Successful Supervisor Part 3 – New Sheriff in Town

December 4, 2016

Aside from the promotion from within the ranks, there is a second major way to obtain a new group supervisor. Bringing in a resource from outside the group has some advantages, but there are huge caveats for this method.

In this category, there are two common approaches that are used:

1) bringing in someone who has been a supervisor in another area, and

2) hiring a new college graduate as an entry level position.

In this article, I will describe some challenges and recommendations for each situation.

Transfer from another area

When bringing in a supervisor from another area of the company, or even a different company, at least she has the advantage of being a seasoned person who has experience leading front line employees.

A typical mistake made by the supervisor in this situation is to be too zealous with advice learned on the prior job.

Typical problem

Suppose a supervisor has been moved from the packaging area to the formulation group. She has been successful in the packaging assignment and wants to bring her enthusiasm and knowledge to the new challenge.

She begins by asking questions in meetings about how things are done in the formulation group she is now leading. She will make suggestions with various forms of “When I was with the Packaging Group, we used to have a daily update so we were all informed.”

People in the inherited group will listen politely as the supervisor makes logical suggestions based on her history. Unfortunately, after just a few suggestions, her new employees will start referring to “Miss Packaging” behind her back.

It will be a very long time before the new supervisor has the purchasing power she will need with people in the Formulation Group.

Solution

The antidote here is for the new supervisor to listen to how things are done in the new area without making continual references to her prior experience. The rule I tried to encourage with new managers is to allow them to refer to the old job one time for the first three months. That is a difficult challenge, but it is really important to not be overbearing with pre-existing theories at the start of a relationship.

New hire to the company

A second method of bringing in a new supervisor is to hire a high-potential person right out of school. Often the first line supervisor position is used as a way to “season” a bright new MBA in a large organization. This method is fraught with so many problems, it is a wonder that it ever works out.

Main problem

First of all, the supervisor has no practical experience leading people in the real world. She may have had a leadership course in her MBA curriculum, but her employees will be eager to show her where theory breaks down in the real world.

The cultural gap between a college educated supervisor and the people on the shop floor is huge. There is also a jealousy factor that results from the supervisor being viewed as a “silver spooner” who got a college degree simply because daddy had enough money and who never had to do “a real day’s work” in her life.

The new supervisor does not have the experiential background to handle the myriad of issues she will face in her first few weeks. As she is trying her best to learn, the employees in the area will be polite on the surface, but the breakroom discussions will center on how clueless she is.

It will take a very long time before she has the purchasing power to lead, yet she has been given a position that calls for great leadership from day one.

When you couple the lack of supervisory knowledge with the lack of content knowledge of the processes, the experience for the new supervisor is usually overwhelming, and failure is a typical result.

It is awful for the organization because performance will suffer; It is awful for the people because they are not being well led; It is worst for the new supervisor, because she is going to start out her career with a very bad performance.

Solutions

1. The antidote here is to use a mentoring process where a new person coming out of school has the chance to learn the processes and people before being put into a position of supervisory power. Staff assignments can allow time for this mentoring to occur. Another position that can work as a temporary learning spot is an assistant to an excellent incumbent supervisor.

2. There are many training courses offered on how to make a solid entry as a new supervisor directly out of school. The American Management Association, Fred Prior Seminars, Franklin Covey, and Dale Carnegie all offer excellent baseline courses that are short in duration and not very expensive.

I also have such a course that I run several times a year in my home town of Rochester NY.  They can really help bridge the gap between the sterile world of academia and the messy world a new supervisor will soon face.

3. There are a number of great books on this specific topic. One of my favorites is “Managing People is Like Herding Cats” by Warren Bennis.

4. I have put out a series of 30 videos entitled “Surviving the Corporate Jungle” that contain tips on how to manage people with less potential for conflict. You can view some sample videos free at the following address.

If you are facing a situation where a new sheriff is coming in to lead a group, make sure you avoid the traps outlined above. You want to set up the new supervisor for success and not let her flounder for months before gaining the credibility to lead.

This article is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Wickedleaks

November 13, 2016

I read Seth Goden’s blog every day and enjoy observing how his mind works. I am no Seth Goden, but I do admire how he comes up with interesting perspectives on the human condition daily.

