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David Hasenbalg

David Hasenbalg

Dave Hasenbalg has spent the last 20 years leading, coaching, and consulting businesses to find solutions to real-world challenges by illuminating blind spots, building better teams, and coordinating action that produces results. He has an expertise in developing leaders, bringing about change in organizations of all sizes, and eliminating the impediments to effective execution. His practical background is as a military officer as well as a leader in cutting edge, non-profit, and Fortune 100 companies.

Are you in tune? 3 Powerful Steps to Improve the Teams in your Organization

This past weekend, I watched the sequel to the popular movie "Pitch Perfect." As the father of teenage daughters, I have to acknowledge that I was "encouraged" by my daughters to see the original movie more than once, as well as to see the sequel. I also have to confess that I really enjoyed it. Not just for the entertainment value of the movie, but also for the lessons in leadership that it demonstrates.

Yes, I'll confess something else. I'm a huge leadership geek. As a person who has committed a career to developing and coaching leaders to create cultures of responsible collaboration, I take great pleasure in finding unique ways to observe and learn about leadership. And let me say, there is a lot to be learned from the acapella groups in these movies.

I am often engaged by leaders who have taken over a team or department or an entire company. Usually, the first thing these leaders ask is for me to help "get the team straightened-out." Most often, the conversation begins with some version of a desire to "fix" the people on the team and make them change the way they operate. This is almost always the wrong place to start.

Leading teams and departments in organizations is a lot like pulling together an acapella singing group. The leadership opportunity is to get everyone to sing in tune and with the same rhythm.

Here are 3 simple steps that you can take as a leader to improve your team.

Step 1: Figure out what kind of singers you have

The first step is to figure out what talent and capabilities you have to work with. What parts do you have in your group? Some people sing low (Bass/Alto), some people sing high (Tenor/Soprano), and some people sing in between (Baritone/Mezzo-soprano). The first step is to figure out who can sing what part and what parts may be missing. You may have an idea of what kind of music you want your team to make, but if you don't have all the parts, it doesn't matter what your goal is, it just won't happen. If you have a team of tenors, you won't be able to make music with those deep base notes, no matter how much you scream about the bass line

This is akin to a new leader coming into a team and declaring that we are going to be more "agile" and adaptive to changing market conditions. If your team is made up of people who only know how to respond to traditional, bureaucratic oversight, agile isn't likely to happen.

Step 2: Get people to listen to each other

In a successful music group, what matters is how each singer listens to their performance and listens to the other performers and then adjusts their tone, pitch, and volume to make sure that everyone blends together. As the song goes on, each person makes slight adjustments to continue to blend to produce beautiful music.  

In the domain of leadership, we call this collaboration. People work together; fulfill their role on the team for the sake of fulfilling a shared promise that is bigger than what they are doing by themselves. 

Step 3: Go make music (i.e. – Do your thing.)

Pick the song(s) you are going to sing, then put your heart into it. Then ask your team to put their heart into it. Think of it this way, all of the people you are leading take actions to produce particular outcomes. Think of these outcomes as the notes in the music. As a leader, your role is to shape the outcomes from each person to produce notes in the same key. It's the way the team works together that produces the music.

Here's the really interesting thing about it. You don't even have to be singing the same song. If everyone is in key, collaborating, listening and engaging with a rhythm that blends, it makes beautiful music.

In leadership, this happens when one small group can be focusing on one project; another group can be producing a key deliverable, while another is coordinating with customers to find out what they really value. Bringing it all together is how the leader establishes the key for the music and directs the team to stay together and sing in tune.

An example of this can easily be seen in this scene from the original “Pitch Perfect”

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-ByPeSVxyQ(And if you are interested, here is another great example from the final performance of the same movie:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAVPYq8fc3k)

Not everyone even has to be singing the same song. As long as everyone is singing in tune and blending with the same rhythm you can quite literally “rock the house.”

Leadership success is measured when everyone on the team is playing the same tune and the customer is happy with the music. If one person is doing their own thing, it distorts the entire song.

