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Sunday, 25 September 2011

No Time to Spare? Be a Human Being, not a Human Doing!

One of the constant moans that I hear from leaders is that they never have any time to spare and they are always too busy.
The question is: what are they doing with the time that is available to all of us, and why do they not have enough of it?
It is usually a symptom of the “leave it to me – I’ll sort it out” syndrome which means that the leader accepts (and probably enjoys) upwards delegation.  People are usually very happy to get the monkey off their backs and on to someone else’s and the best person to take on that responsibility is, of course, their leader.
The overall result is fire fighting, accepting the tyranny of the urgent and ignoring whether the problem is important or not   If it is neither urgent nor important, then put it on the back burner or ignore it completely.
If it is urgent and important then delegate it to the person who is best competent to deal with it on the basis of monitor progress, measure results, and evaluate together how the outcome was achieved and ask how could it have been improved (if at all).
The one that is the true and sole domain of the leader is the issue which is important but not urgent.  This needs quiet reflection and consideration and demands the valid use of time.  The only person in the business who has to take time out to think is the leader.  If that vital thinking time is absorbed in merely doing things, then any vision of the future will be dulled or even non-existent.
The primary function of the leader is to define the vision and hence the future and that demands the thinking process.

The fact is that many leaders (and many others for that matter) waste vast amounts of valuable time in doing things that are the jobs of other people and should be delegated to them without question.  They then complain about never having enough time for important matters.  Just ask yourself: Whose job am I doing now and why aren’t they doing it?
It isn’t a matter of what leaders do; it is a matter of what they are and how they relate to their people, how they value them and how they constantly encourage them.
To be a human being wastes far less time than being a human doing.  Get other, probably more competent, people to be that.

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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Things Not Going Well in the Business? Get That Winning Mentality!

Vince Lombardi, the legendary and very successful coach of the Green Bay Packers football (American) team was almost as legendary for his long list of pithy quotes.  One of them that I like very much is:

“Winning can become a habit.  Unfortunately so can losing”

He could easily have replaced “winning” and “losing” with “positivity” and “negativity”.  Both of them can be catching.

One of the drivers in Transactional Analysis is the “Be Perfect” drive which can be very painful simply because perfection as such is unattainable.  This driver can make an individual both frustrated and dissatisfied both of which are pretty unhealthy.

I recall a colleague who, when asked how her day had gone, would reply:

“If I had done something differently, which I thought about after the event, it would have been much better”.

Her husband, cleverly, would say:

“Before you decide what didn’t go well, tell me about what did go well”

Again, on one occasion I was waiting for one of my Vistage members in a hotel where we were meeting for his monthly mentoring session and as he came through the door still on his mobile phone, I could see that he was in some turmoil.  He sat down and started to bang on about how difficult people could be and what a problem he had and etc, etc, etc.

I stopped him, said that what I wanted to hear was what had gone really well since I had last seen him and when he had finished telling me that, then h could tell me about his problems.

After some thought and telling me the good news, I asked about his difficulties which had seemed almost overwhelming when he came in.

“Oh, nothing of any significance really” he said.

One of the primary functions of the leader is to help the team to make winning a habit, not necessarily in the sporting sense but more in terms of generating an attitude of mind – the “can do” approach. 

When a leader (or a customer for that matter) asks for something unusual the answer should always be “Yes” and then find out how to achieve it afterwards.

Too often we experience that metaphorical intake of breath, the shaking of the head and the negative response which is always a turn off.  The winning mentality is an attitude of mind and needs to become a habit in everyone in the team.

It is possibly the primary function of the leader to make sure that the winning habit is ingrained into the team. 

Vince Lombardi certainly knew how to do just that.

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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Great Performance and Bad Attitude? A Trouble-Maker or a Maverick?

A few times this week, the perennial problem of the high performer with a bad
attitude has come up in mentoring sessions with my Vistage members.

It is curious how the very mention of the problem can raise a rueful smile and a knowing nod of the head. How many times do we have to face up to this problem before we take action?
The leader needs to take action before the problem becomes truly corrosive.  I know of one situation where a high performer has failed a drugs test.   If the status quo is allowed to continue then other people in the team can logically assume that that behaviour is permitted, or at worst, there is a blind eye turned towards it, so they might as well safely do the same.
But there is a caveat.   I recall that my old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the sage of Wythenshawe (which is a place in Manchester by the way) was consistently the highest sales performer in the company.  On the other hand, he was probably difficult and at times impossible to manage.
He could be the leader of the awkward squad, he was acerbic, he certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he knew that what he was doing didn’t always conform to the demands of the company.  On the other hand, he was dedicated, loyal, committed and always worked for the best solution for his customers.
Many people could have said that he had a bad attitude but in truth, he was actually a maverick.  Vistage speaker Lee Thayer says that leaders need to have virtuosi around them and Phil was certainly a virtuoso.
So what is answer to the vexed question of what to do with that high performing individual with a truly bad attitude?  However painful it may be, the only real solution is to manage them out before the situation around them deteriorates.  However, the leader needs to watch out that mavericks are not tainted with the allegation that their behaviour is a result of a bad attitude.
Sometimes we need people around us who are not always easy to manage, who are not necessarily malleable, but who can and will contribute something that is a little different and which can make a big difference.
PS  I have in the past described the high performer with bad attitude as an internal terrorist.  On this tenth anniversary of the dreadful happenings in New York and Washington on 9/11, it would be both inappropriate and insensitive to use that word in the context of business. 

However, the thrust of the argument and what action to take still stands however we describe it.

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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Teller or Seller? Great Leaders Need to be Both!

Some time ago I went to one of my Vistage members (Managing Director of a significantly sized company) for his one-to-one mentoring session and he greeted me with:

“I’m very concerned.”
“OK” I said, “concerned about what?”
“I think that I am beginning to develop certainties” he said, and sat back looking worried.  I pointed out that developing certainties was unlikely to be terminal and he cheered up a bit.
Some judicious questioning elicited the fact that, as a leader, he felt very conscious of the need to involve his people and indeed had put processes in place to ensure that this happened as far as possible throughout the business.  In other words, that was his preferred management style.
What had happened, of course, was something well known to all leaders when in some frustration and possibly even irritation, he had decided to impose his decision and get the job done, rather than do the decent thing and discuss it with his people before taking action.
All leaders are instinctvely tellers or sellers.  The tellers are the authoritative leaders who hand down decisions from on high, top down, and then expect action and even more so, successful action.  In this environment the blame culture flourishes.
The other type is the seller, a leader who shares ideas and thoughts with his/her team and takes action only when satisfied that everyone has bought into the decision.
The problem for the leader is that certain situations demand that he/she needs to be a teller when all instincts scream out to say “That is not your preferred style!”
We need to realise that it is not as black and white as that.  In fact, there is a continuum from teller to seller and we move, hopefully effortlessly, towards one or another as the situation demands.   
The instinctive style of a seller will keep him/her nearer to that end of the continuum but if some movement towards that of the teller is needed, it is vital to understand that it is not a betrayal of all that is holy.
It is merely an acceptable answer to an immediate need so don’t worry about it.  It is very unlikely to be terminal.
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