Tag Archives: Business

Self-Discipline: An Under-Rated Leadership Skill

Last week, as I observed a leader handle a delicate inter-personal issue with great skill, it struck me that the successful result was influenced as much by what he didn’t do as much as by what he did.  While seeming “passive” on the
surface, the “not doing” took a great deal of active self-discipline – a very
under-appreciated leadership skill, I believe.

Don’t Underestimate the Soft-Spoken, Unassuming Guys

“David” (name changed to protect the “innocent”) is very low-key in nature – ever friendly, helpful and hopeful.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is one example of the personal self-discipline brought to his daily work by the leader in this story (not pictured)

He is quietly supportive  in an “I’ve got your back” way — without ever having to say it because everyone knows it’s true.  While he doesn’t have much formal “power” in the company, he does have significant influence, flowing largely from his personal qualities.
If David sounds like what others have termed an “authentic leader,” I
would fully agree.  In this situation, Continue reading

Leading Edge … or “What’s Old Is New”?

Offices -- and management theories -- have changed over the years. But people -- and the best ways of working with them -- haven't changed.

It seems these days that organizations increasingly seek “leading edge” solutions to their issues.  As the economy and our working lives become more and more complex, saying “Get me the latest thinking on this problem” seems like a logical thing for an executive to do.  And yet, I wonder … is it really?

Do we want the “latest” solution — or the “solution” that’s going to work, even if it is “tried and true” (i.e., mundane and boring).  Do we want to be “leading edge” for purposes of image and cache, and is the latest necessarily the greatest? Particularly when it comes to managing people, is there really anything new under the sun?

A Little History

Thirty-five years ago, my dad wrote his master’s thesis on “The Human Relations Approach to Management” — arguing for the notion that treating people well is not only the most ethical but also the most productive approach to managing.  Since that time, we have seen any number of management theories come down the pike, from ideas around “Management By Walking Around” (Peters and Waterman), to thinking on “empowerment” and “quality circles,” to the latest notions of “engagement” and “servant leadership.”  Before that, earlier in the past century, managers learned about the “Hawthorne Effect” and contemplated “Theory X” and “Theory Y.”  All have been “leading edge” for a moment in time.  But does their value come from their “edginess” — or from the fact that they all revolve around the same core principles?

Core Principles

In one way or another, couldn’t you say that all of these theories really come back to a few central ideas:

  • Treat people decently (see last week’s “Do Unto Others” post)
  • Listen for understanding (hear what is being said — or not said — in the margins)
  • Understand their wants and needs (i.e., take them seriously and care about them)
  • Remember that the people doing the job probably have the best ideas about how to do the job best
  • Give them the resources they need to do the job … then get out of the way and let them do it
  • Help them see the “big picture” (how their work helps the company and its customers)
  • Have the courage to make the tough calls, for the good of all (i.e., people want, need, respect, and expect a leader who will help move us forward)

History moves on and the world evolves, but at its core, human nature — and what’s productive, and not, in organizations — really remains the same.  It’s neat and exciting to be at “the leading edge” — and it’s absolutely fine, as long as we remember what’s at the core.  Turns out that “the human relations approach to management” might be leading edge, after all!

What are your thoughts on “old” theories that still work just as well today as they ever did?

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The subject of human relations in industry is one of the most important things in the whole field of business and one which we must investigate and teach.

Wallace B. Donham, Dean of Harvard Business School
to Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, 1925

Managing By Cliches, Part 5: Don’t Paint Yourself Into A Corner

The Joy of Painting

Bob Ross considered his tools -- his brushes -- to be his friends. Shouldn't organizational policies be our "friends," supporting our needs, not limiting them?

Do you remember Bob Ross, the man with the soothing voice, wild hair, and happy demeanor who hosted The Joy of Painting shows on PBS for so many years?  As I recall, one of his favorite phrases was pointing out in an encouraging way, as he added elements to his painting, that “the brush is our friend.” He wanted brushes to expand our horizons, not limit them.