His blogs are often very short, which I appreciate from a time perspective, but even in a few lines he can make me think. His entry for today (10/9/2016) was “Visualizing the Leaks.” It was about how organizations experience leaks all the time and often are not aware of them.

According to Seth, “The first step is seeing it, and then to refusing to go back to not seeing it.”

In this article, I will amplify on his observation about leaks in organizations and offer some ways to stop the hemorrhaging.

Webster defines the intransitive verb “leak” in two main ways:

1. to escape through an opening
2. to become known despite efforts at concealment

Both of these definitions have direct parallels in the business world, and each one has vast significance for the health of any organization.

The definition Seth was addressing was the first one, so let’s examine that first, then go on to some points about the second definition.

Organizations survive based on the nucleus of resources they have managed to amass and how well these assets are preserved. Whether we are talking about trade secrets, tangible assets, intellectual property, or key people, the organization becomes stronger when these elements are fostered and grow in number or weaker if they are allowed to leak out into the ether or become assets of a competing firm.

Here the concept of a vessel comes in handy as a metaphor because we can picture resources escaping through some hole or crack in the vessel.

Let’s focus the discussion here on the most important resource of all: people. The idea is to keep turnover to a minimum level and only lose those individuals who are dragging the organization down in some way.

Turnover is one of the most devastating costs for any organization, and it goes on in all groups. The antidote is to have such a wonderful culture, so far above what is available elsewhere that an individual would be a fool to pack up and go somewhere else.

To accomplish this requires leaders who know how to create great cultures. An example would be Tony Hsieh, who is the CEO of Zappos. In 2009 Zappos was acquired by Amazon because Jeff Bezos recognized the giant merchandiser could learn a lot from the smaller online retailer of shoes.

For years, Zappos had offered new employees a bonus of $4000 if they wanted to leave after their first year of training. Amazon upped the stakes with a program that they call “Pay to quit.” Amazon offers employees $2000 to quit after their first year and then an additional $1000 each year after that up to a maximum of $5000 that is offered each year of employment, if the employee wants to leave.

In explaining the philosophy to stakeholders of Amazon, Bezos said, “The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”

Other than a cash prize that tests loyalty, there are hundreds of ways organizations can create a fantastic culture where employees would be foolish to leave. Here is a very brief (and incomplete) list of examples:

1. Create a culture of high trust where people know it is safe to talk about their concerns without fear of reprisal.

2. Cross train people constantly. This encourages personal growth and adds bench strength. It is also a wonderful team building activity.

3. Set aggressive goals and keep people busy working toward the goals. Spend time and energy celebrating the small wins along the way. Make sure progress is reinforced.

4. Have specific values and insist that every employee, especially the managers, always live by them. It is easy to have a set of values but not always follow them when the going gets tough. Great organizations follow the values no matter what.

5. Have a culture where each person feels like a winner rather than a loser. This is done by creating a reinforcing culture that is real, not phony, and exists at all levels.

The idea here is not to create an exhaustive list of things that retain employees, but to give a few of the important examples as a reminder that the most important thing that will determine the culture of any organization is the behavior of its top leaders.

When you retain the best people, then you tend to plug up all of the other leaks that can occur, like intellectual property, physical assets, and many other intangible assets. Let’s shift gears and discuss the second definition of a leak:

The inadvertent or intentional disclosure of information that was meant to be kept private.

With the reality of Wikileaks as an example of what is going on, it has become obvious that keeping information from leaking is more difficult today that it was 15 years ago. This trend will continue without abatement as technology becomes more ubiquitous.

CEOs as well as all public figures are quickly realizing that we need to behave as if the microphone is always on, because for an overwhelming percentage of the time, it is.

Information will leak, period. The only way to run an ethical organization of high trust is to never talk or act in ways that are not consistent with what we would want plastered throughout the internet.

That is a tough standard for CEOs who live in the pressure cooker of quarterly pressures from Wall Street all the time. It is the only standard that is defensible or rational in our world today. Many organizations are finding out that doing things with integrity is the only formula for long term success.

