Category Archives: Leadership

Delegation, Trust, and Satisfaction

Recently, I saw an episode of Restaurant Impossible that reaffirmed an important lesson about managing:  everyone wants their boss to trust them, and there’s nothing like delegation to show trust.  When trust isn’t present, it can crush an employee’s spirit … and organizational performance, right along with it.

Restaurant Impossible

On the Food Network show, Restaurant Impossible, chef Robert Irvine works with once-thriving and now-floundering restaurants to turn them around (in 48 hours or less!).  Each episode features innumerable business lessons about failing to listen to customers, slowly degrading quality standards, and not keeping up with industry trends—and the stories are often heart-breaking (i.e., owners who have put their lives into an establishment, only to see their dreams slip away slowly day after day as business declines and debts mount).

This particular episode told the story of a once-successful family steakhouse that had lost its way—with the husband-and-wife ownership team working more and more hours and seeing fewer and fewer customers.  Chef Irvine helped the husband see that his need for control was one of the central problems in the operation. Example:  He spent hours each day portioning out the meat into 8 ounce filets, 12 ounce chops, etc.  When asked why he couldn’t have his chefs do this as part of their daily routine, he replied: “Because I have to do it.”  When asked how long his chefs had been with him, I was stunned by his answer: “25 years each.”

25 years and he didn’t even trust his chefs to trim meat.  Not surprisingly, they Continue reading

The Power of Clarity

Are our managers weighed down by doubts about their roles and the organization’s purposes? Simple clarity can help release powerful performance.

I was reminded again last week how important it is for organizations to communicate clear roles and purposes.  Simply knowing where the organization is going and what it expects of you dramatically affects how you feel about—and how you do—your job.  So simple … and so easy to forget.

The Situation

As I was helping a group of front-line supervisors implement a new performance evaluation system, the question of “trust” kept coming up.  At first, it was difficult to get a handle on what exactly the issue was.  I kept talking about how the system would free them to coach, mentor, and support their employees—and they kept asking, “Really?”

The system itself was pretty simple, so I was confused, until it finally became clear that they weren’t questioning the system—only their role in it.  The “really” was, “Are you sure that the organization really wants us spending our time coaching and mentoring? They’re really going to let us do that?”

Clearly there was some emotional baggage to overcome before any new system could take hold.

The History

In the last ten or so years, they had experienced a number of short-term leaders.  With each new leader—some more communicative than others—the role of the front-line supervisor had shifted, leaving them confused and dispirited.  The common theme, Continue reading

Changing Our Views

I have a confession to make: I was wrong about LeBron James.

I thought that he would never win an NBA Championship.  While possessing other-worldly talent, I didn’t think he had the depth of character to lead his team to the mountaintop.  Yet, somehow, there he was last month, celebrating a championship with his teammates—one that he had largely willed them toward.  I was wrong.

Of course, many mis-judgments of talent are made in sports—and business—every day.  The question is, what do we do when the facts change and we recognize that we’ve under- (or over-) evaluated someone on our team?

LeBron’s Story

As brief background for non-basketball fans, LeBron James has been regarded as one of the most talented basketball players in the world since he was in high Continue reading

Leading With Pride (The Good Kind)

Johan Santana waves to fans after throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

It is said that “Pride goeth before the fall” (Proverbs, 16:18).

There are countless examples of this maxim in the worlds of politics, business, and our own daily lives. At the same time, there is a spirit of pride (and determination) that can lift up and inspire.  That’s the kind of pride that this story is about.

What Happened

Last Friday evening, at Citi Field, in the working class borough of Queens, in the City of New York, Johan Santana threw a no-hitter. While a noteworthy accomplishment on its own (there have only been 275 no-hitters in the major leagues since 1875), it is not why grown men cried at the feat and an entire city was elated for days afterward.  To understand that part, you need to know the context.

Backdrop

Santana pitches for the New York Mets—a team nicknamed “The Amazins” not for their stellar play, but for their sometimes historic ineptitude punctuated by periods of break-your-heart, so-near-and-yet-so-far brushes with greatness (cue the song, “Ya’ Gotta Have Heart,” from the classic musical, “Damn Yankees,” and you’ve got the picture).  The past five years have been a microcosm of the team’s 50-year history:

  • They came within one pitch of the World Series in 2006 when they had the best team in baseball (losing in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game of the League Championship Series with the bases loaded, a 3-2 count, and their best hitter at the plate).
  • They suffered two of the greatest collapses in baseball history at the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, missing the playoffs in almost inconceivably excruciating fashion. Continue reading

Honoring Those Who Served and Led

As Memorial Day dawns in the U.S., we pause to offer solemn tribute, deep appreciation, and thoughts and prayers to all those who have served and led, and to their families. You have our eternal gratitude.

Click on the picture below for a short video honoring our brave service men and women, past and present.

(Music from Saving Private Ryan)

Leading by Teaching

What does a great pastrami on rye have to do with leadership? Read below.

I’d like to share with you a story about my deli guy.  Why a story about a “deli guy” in an HR/leadership blog? Because, in addition to making great sandwiches (“I’ll take a ‘Gerty’— corned beef and pastrami on rye with Russian dressing and a side of coleslaw— thanks!”), he’s also one of the most natural teachers that I’ve ever observed, and therein lies the story.

