Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Leadership and Management Development Books 2008

No, I didn’t read them all. But I did spend a morning searching the net and reading reviews so you don’t have to. I looked at Amazon, Fast Company, Harvard Business Publishing, ASTD, Pfeiffer, BNET, BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, Borders, Leadership Now, the Center for Creative Leadership, Wharton Publishing, and a few other trusted sources.

Take a look at the best of 2008, and start off the New Year by adding at least one new book to your bookshelf.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin

A Sense of Urgencyby John P. Kotter

Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School
By Philip Delves Broughton

The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation by A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan

Lead by Example: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results by John Baldoni

Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders by Barbara Kellerman

It's Our Ship: The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership
by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

Leading with Kindness: How Good People Consistently Get Superior Results
by William F. Baker, Michael O'Malley,

Developing Leadership Talent, by David Berke, Michael E. Kossler, Michael Wakefield

Developing Great Managers: 20 “Power Hour” Conversations that Build Skills Fast, by Lisa Haneberg

Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell

Winners Never Cheat: Even in Difficult Times, New and Expanded Edition by Jon M. Huntsman

Leadership Gold: Lessons I've Learned from a Lifetime of Leading
by John C. Maxwell

More Than a Minute: How to Be an Effective Leader and Manager in Today's Changing World
by Holly G. Green

Leadership Lessons: 10 Keys to Success in Life and Business
by Greg J. Swartz, Julie K. Thorpe

Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to Become a Great Leader
by Robert J. Thomas

Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life
by Stewart D. Friedman

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
by Dan Ariely

Did I miss any? Please leave a comment if you have one to add.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Best Open Enrollment Executive Education Programs 2008

University-based executive education programs are often a once-in-a-lifetime developmental experience, and can enhance any resume.

These 1-4 week programs are an excellent way to develop leadership and management skills, as well as build external networks that can last forever.

They are a big investment, and there are a lot of choices. To get started, I’d recommend reading the article, “How to Select an Executive Education Program”.

Once you’ve done that, here’s a handy companion reference list to bookmark and save.

I cross-referenced the Financial Times 2008 Best Open Enrollment Executive Education programs with the BusinessWeek Best Open Enrollment Executive Education programs 2007 (2008 has not been published yet).

Keep in mind that these are the best non-credit executive education programs, not the best business schools for an MBA.

Here are the 14 schools, with links and locations, that appear in the top 20 on both lists. I’ve put asterisks next to the schools that I have experience with and can personally recommend.

Harvard *


Lausanne, Switzerland

Stanford *
Stanford, Calif.

Columbia *
New York

London Business School

Pennsylvania (Wharton) *

Chicago GSB *Chicago

Virginia (Darden) *Charlottesville, Va.

IESE Barcelona

MIT (Sloan) Cambridge, Mass.

Western Ontario (Ivey) London, Ont.

Instituto de Empresa Madrid

Northwestern (Kellogg) *Evanston, Ill.

Although they did not show up on the FT top 20, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the Center for Creative Leadership, with locations around the world.

Friday, December 19, 2008

America's Best Leaders 2008

U.S.News & World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University just published their list of America's Best Leaders.

The honorees were selected by a committee of academic, government, business, and nonprofit leaders convened by the center. U.S. News did not have a vote.

The panelists rated the nominees from to 1 to 5 based on how well they met the following criteria:

Sets Direction (25 percent): By building a shared sense of purpose; by setting out to make a positive social impact; by implementing innovative strategies.

Achieves Results (50 percent): Of significant depth and breadth; that have a positive social impact; that are sustainable; that exceed expectations.

Cultivates a Culture of Growth (25 percent): By communicating and embodying positive core values; by inspiring others to lead.