Seth Goden is right, we need to see the leaks that are going on and rise to the challenge of ubiquitous information in every organization that intends to survive. The good news is that those organizations who get that message are not only surviving, they are thriving.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


What Are You Not Doing

October 24, 2016

This article is for all professionals who want to make the most of their time. The thesis is that we need to consider the things we are not doing as well as those we are supporting with our effort.

The idea of noting the things we can do as well as the opportunities we are missing is one that is highlighted in the quality concept called “six sigma.”

Most business professionals are familiar with the term six-sigma. It is a concept where we seek to make our processes so close to perfection that there are only slightly over 3 defects per million opportunities. I have taught six sigma for decades, and one thing about the concept has always bugged me.

The whole premise of six-sigma is based on a ratio of defects per opportunity. When you think about it, the number of defects is difficult to measure, but at least the number is finite.

The number of opportunities to make a defect is really infinite because they include all of the steps we can take but also all of the steps we decide not to take.

If I remember my 7th grade math correctly, when the denominator of a fraction goes to infinity, the ratio becomes a moot point. Now let’s consider how the conundrum of an infinite number of possible alternatives creates an interesting parallel for our personal lives.

Most of us focus our energy on the things we are doing. In planning the daily “To Do” list, we tend to list the items of importance that must be done today in order to convince ourselves that we are getting the most out of life.

We rarely spend that much energy on the other side of the equation and think about the things we are deciding not to do. Of course, if you are trying to quit a bad habit, you might list “smoke no cigarettes” on your To Do list for today.

We make a conscious effort to avoid the things that we are trying to quit, but we spend far less conscious energy on what things we are avoiding out of neglect.

Let me make a couple ridiculous examples to illustrate my point.

On my mental To Do list for today, I do not have an item to avoid becoming a ballet dancer. I am not making a conscious effort to avoid a late-blooming career as a ballet dancer. If you could see my body, you would understand the absurdity of that vision, because it has no basis in reality.

The irony is that there are an infinite number of things I am choosing not to do today. I will not decide to become a politician today. My bucket can be overflowing when I die and still I will never have won an elected governmental office.

The number of things I am deciding to not do is infinite.
These crazy examples are just to highlight the dilemma. I have only a finite number of seconds yet to be alive on this planet. Clearly, it is in my best interest to use each second wisely, so I focus on the things I want to accomplish: my goals.

Then the dilemma becomes, what potential activities did I miss through the process of neglect? My path forward is very narrow and restricted when compared with the infinite number of things I reject simply by not considering them. What I do not get involved with may be limiting the joy I am getting from life as well as what I choose to do.

The whole concept is so convoluted that my brain starts to hurt after a while, so I cop out like every other breathing person and focus on those few things that are readily available for me to do today. The irony is that I do have the option at any point in time to do something completely different.

For example, today I could choose to give away all my possessions and go try to help the poor in Africa for the remainder of my life.

Personally, I am not going to spend more time today wondering about this conundrum. It is not going to change what I do, but I must realize that in rejecting the option to think more carefully about what I am electing to not do, I am limiting my choices in life dramatically. Right now, I am deciding to have a cup of coffee. How about you?

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Leaders: Hold Yourself Accountable

September 26, 2016

I work with leaders every day and focus on helping them build higher trust in their organizations. One observation I have made over the years is that nearly all leaders are passionate about accountability.

They do their best to make sure people in the organization produce the right things in the right ways and hold them accountable for doing so.

Unfortunately, I see very few leaders who are willing to step up to their own accountability. It is just not something that crosses their minds very often.

If something is wrong, they will blame the managers, or supervisors, or suppliers, or workers, or the government, or any other person or thing that is handy for the problems that hold the organization back.

The culture of every organization is created at the top and moves through the organization like water flowing down a mountain stream. If there are problems at any level of the organization, the top leader shares culpability because the buck stops at the top, where the source is located.

Case Example

Let’s take a case example and show the stubborn consistency of this theory. Suppose an organization has some delivery problems. They are making large engines to go into military vehicles, and they keep missing the deadlines.

The vehicle assembly company is missing their delivery dates because the engines are late. Financial penalties are imposed, and the profitability is impacted to the degree that the CEO is alarmed. He demands to know who is accountable for the delays.

