A long time ago, when I was conducting one of my first management training classes, a crusty old general foreman snarled at me, “Hey kid, maybe you should be teaching my employees how to be better employees, instead of wasting my time”.
Since then, I’ve spent the last 20 + years trying to develop great leaders. There are thousands of books, articles, and courses on how to be better leaders. Yet, after all of this effort, we still seem to have a shortage of leaders and a lot of employees sure seem dissatisfied with their bosses. Sometimes it feels like we're just spitting in the wind.
Well, after all these years, I’m thinking old crusty may have been on to something there. Let’s face it; even the most powerful leaders have to answer to someone; so at some point, we all have to be followers. And great leaders can’t be great unless they have great followers. Heck, a team of great followers can even make the most average of managers a great leader.
So how about if I stop telling everyone they should be a leader and instead practice what it takes to be a great follower? Here are some things I love to see from my own employees, and have tried to practice with my managers.
1. Keep your manager informed.
Leaders throughout history have made bad decisions based on a lack of information or bad information. Great employees keep their managers abreast of key projects, even if they don’t ask. A manager can’t recognize and reward if they don’t know what their employees are doing. Managers also hate finding out about bad news from someone else. If something happens, like a dissatisfied client, give your manager a heads-up there may be trouble coming their way.
2. Always support your manager behind their backs.
That also means don’t criticize your manager behind their backs. For one thing, it’s unprofessional. It’s also a safe assumption that whatever you say, good or bad, will get back to them.
3. Be good. Damn good.
When an employee consistently delivers extraordinary results, most managers end up giving them more trust and latitude. And when a manager doesn’t have to waste their time cleaning up after mistakes or following up, they have more time to spend on vision, strategy, recognition, resource allocation, and other good things that benefit the entire team. Do what you say you’re going to do and do it well.
4. Admit your mistakes.
When you make a mistake, admit it. Be accountable; don’t make excuses, don’t point fingers, and don’t act like a victim. Tell your manager what happened, what you’re doing to fix it, and what you’ve learned so that it won’t happen again.
5. Be a great peer.
See post, “Would Your Peers Vote for You”. Be a team player; be an advocate for them behind their backs. Managers can’t stand back-stabbers, and they can sniff it out no matter how subtle you think you’re being.
6. Don’t bring problems to your manager, bring solutions.
OK, it’s a tired cliché, but it’s true. Don’t delegate upwards.
7. Prioritize your own work.
Great followers never have to ask their managers to help prioritize their work for them. New employees might need to do this – or average employees – but not the great ones. They always seem to know what’s important and urgent, and what can wait.
8. Be an optimist.
Everyone loves being around optimists – the positive attitude and energy is contagious. When you’re the person who always sees the glass as half-empty, you end up being a real buzz-kill for everyone around you.
9. Embrace change.
Everybody says the love change – as long as the change is their idea. A great follower can see the possibilities in someone else’s idea. Be the early adopter; don’t be the laggard.
10. Love what you do – or do something else.
If you don’t like what you do, it’ll show up in your work and attitude. You’re not doing yourself, your manager, or your co-workers any favors by hanging on to what you consider to be a lousy job. Life’s too short – find something that you can be passionate about.
Note: Thanks to reader Angie Chaplin for the topic idea, winner of a free book!
Sunday, August 30, 2009
A long time ago, when I was conducting one of my first management training classes, a crusty old general foreman snarled at me, “Hey kid, maybe you should be teaching my employees how to be better employees, instead of wasting my time”.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Guest post by funny guys Adrian Gostick & Scott Christopher, authors of the new book, The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up.
· If they’re laughing, they’re listening: Whether you’re about to make a presentation to senior management to get funding for your big idea (outsourcing to primates), pitching a sales prospect who could make your year, or trying to engage a troop of distracted Campfire Girls, great communicators know that a little humor goes a long way toward creating unforgettable messages.
Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher are authors of The Levity Effect. Learn more at levityeffect.com.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Here's a question from Mary Jo Asmus, my blogging friend from Intentional Leadership:
BTW, some of the best leadership development programs I've designed or attended have used both internal and external resources, leveraging all ten benefits of both.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Earlier this year, I started working for Mountain State University, doing various freelance writing projects. For those of you who don’t know the story, it’s a fun one: I made the connection to Mountain State through a Facebook friend, someone I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years but remembered fondly from our days on the school newspaper staff.