I don’t know if Bob Ross (who sadly passed away at the young age of 52 in 1995 but lives on in re-runs around the world) knew anything about “human resources” or “corporate policies” — but I thought of him recently in connection to both of these topics.   Continue reading

Is There Anything Better Than …?

Has it been a “long winter” in your workplace the same as it’s been in mine?  

Do you get as much satisfaction from making job offers as the American Idol judges show when telling participants they've made it to next round?

Here in the northeast US, the blooms of spring can’t come soon enough for most of us. While this is true every year, this came home to me the other day when I realized that even the most even-tempered, easy-going, always-a-smile-on-their-face-and-a-kind-word-for-all people in the office were sniping at co-workers and generally walking about with forlorn looks (or worse). Despite the fact that Punxsatawney Phil has guaranteed the early arrival of spring, it sure seems like everyone can still use a few encouraging thoughts.

For my part, I thought it might be a good time for some reminders of the best things we get to experience as HR people … Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 3: Moderation In All Things

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

"Moderation in all things" has been urged by philosophers since the time of Aristotle

This is the third in our series of posts around the idea of “managing by cliches.”

Recently, I’ve become more and more aware of a paradox of management behavior: a leader’s greatest strength is often their greatest weakness.  (I’m not sure if this is actually a “cliche” — but I’ve said or thought it enough that it has become one in my mind, at least!).  That is, when an outstanding skill or technique is over-used, or mis-applied (or used without self-awareness), it can create a negative effect more than equal to all of the good that is done when the skill is applied properly.

The Meaning of Moderation

Moderation in all things.*
Chilon, ancient Greek philosopher, c. 650 B.C.

Since this precept was first inscribed on a column of the Temple of Delphi in Ancient Greece, innumerable philosophers have weighed in on its meaning.  An alternative translation of the phrase is “nothing in excess.” Does this mean that one should always be moderate in word and deed (i.e., never going to extremes of forcefulness, or passion)?  Or, rather, does it mean having balance (i.e., balancing one strength with other, even if neither are “moderate” in any way)? And, what can this tell us as managers 27 centuries later? Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 2: Let the System Work for You (not vice versa)

Michael Dorn and Robert O'Reilly as Worf and G...

Naming an HR database after Star Trek villains wasn't a good omen

This is the second in our series of posts around the idea of “managing by cliches.”

During the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of on-line and real-life discussions about the merits of various performance evaluation systems.  One colleague described a particular system as being powerful but “difficult to learn and implement.”  This brought mind past experiences implementing unwieldy systems — times when it seemed that rather than the system working for us, we were working for the system (never a desirable state of affairs).

The Klingon System

Once about a time, I worked for a Fortune-500 company that chose to implement “Klingon” as its HRIS database.  OK — that wasn’t really its name Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 1: Knowing When To Cut Your Losses

Picture of hole cards in a game of texas hold 'em

Knowing "when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em" makes all the difference in "not throwing good money after bad"

I came to the realization not long ago that managing my work by cliches wouldn’t be a bad idea.  I mean, cliches might be considered trite, boring, and unexceptional — but they became cliches because there is truth in them, right?  I mean, as odd a saying as it might be, can any mature adult really disagree with the notion that “you can’t have your cake and eat it, too”?

With this in mind, I thought that I’d begin a short series of posts exploring the work-related implications of a number of cliches.  Today’s post focuses on the notion of knowing when to cut your losses (or not “throwing good money after bad,” or, in the words of the Kenny Rogers song, “knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em”).

Cutting Your Losses: Backstory

As with most people, I have a wealth of answers to the standard job interview question, “Tell me about a failure you experienced — and what did you learn from it.” (LOL – or “laughing out loud,” as they say in the texting world).  This particular case involved building a database to manage the HR side of my former company’s frequent acquisition activity.

Continue reading