Friday, January 27, 2012

Leadership Series - Part IV - Would Someone Please Make a Decision!

Paralysis by analysis is a term that has been around for decades.  We are surrounded by it.  In fact, if you Google it, you will find a paper with 97 case studies!  Maybe that is what is happening in Washington, although I am not sure analysis is the reason for the lack of progress there. Perhaps it is the analysis of how to get re-elected.

There are a lot of reasons for not moving forward but is there anything more frustrating?  I don't think so.  There seems to be a fear of making decisions in organizations or anywhere for that matter.  In fact, it seems to be so bad in some large organizations that managers are just happy if everyone is working.  As long as no decisions are being made, there is no danger of making a mistake.  There is no accountability. 

I shouldn't say no decisions are being made.  You have probably experienced some of the more regrettable ones. You must know the feeling.  You spend hours, if not weeks, putting together a study paper with some brilliant recommendations.  You just know it is going to impress the higher ups so much that you will probably get a promotion or at the very least, a raise. You wait expectantly for the decision and finally, here it comes:
  • I think we need to study this further; or
  • I can't concentrate on this right now; or
  • We have other important issues we have to focus on; or
  • More thought has to be given to your arguments; or
  • Let's wait for the situation to change; or
  • Let's put it aside for now and hope it will go away; or finally, the real killer response
  • I can't agree to this; there are typos in your paper.
How frustrating is that?  Your boss has just done what many people do when they are buying a television set or computer.  Because things are moving so fast with technology there is always the fear that if we buy today, we won't have the latest technology by tomorrow.  It is easy to keep putting the decision off so that we make the right decision. So what happens?  We sit there with no TV and no computer!  Is that really accomplishing the goal of having a tool that will do what we want it to do?  If we really want one or need one, eventually we have to jump in and buy one.  And it will be outdated tomorrow.  But we will have moved forward and we can focus our attention on something else until we have to start thinking about upgrading. 

I believe that there is a desperate need for decision makers in business.  And decision makers are at all levels.  Peter Drucker said, "Most discussions of decision making assume that only senior executives make decisions or that only senior exectutives' decisions matter.  This is a dangerous mistake."  I couldn't agree more.  Everyone in an organization has some level of authority to make a decision.  We might be stymied at some point by someone more senior who doesn't want to make a decision, but at least we can take comfort in the knowledge that we have made our decision.

Don't be the one that says more study is required or that uses any of the other feeble excuses for not moving forward. A good leader will encourage their staff to do a good job and then back them up when they do. They will be sure it is a good product by ensuring that their expectations are understood.  When the product is received and, if it has met the expectations that were laid out, a decision should be made so that the organization can move forward.

I might add that this applies to personal life too. Quite often good things pass us by while we are trying to make a decision.  Make the decision and move on!

The next post will discuss Confidence Versus Arrogance.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Leadership Series - Part III - Use the Experience Around You

We often find ourselves in awkward situations that are very uncomfortable to deal with.  When we are placed in a position of authority, it probably happens more often than we would like.  There are two situations I had to deal with that stick out in my mind. 

In the first situation, I was given management responsibilities at a very young age and had a number of employees working for me who had much more experience (and yes, age) than I did.  Anyone who has been in that situation will have heard the expression, "I have been here for fifteen years and THIS is the way we have always done it."  Well, THIS may not necessarily be the best way to do it.  But how is the new guy/gal supposed to gain the respect of the people who have been there forever and who are twice his/her age?  Awkward!

In the second situation, I was asked to take over the amalgamation of two units that both had managers.  I was to become the new manager with both of the previous managers reporting to me.  They each had the respect of their staff.  Double awkward!

In situations like these it is necessary to gain credibility as soon as possible. I tried to sit down with each of the people reporting to me as soon as possible to understand their role and to ask for their continuing support.  After all, they are the experts. I don't say that facetiously.  They have been there and understand the business so their input is invaluable.  It won't ALL be valuable advice. For example, when I was a young upstart manager and met with one veteran staff member, he told me that I should always be late for everything. Come in to work late, arrive at meetings late...  He said that was the best way to establish that I was the boss.  Some advice can  be ignored, but much of it is valuable.

In a small organization it is possible to meet with each staff member individually.  However, in larger organizations where there are organizational layers, the manager has to be sure to maintain the lines of accountability and authority.  Meeting with employees below the level reporting to you can make those reporting to you feel threatened or blur the lines of accountability.  If you want to meet with employees below your direct reports, do it with them.  

Yes, you have to establish yourself as the boss and build your credibility but do it through positive actions and build your team.  You need help and that comes in the form of your staff and their experience.  Use that experience.  Make sure they are aware that you need their help. Thank them for their advice.  Make them feel that they are an important part of the organization you are trying to build.  Everyone wants to make a contribution in this world. Some are more equipped than others but use the skills that everyone brings to the table and you will gain buy-in and much needed credibility and respect.  And if you want to think about it in a slightly selfish way, think about it this way. They will make you look good! 

