get up a bit early the next day.
"We're at management training this week -- how awake
do we have to be??"
I kid you not, that's the response that came from one of
the women in this group. At about nine kazillion decibels, lest someone in the
adjoining hotel couldn't hear.
Obviously, this got my attention.
It was only then that I noticed the three-inch blue and
white binders sitting next to most of them. "Foundations of
Leadership" was embossed on the front; the name and logo of this large
defense contractor would be familiar to all reading this. Particularly since
there aren't many of those in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Apparently, not all of those revelers understood the
general concept of "Foundations of Leadership."
Now we've all been bored stiff at one time or another by
a sleep-inducing, monotone-voiced facilitator or trainer (no one in my
sessions, of course -- merely speaking hypothetically), droning on about one
thing or another for three or four consecutive butt-numbing days. That's not
the point here. The points are:
1. Leadership development is crucial for long-term
success of an organization. We must convey that those participating are there
for a reason. And that reason is not to reach consensus on the next bar
location. Having a good time is ok, maybe even encouraged (hey, I like a good
time); making learning adjunct to the party is not.
2. The investment for leadership development is
substantial. Facilitators, facilities, materials, salaries... then add in loss
of productivity while in session and related costs. Save it for those who take
leadership -- and their professional development -- seriously.
3. But my final point is this: The most important thing
we can do with emerging leaders is to develop them for the future. Not all, of
course, are worthy of the mantle, nor the cost of such development. Realizing
the importance of development must start with senior leadership, and we need to
get better at it.
If we take it seriously, and show its significance to the
organization, so will others. That whole "leading by positive
example" thing. Maybe then our emerging managers won't use
"Foundations of Leadership" as an insomnia cure.
In this and 2 remaining blog entries, I'm expanding on the "5 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" I outlined in a recent article.
This third law is a reminder that development is essential for employee growth, and for your own well-being. In other words, it's both selfish and generous; making someone else smarter while you do less work. This is a good thing, eh? Law #3. If you always answer employee's every question, you'll forever be answering employees' every question. Questions are teaching moments--don't rob employees of the opportunity.
Sounds trite, and I don’t mean it to (ok, maybe I mean it to be a little trite). If an employee is asking because they’re stupid, get rid of the employee. If they are a decent employee asking because they do not know, then teach them.
Next time, they'll know how to do it -- or at least the thought process behind it -- and you won't have to. How's that for planned efficiency??
Now, you have time to go do something important. And to answer in advance: No, answering every employee's every question is not something important you should be doing. If you're doing that, you may as well just do it yourself...
In this and 3 subsequent blog entries, I'm expanding on the "5 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" I outlined in a recent article.
The second law focuses on open communications; too often, usually in the misplaced interest of correctness or conflict-avoidance, we tap-dance around topics, subjects, and even direction. We assume -- often incorrectly -- that someone "knows what we mean," though we didn't come out and say it.
Law #2. If you want something specific done, say so specifically, using clear, plain language. Employees, generally, have some difficulty doing their basic jobs; adding "mind-reading" to their description is just plain unfair.
No hints, implications, or innuendos. Say what you want, and use English! Directness counts.
I was recently doing some coaching with a client executive who was lamenting the poor "listening skills" of his Operations VP. Seems he had told the VP that one of his director-level staffers was not fully competent, and that the VP should "do something about that person."
3 days later, that VP fired that director. My client executive was shocked -- he told me, "I told him to do something with her, you know, like coach, train, or develop. Maybe even warn her of her performance." He said, "I didn't tell him to fire her..."
The VP, of course, simply said, "The boss said 'do something with her, so I did."
Not really... I don't need to tell those of you reading this the difficulty in replacing an experienced mid-level manager in a specific industry. Especially without even making an effort to change her performance or behavior in some way.
Of course, the senior executive felt his comments were sufficient... obviously, they were not. English would have prevented this misunderstanding... simply telling the VP that he should "improve her performance or behavior" would have been sufficient; perhaps even simply asking the VP what he's done to work with the director would have jogged a reasonable conversation.