Here they are:

Lance Armstrong
Cyclist and Advocate Making tireless efforts on behalf of cancer survivors like himself.
David Baltimore
California Institute of Technology This Nobel-winning scientist leads with "a little bit of chutzpah."
Regina Benjamin
Le Batre Rural Health Clinic She believes that living in a tiny rural town shouldn't mean giving up big-city healthcare.
Jeff Bezos
Amazon.com The founder of the massive online retailer is a true Internet pioneer.
Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock
Thelonious Monk Institute Their Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz brings music education to public schools.
Benjamin Carson
Johns Hopkins Hospital A talented pediatric neurosurgeon and activist for inner-city kids.
Manny Diaz
Mayor of Miami A son of Cuban immigrants, Diaz leads one of the nation's major multicultural cities.
Marian Wright Edelman
Children's Defense Fund A civil rights pioneer and crusader on behalf of children.
Anthony Fauci
National Institute of Allergies & Infectious Diseases A leader on HIV/AIDS and a straight talker on key health issues.
Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin
Knowledge Is Power Program Raising educational expectations in underserved communities.
Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense Pentagon chief looks for uses of "soft power" in a hard power world.
Fiona Harrison and Maria Zuber
NASA scientists The first two women to head their own NASA robotic space missions.
Freeman Hrabowski
University of Maryland-Baltimore County He helped turn a no-name commuter college into a center for math and science.
Amory Lovins
Rocky Mountain Institute For this bright light in the field of alternative energy, it's all about efficiency.
Anne Mulcahy
Xerox In reforming a troubled company, she had the courage to say "No" to Wall Street.
Indra Nooyi
PepsiCo Karaoke-singing chief executive is taking Pepsi in an unlikely direction--toward healthful foods.
Linda Rottenberg
Endeavor Her nonprofit seeks to build profitable small businesses on a global scale.
Jeffrey Sachs
United Nations Millennium Project An academic who looks for real-world ways to beat global poverty.
Steven Spielberg
Filmmaker He addresses important issues on the big screen and through his philanthropy.
Michael Tilson Thomas
San Francisco Symphony A maverick maestro is winning big crowds of new classical music fans.
U.S. Junior Officers
Military They are rising in the military ranks with a hard-earned wisdom forged by war.
Do you agree with the criteria? Do the people on the list reflect the best of the best in their respective fields? Who would you have chosen instead?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It’s a Wonderful Leadership Movie!

One of our family holiday traditions is to watch the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” together. It’s always been one of my favorites, as well as one of my top 20 Leadership movies.

The lessons from this movie really resonate with me. It’s only been within the last few years that I’ve truly understood my role as a leader. When I defined my own top 12 “leadership rules” , the #1 rule on my list was:
I must fully appreciate and embrace the awesome responsible that comes with being a leader and never take it lightly. I’m responsible for the success of the unit I lead, and contribute to the success of my company. I have a huge impact on the success and lives of my employees. I also have an indirect impact on the community in which I’m a part of, and that my employees are a part of. So if I screw up, it’s not just me that impacted, I’m messing with the lives of others that are depending on me.
This “rule” also gives me purpose for my work – to help others become great leaders.

George Bailey had to almost kill himself and be rescued by an angel before he understood what an impact he had on his family, friends, neighbors, and the community in which he lived.

As a leader, we face those opportunities to make small and large differences in the lives of those around us on a regular basis. Every time we:
- Hire
- Fire
- Coach
- Give feedback
- Develop
- Motivate
- Inspire

We have the privilege of being able to help someone who’s depending on us to be extraordinary. That success (or lack of) could have a far reaching ripple effect that we may never see. George didn’t see it – until it was almost too late.

Footnote: After I wrote the first draft of this, I did a quick Google search using the movie title and “leadership”. I wasn’t shocked to discover I wasn’t the first to make a connection to IAWL and leadership.

There’s even a training program that was developed that uses IAWL to teach the concept of servant leadership. You can buy it for only $795! And, in the tradition of training overkill that our employees and managers have grown to love us for, it comes with a 43 page facilitator guide.

43 pages of instructions on how to watch a movie. OMG.

I’ll tell you what – I’ll save you $795 and four hours of your life:
1. Buy the DVD for $13.99
2. Or watch the last nine minutes for free here
3. Think about it
4. Key learning points: Be thankful for what you have. Make a difference in the lives of others.

And this from Clarence the angel: “One man's life touches so many others, when he's not there it leaves an awfully big hole.”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

10 Ways to Get Management to Listen to Your Ideas

I often hear disengaged employees complain that their management is close-mined, not open to change, stuck in their ways, and just not open to new ideas. “Why’s that?” I’ll ask? “Why would a perfectly reasonable person not be interested in a good idea?”