As a leader, ask yourself how you are keeping your team in tune? 

Are you lamenting the fact that you don't have all the parts, or are you adjusting to the group you have? 

Have you identified your customers and have you asked them if they are satisfied with the music you are producing?

It might serve you well to take a page from the Bellas in Pitch Perfect and make great music with the team you have.

Image source: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm198814208/tt1981677?ref_=ttmd_md_nxt

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Pivot: How to become a better leader by adapting to changing circumstances

When is a punch more than a punch?

 

I spent a good part of my early life studying and teaching martial arts (Kenpo). For me this is was a time of great development and learning. In fact, some of the lessons I learned during this time have helped to inform my development as a leader when I moved into various roles as a corporate manager, executive, and ultimately the owner of my own company.

One of the most important lessons that I learned from martial arts is the necessity to adapt to changing circumstances.

 

When I received my Brown Belt I thought I had attained a high level of achievement. Shortly after that I had the opportunity to spar (a training fight) with my instructor who was a 4th Degree Black Belt. During the match, I landed a solid counter punch to his ribs. Apparently, I was proud of myself for a second too long. He quickly pivoted and swept my legs. Before I knew it I was on my back staring up at his fist which he stopped about an inch from my face, which was not only a display of his self-control, but also an indication that he could have finished me.

After the match, he asked me “What did you do wrong?” Sheepishly I replied, “Clearly I got my butt kicked.” He smiled and said, “No. You landed a good hit and then you stopped.

Understand that the difference between a Black Belt and White Belt isn’t that the Black Belt doesn’t get hit. It’s what happens when you get hit that distinguishes the expert from the beginner.”

Those words and the memory of being on my back with his fist in front of my face have served as an embodied lesson about the power of pivoting.

 

What are the leadership lessons here?

 

1. "If the plan changes, change the plan, not the goal." 

A plan is just a collection of assumptions and anticipated tasks to achieve a desired outcome. Most leaders assume that the work is the execution of the plan. However, the real work comes from navigating through changing circumstances and adapting the actions you coordinate for the sake of achieving that same outcome. This is the ability to pivot and it is a critical leadership skill. In my experience with my Black Belt instructor, he was able to pivot when I landed a good punch. He adapted to what I did and used my own actions against me to his benefit. 

 

2. Because you’re a Black Belt doesn't mean you don't get hit. It's what you do when you get hit that makes a difference.

Quite often the leaders that I coach ask me to help them keep from making "leadership mistakes." It's a natural desire. Unfortunately, it's also unrealistic. You will make mistakes. You will do things one day that you will question the next. You will get "hit." It's what you do when you get hit that matters. How quickly do you accept the fact that you just got "hit"? As a leader, things will go wrong. Things will happen that you didn't anticipate. Circumstances will change. (Did anyone see the magnitude of the financial crisis of 2008 coming?) How do you respond to what is happening around you?

 

3. "Denial" is more than a river in Egypt.

It's been said that all of human suffering comes from resistance. Primarily, it comes from people resisting reality. Reality is simply what is happening. From the perspective of leadership, I've seen this manifest itself in various ways. For example, often senior leaders convince themselves that the culture in their organization is healthy when turnover is holding steady at 60% and employee engagement is minimal at best, and half of the managers are taking vacation days so they can interview for jobs somewhere else.   

 

How well do you pivot?

 

  • What do you do when things don’t go as planned?
  • How are you actively working to accept what is happening around you?
  • Are you allowing yourself the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them?
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2 Key Skills to Avoid Crashing Your Career on the Rocks

 

A Leadership Urban Legend

There is an urban legend that goes something like this. A proud U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was sailing along one dark night when the navigator noticed a light directly ahead. He quickly notified the Captain who immediately got on the radio. Here is the exchange that followed:

Captain: “Unknown vessel, you are on a collision course to our position. Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Unknown Voice: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Captain: “This is the Captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Unknown Voice: “This is a Petty Officer 2nd Class. Please divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South.”

