Successful Supervisor 17 – Leader or Manager

March 12, 2017

In my work, I do a lot with the contrast between leaders and managers. The topic takes on a special meaning for supervisors because the vast majority of time they are called upon to be great managers.

In this article I will contrast the difference between a manager and a leader, then I will make a case that supervisors need to be good leaders as well as managers for at least part of the time.

Here is a set of bullets that help describe the pure Manager’s mindset:

• Managers try to be a stabilizing force
• Make sure all rules are followed
• No waste – process perfection
• Minimize conflict
• Try to make people happy/satisfied
• Would like to be popular/liked
• Clone everyone
• Main tools – budget, MBO, accountability, process control, 6 sigma, lean
• Main objective – accomplish the mission
• Focus is on today

The mindset of a pure leader is very different. Here are some bullets on the Leader’s focus:

• Often a destabilizing force
• Are we following our destiny?
• Are people rising to their potential?
• Not afraid to be unpopular
• Get people out of their comfort zone
• Strives to be respected/trusted
• Always looking for potential – what could we become?
• Main tools – benchmarking, next wave, balance sheet, technology, resources
• Main objective – reach the vision
• Focus is on the future

If my contrasts are correct, the world of the pure leader is a very different place from the world of the pure manager. Supervisors naturally gravitate toward the management mindset because of their role.

Supervisors try to maximize the productivity of existing resources most of the time. They want everyone to show up for work on time. They want everyone to follow the rules, so the process runs exactly how it was designed.

Supervisors sweat the details of making sure everyone gets paid on time and that all workers are properly trained on their function. They also think about bench strength and make sure there is an adequate level of cross training.

Supervisors become the mediators when workers quarrel. They do the reinforcing and coaching of workers so they understand when they are doing well or need to pick up the pace.

Supervisors give the performance feedback and help to set organizational goals. All of these functions are management roles.

Mistake

It would be a mistake for a supervisor to stop at this point, because there is so much more that could be accomplished by the same group of people if some leadership skills were also employed.

Supervisors are not usually tasked with creating a vision for the organization, however they should be driving how the vision applies to the group being supervised.

In other words, the translation of the big picture vision into a vision for the shop floor is incredibly important.

In reality all supervisors take on management roles at certain times and leadership functions at other times. If you picture a scale from one to ten with one being pure manager and ten being pure leader, supervisors will be at three (dealing with a habitual attendance problem) one minute and then bounce all the way over to eight (envisioning a new method of cross training) the next.

It helps to picture this dynamic variety and recognize it when going about daily tasks.

By the nature of her work, a supervisor will spend more time on average doing tasks on the management end of the scale, but there will be ample time to function in the leader role.

Try to pay attention to the roles you play during your average day, and you will be surprised with the variety of tasks you do. It will enrich your job understanding and satisfaction as you do this little visualization exercise.

This 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


Is Bribing Employees Ever OK?

December 16, 2012

bribeIs it ever a good leadership to bribe your employees? I recently asked that question in an online leadership class. We got into a very interesting discussion that highlighted the difference between four words that are often confused by managers. Those words are bribe, incentive, reward, and reinforcement. The world will not come to an end if these words are mixed, but since they represent different concepts in motivation theory, it would be wise to use them correctly.

All four of these words have the connotation of influencing people to do the things we would like to have them do. The distinction is that two words typically apply before an action is taken while the other two words usually apply after the action.

The word bribe is a well-known and loaded word. In common usage, it means we are offering people something they want in pre-payment if they will do something that they would not normally do. For example, in some cultures it is expected that airline passengers going through customs will give the customs officer some kind of “tip” in order to process their bags without hassle. That is a bribe, although we would never use the word in front of the customs officer. We have all heard stories of individuals arguing with a policeman about a potential speeding ticket and trying to offer some kind of bribe to have the ticket waived. These individuals often find a bribe is not only unsuccessful, it can lead to dire consequences.

