Tag Archives: Leadership

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

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)?

Related articles

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

The Wisdom of Others

After trying and mostly succeeding to post once per week for most of the past eighteen months or so, I’ve hit a bit of a dry patch – letting more than two weeks pass since my last post.  It’s been somewhat of a tumultuous period in our office, which has left me a bit tentative regarding my reflections and observations.  This too shall pass, as they say, I’m sure.

In the meantime, though, I recall a wise person telling me, “When you’re struggling with something, it’s often helpful to go beyond yourself – to change your mindset by focusing on helping others.”  Very good advice, indeed.  To that end, I wanted to share with you brief notes on four fellow members of the HR/leadership blogging community from whose wisdom I have benefited greatly over the past few years.  They’re each deeply thoughtful and intuitive about different aspects of the human condition we call “leadership” or “management,” and it is a privilege to recommend them to you.

  • Young Leaders – John Demma is a young manager who writes insightfully about what it is like to be a young manager – the struggle to learn the craft of guiding and motivating others, balancing just-learned grad school lessons with the realities of the school of hard knocks that is the real world of business, and juggling it all with the pressures and joys of a young family.  Written with an authentic, earnest voice, John posts regularly at On Becoming A Leader.
  • Day-to-Day Management, Part I – As someone who struggles to write anything in less than 700 words, I greatly respect those amongst us who can get to the point and regularly share three or four helpful nuggets of advice in 300 words or so – and do it five days a week, to boot.  Experienced executive and blogger, Stephen Meyer, is just such a person.  With a been-there-done-that credibility, he shares immediately useful suggestions for managing employees, organizations, and HR issues at HR Café.
  • Day-to-Day Management , Part II – In a similar vein, Sharlyn Lauby, aka The HR Bartender, speaks with the authenticity of someone who has been through the wars and survived to tell the tale – but always with a upbeat, forward-looking take on things that is nothing short of refreshing and inspiring.  Similar in nature to HR Café in a number of ways (down to the food metaphor), Sharlyn somehow manages to offer her practical, eminently insightful advice and perspectives – without the world-weary skepticism or snarkiness that often infects other HR blogs — on a daily basis at HR Bartender.
  • Executive Leadership – For rising leaders, or those who advise and guide them, executive coach and leadership expert, Scott Eblin, is absolutely required reading.  A former Fortune-500 HR Vice President at a young age, Scott now advises leaders around the world who are striving to get to the Next Level (the name of both his book and his blog).  Scott has a remarkable ability to view current events through the prism of leadership and offer three or four insights you can use every time out.  He can be found at Next Level Blog.

Coaching Lessons from Super Bowl XLVI

Maintaining his principles while adapting his tactics was one of the key coaching lessons that enabled Giants Head Coach, Tom Coughlin, to reach the pinnacle of his profession.

On Sunday evening, the Giants and Patriots treated more than 110 million fans to a classic Super Bowl game, long on intensity and down-to-the-last second drama.  Innumerable sports writers and football experts have analyzed the many key moments in the game.  I wanted to share today four lessons that stem from the weeks, months, and years leading up to the game – focusing principally on Giants Head Coach, Tom Coughlin, and quarterback, Eli Manning.

Coaching and Leadership Lessons

  • Maintain your principles, adapt your tactics – Throughout his long college and NFL coaching career, Tom Coughlin has been known as an “old school” disciplinarian.  When his teams have won, this has been seen as a virtue; when losing, a vice.  Early in his tenure with the Giants, Coughlin’s approach was feared to be too intense and inflexible to reach today’s players.  He re-thought his approach during that off-season and started the next year more flexible, while still retaining his trademark intensity and focus.  A few years later, Continue reading

Hearing Evident Truths

The firm I work for has recently received numerous requests from clients to assist them with employee surveys.  My experience is that the difficulty with employee surveys is not conducting them, but truly listening to the results — a truth that was reinforced to me while watching the classic holiday program, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Linus Speaks Up

Towards the end of the program, ever-beleaguered Charlie Brown — despairing over the commercialization of Christmas — asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  His wise friend, Linus, steps forward calmly and confidently and gives an answer for the ages (click here):

It strikes me that Linus’ answer, like so many organizational truths, was known to all — but unspoken but by a few.  It took someone willing to ask the question … and someone willing to say what everyone was thinking … for the answer to come forth.

Missing the “Ah-Ha” Moment

A company I worked for used to conduct an employee survey every year about this time.  For several years, they received consistent answers to a number of questions surrounding “What can we do to improve the company?” Responses were invariably to the effect of, “Communication between managers and employees is very poor,” “The company doesn’t seem to have a clear direction,” “I personally like my manager, but people don’t have a lot of confidence in the management team in general,” and the like.

Unfortunately, rather than trying to solve the communication and confidence issues that the employees identified, the management team — hurt and perplexed by the perennially negative results — decided to discontinue the survey.  (Yes — a heavy sigh, indeed.  They did have a penchant for learning the wrong lesson, I‘m afraid).

A Hopeful Ending

The story above — albeit all too common, I’m afraid — isn’t the only possible conclusion to these issues, of course.  To end where we began, the closing scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas offers a dose of hope that groups that wish to learn from evident truths can do so.  After Linus’ heartfelt proclamation, the Peanuts gang has a chance to reflect of what he’s said and, one by one, they reconsider their views on a symbolically important issue — the beauty of Charlie Brown’s scraggly but noble tree.  In the end, the tree is given tender loving care and it “grows” into a true thing of beauty as the group gathers around it for a heartwarming hymn.

Once spoken out loud, Linus’ wisdom was taken to heart and behaviors changed. Here’s wishing that each of us can help our leadership teams to seek out, embrace, and act on the evident truths in our organizations in the coming year.  Happy New Year to all!