Captain: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS NIMITZ, ONE OF THE LARGEST SHIPS IN THE UNITED STATES’ PACIFIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. WE HAVE ON BOARD AN ADMIRAL. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT IS ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP!!”

Unknown Voice: “This is a light house. It’s your call.”

This story incidentally turns out to be completely untrue (I don’t want all my Navy readers to write me nasty emails). However, it is a prime illustration of how incorrect assessments can escalate quickly and can cause significant leadership problems. Here are a couple real-world examples of leaders with whom I’ve worked and their challenges.

Maybe you identify with one of these scenarios

1. A senior leader in organization, let’s call him Dan, was frustrated. He had 2 direct reports who didn’t get along with each other and who made their distrust known to others. This escalated to the point that everyone in the organization knew about the “civil war” in Dan’s department. The smallest issues quickly escalated into a full-blown crisis. Dan, however, was afraid that by confronting the relationship problems it might cause one, or both of them, to quit.

His approach: “I pulled them into my office and told them that they need to start acting more professionally.”

 The problem: Dan incorrectly assumes that rationality and logic will win over emotion and hurt feelings. The relationship is clearly damaged. By not addressing the behaviors and the lack of trust in the working relationship, there is only one thing you can guarantee: nothing will change. Telling someone to act more professionally in this situation would be as effective as a marriage counselor telling a couple to just be nice.

2. A CEO, let’s call her Alicia, had a member of her leadership team who was technically competent in his role but who was oblivious to the way his interpersonal style put people on the defensive. People frequently complained that they would be held “hostage” in endless meetings while he argued his point until they acquiesced to his perspective.

Her approach:  She frequently says that he’s very good at what he does and it’s not her job to deal with his interpersonal skills. She said, “He’s a highly compensated professional in this organization, I shouldn’t have to tell him that this is how I expect him to behave.”

The problem: Alicia assumes that others know what is expected of them without actually being told what is expected, even when it comes to behavior. Unless she sets the expectation for what standards she will or won’t accept, everyone else is left to fill-in-the-blanks based on their own definition of what is acceptable. In this situation, what happened is that people started to actively work around this person. People started declining his meeting requests and would only share information with him as a last resort. Alicia’s team started having their own “pre-meetings” so they could prepare for arguments and be a unified front against this one person.

These examples illustrate how leaders who don’t accept the current situation in which they find themselves are setting themselves and their organizations up for breakdowns.

What is a leader to do?

There are many things these leaders need to do to address the situation described here. In each case, it starts with two fundamental steps.

1. Know yourself and challenge your assessments

What assessments are you making?

An assessment is simply an opinion or a judgment. It can never be right or wrong, true or false, good or bad, etc. It is just your opinion. A fact on the other hand, is measurable. Another person can look at the same thing and come to the same conclusion. For example, if I were to say that it’s hot in this room; that is an assessment. If I were to say, it’s 73° in this room that is a fact we can measure.

The challenge many leaders have is that they treat their assessments as if they are fact. Furthermore, they treat their assessments as logic that everyone else should share.

In the examples listed above. These leaders had what they consider to be very reasonable assessments about the situation and people they were facing and those assessments were not shared by the people there were leading. No matter how passionately you feel about an assessment, it doesn’t make it any more factual; it’s still an opinion.

Be aware of your assessments and how they are shaping your interpretation of what’s happening in front of you. You can scream at a lighthouse all you want because you don’t think that it should be there. It still won’t make it move and you’ll be the one crashed on the rocks.

2. Do your assessments match the situation?

Once you are aware of when you are dealing with an assessment or a fact, ask yourself if your assessment of the situation is trustworthy.

  • Are you standing on the deck of the ship telling the lighthouse it shouldn’t be there?
  • Ask for input from others about the situation and what options that they see.

Self-awareness and situational awareness are critical leadership capabilities that can keep your organization from crashing on the rocks.

 

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Poor performers are costing you more than 2x their salary. Do you know why?

Work until you can’t work anymore…and then work some more

I was recently working with the C-level person who was struggling with the performance of his leadership team. He looked tired. He was working 60 to 80 hours a week and a couple of the other people on his leadership team were putting in similar hours. After exploring the bulk of the work that was driving those hours, we discovered that he was doing a lot the work of one of his direct reports.

