Leadership is Uncomfortable

If you are doing it right, leadership is uncomfortable. Not in a weird, creepy way, but in an “I have to do things I don’t want to do kind of way.”  These “things” are different for everyone, but every leader has things they have to do that make them uncomfortable.  I think if we are honest with ourselves we mostly uncomfortable with the same few things.  We all know that getting outside of what makes us comfortable is vital for a leader but being honest about this and talking about these times will make it easier to step outside that comfort zone.  The few things I get uncomfortable with or at least give me some level of anxiety are below.

Making decisions.  I have no issues making a decision.  I rarely, if ever, get analysis paralysis, or make premature decisions.  I think I’m an above average at critical thinking.  But even with high self-confidence, I still get uncomfortable making decisions.  I want to make the right one, I know I will make mistakes, but what kind of mistake will I make and what cost will that mistake incur?   Will it hurt the people that work for me?  Will my decision set my organization back to a place that was even before I made the decision?  Time will be lost, but will that lost time be worth it?  The big thing with making decisions is to realize that you will make a mistake, you will screw it up from time to time.  But as long as you recognize these moments early and learn from them, the lost time is not wasted.  It is time well spent because you learned and will apply it the next time you face that situation.

Tough conversations (confrontation). Talking to your boss about their toxic behavior, telling a coworker they smell bad and need to shower, telling someone you like that they are doing a lousy job, or firing them.  These are all very uncomfortable situations, and they never get better.  The hardest for me is to tell your peer or your supervisor that they are making a mistake or doing something that is causing a problem.  It is especially tricky when you know they will react poorly to your input.  The best way to handle this is to provide many examples and do your best to be gentle.  Taking criticism is hard but getting into a match of who makes the most mistakes will not help the situation.  Give them an opportunity to respond to the criticism, but don’t get involved in a back and forth about who does what.  If they want to talk about your behavior, tell them that you are more than willing to discuss it after you have resolved the current issue.  Being calm and reasonable is usually the best way to deal with the confrontation.

Pressure to perform.  Let’s face it; performance is why you get paid.  A leader is responsible for tasks that they are not actually going to do.  You have to ensure people do well and to do that you must make sure the processes are there to support high-quality work.  This, above all, is uncomfortable.  How do you get people to perform at a high level?  How do you get them to want to do the tedious work and do it every day?  Everywhere and every job is different, but listening to your people is the first step, having high standards, feeding confidence to your people and holding them accountable is a great start.  Work hard and be deliberate in your actions and you will do great.

 

Follow us on all platforms! LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and Facebook!

Advertisements

The Death of Fun at Work

What is it with some managers?  Why do they hate fun?  Anytime they hear about a quick basketball game, game of cards, or anything that doesn’t contribute directly to the result the employees are hired for; they freak out.  Have they forgotten where they came from?  Have they lost perspective about how mundane work can get?

Now, I’m sure many of you are thinking, “I don’t let my people waste time.”  What I say is, I believe some time spent messing around and having fun is a good use of time.  Of course, many professions do not fit in with this theory, a surgeon probably doesn’t have time to stop a play a quick game of hearts, but we all know of those work environments where it is possible.

The key to this is good leadership.  But more than just good leadership, we have to evaluate the reasons these managers see only a waste of time.  They are not concerned about morale; they are not concerned for their people’s lives; they seem only to be concerned with completing work.  But not just work getting done but being done perfectly.  These managers find it so easy to tear apart anything.  Have a problem employee take a few steps in a positive direction? Nope, they will remind you of the times they made mistakes.  Even when they do good, there are usually times when they have made mistakes and these managers will remember.

It becomes such a pain for other managers to fight against the “fun-less” managers that we do avoid the fight far more often than we would probably admit.  There is plenty of evidence to support the position that happy employees do better and more work.  And fun at work is one way to make employees happy.  Fun at work is not the priority.  High-quality performance, efficient processes, discipline, accountability are all much more important than fun at work.  But when these things are happening, when you have a good work environment, it’s time to throw the football or break out the jump rope and have fun.

Unfortunately, I have not figured out a great way to change these managers.  Most of the time, they will continue to be a negative influence on the organization’s people until they either quit or retire.  They can be great operationally and still hurt the organization because they are poor leaders.  My tactic is to be relentless with progress.  I never stop my message and consistently come up with ways to try to push them in the direction of fun.  Little by little without them even realizing, they will change.  Small steps, which are barely even perceptible, will make a huge difference over time.  Yes, this is hard, but in the end, it is worth it to your people.

Follow us on all platforms! LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and Facebook!

The Storm

In November of last year (2017), I wrote an article about my team that articulated the trouble we were in.  Poor performance all around.  I also determined the course of action was to simplify the tasks and build a solid foundation.  We had quite a bit of turnover which caused chaos within the team.  Now, a few months later I want to revisit my team.

The decision to simplify was the right one.  I called a meeting with the team and wanted to discuss how we could simplify the tasks and still meet the operational mandates of the organization.  But before I could call the meeting, one of my most honest (and forthcoming) supervisors came by to talk.  He was frustrated; with me, with the job, with almost everything.  The bottom line was he was losing faith in me.  Admittedly, I was initially upset and frustrated that he couldn’t see my vision and was losing trust, but after some self-reflection, there was no way he could see things from my perspective, with all the turmoil going on in our division.  He was doing me a great favor by talking to me.  He was warning me about the storm that was coming.  A storm I could feel but wanted to believe I could prevent with my sheer willpower and leadership skills.  What I realize now is that the storm is essential.

With this new information, I still called the meeting, but instead of my original plan, I decided to have a very candid discussion about their frustrations and wanted to make sure they had a chance to vent.  Listening to them complain about the things I was and was not doing is difficult!  But I know myself and understand my strengths are not in sitting back and letting the team complain without interjection.  I challenged their thoughts and beliefs.  I wanted them to know I heard them, but most of their frustration was due to miscommunication and misunderstandings, which we addressed and agreed to work on.

Now we are moving forward.  I scheduled and held the meeting two weeks later to address simplifying the work and getting more organized.  And my team feels better because they have a voice and it has been heard.  At the meeting, we discussed, among other topics, daily tasks that are not accomplished and I reinforced our commitment to accountability.  The simplified tasks and functions have worked like a charm.  The mistakes are down, and morale is higher than it has been over the past year.  This is all due to higher quality work and clear expectations of performance.

Since we have reestablished our foundation and are performing well, we have begun to get back to more advanced training.  We have developed several new items to train on to push the employees beyond their comfort zone.  The entire division is doing phenomenal and consistently improving.  They complain a bit, but without pressure, there is no growth.

Follow us on all platforms! LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and Facebook!

Leadership Lessons from a Racist Rant

Everyone has covered the story of the Technical Sergeant at Nellis Air Force Base that went off on a racist fueled rant about her black subordinates.  This is a popular story, and the official response from the base was to not only look at the individual but to take a more in-depth look into the base and its subcultures to see if this type of thinking is common.  I don’t know the typical behavior on Nellis, so we are going to look at the lessons a leader can learn from her behavior.

A good leader can look past the things that most racists, sexists, and bigots cannot.  The young women the Sergeant referenced could very well have bad attitudes, and they may not be behaving per the core values the Air Force champions.  A good leader will realize that it is not because they are black; there are other reasons for it.

The first thing we must address is ourselves.  So, is this attitude she experienced caused by her? Perhaps her approach is off.  Maybe she is projecting her personal biases on others and anticipating a disrespectful behavior.  If a leader takes this approach, you are sure to get that reaction.  Judging by the video, it does not seem like she is taking a soft or empathetic approach with her subordinates. Nobody likes to be treated like they are less than others.  Even when they know they are subordinates in the organizational structure, they don’t like to be treated like minions.  A positive and understanding approach is most likely to garner the best results.

Perhaps it is the subordinates.  In this sentence, I do not mean to say “black women” are a problem.  What I do mean is, people will gather based on their similarities; negative attitudes bring people together like moths to a streetlight.  And once they have come together they start to build an internal group culture that has nothing to do with race or sex, and everything to do with leadership.  They continue to reinforce each other’s poor attitudes and behavior until they believe they are doing the right thing.  It takes someone with a very developed set of leadership skills to help them see the truth in their actions.  This was clearly not the case in this issue.

The video was bad, but the fact that she believes this is an issue with black women is much worse.  What kind of culture can she be capable of creating as a leader if she harbors such small-minded beliefs? The Air Force will be wise to understand how it failed to equip her with the leadership skills necessary to deal with conflict and how she could harbor these types of hidden biases even after seeing the value of diversity in our military.  If they take the time to study her behavior, we can then begin to eradicate it from the Air Force.

Follow us on all platforms! LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and Facebook!

Government Shutdown & the Organizational Leadership Lessons

I don’t believe anyone considers our government is the proper model to structure our organizations after.  But there are valuable lessons in the failures of our government and the continued political grandstanding that rips the branches of our government to shreds.  I’m currently awaiting news to see if I’ll be paid, but with the help of some DoD leaders and other great organizations like USAA, we will be taking care of.  To say we need change is grossly understated. But, I digress, here are some lesson you can watch out for in your organization.

Allegiances to Subordinate Teams

A massive problem with our government is the loyalty to their party and not to the good of the most significant and more important team.  In this case, the house and senate are loyal to their political party and are looking to push their agenda even at the cost of the people.  This is made clear by the 95% vote of “yea” by Republicans and a 5% vote of “yea” by Democrats for a recent proposal to keep the government open.  Clearly, the allegiances are to their party…

Each department or section in the organization can’t only be concerned for their own success.  Different departments will naturally lobby for what they need, and all organizations have a finite level of resources, but each department should know and be aware of the needs of the others.  They should be equally concerned about their success.  When the marketing department dominates resources and prevents the HR department from having all the tools they need to be successful, the organization will fail.  What do you need great marketing for if you have a failing HR department?

No Direction

Our legislative branch of the government has no direction.  Each major and minor political party have fractured the legislative branch to the point that I’m shocked they can get anything done. The problem with this divisive organization is they lack a unified and overall direction.

A successful organization brings each department together to create synergy.  They are not just the sum of the parts; they are more than that. The prevailing direction brings the departments together, they are no longer selfish but work out problems together.  Manager’s ambitions do not outweigh their appetite for reasonable, calculated risk.

Competing Priorities

This is probably the most significant reason for the failures of our government.  They have competing priorities.  The Democrats are looking to push the Democrat’s agenda, and the Republicans will push their agenda.  These agendas come at the cost of the legislative branch as a whole.  Don’t get me wrong; there needs to be debate, their needs to be conflict, negotiation, and compromise.  But this is not it.  Their priorities are to their party, not to the country or its people.

In your organization, you must ensure the organizational priorities are aligned.  Each department should work with the others to make the team prosper.  There must be a willingness to sacrifice your department to ensure another department is successful.

 

Follow us on all platforms! LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and Facebook!

Band-Aid Fixes are Bad

Does it take too long to complete your processes?  Do your supervisors fail to follow the procedures?  Do you feel like you have a never-ending list of problems to address?  Many managers face these issues and believe they have no choice but to work the problems as they occur and try to keep their heads above water.

One would probably guess this article is about time-management or strategic planning, but this article is really about finding full spectrum solutions for your organization.  This is also not about root causes.  Root causes are essential and are a part of full spectrum solutions, but the critical difference is that a root cause does not always affect other processes, but a full spectrum solution does.  These solutions will enable and eventually empower your people to solve the other issues that arise, leaving you time to dedicate to more strategic issues.

We all get caught up in the most recent issue.  The most recent problem is the “most important” issue because it is fresh.  A good manager will not automatically react to every problem as if it must be fixed right away.  A good manager will know there are many problems and just because this problem happened now, does not mean it is the more important problem to direct the focus.  This is reactive problem-solving.  It is not always a bad approach, but it is not usually the best.

How does one identify a full spectrum solution?  Mostly by what will happen if the solution is found and implemented.  For example, if there is a problem with a report not being completed correctly, but you have already provided training, and they just don’t seem to get it.  The initial solution would be to hold more training and perhaps start writing people up for accountability purposes.  But a full spectrum solution that will help with this problem would be to invest in the supervisors and help develop them into problem solvers.  This solution takes much more time and will require patience from the manager and their boss.

Another issue we must face is the expectation for instant results.  Most solutions take time, and nothing will ever be perfect.  So, guard against working only for short-term and immediate results.  This is called making a band-aid fix.  The problem with this kind of fix is the actual issue is never addressed.  A band-aid is placed on it for short-term success but the issue will continue to come back.

Here are a few places that are typically associated with full spectrum solutions:

Training programs

Supervisory development (leadership & management)

Equipment upgrades

Look for solutions that will have 2nd and 3rd order of effects

 

Follow us on all platforms! LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and Facebook!

Simplify Poor Performance

My team is in trouble!  Poor performance in almost every measurable category.  Poor performance in the unmeasurable categories as well.  Many, (actually all) organizations and teams struggle with poor performance.  Mostly, there is an up and down tempo that varies in frequency depending on many factors.  The problem with my team is lack of experience at the first-line supervisor level.  Again, there are many factors at play; some are good in their supervisory capacity but weak in the operational and technical functions.  Some are the opposite.  Others are poor in both supervisory and operational tasks.  If I could fire a few of them, I would.  So, without the ability to fire the low performers, I have to move forward with the personnel group I have.  How do I get them to perform?

Simplify.  Over the course of the past six months, I have thrown much at these supervisors.  Increased responsibility, higher standards and expectations, a new work schedule, a revamped training program, new projects and initiatives, and a complete culture overhaul. It is too much for them to handle.  Many have and will criticize the amount of work I put on them and questions my leadership, but I am a deliberate leader, and from the start, I have been testing the waters.  Finding their strengths, their weaknesses, how hard can I push them, where do they naturally excel?  All of these questions have answers now, and I have to adjust my strategy.

I will still hold high standards, but the team needs to have a chance to succeed.  Right now, they are just keeping their heads above water (barely), as I continue to push for high-quality work.  Now, I have to slow the game down.  Bring them together and work collectively on what is important to them and me.  Once we have determined priorities and agreed on the expectations, we can focus on them.  Innovation must be put on the back burner; extra activities will join innovation. The focus is placed on the core competencies of the organization and the primary responsibilities of the supervisors and other managers.

I never expect perfection.  To do so is an exercise in insanity.  But I will continue to expect high-quality work and a great product or service.  Our customers demand and deserve our best.  So, we will slow it down and simplify the tasks; rebuild the foundation and then start adding bricks as we become experts in those areas so we can continue to improve.  Eventually, we will pull the extra activities and innovation off the back burner and focus in those areas, but for now, the team needs simplicity.

Follow us on all platforms! LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and Facebook!