D. Kevin Berchelmann
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Monday, February 23, 2015

The Five Leadership Laws: Law #1

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.

Just make the damned decision...


Kevin Berchelmann

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Rewards for Doing Your Job--Why would I do that??

(repeated from 2013—because it reared its head again with a client)

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.

But that’s just me…

(…and thanks, Gordon)

Kevin Berchelmann

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I Want to Develop Somebody... but Who??

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 responsibilities?”

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 same drilling.

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 implementation.

Many 'starts,' however, will die on the vine. Also investigate resourcefulness that shows a "can-do" sort of accomplishment attitude.

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 done.

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.

Don't make this any harder than it needs to be.

But that's just me...

Kevin Berchelmann

Friday, October 17, 2014

Leadership & Control: Symbiotic, not mutually exclusive

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.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Leadership Apology--Satya Nadella Gets it Right

Big egos are have been the death of many a senior executive. It's such a waste, and it doesn't need to be that way.

Enter Microsoft's Satya Nadella.

During a recent conference, speaking to a group of women, Nadella said they should wait for pay raises to come when an organization recognizes them. Please note--he didn't say women should wait, or that women should do anything different than men. He just happened to be speaking to a women's group, and social media began flogging Nadella for his comments.

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."

It's that easy, folks. Take notes.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Productivity and Time Management--NOT the same thing

Self-improvement gurus often look at productivity from a “time management” perspective. Absolute malarkey. BS. Balderdash. Pure unadulterated bunk.

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 :
  1. 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?”
  2. 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.
  3. 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...
Kevin Berchelmann

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

So, are you micro-managing??

This is an interesting and pertinent topic to me, as many of my clients–some aware, some not–suffer from the micro-managing malady. 

It’s been my experience that micro-managers do so from perceived need. At least in their minds, they feel they have a need for acute attention to detail in one or more functions, or with one or more (or all) members of their staffs. From my experience, the underlying reasons driving this perceived need come from (a) real or perceived lack of competency of employee(s),  (b) real or perceived lack of trust, and/or  (c) an overdeveloped personal ego/sense of self-worth.

Realize that most people want to achieve the same results with fewer efforts, and micro-managing takes MORE effort, not less.  The dangers to me are straightforward: in times of economic scrutiny, we need employees to be thinking MORE, not less.

So, how can we tell if we've crossed that line into micro-managing? What do we look for, and what can we do?  Some indicators (and suggestions):

1. You frequently get questions about problems without recommended solutions. Employees–even really good ones–tire of doing the legwork for a micro-manager, so will simply ask questions instead of problem-solving. “What do you want me to do?” is a typical question, and they are essentially absolving themselves of all ownership and accountability. You decide, you own. They screw it up, you own it.

2. You regularly ask successful employees for status updates. Stop it. They didn't get there by being an idiot, and you frustrating them isn't helping. Set priorities and deadlines, and then allow employees room to do as you asked. Status updates, particularly those without major project milestones, are simply a display of distrust.

3. You're questioning others’ good decisions. Usually because you would have “done it differently,” or are uncomfortable you weren't involved in the decision. How about just saying “Good work, thanks...?” Learn to shut up; diarrhea of the mouth is a career limiter anyway... 

Eradicating micro-managing is the responsibility of both parties–the staffer being micro-managed, and the manager “doing” the micro-managing.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Does Turnover Really Matter?

I mean really...

You only have 2 kinds of employee turnover: Involuntary (we whack 'em; this is a good thing) and Voluntary.

With Voluntary turnover, we then have Uncontrollable (planned relocations, illnesses, things like that, nothing we can do) and Controllable.

Controllable, the purview of leadership, has still 2 more categories: Inconsequential (no heartache here, good riddance, "see-ya," "Don't let the door hit you on the butt") and Consequential (Oh, crap, what do we do now??).

The only issue, from a turnover perspective, is the Consequentials. Losing those people we truly do not want to lose, and whose loss will significantly impact our organization. How big is that percentage? I'd argue fairly small. It had better be small, or our organization's survival is in jeopardy. The rest of the turnover is fundamentally a hiring/sourcing/recruitment issue...

I mentioned in an earlier At C-Level that we needed to hire more "A" - players and fewer "C" - players. If we're losing "C" employees, good riddance. If we lose even ONE "A" player, we need to find out what went wrong and do something different. "A" employees are too difficult to recruit and hire - their loss is clearly Consequential.

