Successful Supervisor Part 15 – The Meaning of Success

February 26, 2017

Since this series of articles is all about success, I thought one article on the actual topic of success would be in order.

Stop for a minute and think about what success means to you. Think about a highly “successful” person you know. How would you describe what it is that makes him or her successful?

I have been doing this exercise in my leadership classes for over 15 years. Surprisingly, the two conventional methods of determining success are rarely identified by the leadership students.

When I was growing up, success was often described in financial terms. A successful person had a lot of money to throw around and lived in a big house.

Alternatively, we used to think of success in terms of power. The higher you were in the organization and the more people you had reporting to you, the more successful you were.

People in my classes do not focus on money or power when trying to describe success. Instead, they mention things like, being happy, reaching a goal, finding love, family and friends, and other more social manifestations of success.

If they mention money, it is only to have enough to not be in need. I then share with the class that two deceased philosophers taught me an alternate view of success.

Napoleon Hill and Earl Nightingale were early pioneers of leadership research who had a major influence on my understanding of the subject. Napoleon spent his entire adult life pursuing the essence of leadership, and he put his thesis in a book entitled “Think and Grow Rich” as well as several other works both written and audio.

Actually, his first book was a set of eight volumes published in 1928, entitled “The Law of Success.” He later distilled his findings in an audio series titled “The Science of Personal Achievement,” where he enumerated his 17 Universal principles of Success.

The work is still available, and I highly recommend it. Napoleon Hill died in 1970 at the age of 87.

Earl Nightingale was a protégé of Napoleon Hill. He was a US Marine Corporal and was one of only 15 Marines who survived the attack on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.

After the war, he became a radio announcer and studied leadership with Napoleon Hill. Earl is credited with clarifying what he called the strangest secret after reading countless books on philosophy and leadership.

After many years of study, he boiled down the wisdom of the ages into just six words:

“We become what we think about.”

Many philosophers and researchers have come up with a similar conclusion about success. Here is a brief video on the topic that I call “Discovering the Same Vein of Gold.”
Earl also wrote about personal success and recorded an outstanding audio program entitled “Lead the Field.”

Over the years I have practically memorized the entire program. Earl wrote that the single word that governs our happiness all the days and years of our lives is “attitude.”

We have the power to choose how we react to the things that happen to us in life. The quote that stuck with me the most from Earl’s program was a succinct definition of success. He wrote:

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.”

Earl’s contribution means that “anyone who’s on course toward the fulfillment of a goal is successful now. Success does not lie in the achievement of a goal…it lies in the journey toward the goal.”

The concept hit home to me because it changes everything. Most people go through life not feeling particularly successful because they have not yet reached their goal in life.

Nightingale said exactly the opposite. You are successful as you strive for that which you seek. Actually reaching a goal is simply a milestone: a moment to reflect and celebrate. But to continue being successful, you must quickly move on and strive for another more lofty goal.

Earl used the example of children at Christmas time to illustrate the point. He noted that kids are excited and happy on Christmas Morning as they anticipate and hope for wonderful gifts.

On Christmas afternoon, once all the presents have been opened, one would think the kids would be at their peak of happiness, yet they are often cranky and a little depressed at that time.

The reason is that all the magic and anticipation are gone. Sure there are toys to play with, but the zest is now blunted, even if what they received was more than they expected.

Success is strongest when we are reaching or striving for something. We feel alive and full of energy. Another way to describe the phenomenon is a quote from Cervantes that:

“The road is better than the Inn.”

Success is in the pursuit of a worthy goal. This means that you are successful right now as you are working and struggling to improve your lot in life, as long as you have a goal.

As a supervisor, if you are reading and studying about leadership, you are successful right now. If you are taking courses or otherwise growing in your leadership knowledge, you are a success.

You do not have to wait for someone to put a crown on your head to feel the elation of success; you already possess it as long as you are a lifelong learner or a person who is giving back to others as a goal.

Imagine the happiness that would exist if every supervisor realized this profound wisdom. As a result of reading this article, you now have that wisdom. You are more successful just because you read this article.

Use this knowledge and teach it to others as just another way to cement your own personal success.