Sometimes, the person or group that has formed this belief works for a pointy-haired boss (PHB). Or maybe a BOSS (double SOB spelled backwards). This article isn’t about those managers, because frankly, I’ve never had much success getting idiot managers to listen to good ideas. In these cases, you’re better off looking for a new manager to work for or pitch your idea to.

The good news is, most managers are relatively intelligent, successful people who are working as hard if not harder than you to help your team and the company succeed. They’re always looking for good ideas. They also often have experience, know more, and are in a good position to evaluate the merits of an idea. When they reject your idea, chances are, your idea may not have been as good as you thought, or maybe you didn’t do a good job pitching it.

Another reality is that most ideas are never implemented. I’d compare it to baseball. A 300 average (3 ideas implemented out of 10) and you’re an all-star. However, if you never even step up to the plate, or take a swing, your batting average will always be 0. So start by having a realistic expectation of what success is when it comes to innovation.

What can you do to ensure your ideas at least get listened to? Managers are as different as people are different, so there’s no one way that will work for all. Knowing your manager’s style will help, so you can adapt your approach. For example, using a social styles model, a “Driver” will want you to get to the point and present the facts. With an “Amiable”, you’ll have a better chance if you’ve built a good relationship first.

However, for many managers, or least for me, consider the following tips:

1. Develop an inspiring vision of your idea. Describe it in a way that brings out your enthusiasm, your passion, and commitment. Most people have a hard time not listening to someone that’s genuinely fired up about something. And if YOU’RE not excited about it, how can you expect someone else to be interested?

2. Take the time to think it over, list the pros and cons, and come up with a plan. Check to see if it’s been thought of or tried before, and what were the results. In other words, don’t waste your manager’s time “thinking out loud” – do your thinking on your own time, then present a well developed idea.

3. Test your idea with a few trusted co-workers. See if it makes sense to them, ask them to be critical, and provide feedback. Check for their understanding to see how well you’re explaining it. While you shouldn’t let resistance squash your enthusiasm, be prepared to accept that if five people tell you it’s ugly, it just might be ugly.

4. While I can’t speak for all managers, here’s some ideas are more likely to get your manager’s attention:
- A way to reduce expenses
- A way to increase revenue
- A way to get more done with less people (improve efficiency)
- A solution to a problem your manager has been trying to solve
- An idea that will help your department achieve one or more of its goals
- An idea that will help one of your co-workers be more successful (rarely do we come up with these kind of ideas… that is, being an advocate for your peers, and not just yourself or your manager)

5. Here are a few ideas that are more likely to lose your manager’s interest in the first three minutes:
- Something obviously self-promoting, or blatant empire building
- A way to make your job easier, but at other people’s expense
- Something that has a great potential to embarrass your manager (and you)
- Something that’s going to cost a LOT of money in a tight economy
- An idea built on the assumption that 2+2=5
- Fluff

6. When you present your idea, answer your manager’s questions patiently and with respect. If you don’t know the answer, admit it, and commit to getting the answer.

7. If your manager starts making suggestions, then you’re there! That means he/she is starting to buy in, and taking some shared ownership. Don’t be rigid about the details – give a little, if anything just to get buy-in, and who knows, your manager’s suggestions just might improve your chances for success.

8. Be willing to let go of the notion that the idea is “yours”. The best ideas are the ones where multiple stakeholders have had a hand in shaping, and you’ve been able to build a broad base of ownership and support. Insisting that you get “credit” for “your” idea will be seen as immature and selfish. Don’t worry; enough people will become aware of your involvement, especially if you keep coming up with good ideas. Don’t expect your name and picture to be inscribed on the idea.

9. Decide on who else should be involved. Determine who the stakeholders are: who will be impacted the most, whose support do you need, and who else could contribute to refining the idea. Agree on who should talk to whom and by when.