Dad’s Deli (and Training Academy)

Doug, a longtime restauranteur and caterer, co-manages Dad’s Deli with his wife, Debbie.  Located in a nondescript building in a suburban setting, Dad’s has developed a loyal following.  Beyond the quality of the sandwiches, this is due in no small part to the friendly, everyone-knows-your-name atmosphere (think “Cheers” in a deli) that starts with Doug’s greeting as you enter the door.  A natural networker, Doug goes out of his way— even in the busiest rush periods— Continue reading

Good HR vs. Bad HR

Can a fresh set of dry erase markers and a clean whiteboard really be tools for "good HR" (and bad)?

I had an experience this week that provided an “a-ha” moment for me about the power of “good HR” – HR support that helps bring ideas to life in ways that help organizations progress.

Scenario

I was helping a small team come up with a list of performance traits that denote excellence in their field.  They plan to use these characteristics through the full HR cycle of events, from interviewing and selection to performance evaluation and professional development.

The same group had gone through a similar exercise a few years ago.  At that time, they accomplished the task – i.e., they put words down on paper – but (and this part won’t be a surprise for anyone who’s spent any time in HR or organizations in general), the document then sat on a shelf unused for years, to the point where people even forgot it existed.

An Example of Bad HR

This is a good example of “bad HR” that we unfortunately fall into in many of our organizations from time to time.  Good people Continue reading

Encouraging New Managers

During the past several months, I’ve had the pleasure of watching a few new managers grow into their jobs.  I wanted to share a few observations about their struggles and successes that may apply universally to all new managers.

  • Learning their craft
    My young friends have viewed management as a skill to be learned, and they’ve dived into it with passion.  They’re trying to read and learn and think about management skills and techniques wherever and whenever they can.  Sometimes the mind gets ahead of the body, as it were (i.e., their desire to learn outpaces their actual skill at using the techniques they are learning) … but this brings with it hard-earned experience and, ultimately, greater skill.
  • Learning to delegate
    This might be the hardest skill to learn for most new managers (who have generally been promoted due their technical excellence in their field, not their managerial skill).  They understand that their job is now to get work done throughother people now, rather than solely operating as an individual contributor. For the most part, they remember this and try to provide their teams with the resources, support, and autonomy they need to do their jobs.  Every once in a Continue reading

Advice for (New) Managers

 

Recently, one of our senior managers was considering promoting a long-serving employee to a supervisory position for the first time.  To help paint a picture of “management” for the employee, the senior manager drew up a list of “Things Managers Are and Do” and shared it with the prospective supervisor.  I thought it was a very good and thoughtful list, so I asked him if I might share it in this forum (adding a few thoughts of my own).

Things Managers Are

  • They are genuine (i.e., they know that admitting mistakes makes you human, not weak)
  • They are prudent (i.e., they balance the needs of all concerned)
  • They are thoughtful (i.e., they try to understand and consider the implications of their actions)
  • They are humble (i.e., they seek collegial relationships and use power with great restraint)
  • They are hopeful (i.e., they believe in others’ potential and work to help them fulfill it)

Things Managers Do

  • They manage (i.e., they take charge of situations, identifying solutions rather than complaining about problems)
  • They want  to manage (because they enjoy this type of work, not because of where it puts them on the corporate ladder)
  • They care about, and see (and come to know) their staff as individuals first, and co-workers second.
  • They understand and respect that people have a life outside of work and try to plan thoughtfully to help their teams balance business and personal responsibilities
  • They truly want their staff and co-workers to be successful and work to help them become so
  • They see this “role” (helping others succeed) as important as “doing their own job” – because it is part their job
  • They actively demonstrate support by being available, teaching, and offering tools and resources where they reasonably can
  • They represent/support the company in all matters – while maintaining their own individual integrity (i.e., when the company is wrong, they acknowledge it)
  • They continually seek to learn and develop themselves in order to become better managers
  • They don’t  have to win an argument because they’re the boss (i.e., they seek to let the best answer prevail)
  • They understand that they’re not “owed” trust and loyalty merely because they’re “the boss”; they have to earn it (day by day, action by action).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to help new managers thrive.  I’ll be writing more next week about observing two young managers as they strive to learn the art and craft of management. In the meantime, what key actions would you add to the list if you were advising a new manager (or as a reminder for long-time managers)?

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The Clarity of Power

NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell

National Football League commissioner, Roger Goodell, recently issued fines and suspensions related to the “Bountygate” scandal that are unprecedented in league history in terms of their severity and scope.  Goodell’s strong action has given me pause to reflect on the clarity that power — when used prudently but decisively — can bring to an organization, providing both direction and calm.

Bountygate

In early March, the media began to report that a 3-year internal investigation by the NFL revealed the New Orleans Saints had offered “bounties” (cash bonuses) for injuries caused to opposing players.  A week or so into the media storm, Mr. Goodell announced suspensions and fines including: Saints general manager, 8 games; Saints head coach, Sean Payton, the entire 2012 season; and former Saints defensive coordinator, Greg Williams, indefinitely (but at least one year).  All were suspended without pay (in Payton’s case, costing him most of his $7.5 million annual salary).

When the news came out, you could hear the proverbial “pin drop” from the immediate shock. There was no doubt who was in charge, whether he was serious or not, and what was or was not acceptable in the league anymore.  Mr. Goodell had made very clear what wasn’t up for debate.

Closer to Home

I recently observed something in my own organization that brought home a similar point about the prudent use of power.  Continue reading