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


Successful Supervisor Part 1 – The Critical Junction

November 21, 2016

This is the first part of a series of short articles on how to be or create a more successful supervisor. Each part will be posted in this blog.

As of this writing, I cannot tell how many episodes there will be. Readers are encouraged to comment on any of the parts, which may create additional dialog along with more key points.

I believe one of the most challenging jobs in the management ranks is that of first line supervisor. Since different organizations use various terminology for the same function, let me define the role I am discussing in this series.

In every business, there is a junction between the working group of employees and the management levels. In most cases, the junction is between non-exempt and exempt employees.

Individuals in these roles have huge responsibility and are often caught in a kind of squeeze play between management and workers. Think about your own situation, whether you are operating as a supervisor or trying to coach people in that role; this series provides ideas that can help make work life more enjoyable and effective regardless of your position.

The viewpoint from above

There is a whole network of management layers working in a matrix to accomplish organizational goals. The supervisor represents the layer that translates the needs of the organization directly to the people who actually make the product or provide the service.

From this perspective, upper management counts on the supervisor level to keep things running efficiently and provide the motivational impetus to the workers (Note: this is often referred to erroneously as “motivating the troops” as I will describe in a future post.)

The viewpoint from below

There is a two-level system of workers and managers. The supervisor is the person in the organization that is both worker and manager, but really this person represents “management” to the workers.

The supervisor becomes the focal point for everything going on in the organization, whether that is good or bad in the opinion of the workers.

These two distinct perspectives result in a kind of inter-organizational tension that the supervisor is supposed to resolve in both directions simultaneously. It is incredibly challenging because a statement that might be viewed as positive to the employees, might have the wrong spin from the management perspective, and vice versa.

Recognize that the supervisor role is often a thankless task that is poorly understood from both directions. If you are a management person who is blessed with individuals who are excellent at the supervisor role, consider yourself very lucky and cherish these people for the work they do.

If you have people who are not well suited for this role, consider whether you should get them some training or perhaps find them a different role where they, and the organization, are simultaneously better off.

If you are or have been in a supervisor role yourself, I hope these articles provide some support and ideas to lighten your load. You have an incredibly important role to play, and often are not given the tools you need to do it well.

I will offer many ideas and resources you can use to make your work experience more enjoyable and successful. Here is a partial list of the topics we will be discussing over the next several weeks:

• How to improve the initial success when a new supervisor is named
• How supervisors can maintain control without coming across as a tyrant
• The methods by which supervisors can build and maintain trust
• How to reduce the tendency to use rank as leverage
• How to employ peer pressure without the danger of backlash
• Techniques to please both the top brass as well as the workers simultaneously
• The secret to inspiring motivation, and the mistakes to avoid in doing so
• How body language is the most valuable communication tool that is often overlooked or misunderstood
• How to see what is really going on and not be fooled by the appearance of things
• Employing superior listening techniques to get to a full understanding
• Why Emotional Intelligence is the key leadership skill and how to harness it
• How to give more effective employee reviews that drive true motivation
• The steps to create a great culture where everyone is fully engaged

Whether you are a new supervisor, an incumbent supervisor, or a manager who is coaching supervisors, this series of articles will provide accessible education and insight at no cost.

The segments are laid out in small chunks of pragmatic and tested advice that will provide the basis for continuous improvement and excellence in supervisory skills.

Please join us for this series by clicking on the “Sign me up” button on the right side of your screen. You will receive an e-mail every time a new episode is posted (usually once a week).

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


Excellence in Succession

February 22, 2014

Rubber Duck LineSuccession planning ought to be a natural progression of training and grooming for the next generation of leaders in an organization. Often the process is flawed either out of neglect, or missteps.

This article outlines some of the issues with succession planning for key leadership positions and offers some ideas to make the process more robust.

The need for good succession planning increases at the higher levels in any organization. Individual contributors do need training before assuming a new job, but they can be replaced rather easily.

With higher level managers, the skills are more critical and selection as well as preparation is much more demanding.

Top leaders should be well groomed on all the policies and nuances of running the organization before taking over.