So, don't just blindly track "Turnover" as this holy grail of a metric. Track the turnover that matters. Another clear example of "measurement is easy; understanding those measures is hard." We have way too many measures and an insufficient understanding of how those measures translate into something actionable. But that's for another edition of At C-Level...


Kevin Berchelmann

Monday, August 11, 2014

Resolving Conflict--this isn't post-doctoral study, folks...

Conflict is a natural occurrence. In fact, it's frequently a really good thing, allowing organizational success by way of diverse thinking. My favorite phrase: When reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people disagree, the organization is better served.

And I believe that. Of course, I could write a treatise on the reasonably intelligent and well-intentioned qualifiers, but that's for a different posting...

Instead, I'm just going to provide some tips and tidbits for combatting unhealthy conflict. Not to silent healthy conflict, mind you; I'm referring to the other kind. The simple, three-step model for conflict resolution has always been:

  1. Get all the facts on the table,
  2. Understand the others' positions, and 
  3. Find a win-win solution.

Now, I don't know about you, but that last step seemed to take a quantum leap of faith after the first two. Here are some specifics that may help to bring that leap of faith back to something closer to a normal acceptance of logic...
  • Listen. No, not that kind of listening... really listen. Listen to understand, not refute. Listen to find common ground, not to validate your position. Listen, hard.
  • Don't interrupt. Your parents told you that--you should have listened to them (see guidance above). Keep your blankety-blank trap shut and let someone talk. You can't listen if you don't, and the very act of obvious respect may act as a conflict-resolving catalyst. Stranger things have happened. And while we're discussing interruptions... opening your mouth, shaking your head, and otherwise demonstrating your desire to speak are all interruptions, even if no noise comes out of your pie hole. Don't do it.
  • Use "I" messages. Yes, we learned that ridiculously basic, 3-part feedback technique in Communications 101 (did you take notes?). They are as useful and viable as ever, and even more so when resolving conflict. 
    • "When you..."
    • "I feel..."
    • "Because..."
          Remember, our goal is to resolve conflict--really change
          behavior--not to simply win.
  • Ask. If you really want to know "what it will take" for someone to get over a conflict situation, it may be as simple as simply asking. Give it a shot.

Conflict may be necessary for successful organizations, but unhealthy conflict is never part of that need. As leaders, we must identify it, address it, deal with it.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Soccer, Leadership and the Pony Express

It’s finally over. The World Cup, soccer’s Super Bowl, is done. Germany wins. Now, back to real sports on television (kidding, kidding…).

Though, obvious by my snide comment, soccer isn't “my thing,” it clearly has a world following. Mostly because other countries don't have baseball, football--the real one :)--or basketball to watch during off-seasons, but no matter… millions watch soccer.

So, what can we learn from watching those games (assuming you did watch them)? Well, aside from “don't bet on the home team” (7-1 Brazil… seriously??), there are some leadership lessons buried within that larger-than-a-football-field arena…

1.  Winning is not a one-man game. Soccer has stars, to be sure, but the players don’t have the luxury of quarters or periods. They go flat out for 45 minutes at a time. At any given time, one or more players are “flat-out,” while others are just “running hard,” the soccer version of on-field resting. 11 players on the field for each team, and it takes all 11 to win. The German team wasn't a collection of bought-and-paid-for stars (think Miami Heat), but a well-honed team of players who needed each other (synergy) to succeed.

2.  Short-term actions, long-term view. There are 54 total matches played during the World Cup. Germany eventually won the World Cup by beating Argentina (the long-term goal), but had to win six matches (games) before that just for the opportunity. Strategy is necessary, of course, as are long-term goals. But it’s execution of the tactical that takes us to the end. In short, both are necessary for success.

3.  Stopping the reverse pony-express. Long-term development of talent leads to long-term business success. A close friend of mine derides organizations for what he calls the “reverse pony-express syndrome,” whereby we ride a horse until it nearly drops, swap riders, and start again on the same horse. Germany is a great example of not doing that. As a true team, they relied on the collective versus one standout player; so much so that the MVP was actually awarded to a losing player. We don't need the best individuals to get the best results, we need folks who play well together and look out for the common good.

So, I may not be a soccer aficionado, and I may have screwed up some jargon above due to my ignorance (forgive me, European colleagues and friends), but the lessons are solid nonetheless, proving that even in the mind-numbingly boring, we can derive pearls of wisdom.

Did I mention I prefer real football?

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann