Saturday, February 25, 2012

Leadership Series - Part VIII - Lines of Accountability

Lines of accountability.  That sounds ominous. What the heck is it? Well, organizations might have executives, directors, managers, supervisors, chiefs, assistants, executive assistants, CEOs, CFOs, CEs, deputies, assistant deputies, employees, staff, etc. Depending on the size of the organization, there may be divisions, sections, departments, directorates, branches, etc. Get it? Anybody need a program to tell the players?

Well, believe it or not there is a reason for all that. It is to establish lines of accountability or various layers of responsibility so that accountability can be assigned to each one. And there are usually maps available called Organization Charts. They lay out who reports to whom and within which area of the organization. So the work gets done by everyone having access to and talking to everyone else, right?

Well, yes...and no. The work gets done by talking to your coworkers in other areas of the organization. There is nothing wrong with communication across the organization and, in fact, it should be encouraged. But the decisions get made by the appropriate layers within the organization.

Let's say you are in the Finance Division working on the budget and you need some clarification on a line item from another branch. There is nothing wrong with sending an email, or heaven forbid, picking up the phone and calling or even speaking face to face with a counterpart in the other branch to get some clarification. That gives you the ammunition you need to discuss it with your boss. Your counterpart will love you for involving him or her in the process and for representing them. But you don't go running to your counterpart's boss to discuss the situation for a few reasons.
  • It makes your boss look bad because it appears he or she has no control over the staff.
  • It makes your counterpart look bad because you are bypassing him/her and going above their head.
  • It leaves your boss blind because he/she was not involved in the discussion. You think your boss will be upset? You bet your britches!
By the same token, if you are the one in a position of authority you don't go below your direct reports to discuss issues related to work with their subordinates. It undermines your direct reports.

Anyone who is a parent will have been in a situation where your little Johnny has had a run-in with the neighbour's kid. You wouldn't immediately go running to the neighbour's kid to find out what is going on.  Nor would you talk to the kid's parents first. You would talk to your own kid to get the facts before doing anything else. It is common sense and no different in business.

Lines of accountability are in place for a reason to keep chaos from erupting in the workplace. The lines should be respected.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Leadership Series - Part VII - Setting a (Good) Example

A person who worked for me for a short period of time and whom I barely had the chance to know came up to me at my retirement party and said, "You have been a real inspiration to me." I was stunned. I was flattered, but I was stunned. How could I have possibly influenced this person when we had spent so little time working together? But obviously, something had happened that they felt was influential. It made me realize something very important after all those years, although I had probably been vaguely aware of it. When you are in a position of leadership, people are watching.

I have mentioned before that I learned throughout my career from people that I wanted to emulate and from others that showed me how not to do things. When we are in a position of leadership, we don't necessarily realize that we are under scrutiny at the time but when you think about the way you probably observe others, it makes perfect sense. We have to be aware at all times. We have to set an example. We should try to be a positive role model whether we are a coach , parent, boss or in any other role of leadership.

An example can be good or bad. In an earlier post I talked about a staff member who told me when I was a shiny new supervisor that I should always show up late for everything to differentiate myself from the staff. Well....that IS an example. But it is not the right kind in my mind. An example of setting an example to me is always being on time. Everyone's time is important and to show up late for a meeting is showing a lack of respect for the time of others. You are basically saying that your time is more imporant than anyone else's. Is it really??

Setting an example can be in the way you dress, the language you use, the way you carry yourself, the way you treat others, the instructions you give, your willingness to do tasks that you expect others to do... It is the way you conduct yourself in your daily life. It is being inspiring to others. It is called leading by example and it applies equally to anyone in a position of influence. It starts with setting a standard that you want the people you are leading to reach and then demonstrating by example the best way to get there.

The early readers of this blog may have noticed that I changed the name from "management" to "leadership." There is a difference. A manager plans, organizes and administers.  A leader offers inspiration and motivation. A manager is not necessarily a good leader and a good leader may not be a good manager. If you can manage and lead by example, you will truly be someone that everyone can look up to.

Leaders have a real responsibility. They are in a position to influence and sometimes even shape lives. So a leader has to decide on the message that they want to send, whether it is being sent directly or indirectly.  Sometimes, it is the messages you are sending without even being aware of it that are the most important. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Leadership Series - Part VI - The Fine Art of Wandering Around

MBWA (Management by Walking (or Wandering) Around) became a popular term in the early eighties when management consultants Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman coined the phrase in their book, "In Search of Excellence." It is an extremely valuable technique for leadership, in my view, and one that I tried to use often.

