You Want To Talk Leadership? Talk To The Hand.

I realize that I’m opening Pandora’s box here and as such as I write this not without a some anxiety.  But I’m so vexed by and tired of the iterative articles about leadership, management, developing a vision and motivating people who I’m going to take the risk.

Stop reading these books.  Stop looking for a blueprint that is going to provide you with the path towards the outstanding development of people.  And definitely move away from any books which offer you ‘ten steps’ to a better anything.  Ok, here’s the one caveat to this whole mini-rant – if you find all of  this redundancy interesting, have at it.  Just don’t expect it to add to your tool kit, complement your style and/or turn you into an outstanding leader. And you know what?  There’s really nothing all that new under the ‘how to’ sun.

 

“Hypocrite”, you say – and you’re right.  I offer consulting services about these very topics.  I speak to groups about leadership and team engagement (though I admit that I am not your run-of-the-mill consultant and build programs that are hardly boiler-plate and mildly irreverent).   I’ve read more books than Doan’s has back pills.  And I come away with a different perspective.  If you want to be a great leader of people, learn about yourself  and the people around you first.  Do the obvious – build trust – be consistent, do what you say you’re going to do, engage people in dialogue, watch what they’re doing every day and ask for input.  Provide feedback – informal, formal – whichever,  as long as it’s consistent and regular.  No excuses – find the time.  Give people work that is going to help them expand their minds and their abilities.  Trust that they will do it well and if they struggle,  jump into the gosh darn fray and help them figure it out!  Credit the efforts of others and learn to be generous.  Set the bar high and make sure you’re hitting regularly and owning it when you miss.  Share information – often.  Problem solve out loud and encourage your team to understand how you think.  Not that much is confidential and the more you consider too ‘sensitive’ for others, the narrower the views you offer of the organization’s direction, which further compromises peoples’ understanding and ownership of their jobs.  Get over yourself and get into your people.  Reward accountability with more substantive responsibility.  Praise in a way that matters to the person.  Counsel in private.

And – if you’re going to be in charge of a department, a company, a branch office, etc, find yourself a leader you admire in your organization and ask them to actively mentor you.  Tell them you want him/her to call you on your mistakes, help you exceed the basic criteria and guide you in the nuance and delicacy of effective communication.  Role-play tough conversations; have someone read your draft performance reviews to make sure they’re substantive and meaningful.  And if you want to read a book – do so!!  Read biographies of the outstanding leaders in history (preferable those written by great writers so you don’t nod off), read poetry and essays about the human condition.  Read articles from futurists and pragmatists.  Read humor – it keeps us humble.  Expand your world view.  It’s bigger than your organization.  Practice being true to yourself and those around you.  Fall down.  Get up.  Ask for a hand.

 

To me these are the real lessons.

And the real lesson is for the C-level folks who are putting people into managerial positions and giving them how-to seminars to attend or provide in-house training and consider their jobs well done by doing so.  You’re not going to groom anyone for anything that way.  I left the firm as the culture I adored began to erode.  Whatever it now is, it is not something  for which I would evangelize.  Word is that there are vestiges of its value system, but time is moving the organization forward into a bureaucratic behemoth that is sacrificing much of its identity for newer, slicker and more expedient.  Times change, companies do what they need to do.  So it goes.  But what doesn’t change is the need for outstanding leadership and we have got to stop thinking that a ‘how to’ book or a lecture is the ultimate answer.  Get busy with the practice and doing and trying.  Organizations need to make effective mentorship a yearly objective for which executives will be reviewed and compensated.  That’s how you deepen the bench.  That’s how you strengthen your team.  You won’t find it on page 128.

Creating A Masterpiece

 

There’s a quote from John Ruskin that has been teasing me for the last few days…”When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”  I love the message, and think we often lose or sacrifice one of these two elements in the workplace.  I know what you’re thinking, ‘ are you really going to raise the spectre of love as an essential element of creation at work?’  Yup, I am.  Before you leap to disagree though, think about your best professional years – or moments – and what they required from you.

Certainly success involves skill – though arguably every success is not a masterpiece.  And not every act of love – as well intended as it may be – elicits a feeling of success.  If there is no love for what you commit to doing on a daily basis, I think your efforts are diluted by its absence.  And at least in the areas of work that I know well, there seems to be less attention given to loving what you do, and a skewed emphasis on just getting it done.  A friend of mine asked me recently where the ‘humanism’ in management has gone.  After participating in a panel discussion at a well known law firm, she was struck by the comments of young associates who attended the session.  Their expectations of upper management were narrow and indifferent, acknowledging that these first years in ‘big law’ required many hours of work, but little of the relational connectedness that makes the ridiculous time commitment worthwhile.  The concerns for their development were formulaic, the environment rich in superficial attention (if you’ve never been in the offices of big law, you’re missing some pretty magnificent work spaces) and sorely lacking in emotional investment.  We’re not talking about daily ‘kumbaya’ moments, rather the contagious, energizing sense that people were engaged in doing work that they loved.