He finds out that some of the suppliers have been sending low quality parts that require a lot of rework. The purchasing manager is called on the carpet for not creating a more specific quality specification. The incoming inspection manager is faulted for not catching the errors at the receiving dock.

The CEO calls in the production manager and demands to know why productivity on the line is down by 18% this year. The manager tells the CEO that people are really upset because of no raises in 3 years.

The CEO wanders out on the production line and sees 9 engines lined up to be reworked. He chews out the quality inspector who tries to explain that the finish on the cylinder bores is too rough.

He also notices that there is a lot more clutter than normal on the production floor and asks the supervisor why, only to find out the cleaning crew has staged an informal work slowdown. They take extended breaks and goof off, and their supervisor lets them get away with working only a couple hours a day.

By now the CEO is fuming. It is obvious why things are going wrong in every corner of the building. People at all levels are not doing the right things, and the whole organization is over budget, late, and producing a low quality product.

Now suppose this CEO decided to bring in a consultant to help get things back on track. He tells the consultant that all of the managers and supervisors need some basic training in how to do their jobs better and how to “motivate the troops.”

The consultant decides to do some checking before making a recommendation. She spends a few days looking at the data and talking with people all over the operation, then she reports back her assessment.

The CEO meets with the consultant, and is all ears on what needs to be done to bring the operation back into control. The consultant recommends that the CEO push his chair back from his desk, stand up, walk down the hall and go into the men’s room.

She suggests he take a good long look in the mirror at the source of his problems and ask himself some tough questions such as the following:

• Morale is terrible in this plant, and as the CEO, how have I been contributing to this problem?

• What is keeping me from fully holding myself accountable for this awful situation?

• In what ways have I been trying to lay the blame on the supervisors, employees, bad economy, suppliers, business downturn, competition, etc., and how can I deal with the current situations and business environment in a more empowering and effective way for all concerned?

• What fundamental changes in the structure, behaviors, values, and vision am I going to make to completely change the environment?

• What behaviors do I need to change at my level, starting right now, to build a culture of higher trust?

• In what ways can I change the attitudes of the workers by changing my own attitudes and behaviors?

• Since bonuses, or picnics, or parties, or hat days are not going to have much impact on long term motivation, how can I find out what really will inspire people and then implement the proper changes to the environment?

• How can I be a better mentor for my supervisors as well as train them to be better mentors to their own staff?

• How am I going to find a way to quadruple the time I have available to communicate with people?

• Do I need assistance to solve these issues? If so, what kind of help could I use and where can I find it?

• How can I know if, or when, it is time to pursue other opportunities and let someone with a different skill set handle the turnaround? Maybe someone else should be leading this company, since I have messed it up so badly.

Now the CEO is faced with an awful truth: the root cause of the problem is him. If he heeds the advice of the consultant, it means he needs to start by holding himself accountable, but that hurts too much.

It is so much easier to spot the symptoms and hold everyone else accountable. Unfortunately this CEO is not likely to hire that consultant, yet the advice he is hearing is spot on.

If we can get more top leaders to view their responsibility as creating a great culture where things work because everyone in the organization is turned on by the vision and trust in leadership is high, then excellence is possible.

It takes a wise and humble leader to view his or her role as creator and maintainer of the culture. Those who can do it will thrive, those who simply blame others will eventually fail.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Golden Opportunities to Fail Better

September 18, 2016

When something does not go according to plan, we often get a sinking feeling of failure. Throughout our formative years, we were taught that success is the goal and failure is anathema.

In this brief article, I want to discuss how we can change around our mindset so that when things go wrong we gain the maximum benefit from the situation.

We learn much more from our failures than from our successes in life. Think about how you learned to walk. You tried to stand up, and gravity won over, time after time.

Each time you got back up, your skill level at balancing all that weight on those two tiny round feet improved. Over time you became so skilled that standing erect was easier than eating pumpkin pie.

I often think our education system is missing a key point by not having a primary school course in how to fail well. Instead, we teach our children that failure is to be avoided at all cost, so we carry that idea in our subconscious mind for the rest of our life.

The “Whatever you do, don’t fail” mentality needs to be replaced by “Make sure to embrace and learn from your failures.” Our failures not only allow us the opportunity to learn and grow, but they provide an opportunity to leap forward and make a paradigm change.

