Organizations are Like Hair

When I was young and wild, I had beautiful hair.  To be honest, I’ve never cared for hair since I was in the 9th grade I’ve been cutting it as short as possible, and I’ve been doing it long enough now that I have no idea what color my hair is anymore. So, although I do not fit the bill, the metaphor I’m about to make, still works.  That metaphor is that organizations are like hair.

I know people that cut their hair every two weeks.  They never change the style, they never experiment.  They know what works and they are the guys that say things like, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, “you don’t mess with the classics.”  They keep tight control over their hair and never let it get out of sorts.  This example shows what most leaders and managers want in their organizations.  They fight to stay standardized and look to control as much of their processes as possible.  There are many organizations that this works for, but this kind of leadership does not leave room for innovation and progress.  You can’t adjust processes and functions when you are doing the same things.

Additionally, you can’t change your hairstyle in any meaningful way without going through that weird medium length sloppy-hair stage.  You know, the stage where some will only lay flat and others will only stick straight up.  This is the stage where you test your commitment to the new style.  How much do you want it? If you are weak, or if you aren’t sure of what you want, you will quit and go back to what you know.  This stage in the organization is where most leaders lose their nerve and think the new efforts have failed.  On many occasions, this early exit is a tragic mistake which causes future efforts to die before they even happen.  Leaders must accept there is going to be growing pains with progress.

Eventually, you will have to cut your hair.  That doesn’t mean you have to go back to your old style, but you do need to get it back under control and set things right again.  Organizationally, this means you have to pull the crazy experimenting back a bit and look at providing more stable processes.  There will always be a need to experiment and take some risk, but after letting your people get wild and outside of the box, you will need to bring all that back in and get the balance back to the organization.  Too much wild-wild-west type of stuff in the organization can be exhausting so you will want to keep some of the momentum going for progress, without so much risk and experimenting.

So, let your hair grow and give your people some room to try new stuff!

 

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Leadership Patience

Leadership patience is the ability to lead without having to drive the train on every issue.  Many leaders struggle with this.  Even the best leaders struggle with letting go and gently guiding the direction of the organization instead of moving hard and fast on the issues.  Patience is often overlooked, especially when it comes to leadership.  Don’t get me wrong, there are most certainly times when you need to move quickly and decidedly, but if you are being a good leader, these moments will be rare.  Don’t worry, leaders don’t have all the answers, many times they have very few answers, but they do know how to get the team to discover the answers.  That is leadership patience.

Far too often I see leaders making decisions before the discussion and then fail to listen once the discussion happens because they already made the decision.  It can be difficult to hold off on making a decision, and most leaders know the direction they want to go, but make a deliberate effort to know the direction you want to go and then be receptive to different ways of how to get there.

New leaders need to be very careful about having preconceived notions about the organizations they are taking over.  Deciding what to do and how to do it before you have been brought up to speed on all the nuances of the organization is a costly mistake and the recovery can take significant time.  If you want to see how your ideas will be received, you can do that without giving away your desire to implement them.  Simply ask the question and listen to the response.  You should be able to distinguish biased answers from legitimately thoughtful responses.

Simply put, people do not like change.  In many cases, they will fight change even when they know it is a good change.  I think the biggest reason for this is because it takes energy to change.  In our busy organizations, change takes energy away from important things we are already doing.  Taking that energy and using it on change creates anxiety because the new process may not even work.  This is why following a change management methodology is wise.  It helps reduce the anxiety of change and can help create an intellectual and emotional drive to change which makes the effort worthwhile.

Listen to your people.  It takes longer, you might not get the answer you want, and your forfeit perceived control, but the only way to effectively lead is my listening to the people under your charge.  Listening is difficult for everyone and is especially difficult as we get older and more experienced.  So, take the time to listen, slow the process down and be patient!  We all know you could change it and be finished in a few days, but unless you want to be stuck doing the tactical level work, you need to be patient and take the few weeks to listen and create a plan the team is willing and excited to work with.