Instead, a miscommunication -- caused solely by incomplete/indirect language -- has created yet another "situation" at the company.
As if we didn't already have enough to do, we go out creating challenges to deal with.
So, like the doctor when the patient says, "Doc, it hurts when I do 'this,' and the Doc says simply, "Stop doing that."
I get this a lot. And though it seems like "the question of the ages," it's really not.
Leaders are made, not born.
I believe this with all my being, and have evidence of perpetual non-leaders "turning a corner" in their professional lives and developing the leadership presence that many only dream of.
I believe they are made because I've seen them made.
Having said that... I've been playing golf for 30 some-odd years. I'm a solid "business-golfer," never embarrassing myself completely (well, there was this one time...), and also never being eligible for a U.S. Open run. I play to a 12-15 handicap, and enjoy the game. Others pick up the sticks, get a few pointers, and then display an immediate proclivity to the game, joining the single-digit ranks in less than a year. I try and run 'em over with my golf cart... wait, did I write that out loud?
Anyway, these "12-month-wonders" weren't born knowing how to golf. They didn't grow in the womb with spikes and a leather glove, knowing then that a downhill lie requires a closed clubface. They were, however, born with the propensity to learn the game that I was not. They picked it up faster--it fit their physicality, their mental grasp, even their character or persona.
Here, then, are your born leaders. They knew nothing of active listening, feedback and decision-making during their mom's first ultrasound; they simply pick up the principles and applications so much faster than we mortals that they appear--like the irritating golfers above--to have been "born" with those traits.
They weren't. They just learned 'em faster than most of us.
I also think that the "born, not made" mantra is promoted mostly by (a) those who weren't born with that propensity mentioned above and need some emotional salve to keep their ego whole, or (b) those who were born with that propensity, and can't understand why others don't "get it."
A bigger question, to me, is what can we do to identify those innate leadership learners sooner, rather than later?
In this and 4 subsequent blog entries, I'm expanding on the "5 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" I outlined in my most popular article.
This first law is based on decision-making; one of the most significant things we must do, as leaders, is to make decisions. Some will be good, some require further decision-making.
So without further ado...
Law #1: Never delay or abrogate a decision that must be made. Make it and move on. You may have to immediately make another decision; this doesn't mean your first one was wrong, merely that your second one had the benefit of additional knowledge.
Let me share a story...
I used to work for a 30-year USAF General, a war veteran with a chest full of medals, ribbons, and other colorful accoutrements. Great guy, razor sharp, did not suffer fools lightly. His name was Brigadier General Lawrence Bose.
General Bose was a fighter pilot (F-4) in Vietnam, most notably during Operation Linebacker (the push-back after the Tet Offensive). As it seems with many battle-hardened leaders (military and corporate), he was known to say some pretty profound things. The sorts of things you would tell yourself, "Hey, I need to remember that one..." Some actually stuck, which for me, is nothing short of miraculous. One, in particular...
"Shirt," he would say ("Shirt" was slang for "First Sergeant" in the USAF--the reason is fodder for another story), "Leaders don't really make good decisions or bad; they just make decisions. If they've done their job correctly, the people working for them make the results of those decisions good."
Now, never mind whether you agree that decisions are never classified as "good" or "bad." Set that part aside... more important is the leadership genius behind the comment. Our jobs as leaders is to make decisions. We've heard this a hundred times, so here's a hundred and one: A mediocre decision made promptly and unequivocally trumps a really good decision delayed and hesitant.
Another fairly well known General, George S. Patton, put it this way: "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week."
Consider this: If we've managed our talent appropriately, and developed our staffs as we should, most of our decisions will result in unmitigated success -- those people working with us will make sure of it.
(repeated from 2013—because it reared its head again with a
But, Kevin, that’s his job!
An exasperated client exclaimed this to me after
hearing—again—that she should get better at recognizing her folks, and to
consider using regular accomplishments as the impetus, versus waiting for the
one-off spectacular event.