The second type of pre-agreed payment is called an incentive. This is where a leader will challenge people to do more than expected, and they are promised a specific payment if they do it. Usually with incentives, there is no stigma associated with doing something wrong; it is merely an encouragement to do more of what is right.

Sometimes the incentives are built into a compensation plan such that they really don’t appear as separate incentives, but certainly have that same feel. For example, commissions paid for certain levels of sales are types of incentives. They are a promise made ahead of time to pay a certain amount based on the employee performing at a certain level.

When employees perform better than expected, for any number of reasons, leaders often give them extra compensation after the fact. These payments are called rewards. Often, the compensation is a token amount in recognition of the actions by the employee and are not intended to fully pay for the extra effort. Instead, they are a kind of thank you for going the extra mile.

The area of rewards can be a minefield, and there are numerous books on the potential mistakes when trying to reward people. For example, if a leader rewards an individual for a job well done, often other people feel slighted because they expended as much effort or provided more benefit to the organization than the person being rewarded. There are numerous other problems that can come up that can be devastating. It is not uncommon for well intentioned supervisors to create ill will by applying rewards poorly.

A final category is called reinforcement. Like rewards, reinforcement is something that is usually applied after actions have been taken. Reinforcement is more general than rewards. It seeks to make people feel appreciated and thanked for the things they have been doing. Usually reinforcement takes the form of verbal or written praise as opposed to tangible gifts or direct compensation. Reinforcement takes hundreds of different forms and can be as simple as a “thank you” or as complex as a group-wide celebration.

The words discussed in this article are sometimes used inappropriately. One might refer to what was intended as an incentive as some kind of bribe. Or someone might think of a form of reward as being simple recognition. It is instructive to realize there is a difference in behavior modification between promising an incentive ahead of the act versus providing a reward after the act has been completed.

To be an accurate communicator, it is important to use the right words for each application. If one of the four words described above is used in the wrong context, it can send mixed signals about a leader’s intent. That will cause a lowering of trust within the organization, and it will eventually show up on the bottom line.
Be careful when using these words to use them accurately. The concepts involved in behavior modification are critical to having people experience higher motivation as a result of reinforcing actions by leaders. They are powerful concepts, but they can be easily misused.


Toxic Leaders

September 23, 2012

We are all familiar with the word “toxic” and recognize that toxic substances are known to cause human beings serious injury or death. We are also aware that some individuals have mastered the skill of being toxic to other people. When a toxic person is the leader of an organization, the performance of that unit will typically be less than half what it would be under a leader who builds trust. There is documented evidence (see Trust Across America statistics) that high trust groups outperform low trust groups by a factor of two to five times.

Thankfully, the majority of leaders are not toxic. One estimate given by LTG Walter F. Ulmer in an article entitled “Toxic Leadership” (Army, June 2012) is that 30-50% of leaders are essentially transformational, while only 8-10% are essentially toxic. The unfortunate reality is that one toxic leader in an organization does such incredible damage, he or she can bring down an entire culture without even realizing it.

Why would a leader speak and behave in a toxic way if he or she recognizes the harm being done to the organization. Is it because leaders are just not aware of the link between their behaviors and performance of the group? Is it because they are totally unaware of the fact that their actions are toxic to others? Is it because they are lazy and just prefer to bark out orders rather than work to encourage people? While there are instances where any of these modes might be in play, I think other mechanisms are responsible for most of the lamentable behaviors of toxic leaders.

Toxic leaders do understand that people are generally unhappy working under them. What they fail to see is the incredible leverage they are leaving off the table. They just do not believe there is a better way to manage, otherwise they would do that. If you are in an organization, there is a possibility you are in daily contact with one or more toxic leaders. There are three possibilities here: 1) you have a leader working for you who is toxic, 2) you are a toxic leader yourself, but do not know it or want to admit it, or 3) you are working for a toxic leader or have one higher in the chain of command. I will give some tips you can use for each of these cases.