 

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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

 

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MANAGER IN DISGUISE?

Robert E. Wood

I’ve roughly defined a “Manager in Disguise” as someone who’s in a position of authority (leadership position) which gives them the opportunity to help steer an organization and influence others but also has no apparent leadership skills, knows it and yet still refuses to step down for the greater good. I’m often asked, why would the people in leadership positions in any organization allow such incompetence to exist and/or continue? Well, the answer to that question is: The Manager in Disguise’s boss is also a Manager in Disguise. There’s no other explanation. Just because someone is at the top of the organizational chart, doesn’t mean they’re the right person to occupy the position.

Unlike Managers in Disguise, leaders aren’t natural born; they’re created by other leaders. We all start out as managers of our own world, we teach ourselves what we can (which is limited) and then one day we show a little potential and someone takes an interest in us which leads to other opportunities. Most people welcome a promotion to a leadership position because that’s viewed as a step up on the ladder of financial success. I’ve got news for you, without a true leader teaching you how to lead and you listening, you’ll find the ladder you’re on leads to dysfunction without success. Without actual leadership training, everyone will notice that you have been promoted to your level of incompetence. The question is; what are you going to do about it? If you choose to seek out formal leadership advice and training over just continuing on with what you taught yourself, you just might find real success.

The perceptions that are attached to a leadership position like more money, influence and real power are only realized by “those who make the most of the opportunity.” The potential we possess is directly tied to our passion for a given position and/or situation. The potential we display for one position might not be enough for another and when left unchecked or more importantly, noticed and unchecked, Managers in Disguise are born. A shortage of leaders is more often than not due to a shortage of leadership. A true leader will promote and train someone with the potential for a given position and then monitor that person through perception and performance feedback from the teams. Unlike a Manager in Disguise, a leader will not allow an unsuccessful promotion to continue because it’s not healthy for the one who was promoted, the team, the organization or the customers.

Don’t Be Busy, Be Effective!

I hear so many people talk about how busy they are.  It is constant.  Each new task, each new problem, the same response every time, “I’m too busy to add more to my plate!” We’ve all heard it and might be true in some cases, but other times its just hyperbole.  It seems like the cool thing to say as a manager, that you are the busiest and have no time for anything else.  That you are overworked and many other descriptions of the same thing.

The problem is being busy is a bad thing.  How can you or your organization be agile and be able to adjust to meet demand if you are so busy?  A great quote I read once is “You can’t be too busy mopping the floor, to shut off the faucet.”  So being busy is just an exercise in priorities.  Sometimes you won’t have the option of what to do or which priorities you have, but you can always discuss it.  When you are in a position to determine your priorities, it is all about doing what is important for the organization to be successful.

So, how does an organization do this?  There need to be deliberate discussions about what is and what is not a priority.  Hopefully, the items determined to be a priority align with the organizational goals.  If they do not align, then this is a good indicator you have either the wrong goals or the wrong priorities.

Achieving a balance is needed because cleaning the bathroom might not be an organizational priority that will align with an organizational goal, if it is not done regularly, nasty things will happen. This is where the problems begin because at some point everything will become a priority.  What you end up with is managers not being able to distinguish priorities for their work.

Look at the typical tasks you are required to complete and build priority groups.  Doing so will help the members of the organization responsible for creating a suspense for these tasks a way to determine how long to give the group to respond.  You might create five priority groups that your organization can assign tasks to, then when something is a low priority, people won’t ask for a same-day turnaround.

Take, for example, a low priority task like providing the IT department the type of paper you use.  This job would easily fall in the lowest priority category.  That category would come with a minimum two weeks completion time, meaning you have two weeks to respond.  If the priority needed to be bumped up, clear and compelling justification would need to be provided.  Once your organization knows how to prioritize, it will be easy to find the balance that is “just right.”

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