So what does "wandering around" mean exactly. In a nutshell, it means being human.  There was an opposite view of management around the same time. In the recent book about Steve Jobs, he is quoted in the early stages of Apple as saying that you have to be ruthless if you want to build a team.  He went on to say, "It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players."  According to the book, Steve Jobs did wander around, but it was more often to berate his employees for something that wasn't being done to his expectations. It is obviously difficult to argue with Jobs' brilliance and success, but I am not sure leaving a trail of broken people in your wake is an appropriate way to get the best from your staff. I will address the issue of C players in a future post.

Wandering around helps you know your staff on a personal and work level. It involves dropping by unannounced at someone's desk to say a few words. It could be to talk about last night's game, a new baby, things they do in their free time, etc.  It is an opportunity to show that you are the leader, but that you are also human. It is a few minutes to understand their work and some of the difficulties they face in their jobs and in their daily lives.  On some days, it may be just walking around and saying good morning.  The purpose is not to get too close, but to just to be visible and approachable and to listen and share normal everyday conversation for a few minutes.

It may also be an opportunity to explain what the organization stands for and how it affects each individual and where they fit in.  It may help individuals feel more valuable to the organization.

It should not be an opportunity for the complaint department to open from either side.  If the conversation turns to issues the employee is having with his/her supervisor, it is time to remind the person that they should address those issues with the person they are reporting to.  And it is not an opportunity to remind them that they could be doing better. That too is a conversation that should be held with their supervisor.

The best way to show the people you are leading that you are human is to ask questions of them. What are you working on? How was your weekend? How is (name of child)? Once you know a little about them, it is easier to ask questions about things that may interest them.  Everyone should receive the same amount of attention so there is no feeling of favouritism. 

This only takes a few minutes, it gets you away from your desk, it helps you understand the issues of the office and it is actually kind of fun.  The payback is well worth the time invested.

Next week: Setting an Example

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Leadership Series - Part V - Confidence or Arrogance?

I think all strong leaders have an ego.  That’s what makes them want to be leaders and that’s what makes them successful.  But it is how they display that ego that will determine how they will be remembered. The Free On-line Dictionary defines ego as an exaggerated sense of self-importance or  conceit OR an appropriate pride in oneself or self-esteem.  In other words, it is confidence or arrogance and there is a fine line between the two. 

I think you have to have confidence in yourself and to display that confidence outwardly to be an effective leader. I can recall many times when I second guessed a decision I had made but I tried to maintain the air that I had made the right decision.  We just have to ensure that the air of confidence isn't misinterpreted as arrogance. I am sure everyone can identify a politician or leader who appears to be arrogant.  If you have to describe them in few words, what would be the first to come to mind? Successful? Likable? Memorable? Someone you would want to have dinner with?  Probably none of those would be the first.  Although these people may be highly successful in their own way, probably the first word that would come to mind would be Arrogance.

I thought it might be fun to look at the differences between confidence and arrogance.  It will be easy to see which we want to be.
If you are confident, you are prepared to:

- Listen and learn;
- Share accolades;
- Admit mistakes;
- Encourage results;
- Be approachable;
- Train others to replace you;
- Reach for higher goals;
- Explain expectations clearly; and,
- Carry yourself with self assurance.

If you are arrogant, you are prepared to:

- Not bother listening;
- Take all the credit;
- Try to share the blame;
- Expect (demand) results;
- Be distant;
- Ignore training for others;
- Assume higher goals will come to you;
- Expect people to know what the expectations are; and,
- Walk around with an air of self importance.

It seems pretty clear, doesn't it? None of us would ever allow ourselves to slip into one of the traps of arrogance. Or would we?  Sometimes in the pressure of work we take expecting someone to know what we want or not bothering to listen.  It may not be arrogance that is the issue. It is the perception of arrogance.   

Confidence on the other hand encourages others to have confidence in themselves and in you. Famed football coach, Vince Lombardi said, "Confidence is contagious.  So is lack of confidence." Just remember to walk that fine line between confidence and arrogance and you will be a better leader.

Next week:  The Fine Art of Wandering Around