There should be a specific succession planning process for all key jobs in any organization, which includes who is ready to step in immediately and who is being groomed for future roles.

The obvious reason is that we never know when someone is going to leave for one reason or another. The transition may take place over a period of years or abruptly in a few hours depending on circumstances.

I remember one extremely short transition where my organization was doubled in size. The previous manager and I had only a few minutes for him to cross train me, and then he was gone.

He showed me where the personnel files were kept, wished me luck, gave me the keys to the office, and left. One thing I appreciated was the ability to start fresh without being colored by his paradigms and biases, and yet there were a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the operation.

I did survive the transition, but it would have been easier if there had been more time to understand his job.

The activities of succession planning are much broader than most people realize. They encompass everything from general cross training for bench strength to identifying high potential people for future roles, to mentoring, and even job rotation.

In fact, if you think about it, at the higher levels of leadership, the majority of daily activities could be slotted in some part of the succession process.

Good succession planning takes a lot of time and energy. It is something that should be going on at a conscious level nearly every day, yet it is often a hidden process that the rank and file do not understand.

They only see the result. When Jack leaves, Ann is discovered to be fully capable of replacing him. The process sometimes takes on a highly political feel, since only certain people are involved in many of the discussions.

This lack of full information can cause people to become anxious because they do not know what is going to happen. The best approach is to be as transparent as possible.

It is too bad that succession planning takes a back burner in some organizations. This is true for several reasons:

• Most leaders are overburdened and have little time to think about long term development. This is a huge mistake. Leaders must make the time.

• There is a fear of setting up an implied competition and tension between contenders.

• People may interpret succession discussions as meaning the incumbent is trying to leave early. This incorrect signal could imply a lack of commitment.

• External replacement versus internal can be demoralizing for understudies.

• Succession is a highly emotional topic. People get nervous because the change involves their job and future.

William Rothwell of Penn State University is one of the recognized experts in Succession Planning. He suggested there are at least 10 key steps that need to be included in any succession planning process: (Rothwell, W.J. 2001, Effective Succession Planning 2nd edition. New York: AMACOM.)

1. Clarify expectations for Succession.
2. Establish competency models.
3. Conduct individual assessments.
4. Create performance management system.
5. Assess individual potential.
6. Create development process.
7. Institute Individual development plans.
8. Establish a talent inventory.
9. Establish accountability for making the system work.
10. Evaluate the results.

Rothwell also shared a list of 6 of the biggest mistakes in succession planning:

1. Assuming success at one level will guarantee success at a higher level
2. Assuming bosses are the best judge of who should be promoted
3. Assuming that promotions are entitlements
4. Trying to do too much too fast
5. Giving no thought to what to call it
6. Assuming that everyone wants a promotion

The best approach is to have a formal succession process for all professional jobs in an organization and let people know what it is.

It should be part of the routine work on a daily basis instead of something managers think about only when someone is getting ready to retire or gives the customary two-week notice.

I believe succession is a fundamental leadership process, because the highest calling for any leader is to grow the next generation of leaders.


Go in the Right Direction

November 30, 2013

Onw Way SignI am writing a new book on trust. For some inexplicable reason, I do that every three years or so. One chapter is about change and why organizations feel compelled to change.

The quote at the start of the chapter is by Lao Tzu, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

The quote tickled my funny bone enough to use it in the header for the chapter. Now, as I reflect on the issue of change and continuous improvement, I have an additional insight that may be helpful.

We do not need to worry about the myriad of decisions required to chart the future.

Rather, all we need to do is verify we are heading in the right direction.

That will free us from over-planning and allow our creativity to determine the exact pathway to our future.

The wonderful thing about a vision is that it pulls us along from one revelation to the next one. We simply need to remain true to the vision and verify that each decision is pointed the right direction. The rest will take care of itself.

Lou Holtz uses the word WIN, which stands for “What’s Important Now.” It allows him to focus on the vision and do the right thing at every step to take him in that direction. He does not worry or hope or fret about all the details, he simply asks if what we are doing right now is consistent with the vision. If it is, then the step is correct.