The workplace in general is delicately positioned right now – on the one hand, employers want their people to do more with less; however less and less time is being spent considering what new ideas or programs can be put into play to engender enthusiasm and passion for individual effort.  So if you love the profession you’re in, and little is done to foster that indescribably powerful motivator, love will morph over time into benign acceptance.  The reality is that at some point each of us has the ingredients to create a masterpiece.  As a manager, director, chief officer, etc – what are your responsibilities to develop and/or sustain the professional and personal inventories from which your people can draw to create a masterpiece?   Or in the interest of production, does it even matter any longer that people love what they do?  Personally, I’ve done my damnedest to foster both love and skill instead of accepting skill and personal interest every time.  What about you?

Second – We All Work For Somebody

When Eric Clapton did a cover of the song “Serve Somebody”, it was clear he was talking spiritually.  It’s one of my favorite songs and I fold into the music and the words like Gumby (note to those reading this who are too young to remember Gumby, Eddie Murphy skits where he is pretending to

be Gumby or the cartoon show based on the character – I’m sorry).

This is Gumby..

 

…he has nothing to do with this post..

In the context of this commentary, when I reference ‘serving somebody’, I’m talking about work.  After all, we all report to someone – a boss, a management board, committee, owners, clients, etc.  I have written about my perspective on management’s responsibilities; I have not been as prolific about the corollary – the responsibility of direct reports.

There is an interesting article in “Inc” magazine titled “8 Things Great Bosses Demand From Their Employees” By Geoffrey James.  In brief, James maintains that the following represent the most important expectations an employer has of his/her direct reports:

“1.  Be true to your word

2.  No surprises, ever

3.  Be prepared on the details

4.  Take your job seriously

5.  Have your boss’ back

6.  Provide solutions, not complaints

7.  Communicate in plain language

8.  Know your real job”

Recognizing that direct reports could say the same things about their bosses, my view is that the list for them is longer and a bit different.  That said, if both groups could successfully meet these eight expectations, I think most organizations would be way ahead of the game.  Given that everyone answers to someone – what do you think of this list?  Does it seem reasonable?  Doable?  Do you take these expectations on, or are you waiting for your boss to do so (in which case, I would strongly recommend that you go ahead and do the right thing – it will serve you better in the long run).  What’s missing?  Regardless of where you are within your business community, I’d love to hear from you.  If we can make our work environment better, why not try to do so!

Gumby at the DIA

Gumby at the DIA (Photo credit: Jordawesome)

Shoop Shoop Shoop – Are You With Me?

Driving home from yesterday’s 4th training session, the “Shoop Shoop Song” from “Waiting To Exhale” was playing in my head.  In many ways it’s also the perfect Friday song, and given some of the posts I’ve read this week, it’s appropriate for the end of what appeared to be a tough week.  Seems like a lot of us spent much of the week just waiting to let it go…

“And sometimes you’ll laugh, and sometimes you’ll cry

Life never tells us the whens and whys

But when you’ve got friends to wish you well

You’ll find your point when you exhale…”

You can add the ‘shoop shoops’ yourself – there are a lot of them.

Yesterday, I facilitated the last training session with the remarkable group of people of whom I’ve written before.  Next week, a colleague will join me for the last part of the program.  So in some ways, I had to say good-bye to a dynamic which has fueled, inspired and challenged me once a week for the month.  We’ll have a great time next week, and the team united as we know will morph naturally by the presence of a new person.  The thought of the upcoming farewells has my stomach more than just a little knotted.

Our topic yesterday was Performance Management – with emphasis placed on the fluidity of the process – the need for it to be a constant loop of communication, not the culmination of twelve silent months with no conversation about a person’s performance.  We addressed some of the real issues managers grapple with – the star employees who don’t receive enough feedback because ‘they know’ they’re terrific and other people require more attention; the poor performers who supervisors avoid because ultimately the anticipated hostility/tears/aggressive/defensive reaction (pick your adjective) is just too painful to endure.  The challenge of actively listening when studies show that adults really attend for about five minutes within a twenty-minute conversation.  How commentary is far more critical than a ‘score’ and how to move a firm and its people away from the numbers and in to substantive feedback.  Including the employee in establishing goals, and how to build those goals effectively.  We went straight through, with a quick break to bring in some lunch, and just kept going until we could go no longer.  They crushed it – figuratively and in a good way.  The examples provided, support given to those with a tough situation to handle, enthusiasm and trust in each other – all were so impressive.  They inspired me more than I can adequately describe.  Do you sense a ‘but’ in all of this?  Good – I’m so glad you picked that up.