10. If needed, follow-up with a more detailed, formal business case. Stay on it. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is what separates the great from the average. This is not a “drop and run”. That is, drop your proposal or business case on your manager’s desk and sit back and wait. Step up and take personal responsibility for making sure the idea gets implemented. That’s a good way to get yourself heard the next time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Drivers and Passengers and Other Leadership Lessons

I recently read a book called “Monday Morning Leadership, 8 Mentoring Sessions You Can’t Afford to Miss”, by David Cottrell.

It was written in 2002, so it’s not a new book, but I had somehow either missed it or don’t remember reading it (a phenomenon those of you under 30 won’t relate to).

It’s one of those easy reads, about 100 pages, which suits my blogger attention span.

It’s a true story about a new manager, Jeff Walters, who’s really struggling. He seeks out advice from a friend of his father, Tony Pearce, a successful entrepreneur and executive coach.

Tony agrees to meet with the Jeff for a series of 8 Monday morning mentoring sessions in order to help him become a better leader.

I really liked the lessons and examples. Here’s an excerpt from the first Monday lesson, about making the transition from individual contributor to leader, and the one I liked the best, called:

Drivers and Passengers
Tony recalls when Jeff was 16, the second day after he got his drivers license, he had an accident, and most of his soccer team was in the car with him. That’s a story that hit home with me.
Tony and Jeff’s father felt that the main reason for the accident was Jeff’s failure to understand the difference in responsibilities between being a driver and being a passenger.

“You see, passengers are free to do a lot of things the driver can’t do. As a driver, your focus needs to be on the road and not on the distractions. As a driver, you no longer have the right to ‘mess around’ – like listening to loud music – even though it seems OK to do that as a passenger.

The same principle applies when you become a leader. You’re no longer just a passenger; you become the driver. Even though your responsibilities increase when you become a manager, you lose some of the rights or freedoms you may have enjoyed in the past.

“For instance,” Tony continued, “if you want to be successful as a leader, you don’t have the right to join employee ‘pity parties’ and talk about upper management. You lose the right to blame others for a problem in your department when you are the manager and leader. You are the person responsible for everything that happens in your department, and that can be pretty hard to swallow.”

Being a leader means you give up being “one of the guys" (or gals).

I’ve seen so many new managers struggle with this transition, of going from “buddy to boss”. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen a lot of experienced managers who have never made the transition.

The “driver vs. passenger” example really drives (sorry) this leadership principle home.

Two of the other lessons I liked were “Escape from Management Land”, about the importance of not letting yourself become out of touch with your people, and “Enter the Learning Zone”, about the importance of reading, listening, and giving back.

Here’s something from the “Learning Zone” lesson to think about:

-Most people don’t read one non-fiction book in a year.
-If you decided to read one book on leadership or management in a month, that would amount to about a half chapter per day, which would take you about 10 minutes.
-During the next year you’d have read 12 books.
-Do you think you’d know more about management and leadership if you read 12 books a year on the subject? When the next job opening at a higher position in your company comes up, would you be better prepared to assume that role?
-In 15 years, you could read 180 books just by reading half a chapter per day.

I’m wondering if an updated version of the lesson would include reading blogs about management or leadership? How about one blog post per day?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Leadership Development Carnival - December 6, 2008

Welcome to the December 6, 2008 holiday edition of the Leadership Development Carnival!

I had over 90 submissions to this month's Carnival, way too many for ever the most ambitious reader. After weeding out the internet marketing, selling strategies, personal and spiritual development posts, and any site that hits you with one of those annoying pop-ups, I think I ended up with a more manageable collection of 46.

Once again, I've put my "Featured" posts at the top. These are "FOGLs" (Friends Of Great Leadership) - bloggers I know and read and personally recommend.

The rest were good enough to make the cut, and are also worth taking a look at.

Thanks to all those who submitted posts. The next Leadership Development Carnival will be January 4th, 2009, right here at Great Leadership.

Featured Posts:

Meg Bear presents The leadership cop-out, the employee hot potato posted at TalentedApps, saying, "No more moving performance problems around the organization like hot potatoes."

Jim Stroup presents The decision maker posted at Managing Leadership, saying, "A popular idea in business over recent decades is that employees should be given “ownership” of the decisions they are charged with carrying out. It is believed that this will better distribute the actual intent of the decision throughout the organization, and enhance the energy and efficiency of its execution. There certainly is nothing wrong with developing those latter characteristics. But as with so many decent ideas . . ."