Continuous improvement is the same way. We do not need to psychoanalyze all possible avenues ahead of time. We can take actions immediately as long as we are pointed in the direction we wish to go, and we will eventually achieve our goals.

Some people will say, “Yes, but what if there is a better choice, then you might miss the opportunity to do that.” People who continually say “Yes, but…” can find themselves searching for the ultimate perfect path and die from analysis paralysis or starvation. Far better to step out on the right path and keep moving toward the goal than spend years searching for the perfect path.

In “Success is a Journey,” the great Brian Tracy recalls how, as a young man, he traveled from Vancouver all the way to South Africa with some friends. It took them over a year to do it. The most harrowing part of the journey was when he crossed the Sahara Desert.

For one 500 mile stretch called the Tanezrouft, the road was marked by oil barrels every 5 kilometers. It turns out that that is exactly the curvature of the Earth, so at any time he could see exactly two oil barrels: the one he just passed and the one directly in front of him.

As soon as he would pass one oil barrel, the one behind him would disappear and a new one would pop up on the horizon in front of him. So the way he crossed the most dangerous desert on the planet was by taking it one oil barrel at a time.

So it is with reaching any difficult goal. You can do it by simply making sure you are heading in the right direction and taking it one oil barrel at a time. I believe that is a good way to visualize continuous improvement and a great model for achieving your goals in life.


Fail More Often

January 29, 2012

In our society, it is considered a bad thing to fail. From our earliest memory, we are all taught to succeed at what we try. It does not matter if it is taking a few steps on wobbly legs or negotiating an international merger of two huge organizations, we are conditioned that success is the goal and failure is anathema. Through this conditioning, we are taught to feel great when we have a success and to feel awful when we fail.

Take away the stigma of the word, and a failure is simply an attempt to do something that did not work out as planned. In the learning process, we obtain more information, momentum, resolve, inspiration, insight, and knowledge when we fail than when we succeed. To succeed is to get something done, but we have not learned very much. For example, without the corrective adjustments by ourselves and our parents, we would never learn to walk or talk. It is the constant reshaping of past tries that cause our forward progress.

I think it is time to embrace failure and to stop feeling bad about it. What we need in life is more at-bats rather than more home runs. Each time we go for something new, we risk failure, but not taking that risk is a bigger problem, because we block our own advancement.

The most often-quoted example of this theory is the story of Thomas Edison, who found that carbonized bamboo filaments worked well for his light bulb. His most famous quotation is, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 things that won’t work.” He also acknowledged that by being creative while simultaneously inventive, he was able to develop things that seemed like serendipity, but they were really the culmination of a lot of hard work and numerous failures. He once said, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

The key to embracing failure is to let go of the stigma and seek out the learning potential in every activity. They ought to teach a course on failing in grammar school. Kids should be introduced to the theory that to fail, as long as something was learned, is the route to eventual success. Instead, we hammer home the idea that to fail is to not live up to expectations. Children learn to fear rather than embrace failure. That attitude permeates our society, and it has a crippling effect on every organization.

Another aspect of failure is the idea that we never really fail until we quit trying. As long as we are stretching to achieve a goal, we have the potential for success. I love the quotation from Vince Lombardi who said, “We never lost a game, but sometimes we just ran out of quarters.”

I believe there needs to be good judgment when deciding how long to persevere. I do not think Winston Churchill was right when he said “Never, never, never, quit.” At some point, it is time to learn a lesson and leave the battlefield. It is okay to have a discarded scheme or to recognize a blind alley and cut your losses. It is important to recognize when we have run out of quarters, but it is wrong to quit trying prematurely. I think the difference between those two mindsets is the difference between genius and mediocrity.

I am not advocating that we fail on purpose. Doing things right should always be the objective. What I want to champion is that the only thing to avoid is making the same mistake over and over again. Some people focus on being busy just to have something to do. Thomas Edison had a quote for that too. He said, “Being busy does not always mean real work.”

Try having a “Experience Award” at work for daring to risk. Honor people who stretch and try but fail, as long as they learn from the experience. Doing this will seem unorthodox and “over the top” to many stuffy managers who will not tolerate things that are irregular. Too bad these managers are leaving real creativity off the table.