She disagreed strongly, obviously. She felt that if people
were just doing their job, they weren’t doing anything exceptional, ergo no
recognition warranted or expected. “Their paycheck is a reward for satisfactory
behavior,” she said. I’m sure no one reading this has ever uttered those words.
“Wrong,” I told her. “That’s just flat wrong.”
Since she is a football fan (assuming you actually consider
the Jacksonville Jaguars “football,”), I used a football analogy…
I started playing school football in 7th grade. Mine was a
small school, so most of us played both ways; I played right-side offensive
guard and defensive linebacker. This is Texas school football, so believe me,
they took it as serious then as they did through later years in high school.
In 8th grade our starting quarterback was a guy named Gordon Williams,
the son of our football coach (I’m sure that was just a coincidence). Gordon
and I were friends before football came along, as we lived about 5 houses apart
in a town of 4,500 people.
Anyway, we were playing La Grange, Texas (yes, the home of
the famed “Chicken Ranch”), and we were trailing by a good margin. Gordon
called a running play, handing the ball off to Albert Cubit (at the time, the
fastest human being I’d ever seen), who headed straight for my right leg. My
job was to pick up the middle linebacker who had been coming across unscathed
most of the game.
And pick him up I did. Nailed him in the chest, likely
surprising the daylights out of him, since I’d been something of a slug the
whole game until then. Ended up laying squarely on top of him, while Albert
pranced merrily into the end zone. Touchdown, Luling Eagles.
Now we were all happy, jumping up and down, slapping each
other’s helmets (this was well before chest bumps, butt-slaps and man-hugs), but Gordon cut
through the crowd and the noise to reach me, grabbed me by both shoulders and
said—yelled in my face, actually—"Great block! Great block!" I beamed, I’m
sure, like some stupid-looking 8th grader.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know I blocked, because I did. It
wasn’t that I didn’t know we scored, because of course I knew. It was because I
didn’t know how what I did actually affected the outcome.
You see, I was face down on top of that linebacker, and just
assumed that Albert had done whatever magic he did when he had the ball. I
didn’t realize that the team’s success at that moment was a direct result of my
efforts. And all I had done was what I was supposed to do. I didn’t block two
or three people, or chase down some errant interceptor. I simply blocked the
one person I was tasked to block for that play. Satisfactory performance.
And the team’s leader made me feel damned good about it.
It’s been over 40 years since that game; I don’t remember any other play, game,
or conversation. Heck, I have no idea of whether we won or lost to La Grange
that afternoon. What I do remember, like it was yesterday, was Gordon Williams
grabbing my shoulders, looking me in the eye, and saying “Great block!”
For just doing exactly what I was supposed to do.
“That which is rewarded is repeated.” It’s a basic tenet of
compensation, and the foundation in changing human behavior. Don’t delay or
save recognition in hopes of rewarding some heroic, superhuman event. Remember
that blocking and tackling—the business kind, not the football kind—is what
makes organizations and their leaders successful today. Show ‘em some love.
Recently, when discussing the details of succession planning
(uh, oh, here he goes again...!) I was asked the following by a colleague:
“What general competencies, skills, attributes or potentials
should we be seeking in someone worthy of developmental efforts, and how do we
determine them in candidates? Are those things different for potential
departmental/functional heads versus those being considered for C-level
My shorter version of that same question: "Who the hell
do I develop?"
First, I believe skills & attributes (or competencies,
if you prefer) are relatively unique to the positions involved. Having said
that, my same triad for hiring easily applies to significant development.
A developmental candidate must bring to the table:
1. Moral and ethical foundations. By now, the person's
character and belief/value system is pretty much locked in by past interactions
with family, friends, colleagues, and school. They need to bring ethics
appropriate for your position with them...
Look for evidence of successful, difficult decision-making,
and drill into the thinking that took place. Uncover judgment errors and do the
2. Work ethic. This is ingrained in people by the age of 4.
Someone either has it or not. Bring it with you or move along. Examine evidence
of "finishing what you start." Often times, well-intentioned people
with a mediocre work ethic will promise the moon, and even begin subsequent
Many 'starts,' however, will die on the vine. Also investigate
resourcefulness that shows a "can-do" sort of accomplishment
3. Intellect. Remember, you can't fix 'stupid.' You just
can't. Many have tried in vain before you; learn that lesson quickly and judge
accordingly. They must bring with them sufficient intelligence to perform
future responsibilities without excess, preventable error. I don’t mean an IQ
test, necessarily, but they must have the mental snap to learn what we need
Intellect possessed must match that required by the role.