Henry B. Adams said, "All experience is an arch, to build upon."  I believe it is not only your own experience.  Use the experience of those around you and it will turn into the building that the arch leads into!!

Next week's topic will be "Would Somebody Please make a Decision"

Leadership Series - Part II - Own Your Mistakes

This is the second of what will probably be a multi-part series (see list of potential topics) of short essays on the people side of management/parenting. Comments are welcome!

Unless you are infallible, you have probably made a mistake or two in your life. I know I have! Even Spider Man made a huge mistake when he allowed Tobey Maguire to play him in the movie. I mean c'mon. Tobey Maguire! Really!??

I made many mistakes during my career. I had bosses who made many as well. Didn't someone once say, "If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't doing anything?" The great thing about mistakes is that we can learn from them. We can also learn when our boss makes a mistake. I felt I learned something every day during my career. Sometimes it was by doing something I would try to do again. Sometimes it was by doing or watching someone else do something that I resolved never to try again.

But I think we all know that we can learn from our mistakes. The key issue that I want to address here is owning our mistakes when we make them. Management and yes, parenting, are all about gaining respect and credibility. And there is nothing that does that faster than admitting we have made a mistake when we make one. It is fun to accept kudos and we are all willing to do that. It is not so much fun when we make a mistake and have to own up to it. Yet, by doing so, it shows the individuals around us that we are prepared to admit our mistakes and move on. It takes a very big person to do that.

There is another reason for owning our mistakes. If we try to hide from it or blame it on someone else, it can be very debilitating. It can be like an anchor that we are carrying around, hoping no one will find out that we are the one responsible for the mistake.

There used to be an unseen individual living at our house whose name was "Not Me." Whenever something happened it was usually Not Me who was responsible. I am very sure that Not Me has many brothers and sisters living out there in various households and offices. Eventually, with age and maturity, Not Me was replaced by the equally popular but more appreciated Yes It Was Me.

Making mistakes and moving forward are the keys to a brilliant future. That is why we have come as far as we have. Man didn't land on the moon without a few mistakes along the way. But admitting them is the key to building credibility and respect and that is equally important. For as someone by the name of Lawrence G. Lovasik one said, "Any fool can try to defend his mistakes--and most fools do--but it gives one a feeling of nobility to admit one's mistakes. By fighting, you never get enough, but by yielding, you get more than you expected."

Leadership Series - Part I - Critcism is a Sandwich

I have been thinking a lot about the subject of criticism lately. Not because I have been overly criticised, but I have been reading about authors who have received negative criticism about their work. I have also been back at work on contract, which is giving me flashbacks to my 33-year career, mostly as a manager. Believe me, after that length of time, you get to know what works and what doesn't!

Everyone is placed in a situation where they have to criticize others from time to time. Whether we are managers, reviewers, parents, shoppers, etc. the situation arises. It is often an uncomfortable situation to be in. There is a way to do it that may not be understood by many.

There is a trick to criticism that can make it inspirational. Being critical for the sake of criticizing doesn't work! Oh, it will for awhile. The person on the end of the criticism will react positively for a period of time...probably more out of fear than anything. Inevitably, the person being criticized will tune out.

When the tune out occurs, and it won't take that long, the person doing the criticizing is finished as a manager or reviewer or whatever role he/she is playing. Any influence, respect or credibility the manager/reviewer has will become lost. Think of the coach of any sports organization who "loses" the team, or even one superstar. It isn't the team/superstar that goes. It is the coach.

I like to think of criticism as a sandwich. The critique is the meat of the sandwich but it should be covered top and bottom with positive reinforcement. Everyone reacts to positive reinforcement and if it surrounds a bit of criticism, that criticism is more likely to be heard and reacted upon. Let me give you a very simple example:

Top of sandwich - Overall, I think your work was excellent.
Meat - I thought you might have been able to improve it by doing this and this and (this is important) here is why...
Bottom of sandwich - Keep up the great work and please consider the suggestions for improvement.

I spent the last 10 years of my career directing a group in a pressure cooker to account for, analyse and report on over $300 billion of the Canadian federal government's revenues. Yes, that's billion with a "b." I had over 50 people reporting to me and we successfully did our job month after month and year after year. But there is one thing of which I am particularly proud. I am still friends with many of them seven years later!

I am convinced that the only way to properly critique someone and expect something in return is by using the sandwich technique. Try it! It worked for me!

Since I am on the subject of leadership/reviewing, I will post next time on "Owning Your Mistakes."

Please let me have your views on the subject.