Art Petty presents The Counterintuitive Nature of Management Excellence posted at Management Excellence

Simon Stapleton presents 6 Powerful Questions To Ask In Your Performance Review SimonStapleton.com posted at Career & Personal Development for CIOs, Technical Professionals and Self-Professed Geeks, saying, "Was your last performance review/appraisal enjoyable? Worthwhile? Inspiring? Constructive? It should be all of these things, if done right. But chances are, it wasn’t. And you won’t be the only one. I recently surveyed over 800 IT professionals from over 600 companies and discovered that over 70% felt their performance reviews were ineffective. What’s happening?"

Laurie Ruettimann presents hr advice: skip fruit baskets in 2009 posted at Cheezhead, saying, "Recruiters can make the most of a down economy by mentoring and teaching Corporate HR Generalists and Corporate HR Recruiters how to use social networking and technology to acquire talent for their organizations."

Alice Snell presents Succession Planning Strategies posted at Taleo Blog - Talent Management Solutions, saying, "Alice Snell of Taleo Blog - Talent Management Solutions weighs in on Succession Planning Strategies."

Morgs presents The Role of the Line Manager – how to motivate your people…? posted at Learn2Develop - Thoughts from the World of L&D, saying, "One of the key roles of the line manager and in fact any leader is in motivating his people and in the current climate this is more important than ever."

Wayne Turmel presents The Cranky Middle Manager #166 High Altitude Leadership Don Schmincke posted at TPN :: The Cranky Middle Manager Show.

Mark Stelzner presents The Power of Doing What You Love posted at Inflexion Point.

Nina Simosko presents What Leaders Can Learn from Britney Redux posted at NinaSimosko.com, saying, "The "STOP" approach to managing a crisis is a simple, but effective way to focus on your communications during a crisis. See how Britney Spears has put this approach into action."

Wally Bock presents The Workplace of the Future posted at Three Star Leadership Blog, saying, "Wally Bock says that today's workplace will change because of major trends and because some current practices are simply broken and need to be replaced. He asks three questions about how your workplace will be different in the future."

Nick McCormick presents ?Ask More Questions? ? Listen to Win a Free T-Shirt posted at Joe and Wanda - on Management.

Wally Bock presents Questions for Effective Change posted at Momentor.

Michael Ray Hopkin presents Five leadership practices for improving customer service posted at Lead on Purpose

Chris Young presents Six Effective Business Time Management Tips and Techniques for Improving Productivity In Any Economy posted at Maximize Possibility Blog.

Miki Saxon presents Kick Ass Leadership Accountability posted at Leadership Turn, and Good Culture Has Good Process from her MAPping Compnay Success blog.

Anna Farmery presents The Power of Living Your Life Again and Again and Again! posted at The Engaging Brand.

Michael McKinney presents What is the Secret of Great Performers posted at the Leading Blog.

Susan Heathfield presents Give Thanks and Create Reassurance posted at About.com Guide to Human Resources.

The Best of the Rest:

Ted Reimers presents Acquiring Leadership Experience in College posted at CampusGrotto, saying, "There are many things you can do while in college to increase your leadership experience."

Valeria presents The A–Z Guide to Getting Things Done posted at Timeless Lessons.

Great Management presents The 7 Simple (but ignored) ‘Rules’ For Ensuring Your Meetings Are Productive posted at The GreatManagement Blog, saying, "Here are 7 simple basic ideas, which are often overlooked, that can improve the quality of the meetings you organise and the meetings you attend."

John W. Furst presents Seth Godin - A Podcast About Tribes (47 Minutes) posted at E-Biz Booster Blog, saying, "Seth Godin has gathered a tribe of 3,662 people around him in a private network for his current book launch of Tribes - We Need You To Lead Us. Tribes is already a bestselling book on Amazon. It is about leadership and marketing. Listen to Seth Godin talking about it."

Khan presents Presidential Leadership Lessons posted at Higher Education and Career Blog, saying, "As modern-day presidents struggle with the challenges of an office more complex than that of their predecessors, the captains of business and industry wrestle"

Gazzali presents Tips On How To Have A Vision - Leadership 3 posted at PROenrichment.