Repeated mistakes or errors in judgment, inability to grasp simple
decision-making analyses, lack of confidence in personal actions and decisions
frequently point to issues with intelligence.
So, spend some time and effort deciding who you really want
to develop; a one-size-fits-all approach simply won't work, and will tire
everyone out unnecessarily. Not every "Manager" has the wherewithal
to be developed into a Director or VP, and certainly not every VP has the
potential to become C-anything.
Cardinal rule of decision-making: Think, reduce, decide.
When we use control and leadership in the same sentence, our brows start to furrow. We see controlling behavior as an anathema to empowerment--something to be summarily eradicated, not embraced.
Well, yes, sort of.
Controlling behavior in leadership--when used within relationships--is clearly bad. The world doesn't need more micro-managers, we have plenty. But make the distinction clear: when used within relationships is the qualifier.
Personally controlling the controllable is something altogether different. And no, I'm not simply playing with words. Let me explain...
Relationships notwithstanding, there is a lot going on in a typical manager's world. Changes, innovations, developing people, idiotic boss demands... the list goes on. Add to that the occasional "he's touching me!" and we see quickly that the old, tired phrase "control is just an illusion" is neither old nor tired enough. In fact, it's still pretty damned active.
There are so many things--most things--over which leadership has little or no control, that for those things we can control, we should do so viciously and purposefully. Our own behavior, for example. The feedback I give others... whether I decide to mentor someone or not... how I act/react to challenges--do I show resilience, modeling that behavior for others, or do I run around shrieking and pulling my hair?
We don't control much in the big scheme of things, but we do control more than we often think. Grab those things you do control, make sure they happen as you want them to, and save the mental and emotional bandwidth for those things where control is simply a distant mirage, making us believe that water is just over the next sand dune.
In context, his comments were fine. Taken out of context--the world in which public figures live, like it or not--his words sucked. At best, he misspoke (current political favorite); at worst, he screwed up.
Either way, he fixed it. It's never the first mistake or bad decision that gets us in trouble; it's the second--the one we make after we realize the first one was wrong. Nadella knocked that second one out of the park.
No qualifications, no equivocations... he just apologized. "I screwed up, I'm sorry."
Self-improvement gurus often look at productivity from a
“time management” perspective. Absolute malarkey. BS. Balderdash. Pure
Nothing could be further from the truth. Productivity isn’t
about managing time, it’s a about discerning among options. In short, it’s
about prioritization, not time.
Here are 3 productivity techniques I drill into my
stretched-too-thin executive coaching clients :
Decide in advance what’s important, but don’t build a list out of concrete. I know that sounds like a paradox, but we need to know, in calm times, what we believe is important—let’s identify that. But don’t be such a slave to your list that you cannot adapt opportunistically. Needing to read some staff-driven emails may be momentarily important, but don’t close your door when a highly-engaged, usually productive asks “do you have a minute?”
If it isn’t important enough for a calendar, it’s not important enough to do. Deep-six the countless, burgeoning lists that inevitably create a monument for failure at the end of the day. If something needs to be done, put it on your calendar. Then, of course, pay attention to deadlines.
My quote above from Star Wars’ Yoda is appropriate for individual productivity, particularly as it relates to procrastinating. Either do it, and do it now, or DON’T do it, and either do something else or give yourself permission to just relax, surf the web, or stare at the ceiling. Worrying incessantly about something you’re “supposed” to be—but not—doing is simply a time-sucker and entirely unproductive.
Identify and focus on what’s important, let your calendar
then drive your day, and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t (or simply
won’t) get to something. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “sometimes it’s
ok to delay… if you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute.” But that's just me... KB