The following piece is the very first one I wrote for Mountain State, the one that eventually became the post that launched the LeaderTalk blog. I am sharing it again in the hope that it will start a new conversation about the value of leadership education. When I wrote this piece, I was still learning about and researching Mountain State’s leadership programs. What strikes me now is that my more informed thoughts match my initial and intuitive assessment of the advantages of leadership degrees.
Our world needs leaders. Mountain State University trains leaders through a cohort method of study, encouraging students to immediately apply lessons learned to their life and work. Our cohorts are safe places for people to learn to understand themselves better, to foster understanding of others and their differences, and to practice teamwork while building lifelong relationships.
At LeaderTalk today, I am talking more about the advantages of a graduate degree in leadership. Why choose a Masters in Leadership instead of an MBA? I would love to here your comments, both here and there.
April 07, 2009Litmus Test for Leadership
My husband came home from work last night and shared a familiar story. After seven years in government work he has had seven bosses - some good, some bad. This night's episode had him telling the "Tale of the Atrocious Supervisor," wherein the Peter Principle had found its civil servant spokesperson.
If we're lucky, we've all had at least one boss whose keen leadership has propelled us to greater things. Unfortunately, we have all certainly had that boss whose shortcomings, whether in communication skills or ability to motivate a team, have left us wanting. But following a good leader is an intuitive act. Almost without you knowing it, a good leader inspires to a cause and motivates to action. Before long, those following take ownership of a common vision and are able to enlist others in the purpose as well. It is true in business, government, and education. It is true in family life, a non-profit organization, or the arts. Leaders with these skills and strength of character are the ones who are getting things done.
On the other hand, we have all experienced the aggravation of being forced to follow a person whose greatest impulse for leadership is their expertise in a particular field. While technical knowledge is certainly necessary for success, such a leader is not a leader at all, but a person with specialized know-how who happens to hold authority over others. Those following such a person are invariably frustrated at best. At worst they are stuck in a directionless and ineffective organization. A leader like this may seem to have all that is needed to achieve a task, but without the ability to move people, that leader will flounder, and so will those following.
Conventional thinking tries to sell an MBA as a magical passport to climb the career ladder en route to a bigger salary. While an MBA gives technical knowledge of current business practices and theory, it cannot teach leadership. And with our current economic crisis, its narrow focus is insufficient. A leadership degree offers training in those areas that will make a difference for success in today's climate: strategies for problem solving, direction in how to conceptualize goals and communicate them effectively, character building exercises to promote integrity and courage. A leadership degree has a wide appeal; not limited to business only, but paving the way for success in any field.
I can always tell when my husband has a good supervisor. The content of dinner time conversation changes from complaints about his boss to war stories about the work he and his team are accomplishing. Even without addressing the topic directly, he is telling me that quality leadership gets work done. At our dinner table, this appears to be the litmus test for what good leadership looks like: how seamlessly work is accomplished.
by Rebecca Robinson, Guest Author
Here's a related post, one of my very first, written in 2007, on how to choose a non-degree executive education program. And here's my list of the best open enrollment non-degree executive education programs, according to Businessweek and FT.
Is there a place for formal education when it comes to leadership development? Absolutely! As long as it's not considered a replacement for experience, rather as an accelerator.
When it comes to a degree program, which is better, an MBA or a Leadership program? I'll ask you to comment on that after reading Becky's post.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Note: will the reader who submitted this question please send me an email?
Saturday, August 15, 2009
An email from a reader, titled "Crazy Manager":
I recently found your Great Leadership website and I really need some help. I work in a small independently owned retail shop. We only have 4 employees and we have all worked here for over 2 years. Due to seniority, one of the employees is the manager. Now, the difficulty comes from a few different areas. This woman has severe bi-polar tendencies. When she is in a bad mood, the world is ending. She also got her boyfriend a job at the store. Lets just call her Jane to make things easier. Jane will come into work and immediately begin accusing us of not getting our work done. She will not ask questions about why things didn't get accomplished, its just straight to the complaining. She also treats us like children, even her boyfriend at times, talking down to us. Her computer skills are lacking but she refuses to allow any of the other employees to help her. Jane will begin projects, get frustrated and then expect everyone to pick up after her. Her needs always come first, with no consideration to the rest of us. She is creating a poisonous work environment. She constantly complains about how no one respects her, but how can we when she acts this way? These issues have been brought up to the owner, but we don't know what to do. The owner will never fire her, and a demotion will only cause her to lash out at the rest of us. How do you resolve such big personality issues without someone loosing their job? None of us want to quit because we love this job, but we cannot continue as we are.