Greg Group presents 5 Forces for Smart Leaders in Difficult Times - Associated Content posted at Associated Content.

SpkTruth2Pwr presents Finding the Inspiration to Lead posted at The Apathy Remedy, saying, "A how to look at how to tap in to your potential to lead and understanding what qualities made leaders great in world history."

Louise Manning presents 10 quotes on expectation posted at The Human Imprint.

Bhupendra Khanal presents Entrepreneurs : Don't Do an MBA posted at Analytics Bhupe, saying, "If you have something to show to the world. Just do it. Don't waste your time doing an MBA."

Tony Huynh presents 8 Ways to Make Your Goal a Certainty posted at LimitlessUnits.com, saying, "People will allow themselves to be pushed around and bullied in order to remain comfortable. People will act in a painful situation to ease the pain or remove the source of that pain. Security and comfort is not afforded by a job, it is provided by your ability to produce."

Eric Klen presents Is there mold growing in your organization? Dharma Consulting posted at Dharma Consulting.

Dawn Abraham Life Coach presents Confidence posted at Qualified Life Coach.Com

Jason Koeppe presents Personal Development - The Key To Reaching Your Goals posted at Z-Synergy Zurvita Reps Team Blog, saying, "The key to reaching your goals, both business and personal, is closer than you think. Jason Koeppe share's a simple idea/concept that even though is extremely simple, is extremely effective at transforming your business and personal life."

Mike King presents How to Mediate Difficult Communication Situations posted at Learn This.

American Entrepreneurship presents The Benefits of Attending Association Conferences posted at American Entrepreneurship.

Louis Burns presents Crafting Mental Movies For Others posted at NLP Marketing Blog, saying, "This article is about not only visualizing your own goals but the experience you want other people to have as well."

Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE presents Plain Talk Blog: Leadership; Work/Life Balance; Management; Employee Retention; Human Resources posted at Plain Talk.

Will Edwards presents The 4 Ps of Service Strategy posted at ITIL V3 Talk, saying, "The 4 Ps of Service Strategy (after Mintzberg) are as follows: Perspective, Plan, Position and Patterns - at least according to ITIL v3. A Strategy can be any of these things or, indeed, any mixture of them."

Erik Samdahl presents Leadership in the information age - i4cp posted at Productivity Blog, saying, "i4cp's Carol Morrison talks about how leadership needs to adjust its approach to properly lead in the information age."

Gazdag Gergely presents Strategic thinking - as I see it posted at GregRichBlog.com, saying, "Strategic thinking is a widely used expression with no real concensus. What needs to be involved, actually? Opinion at GregRichBlog.com"

Businessinfoguide presents Overcoming the "O" Word posted at Business Info Guide.

Chris presents Be an Effective Leader at any Level of an Organization posted at ProsperingServant.com.

Mac presents Actorlicious: 10 Qualities of Successful People posted at Actorlicious.

Tushar Mathur presents Ways To Leave Your Business posted at Small Business Resource, saying, "Selecting your successor is a fundamental objective that is decided early in the Exit Planning process. Almost all owners want to transfer the business to other family members, an employee or a co-owner; only about 5 percent want to sell to an outside third party."

Britannica Blog presents The Need for Greater Flexibility in the Workplace posted at Britannica Blog, saying, "Reports on the falling economy and heaving financial industry are monopolizing news lately. At the same time, today’s managers are faced with continuously changing and conflicting demands: consumers want their products customized in record turn-around time while employees are faced with the impeding stress of long work hours and the resulting burnout."

Ralph Jean-Paul presents How To Become a People Person posted at Potential 2 Success, saying, "“All things being equal people will do business with people they like. All things not being equal, they still will. Learn to become a people person and become better in relationship, leadership, and influence in every part of business and life.”"

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Leadership Development Carnival using the carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the blog carnival index page.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Real Leaders Fire Underperformers

Here’s a cheerful message for the holiday season:

Leaders, when’s the last time you axed an underperforming manager?

Never? Really? Then you’re not leading.