Toxic Leader Working for you – this person needs to become more aware that he or she is operating at cross purposes to the goals of the organization. Do this through education and coaching. Once awareness is there, then you can begin to shape the behavior through leadership development and reinforcement. It may be that this person is just not a good fit for a leadership role. If the behaviors are not improved, then this leader should be removed.

You are a toxic leader – it is probably not obvious to you how much damage is being done by your treatment of other people. They are afraid to tell you what is actually going on, so you are getting grudging compliance and leaving their maximum discretionary effort unavailable to the organization. The antidote here is to genuinely assess your own level of toxicity and change it if you are not happy with the answer. This can be accomplished through getting a leadership coach or getting some excellent training. Try to read at least one good leadership book every month.

You are working for a toxic leader – in my experience, this is the most common situation. It is difficult and dangerous to retrofit your boss to be less toxic. My favorite saying for this situation is, “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” So what can you do that will have a positive impact on the situation without risking loss of employment? Here are some ideas that may help, depending on how severe the problem is and how open minded the boss is:

1. Create a leadership growth activity in your area and invite the boss to participate. Use a “lunch and learn” format where various leaders review some great books on leadership. I would start with some of the Warren Bennis books or perhaps Jim Collins’ Good to Great.

2. Suggest that part of the performance gap is a lack of trust in higher management and get some dialog on how this could be improved. By getting the boss to verbalize a dissatisfaction with the status quo, you can gently shape the issue back to the leader’s behaviors. The idea is to build a recognition of the causal relationship between culture and performance.

3. Show some of the statistical data that is available that links higher trust to greater productivity. The Trust Across America Website is a great source of this information.

4. Bring in a speaker who specializes in improving culture for a quarterly meeting. Try to get the speaker to interface with the problem leader personally offline. If the leader can see some glimmer of hope that a different way of operating would provide the improvements he or she is seeking, then some progress can be made.

5. Suggest some leadership development training for all levels in the organization. Here it is not necessary to identify the specific leader as “the problem,” rather, discuss how improved leadership behaviors at all levels would greatly benefit the organization.

6. Reinforce any small directional baby steps in the right direction the leader inadvertently shows. Reinforcement from below can be highly effective if it is sincere. You can actually shape the behavior of your boss by frequent reminders of the things he or she is doing right.

It is a rare leader who will admit, “Our performance is far off the mark, and since I am in charge, it must be that my behaviors are preventing people from giving the organization their maximum discretionary effort.” Those senior leaders who would seriously consider this statement are the ones who can find ways to change through training and coaching. They are the ones who have the better future. Most toxic leaders will remain with their habits that sap the vital energy from people and take their organizations in exactly the opposite direction from where they want to go.

Another key reason why toxic leaders fail to see the opportunity staring them in the face is a misperception about Leadership Development. The typical comment is, “We are not into the touchy-feely stuff here. We do not dance around the maypole and sing Kum-ba-yah while toasting marshmallows by the campfire.” The problem here is that several leadership training methods in the past have used outdoor experiential training to teach the impact of good teamwork and togetherness. Senior leaders often feel too serious and dignified for that kind of frivolity, so they sit in their offices and honestly believe any remedial training needs to be directed toward the junior leaders.

To reduce the impact of a toxic leader, follow the steps outlined above, and you may be able to make a large shift in performance over time while preserving your job. You can even use this article as food for thought and pass it around the office to generate dialog on how to chart a better future for the organization.


Mentor Power

July 29, 2012

If you do not have at least one active mentor, you are missing a lot. In my experience, having a strong mentor at work made a huge difference in my career. Even in my ripening old age, I am still gaining benefits from the lessons and ideas planted in me by my mentor when I was younger.

There are obvious benefits of having a mentor in an organization.

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster

2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid.

3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles than yours.

4. A mentor cleans up after you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.

5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you when you need it.

6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past so you can avoid them.

7. A mentor operates as a sounding board for ideas and methods.

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate long term. That is because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.

A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process. The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy. This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities. After about six months, the activities are small remnants of the envisioned program.

