Tag Archives: leadership

That Won’t Work

Since Mondays are days of new beginnings (“does the work week actually ever end?” you ask), let’s begin with some thinking on starts.

Not just start-ups, since there are starts everywhere in business. A project, a deal, a meeting – they all represent new beginnings.  As we start whatever those journeys may be, we need a few things. Most important, we know to have some sense of where we’re heading and how: objectives and strategies in business-speak.  We need to understand that there may be detours along the way that will require us to adjust some things – maybe a delivery date, maybe tactic, maybe even the entire place to which we’re heading.

Where many businesspeople get into trouble is when they maintain a firm determination to get to wherever it was they set out disregarding the detours.  That’s silly.  So is the opposite – seeing all of the possibilities and refusing to firm up one’s focus.  If the purpose of the enterprise or project can’t be expressed clearly and definitively, there’s a problem.

As a leader, your job is to define the mission, assemble the team to accomplish it, instill confidence, and provide whatever resources your team requires to get to the destination.  If you project an attitude of determination and success, your team will as well.  If you’re unclear or scared, your odds of success drop dramatically.  You don’t need to have all the answers; you do need to believe that the answers are within the team’s grasp.

One of the hardest things you need to be able to do is to say “Stop the car – we’re lost.”   Telling the team “that won’t work” feels like a loss since it’s an admission that something has gone wrong.  Not true.  “That won’t work” can mean the situation has changed or that you’ve learned enough from what you’ve done so far to recognize adjustments are required.

The leaders and businesses that fail are the ones afraid to admit something won’t work out loud and then to adjust.  Great leaders see the need and explain it to their team clearly.  Which will you do?

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You Never Walk Alone

Here we are, winding down another work year, and I thought this might be a good time to look at some food for thought on leadership.  Why now?  Well, at this time of year there are frequently year-end reviews going on and employees hear from their leadership as to how the employee has performed in the manager’s estimation.  Much more rare is the manager hearing from the subordinate with respect to the manager’s performance.  I suspect if the worker bees could speak up, they’d talk a fair amount about how the boss lacks interpersonal skills and a sense of mistaking pushing their employees in the right direction for leading them.   It’s a critical distinction.

It really boils down to character.  Many people get promoted into leadership roles and forget that they didn’t get there by themselves.  In fact, they lose sight of the fact that the single greatest skill a boss can possess is, in my opinion, the ability to motivate others in a positive way.  Turns out it’s not jut my opinion:

The flaws most commonly tripping up our at-risk leaders were related to failures in establishing interpersonal relationships. Far less frequent were fatal flaws involved in leading change initiatives, driving for results, and — we’re happy to report — character. That might explain how they’d managed to get as far as they had. But past a certain point, individual ambition and results aren’t enough. As they climb higher in an organization and the ability to motivate others becomes far more important, poor interpersonal skills, indifference to other people’s development, and a belief that they no longer need to improve themselves come to haunt these less effective leaders the most.

That’s from the folks at Zenger Folkman who do leadership assessments and training.  The good news is that bad leaders can become good ones if they’re willing to accept that they have issues.  The biggest of these may be the premise that they are somehow isolated from the team – above them in more than rank.  Bad leaders confuse who they are with what they do and substitute a title for earning respect.  None of us walk alone in the world and especially not in the work world.  Only when we acknowledge that and learn to work with and through others do we reach our full potential.

Make sense?

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Leading By Keeping Quiet

If you’ve been reading the screed for any period of time you know that I’m a huge fan of Top Chef.

Top Chef Middle East

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week’s episode provides us with the raw ingredients for our Foodie Friday Fun.  It was “restaurant wars” week, in which two chefs each conceive of and open a restaurant in 48 hours.  The chef selects other contestants as team members to serve as their staff and it’s not unusual for the losing head chef to go home.  What happened this week made great television, but it also demonstrated a fantastic business point for anyone who wants to lead a team.

One of the team captains selected a contestant who probably should have gone home several weeks ago.  It’s obvious that her talent and work ethic are not up to the standards of the other remaining contestants, much less up to those of the woman who chose her for her team (and no, she wasn’t a top pick).  Over the course of the prep day and the service day, the slacker chef delayed preparing a critical part of a dish which resulted in the dish not matching the head chef’s vision for it.  At judges’ table, the head chef did not complain about the other chef’s refusal to work as instructed. The judges had no way to know what had caused the offending dish to come up short.  All they knew is that the head chef said she was responsible, both for the dish and for the overall meal.  She went home.

The business lesson is critical   The leader’s taking responsibility and refusing to complain about her subordinate when she could have done so in order to save herself shows the type of character that makes a great leader. More importantly, it show that she understands that real leadership means assuming accountability to go along with your organizational authority.

That’s not to say she demonstrated perfect leadership skills.  As things weren’t going her way she got very frustrated.  Like many perfectionists she was  hard on herself and she shut down to a certain extent when she should have been more assertive. Things often don’t go the way we envision in business (in life to, come to think of it) and we  need to face the situation, adapt, and be flexible.  If we’re not confident we can’t possibly instill confidence in our teams.

The web is filled with the comments of outraged fans of the show screaming how the “wrong” chef was sent home.  Maybe the verdict was misplaced but the leadership lesson certainly wasn’t.

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I hope all of you had a good holiday and managed to recharge a bit.