When our sessions end, they go back to work.  At best their supervisors ask them if they’re enjoying the program, if they’re getting anything out of  it,etc..  That’s it – the curiousity and interest in the manager and his/her development stops there.   They are coming away from these meetings with new ideas, a renewed sense of purpose, some thoughts about bettering themselves and their department.  There wasn’t one person who affirmed that his/her boss would be interested in pursuing anything other than things as they are.  The most frustrating aspect of this reality, is that I just know what will happen to their enthusiasm, focus and intention.  Worse still, they do too.  I’m committed to being available to them should they need me,  but let’s be real –  as time passes everyone gets caught up in the rhythm of their days, and without someone encouraging movement and effort from their supervisors, there is an inevitable return to the norm.

If you are a director or C-level officer, are you really giving your direct reports the room, support and mentorship they need?  Are you working with them to formulate opportunities to practice that which they’ve learned once training programs end?  What’s your stake in their growth and how do you show that commitment?  I’m just wondering, because from where I stand this seems to be the most important part of your responsibilities and the easiest one for you to minimize or disregard.  I’m just sayin’…I know there are some exceptional senior executives who read this blog – it would be great to know what you do with and for those managers you send for professional development training once they’ve completed the program or class?

I will miss these Thursdays, yet that doesn’t diminish the value they have held for me.  I have met outstanding people, forged a bond that is predicated upon a shared desire to do the right thing for those they supervise and for their firms.  I wish them all the success, growth and all the happiness their hearts can hold.

So it’s Friday morning, and the sun is slowly rising.  The week ends with some exhausted by the emotional toll that the last few days have exacted; others are thrilled that the week has gone so well.  For everyone,  I hope the time arrives sometime today when you get to exhale.  Happy weekend all.

The Wizard And I

“The Wizard Of Oz” – not to be confused with The Wizard Of Menlo Park of course.  After all, one was a movie musical with a series of limited but determine characters in not-so-subtle costuming, the other referenced Thomas Edison, thought by many to be one of the greatest Americans of all time.  Given that scores and scores of books have been written about Edison, I think it is my duty to address the brilliant management and leadership lessons that one can learn from following a yellow brick road.

1 – There’s something to be said for being ‘the man behind the curtain’.  The strongest leaders do not need to advertise their power, rather they advertise the talents of those around them.

2 – Mentors typically don’t make themselves known by descending from the sky in a transparent globe, holding a wand and wearing a crown.  But they’re out there.  Mentors can be people within your organization who have successfully navigated its twisty, winding paths, know where the flying monkeys lurk, who have the magnetism and talent that people gravitate towards and/or have the technical expertise from which you can learn.  They also may not be looking for you, so it would behoove you to seek them out.  And parenthetically, it’s probably better if they don’t sing soprano with an insufferable vibrato.


3 – Some days you’re the house, other days the house falls on you.  Either way, neither state is forever (unless you happen to be a wicked witch – and if you are, there’s probably better reading for you out there).

4 – The best teams are comprised of people with markedly different talents.  It’s best not to duplicate areas of expertise, rather seek those who’s abilities will be complementary.  Chances of effective project completion are highly increased, everyone emerges stronger and more well-versed than when they began and you can maintain a shared vision of the goal without introducing individual competitiveness.

5 – It’s good to carry a bottle of water around with you at all times.  At the least, you’ll stay hydrated.

6 – The easiest way to achieve insurrection is encouraging people to follow you by dicta rather than by choice.  Rest assured that your people will leave your side at the earliest opportunity if their contributions aren’t valued, their input ignored and their chances for professional exploration limited to a narrow, controlled orbit.

7 – Help your  people realize their professional goals.  Not only is it your job, it will enhance the talent stream, engender loyalty and infuse the work place with energy.

8 – Courage means different things to different people, but supporting your people as they break out of their comfort zones is an enriching experience for you and a thrilling new beginning for them.

9 – Show your heart – it only makes you appear stronger, more authentic and relatable.  It will not diminish your authority at all.

10 – Work and home are inter-connected.  They don’t exist in separate silos.  It is impossible to separate the two when there are issues or concerns involving one or the other.  It is far better to recognize this and determine the best way to reconcile the two rather than having them at war within you.

And finally, if you really feel you need to, invest in a pair of ruby slippers.  They aren’t going to help you get anywhere, but they should appreciate greatly over time.