I hereby declare that this will be my last "help, my boss is crazy" post. Believe me, my heart truly goes out to you people, but I'm sorry, I can't help you. These managers need way more than I can provide -like an anonymous EAP referral. I'm in the business of helping current and aspiring leaders develop - the ones that want to.
I'm not a shrink, so if a manager has a mental health issue, they need to get professional medical help.
In the case above, "Jane" should never have been put in a leadership role. She's a disaster. Why in the world was she allowed to hire her boyfriend? And why is the owner OK with this nonsense, perhaps the business at risk?
I've responded to similar letters and written about crazy and bad managers here, here, here, here, and here. It seems there's a awful lot of them around. Here's one theory: maybe you have to be crazy to become a manager; and it you're not, being a manager can make you crazy.
Anyway, the options are always about the same:
1. Do what you can to make the situation better, i.e., help her become a better manager.
It sounds like you've tired to help Jane improve her computer skills, and she won't accept the help. Most of the leader's I've worked with are very open to constructive feedback and willing to change, but again, these are "normal", mature individuals. For this type of manager, here's a good post from SmartBlog on Workforce called 5 Ways to Manage Your Boss Better.
2. Go to the manager's manager, or HR, your union rep, or seek outside representation.
It sounds like you're taken the issue to the owner.... have others? Are customers complaining? If she really is that bad, it will catch up to her and she will eventually implode. You might just have to cope and wait it out.
3. Get out. Find another job.
From what you've described (a "poisonous" work environment), it's hard for me to understand how you and your co-workers could love this job.
Sometimes people fear change so much they are willing to put up with all kinds of abuse (just like in abusive relationships). Why not explore other opportunities? What is it about this job that you like so much? Use that for your criteria in finding another job. You have options, and you deserve better than this. There are lot's of excellent career websites and resources to help in your job search.
I wish you all the best!
The original post included a list of "Management Mental Illnesses", intended to be a humorous list of dysfunctional management behaviors labeled as mental diseases. It was in poor taste and I apologize if I offended anyone or did anything to perpetuate a negative stereotype. That's not my blogging style and I should have shown better judgement.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Regis, I'd like to use my "Ask the audience" lifeline!
I loved this story in a recent edition of SmartBrief on Leadership:
Take a vacation -- for your team's sake
When the boss takes a vacation, it sends a signal that others in the company can too, which is essential for workers to be able to recharge, writes Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte LLP. Leaders need to get vital work out of the way before they leave, have a top-notch team in place to handle day-to-day business and then limit e-mail contact as much as possible. When leaders learn to unplug and let go, it allows others to relax a little, he writes, which helps boost productivity in the long haul. WashingtonPost.com/On Leadership blog (8/11)
This story really hit home for me because I just returned from a week long vacation. I enjoyed every minute of it, felt energized, and had no regrets or major problems my first week back. In fact, I'm proud to say that I've never not used one of my vacation days and have taken a week long summer vacation ever since I've worked.
I commend Barry Salzberg for this kind of leadership, and having his priorities straight. Look, if an indiviual would rather spend all of their time at work, then that's up to them. But as a leader, you're setting an example and expectation that's messes with other people's lives. Then it's not OK.
At the risk of pushing my own personal values on others, you might also want to take a look at this advice from Marshall Goldsmith, where he says "You may work for a wonderful company and believe that your contribution is very important. But when you are 95 and you look around your death bed, very few of your fellow employees will be waving goodbye! Your friends and family will probably be the only people who care."
OK, what about the leader who really wants to take time off but just "can't"?