Does this sound a little harsh? Like a chapter right out of “Tony Soprano on Management”?
I’m really not heartless, really. In fact, I’m talking about one of the most compassionate things you’ll ever do as a leader.

Let me explain. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before:

Charlie has worked for your company for a whole bunch of years. He’s loyal, a good guy, but he’s a terrible manager. He hasn’t done anything drastic enough to get fired; he’s just pretty much ineffective. What do you do with Charlie? You can’t just fire him, right? That would be too harsh, and disrespectful, and what kind of a message would that send to employees?

I don’t know about you, but this is a story I hear all the time. It will emerge during talent review meetings. Talking about high potentials and how we’re going to stretch, challenge, and development them is the fun part. But then I’ll suggest that we need to take a look at those managers in the “3C” box (lower left corner, the low performer, low potential group). The room goes silent – nothing but crickets chirping.

After a little more prodding we’ll talk about these underperforming managers, and in many cases, it turns out they’ve been in that same spot for years. I hear a lot of excuses – and sometimes genuine, although misdirected compassion, as to why we shouldn’t fire Charlie and his underperforming colleagues.

I’ll also hear the story of Charlie when I get a call for help. “Hey Dan, Charlie’s at it again, turnover is up, we’ve just lost another one of our star performers, our customers are irritated, etc…, can you have someone from your team give him some coaching? Is there another course we can send him to? How about a book?” And even worse, “How about if we do another round of team building with Charlie and his entire team?”

This is when I usually check my “banned managers” list – the ones who have already been given every developmental intervention we have to offer, and are coming back around for seconds or thirds.

Finally, there’s that heart to heart conversation with Charlie’s manager. The manager really wants to do the right thing, and is on the verge of pulling the trigger. He’s been given every opportunity to improve, and the manager feels terrible that he’s let Charlie down. But he just can’t do it. Isn’t there something else we can try?

In these cases, especially the last one, I’ll sometimes send managers an old, 2003 scanned copy of an article written by Geoff Colvin, a Fortune magazine writer, called “Make Sure You Chop the Dead Wood”. It’s the most convincing case I’ve ever heard to convince a manager to make a decision. Unfortunately, I Goggled and searched and can’t find an online copy, but here’s an excerpt that gets to the heart of it:

Let’s be clear about the corrosive effects of avoiding this problem (underperforming managers). A recent survey from McKinsey is fairly chilling: Keeping poor performers means that development opportunities for promising employees get blocked, so those subordinates don’t get developed, productivity and morale fall, good performers leave the company, the company attracts fewer A players, and the whole miserable cycle keeps turning.

It gets worse. Employees know who the underperformers are. They know that the top executives know who they are. So every day the top team fails to address the problem, it’s sending a message: We’re not up to managing this outfit. Refusing to deal with underperformers not only makes your best employees unhappy, but it also makes them think the company is run by bozos.

Why don’t companies act? Some fear it would lower morale, which is nonsense. Mckinsey asked thousands of employees whether they’d be “delighted” if their company got rid of underperformers, and 59% strongly agreed – yet only 7% believed their companies were actually doing it. Executives often say they leave poor performers in place because they want the company to be seen as humane. That’s just more evasion of reality, of course. As Ed Michaels of McKinsey says, “The attitude is, “Let’s be fair to Charlie. He’s been here 21 years.” But we say, “What about the eight people who work for Charlie? You’re not being fair to them”.

A senior executive at Hewlett-Packard, put it like this: “"I feel there is no greater disrespect you can do to a person than to let them hang out in a job where they are not respected by their peers, not viewed as successful, and probably losing their self-esteem. To do that under the guise of respect for people is, to me, ridiculous."

Sure, dealing with underperforming managers is hard work. There are often legal issues, and HR will insist on process and stacks of documentation. The path to firing someone is one of the emotionally hardest things a leader will ever have to do.

However, in today’s knowledge based economy and lean organizations, the performance of a single employees matters now more than ever. That’s the only competitive advantage most companies really have.

Managers, if you’re not developing employees and acting on poor performers, you’re not leading. And you’re doing a tremendous disservice to your company, your employees, your customers, and your community. And you’re not doing Charlie any favors.