 

What was the reason? You guessed it; this direct report wasn’t performing well. He wasn’t doing all of the things that this leader expected, and the work that he was doing was not up to standard. Rather than address the individual’s performance through conversation, everyone on the team just started doing more of this person’s work. The mood of the team had fallen into resignation bordering on resentment and the overall performance of the team as seen by the chief executive was starting to fall.

 

This is an all too common example of the impacts of poor performance on the team. And there’s only one way to deal with it: have a leadership conversation.

 

When people don’t cut the mustard

Teams are comprised of people who fill specific roles in the course of coordinating action to produce results that satisfy customers. Because were dealing with people, there are variations in how well people fill their role on the team. Not everyone can be a star performer. However, everyone has a role to fill. How well they fill that role and how well they work together as a team ultimately, is responsibility of the leader.

 

It happens. Sometimes people just don’t meet the standard. Sometimes it's a lack of skill, lack of capacity, or just a bad fit within the culture of the team. It happens. The leadership opportunity is this: what do you do when you find that somebody is a poor performer? What is the responsibility of the leader to address that?

 

Let's quantify the impact of "poor performance" a little bit. 

 

Give me $1 and waste $2.50

In a study done by Taylor Protocols, organizational leaders were asked to identify which of their employees were, as they put it, “A”, “B”, “C”, or “D” players. Then they assessed the productivity of each of those players. The results of the study were quite interesting. They found that the productivity of the "A" players returned between 3-5 times their salaries. "B" players returned between two and three times their salary to the organization. "C" players were essentially a breakeven; their productivity matched the cost to have them there. And "D" players actually cost the organization about 2 1/2 times their salary.

 

Let's be clear about the implications. Just having poor performers come to work actually reduces the overall productivity of the team in which they are working. Let’s say it another way.

It costs the organization more than twice what it is paying a poor performer just to have them walk in the door.

 

So what’s a leader to do?

The best way to deal with poor performance is to head-it off before it happens. Here are a few steps that leaders can take to head-off or address poor performance.

1. Inspire a commitment to a shared vision.

Communicate a vision and goals. Describe some outcome in the future, that you would like to create. This is just the first step, but it is an important one. This gives purpose to action. 

 

2. Ask for individual commitment

Ask your team if they are committed to make this vision a reality, and to fulfill their role in achieving that vision. Ask your team members to treat that vision, and the achievement of that vision as if it was their own personal goal. In my experience, when people fall into the status of “poor performer” one of the major contributing factors is lack of commitment. The job is just the job. I’m complying with what you tell me to do. Compliance is not commitment. Effective leaders ask for the commitment of their team members.

3. LISTEN

Listen to whether or not you trust the answer that your team members are giving you when they say they are committed. They may actually tell you they’re not committed to achieving that vision, or to fulfill their role on that team. If that’s the case; GREAT. Thank them and then help them move to find a team where they can commit.

4. Have the leadership conversations

Unlike wine, bad news does not get better with age. If someone isn’t fulfilling the role that they have agreed to fill your team, or if their performance doesn’t meet the standard, it is the leader’s responsibility and obligation to have a conversation with them. I can’t tell you how many times I’m invited into organizations to help solve a problem only to learn that I’m the only being told about the problem. Sure, I can help, but the first person that needs to know that there is a problem is the person with whom you have the problem. Have the leadership conversation.

 

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Recall the Scenario

In my last article I introduced you to a scenario where two people, Ben and Chris, are very different types of leaders. At the end of the article I asked for feedback about some leadership elements at play. Thank you for all who responded. Much of the feedback was empathetic (“Are you writing about [fill in the name]? Because ‘Ben’ sounds exactly like them?”)

Other feedback was critical (“I would say that neither of them are leaders, they are just control freaks.”) It’s not easy when you are forced to choose between two imperfect options. But, that often is reality, isn’t it? What you can do to keep your sanity and make the best of things is to understand the natural laws of leadership that are at play in the situation that you are facing and adjust accordingly.