In every situation that doesn’t go our way, there is a moment of decision. We decide to just accept our bad luck and feel badly about it, or we decide to turn our problem into an advantage. This is true in our personal life, and it carries over to our business life as well.

A great recovery from something that didn’t go as planned is the hallmark of winners in any occupation. When we are able to take a bad situation and totally WOW the customer, the problem turns into a huge positive force for our business.

I read a story about Zappo’s Shoes in one of my favorite leadership books: Triple Crown Leadership by Bob and Gregg Vanourek. Apparently a woman arrived in Las Vegas and found that she had left the shoes she intended to wear that evening at home.

She called Zappo’s in a panic to reorder a new pair. The customer service person looked them up and explained that they were out of that style in her particular size.

This was the moment of decision for the service rep. He could have accepted the problem, or he could choose to do something to change it. The woman sighed, and the service rep said “What hotel are you staying at? I will take care of this.”

Then he left his work station and walked the malls until he found the shoes in her size. He had them gift wrapped, and hand delivered them to her room with no charge because they were out of stock.

Imagine the impact that recovery had on that woman and everyone who has heard the story since that time.

Taking a customer problem and finding some way to not only resolve it, but totally blow the customer away, really works. I call it the Golden Opportunity Moment.

Having a customer with a problem is a wonderful moment of truth because the customer is upset with you, and usually has low expectations based on typical customer service levels like “Tough luck you banana.”

Against the backdrop of low expectations, the customer is all primed to be totally amazed when you in effect leap over the counter and offer a significant accommodation that was above and beyond anything she expected.

There are numerous stories like the Zappo’s one where an organization was able to take a real live problem and turn it into a raving customer for life. Teach all people in your organization the philosophy of turning problems into Golden Opportunities.

Gregg Lederman wrote a good book on this idea with lots of examples, entitled ENGAGED!: Outbehave your Competition to Create Customers for Life.

Failure is a state of mind that can be overcome by replacing the sinking feeling with the joy of learning something new. Next time you start feeling down because something did not work as you had hoped, focus on what you have gained by the experience.

Whenever a failure makes another person disappointed, rather than add to the disappointment, take the initiative to turn it into a Golden Opportunity. When the other person is down is really the perfect time to create a lasting positive memory. You will have a wonderful feeling of satisfaction while creating a fan for life.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Leadership Essentials

August 8, 2016

Despite the thousands of articles and books about leadership, some myths remain that are very stubborn. One myth that bothers me is that really good leadership is remarkably difficult. Hogwash: really good leadership is simple.

Let’s examine a short list of the things that are not needed to be a great leader, and contrast them with another list of things that are essential.

Things not needed to be a great leader

1. You do not need to be brilliant. Sure, you do need a functioning brain and the ability to conceptualize options, but there are plenty of thinkers in every organization. The leader does not need to be super intelligent; in fact if you push it to the extreme, a leader with genius IQ will have a difficult time relating to people in the organization and end up grossly misunderstood.

2. You do not have to be perfect. Leaders who concentrate on doing everything correctly miss big opportunities because they have a low tolerance for risk. Making foolish blunders is not the mark of a great leader, but a person who has a good batting average and is willing to take calculated risks generally makes a better leader. The ability to make an honest mistake and admit it to people shows the leader is vulnerable, which is an endearing characteristic that builds trust in most circumstances.

3. You do not need to look the part. Having studied successful and struggling leaders in organizations of all types, I can tell you that the top echelon of leaders in most cases are indistinguishable from their underlings that have more “normal” physical appearance (whatever that means). Some of the best leaders I have ever met wear a polo shirt to work.

4. You do not need to be a workaholic. Successful leaders do work hard, but the best ones recognize that to be exceptional, they need to have balance in their lives. They take the time to refresh and enjoy an active family and social life. When I see a leader who is married to the job and thinks only about work related issues, I see a person who is near burnout and does not realize that a little rejuvenation would improve rather than diminish the overall performance.