The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people. It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach. It is pretty obvious how the protégé benefits in a mentor relationship, but how does the mentor gain from it?

Mentors gain significantly in the following ways:

1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.

2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.

3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.

5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.

6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.

Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.


The Leadership Management Scale

March 6, 2011

I often get into conversations in my Leadership courses about the difference between leaders and managers. This article suggests a visual scale that can help you understand your natural tendencies and how you like to operate.

Most of us have heard the old adage (first uttered by Peter Drucker, I believe) that “Managers do things right, and Leaders do the right things.” In leadership classes, I work with groups to develop a list of characteristics that typify managers and leaders. Generalizing the lists, I find that pure managers and pure leaders have completely different mindsets as follows:

The Pure Manager

The manager wants everything to go smoothly. He or she wants every process to run the way it should to get the maximum productivity. There must be no waste. The manager wants everyone to follow all the rules and be there every day motivated to do good work. In essence, the manager wants to stabilize things and clone everything to be exactly right. The manager is all about doing things right, and is most closely associated with the mission of the organization (what they are trying to accomplish today). The manager works with the process, the equipment, the schedule, and the people in terms of what they should be doing. Managers are now oriented.

The Pure Leader

The leader is often a destabilizing force. He or she is most interested in where the organization is going rather than optimizing today’s processes. That may mean making people unhappy for some time in order for the greater good. It often means balancing the needs of different constituencies with opposing needs. For example, satisfying social responsibility needs may mean a short term hit for shareholders, or working to optimize shareholder needs may require unpopular actions for the workforce.

If people are too complacent and do not see the dangers, the leader is there to create a burning platform. Leaders understand the need to sometimes be unpopular, or as Colin Powell likes to say, “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.” The idea is to do the right things, which may mean some pretty difficult decisions. The leader is all about the vision of the organization (where they are trying to go). The leader works with the balance sheet, the strategic plan, the product line, and the people in terms of what they can become. Leaders are future oriented.

The Leader/Manager

This person is able to combine the best of both worlds and act in both roles. All of us act as leaders and managers at times, but each of us favors one mode or the other. A good balance between the two extremes is often the best place to be. In general, the world has far more competent managers than competent leaders, so if you have leadership tendencies, that is a good thing to have. Really great leaders do not mind being average managers. They recognize their limitation and surround themselves with outstanding managers to handle the details.

I think of the leadership – manager issue as a kind of sliding scale. On one extreme is pure leadership, and on the other extreme is pure management. We all operate somewhere on the sliding scale every day. Based on our personal style, we move from one point on the scale to another depending on current needs. Let’s be more specific with the metaphor. Suppose pure leadership is a 10, and pure management is a 1.

I may be writing an e-mail encouraging people to pay attention to our future vision in the actions we take today. While I am writing that note, my mind is operating at about 8 on the scale. I am having a bit of management thought because I am referring to current actions, but the thrust of my note is about following our vision, which is pure leadership.

I finish the note and look up to see a supervisor at my door with an issue. There is an employee with a significant attendance problem that is out of control. I discuss what the supervisor wants to do. He asks for my opinion, and I offer my advice. Here I am operating at about 1 or 2 on the scale because maintaining control and following the rules is pure management.

All day I do things that are partially leadership and partially management. I will share that my personal comfort zone is about 7-8 on the scale. That is where I would naturally spend most of my time if given the chance by circumstances. This metaphor has two important things that can help you:

1. Pay attention to where you are on the scale in any conversation or action. That will help you clarify your role.

2. Learn where your “Sweet spot” is on the scale. If you are a natural 2, then you need someone who is a 7-8 to balance you. If you are a natural 8, then get a 2 to help manage the place.

When coaching other leaders or managers, try to help them see where they are operating at the moment, because it can aid in the dialog. If someone is too near the edges of this scale for too long, that person may be operating with blinders on. Consider mental exercises to bring the person closer to the center of the scale for at least part of the time. Try to align the work you are doing most of the time to play to your strengths, and you will end up doing a better job.