This isn't just about vacation, it's also about the hours you work. Are you a leader that routinely works 12-14 hour days, and every weekend including Sundays? It’s been my experience that many exceptional leaders are so good at what they do they are able to get their work done without having to do this. And, they still have time to spend with their families, do community work, serve on Boards, and maybe even sail or play a little golf. They can do this because they want to, and, they excel in the the skills of:
- Talent management
- Time management
- planning and organization
An executive I know recently really drove home this point for me. He’s one of the top performing of his peer group. He hardly ever works on weekends, finds the job to be pretty manageable is always looking for a new challenge and has a hearty appetite for leadership development. Yet many of his peers find the job overwhelming. When asked why, he said somewhat hesitantly, “maybe it’s a capacity issue”?
How about you? Are you getting home at 8:00pm every night? Do you work on Sundays? If yes, is it because “the company” is making you do it? Are you doing it because you want to? Or because you think you should (because everyone else does)? Do you brag about it like a badge of honor? Or complain about it like a victim?
Or is it because you need to develop in your role so you can do your job better, and in less time than anyone else?
Try looking at it this way: Remember taking those standardized tests in school? Do you really want to be the last person leaving the test room?
In summary, are the hours you’re working a “will” or “skill” issue? Either way, it may be time to make some changes that will benefit you, your loved ones, the people you lead, and your company.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Thanks and keep up the great work!
I love questions like this one, because it’s so real and typical of what new (and old) leaders are asking for. They want pragmatic solutions to everyday challenges. They all don't have the time and inclination to read volumes of textbooks.
While we all know leadership & management can’t be distilled down to a pocket guide, there are probably only a limited number of proven ways to squeeze (err, “inspire”) more performance out of people.
So here you go, A new leader's pocket guide to boosting performance (you have to make your own laminated cards), with links, stories, exercises, and resources for more depth:
1. Review and clarify expectations
Here’s an abbreviated version of one of my favorite stories on the power of clarifying expectations (unfortunately, I don’t remember who I heard it from, so I can’t give credit):
A consultant was hired by a CEO to “fix” one of his managers who was about to be fired. The consultant asked the CEO to write down all of his expectations for this manager. When he met with the manager, the consultant gave him the list. A few months later, after the manager’s performance had dramatically improved, the CEO was congratulating the consultant for his brilliant work. “How did you do it?” he asked. “I gave him your list”, said the consultant. The CEO slammed his fist on the table and said, “I knew it – you cheated!”
Try using the same exercise with your employees. It’s even better if you both create your own lists, then get together to compare.
While clarifying expectations is a great way to improve performance, agreeing on specific goals and measures is even more powerful. Here’s a quote from Steve Kerr, courtesy of Derek Irvine: “If something isn’t measured, you can’t give people feedback about it, so they can’t improve. You can’t reward the people who are doing it well, and you can’t improve or admonish people who do it poorly. Measurement also signals that something is important; if no one is tracking it, it will take a backseat to things that are being scrutinized. … Things that aren’t measured can’t be rewarded and they very likely won’t get done.”
See “How to Write a Great Individual Development Plan”. A career discussion is part of this process.
We can’t get better if we don’t know how we’re doing. It’s especially important when we have behavioral “blind spots”, and no one has cared enough to point them out.
There’s a reason the coaching field is hot. It works. Managers can learn to coach too.
Another classic training story:
Once upon a time there was a woodcutter who was very busy cutting a tree with an axe. He seemed very tired and exhausted, the tree was big, but he was a great worker and not wasting a minute of his time was focused on his job of cutting the tree. Another wise woodcutter was passing by and he noticed this woodcutter at his work. He said "Hello there, good morning.. I see that you are working hard at your job, why don't you take a break for a while, sharpen your axe a little bit" To which the wood cutter said "I don't have time." and continued to work harder at cutting the tree.
Everybody wants - and deserves – a little praise now and then. Try asking everyone on your team to write down what kind of recognition and reward means the most to them. Then tailor your approach to each individual. There are over 1000 ways to do it, and almost as many excuses for not doing it.
Most people thrive when faced with a new challenge. However, make sure it’s true delegation, not dumping of some mundane task you don’t want to do.
It’s more of a short-term shot in the arm, but it’s energizing when your manager asks for your opinion on some high level issue or decision.
10. Provide a mentor or coach
A mentor or coach can provide a fresh perspective and help someone get over that hurdle that’s holding them back..