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things I did was to see the movie “Lincoln“. I’d encourage you to see it for a number of reasons. The acting is amazing but so too are the leadership lessons the film conveys. With apologies to my friend Geoff who wrote the very fine “Lead Like Ike” book, I think the leadership Lincoln shows beats Ike by half a century and is a great place to start this year’s business discussion.

I’ll state in advance that I recognize that the film grossly oversimplifies a very complicated time in our country’s history – the passage of the 13th Amendment which ends slavery although most of what you see is pretty accurate.  I’d also encourage you to read the Doris Kearns Goodwin book “Team of Rivals” on which the movie is based.  That said, what’s very clear is that Lincoln possessed some incredible leadership abilities.

First, he set clear goals – get the bill passed by a certain date.  Second, while he left it to his team to figure out the particulars of how the team would get the necessary votes , he was very clear about one thing – there were to be no cash bribes paid in return for votes.  Setting boundaries to go along with charging people with tasks is an often overlooked element of good leadership.  Third – he was supportive and understanding until several members of the team became discouraged enough to argue against the attempt.  At that point he became firm and inflexible, recognizing that while there are many roads to get to Rome the choice of destination was not a part of the discussion.  Lastly, he stayed out of his team’s way for the most part right up until his personal influence was needed to sway some votes.  He recognizes out loud that it is the power of the office that moves people, along with the strength of the cause and never confuses the power in those things with himself.

There’s a reason Honest Abe is so revered and this film help us to understand that.  Along with the obvious reasons, his brilliance as a leader is also on my list.  How about yours?

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The Ryder Cup’s Lessons

The Ryder Cup 2012

The Ryder Cup 2012 (Photo credit: proforged)

I said to myelf late last week I wasn’t going to do it.

The notion popped into my head to discuss The Ryder Cup but I said “no, it’s really a business blog and you’re spending way too much time on golf even if it does relate to business.”  Then, of course, The Ryder Cup actually took place and the final day was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever seen in sport (even the Mrs. sat down and watched which generally requires it to be The Olympics or some sport set to music).

There are some great business points we can take away from the competition, no matter how you feel about the outcome.  The European side made a historic comeback on the last day – equalling the one made by the U.S. side in 1999.  The Americans didn’t lose this thing – the Europeans won it.  That’s a big difference.  When your opponent makes three long (over 25 feet) putts in a row to win the last three holes, you were beaten, you didn’t lose.  I wrote about that a few months ago and that will suffice.

Another thing you might hear about today was how badly a few members of the U.S. team performed throughout.  Tiger Woods earned 1/2 a point in 4 tries.  Steve Stricker, who was put on the team as a Captain’s pick mostly because Tiger likes to play with Steve as his partner, didn’t earn a single point.  Lesson: you can’t count on a high performer who is in a slump to break out of that slump as a strategy.  While Tiger has demonstrated that his game can be what it once was in VERY limited doses (one or two rounds out of a four round tournament), he is far from the consistently dominating player he was 10 years ago.  Counting on any great performer who is off form is not a sound strategy (and Tiger has never played well in Ryder Cup!).

Lesson 2: changing your business strategy to honor the wishes of someone who isn’t a key to the plan (Stricker on the team to benefit Tiger), is nuts.  Even though Steve is a top player, there were other players left off the team who have been playing better the last few months and might have been better choices.   As the CEO (or team captain in this case), you do what’s right for the overall strategy.

Lesson 3:  the power of strong motivation.  The Europeans were playing the first Cup since the death of Ryder Cup legend, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros.  He was a mentor to many of the golfers on the team and the team literally wore Seve on their bags and shirts.   This team would not quit and was highly motivated to honor his memory.  As leaders, it’s our job to foster this sort of passion.

Finally, we learn the lesson of working as a team.  Golf is a solitary sport yet The Ryder Cup forces golfers to play matches as a team two of the three days.  The Captain needs to send out singles matches with the overall team’s play in mind on the third day.  For whatever reason, The European golfers seem to be able to subordinate their own egos and style of play to that of the team while the Americans have more difficulty   Something to think about when hiring and something to stress to your team.  It’s a different game working as a unit.  Not everyone can adjust.

This was great drama and a massive display of skill and passion by the Euros.  Like Seve, who often made impossible shots look routine, they were inspired by their Captain to “believe” (his word) that they could do the impossible and come back.  They did believe, they did come back.  Can you get your team to that same sort of belief in themselves?

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Leading Yourself

We chose leaders in government for the next couple of years yesterday.  It’s an interesting process in our country, to say the least.  We could probably have a really energized debate about what’s good and bad in the folks who emerged from the election as winners and losers, but regardless of that they now have to lead and not, as our President remarked on the campaign trail, stand around drinking a Slurpee, no matter which side they’re on.  Which of course puts business thinking into my head. Continue reading

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North Side neighborhood team posed at Sumner Field

It’s a good time of year if you like football.  The big bowl games and end of the NFL season provide hours of collision-based fun as well as lots of fodder for the numbers junkies who call sports talk radio every day.  I guess that’s not limited to football since it’s hot stove season in baseball too.  With the Hall of Fame ballots going out, statistics are thrown around like beads at Mardi Gras.  There’s nothing wrong with all these numbers as we discuss sports, just as there isn’t when talking about business.  But they’re far from the entire story and that’s where people get off the track. Continue reading

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