Things you must have to be a great leader

1. You must have a set of positive values. Not only must a leader have values, but he or she must adhere to them at all times. When I see a set of values and ask the CEO if he always follows his values, I often hear weasel words like, “Well… we try to always follow our values, but sometimes it is very difficult to do so.” Rubbish! When things are most difficult is when following your values is most important.

2. You must have high Emotional Intelligence. According to Bradberry and Greaves in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, the definition of EQ is, “Your ability to understand emotions, and your skill at being able to use that awareness to manage yourself and your relationships with others.” Leaders with low EQ have significant blind spots, as noted by Daniel Goleman; they cannot see their own inconsistencies.

3. You must have passion and humility. The rare combination of leadership traits was highlighted in Good to Great, by Jim Collins. The passion for the vision allows a leader to have the stamina and tenacity to pursue challenging work. The humility keeps the leader from being too aloof with people.

4. You must have great people skills. You need to be able to work well with people at all levels consistently over time. All of the people skills are important with special emphasis on communication skills.

Of course, we could name hundreds of other things that leaders either need or do not need to be great, but these eight factors are important things that I often see being confused by incumbent leaders. If you spend most of your energy pursuing the traits that are not needed and not enough emphasis on the essential traits, you are going to come up short as a leader.

Exercise for you

Try to expand on my lists of the things that are not needed and the things that are essential to be a great leader. It will clarify your thinking about what is important, which will lead to growth for you.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online,  Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust In Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

 


Firm but Fair Leadership

April 16, 2016

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite ways to measure a leader’s skills.

Firm but Fair

Great leaders know how to navigate the minefield of being compassionate but have a sense of discipline within the organization. It really is a delicate balance. You need to make accommodations in some circumstances and draw a firm line in others.

We have all seen leaders who are too eager to please. They bend over backwards to be accommodating to the needs of people in the organization. Their objective is to ensure everyone is “happy” almost all the time.

In return, people take advantage of the leader and make more requests for special consideration. Also, since people can observe the concessions made by the leader with other people, a sense of equity demands that when a similar situation comes up the same concession is extended to others.

Before long, the leader has lost all sense of control. In a desperate attempt to regain order, the leader tries to draw lines in the sand. This is annoying to people who have become accustom to a more lax interpretation of the rules. So, being too accommodating is dangerous. When you try to hold the line later, people tend to resent it.

On the flip side, going too much “by the book” gains one a reputation for being a hard ass. That reputation limits the amount of discretionary effort people are willing to expend. If a leader shows no compassion for the typical tight spots people find themselves in, he becomes an ogre that demands respect through command and control. Scrooge, before his transformation, was a good example of this kind of leader.

Neither of these extremes is desirable. The “sweet spot” is to have a reputation for being firm with application of the rules, but compassionate as well and willing to be flexible in extreme cases. Also, be cognizant of the need for fairness. This implies putting a damper on the issue of playing favorites. I have written elsewhere on the issue of favorites.

Briefly, we need to recognize that we cannot avoid having favorites within any population. We are human beings. What the great leader does is show in many ways that, even though there are favorites, he does not “play favorites.” To avoid this, the leader tries to treat each person as a favorite and operates outside his comfort zone for some small percentage of the time.

In their excellent book, Triple Crown Leadership, Bob and Gregg Vanourek use the analogy of “steel and velvet.” They point out that the best leaders flex between being firm like steel and showing care, like velvet. Their thesis is that being velvet all the time leads to weak leadership, but being steel all the time leads to disgruntled workers who comply but are not engaged in the work.

One obvious thing that some leaders miss is that being firm implies having standards. Neither of the extremes in this dimension is advisable. On the one hand, you can have a burdensome employee manual with thousands of rules that people find hard to remember. If you find yourself “hiding behind” the employee manual when making decisions on personal requests, you may be in danger of over doing the bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.

On the other extreme is the office where there are no formal rules, and “we just try to always do what is right.” That condition is a slippery slope, because without some form of standards people don’t know what to expect. They push the limits until things get way out of control.

The optimum position is to have a crisp and concise set of expectations, and everyone should know they are enforced. People should also be aware that there are emergency situations where a rule can be waived, but those situations are rare. Knowing when to grant an exception is what puts the art in leadership. In general it is best to lean toward the formal side but be willing to flex when required.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.