Readers: is there anything you would add to this pocket guide?
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Bill Clinton: On Running a Country:
So if you are having a problem with people you are not alone. President Clinton once said running a country is a lot like running a cemetery; you've got a lot of people under you and nobody's listening.— in a speech at Galesburg, III.
As a manager, Bill’s not alone when it comes to feeling like no one’s listening to you. One of the biggest myths about management is the fantasy that if you tell your employees to do something they will do it.
See if this scenario sounds familiar:
During one of your weekly staff meetings, your team discusses a major client issue and reaches a decision. Action plans are established to be completed in two weeks.
Later that morning, a problem is brought to your attention and you fire off an email to your team asking for ideas on how to solve it.
That afternoon, you receive a notice from headquarters regarding mandatory online training that needs to be completed by all employees within 30 days. You forward the note to your employees asking them to complete the training.
Sounds like a productive day of leading, right? You’re on fire, baby!
Fast forward 45 days. You get an angry call from the head of sales informing you that your major client is upset and will no longer do business with your company – due to the very same issue you thought you had solved!
At your manager’s staff meeting, you get called out for your team not being in compliance with the mandatory training.
And just because you’re a glutton for punishment, you check to see how many ideas were submitted on how to solve that other problem. Only two.
If you’re like me, the issue of people not doing what you tell them to do is one of the most mysterious and frustrating parts of being a manager. What makes it so mysterious is that I would never dream of not doing what my manager (or anyone, for that matter) has asked me to do. It’s a deeply held value for me, a part of being responsible and credible. You do what you say you’re going to do – especially if it’s for your boss!
By the way – how does it feel to show up to your manager’s meeting being one of the only ones that’s done their homework? So while you stayed an hour late the night before to be prepared, the rest of your co-workers get rewarded with an extra week to finish.
Do yourself a favor – just let go of this fantasy and expectation. And stop getting angry with your employees. Instead, start inspecting what you expect.
In any group of employees, there are some that you can depend on 100% of the time to do what you tell them to do. I’ve heard them referred to as “self-licking lollipops”.
Then there’s a group that has good intentions – but your request just gets lost in a sea of hundreds of other priorities. Sometimes they just forget. Sometimes, they make conscious decisions to prioritize. They figure if you’ve only asked once, and not followed up, it might not be that important. They play the percentage game, hoping that they can take a chance and it may go away. Then, there are others that are just outright lazy and irresponsible – but these are a very small percentage of people. And let’s be honest… we all have things we know we should be doing but we don’t (like losing that 10 pounds). That’s just a part of being human. You have to assume that most, if not ALL of your employees are in the first two categories, and accept that everyone can drop a ball now and then.
So, like it or not, when you ask (tell) your employees to do something, you’ll be helping them be successful and making one of your biggest sources of frustration go away by establishing a simple yet effective inspection system. If you say something is due in two weeks, send a reminder 2-3 days before it’s due. Then, on the due date, ask to actually see proof of what you’ve asked to have done. Use your Outlook calendar to set up task reminders to yourself and maintain checklists of what you’re asked people to do.
It’s not a matter of trust; it’s about establishing the expectation that what you have asked for is important – that it matters to you. For those employees who have done what they were supposed to do, it’s an opportunity to praise and reward. Others will appreciate the reminders, and may even learn to manage their own priorities a little better. And what about those chronic offenders? Make sure there are negative consequences that matter to them. The rest of your team will appreciate it.
Go ahead – set yourself free – stop expecting people to do what they are told to do, and instead, help them do what they need to do. Like it or now, that’s your job as a leader.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Mary Jo Asmus, from Intentional Leadership, is hosting the August Leadership Development Carnival. Check it out, there's the usual great collection of leadership blogs, and make sure you subscribe to Intentional Leadership and follow MJ on Twitter while you're at it.
Thanks, Mary Jo, for filling in so I could take a little R&R this week.
I want to congratulate Steve Roesler, from All Things Workplace, this years winner of the Best Leadership Blogs 2009 contest, which was hosted by Kevin Eikenberry. Steve won the competition last year too, and if you've never read his blog, take a look and you'll see why. Steve is a great writer, and has a ton of experience and wisdom to share. This one's a must to subscribe to. Might as well follow him on Twitter too while you're at it.