Monthly Archives: May 2011

Memorial Day Tribute to Servant Leaders

With summer quickly approaching, we’ve arrived at Memorial Day weekend in the US — a time when we pause to pay tribute to those who have given their fullest measure of devotion to preserving, protecting, and defending our way of life.  In the almost full-year since this blog began, we’ve written on a number of occasions about different aspects of leaderships.  In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to offer an audio-visual tribute (click below) to those who lead through their service in our armed forces — “servant leaders,” truly.

Thank you, with appreciation beyond measure.

Crisis Leadership Lessons from “Blue Bloods”

I’ve become a big fan of the tv series, Blue Bloods.  Starring Tom Selleck as Frank Regan, a fictional New York City Police Commissioner, the beautifully written and acted show chronicles the intersecting public and private lives of the widowed commissioner’s close-knit Irish-Catholic family, who are all in the “family business” of law enforcement (retired cop, streetwise detective, sharp assistant district attorney, and idealistic rookie cop).  It struck me while watching the dramatic season finale last week that the episode offered some excellent lessons in crisis leadership.

Tom Selleck portrays fictional NYC Police Commissioner who leads his department -- and his family -- through a series of crises


The commissioner’s youngest son (the rookie cop) privately pursues leads  regarding his older brother’s murder, which occurred two years earlier in the line of duty.  Finally getting in over his head, he shares the information with his father and brother (detective).  The commissioner sets up a top-secret command post in his own home, staffed by those closest to him, and they eventually discover proof that the son was murdered by a group of rogue cops.  As the rogue cops catch wind of the investigation and are preparing to flee the country with their considerable ill-gotten booty, the commissioner and team swoops in and dramatically captures the group en masse — with the ring leader ultimately choosing suicide over capture.  The resolution finally provides the family with closure about the reason’s behind their older brother’s death.

Crisis Leadership Lessons

  • Trust the voice of “innocents” trying to tell you the truth
    The commissioner trusts his naive but perceptive son (the rookie 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

“Do Unto Others …”

This is the sixth in an occasional series of posts on the topic of “Managing By Cliches.”

We often talk in HR about big ideas — “cutting edge” practices and “strategic visions,” and the like — and this is a very good thing, as it helps us help management guide the organization forward.  At the same time, we might sometimes be prone to forget what employees really want from their employers, and what puts them in a place to contribute to organizational success — that is, respect, dignity, being “heard” and taken seriously.

A “Smack In The Face” Reminder

As I was scrolling through some Twitter messages the other day, I saw one that mentioned a website for “workplace humor.”  I clicked on the link and quickly became engrossed in PleaseFireMe.Com, which features pages and pages of postings from discouraged employees.  (I imagine that there might be many similar websites — I had never thought to look before).  What I saw there made me chuckle, shake my head, and wince, disturbed and discouraged me, and finally, encouraged me. Continue reading