D. Kevin Berchelmann
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Friday, March 13, 2015

Leadership Laws--#2

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."

"Problem fixed."

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."

Stop doing that.


Kevin Berchelmann

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Leaders--Born or Made??

Leaders--born or made?

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?

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann

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