As a leader, you will likely find yourself in a situation where you are in charge of someone who is challenging or difficult to lead, as was Chris in the outlined scenario. You will also likely find yourself working for someone who isn’t the strongest leader, as is Ben. In either situation, the question to you as a leader is this: Are you going to allow the inadequacies of another to determine your own success as a leader?

As a leader, you have the responsibility to demonstrate your versatility and adjust to the situation, both up and down the organization, to ensure you are as effective as possible.

This is why it is helpful to understand what I call the Natural Laws of Leadership.


Natural Laws of Leadership: Empowerment Though Inaction

Just as there are laws of nature (objects will fill fall to earth at the same speed, water will follow the path of least resistance to the sea, smoke rises, etc.), there are also natural laws of leadership. Despite our best intentions and desires, we can’t change these laws. They simply exist.

Leadership is an inherently interpersonal endeavor. Because of this, the natural laws of leadership intrinsically deal with people’s behavior. One of the key natural laws of leadership at work in the scenario described above is the Law of Empowerment Through Inaction.

Let me describe it this way. A person looking to get something will find the easiest way possible to get it. They will follow the path of least resistance to reach their goal. It’s human nature. Ask any parent of a child who wants some candy how it works. The child will go to the parent who they feel is most likely to agree to the request. They will even work one against the other to get the answer they want. The same thing is true of people in a professional setting. Look at the way the staff has learned to adjust to Ben’s micro-meddling in the previously described scenario.

The converse of this behavior is also true.

Any behavior, however inappropriate or unacceptable, will be continued until enough pressure is applied to force the behavior to change.

Therefore, as a leader, one of your jobs is to recognize and respond to behavior that shouldn’t be continued. Part of a leader’s job is to put up the appropriate level of resistance (organizationally, interpersonally, within a team, etc.) at the right place to drive the right behavior and outcomes. If a leader fails to do this, the net effect is no different than if they were to officially endorse the undesired behavior.

What is tolerated and accepted is perpetuated and becomes the norm.

This likely explains why Chris, in this scenario, continues to demonstrate unprofessional and dysfunctional behaviors. This also clearly illustrates, in very real terms, the Law of Empowerment Through Inaction.

Stay Tuned for More

I’ll introduce more of the Natural Laws of Leadership in the coming weeks.

—————————————————
This post, as well as others from Dave, can also be found at http://linked2leadership.com/author/dhasenbalg/

Dave Hasenbalg is President of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership, Team Effectiveness and Operational Excellence.
He can be reached at dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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From the Mouths of Leaders

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Spend enough time in leadership roles or around leaders in organizations and you will hear people say things that will make you turn your head. Sometimes it's because you have heard a strong leader give exactly the right message to the right person at the right time. Those moments can be transformational.

Then there are times when you hear leaders say things so ridiculous that you have to turn your head to see if they were joking. Not long ago, I heard a senior executive make a comment that fell in the category of the latter. One of her staff members was leading an initiative that was transforming how a business unit would function. She said, "You're the leader. You stick to the strategic level. You don't worry about how it gets done."

I couldn't believe my ears. Then it occurred to me, this is the kind of leadership that many organizations practice (and has led to their destruction). In fact, some very popular leadership books clearly state that the main job of a leader is to "inspire a vision" or that "the domain of leaders is the future," thus implying that real leaders don't function in the here and now. This is absolute HOGWASH.

Understanding Real Leadership

Real leadership doesn't happen in the future. Real leadership happens here and now. In reality, probably 80% of real leadership happens in the interaction between two or more people. It happens face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder with those people you hope to lead. Don't get me wrong, vision is good and is an important factor to leadership. But it is not the end by itself, and alone it is not enough

Leadership is about effectively influence others to a common goal. It's about getting the right people to do the right things at the right time for the right reasons. Dwight Eisenhower said it best,

"Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it".

If you can master influencing through effective relationships, you can learn to be a good leader. And, make no mistake, leadership can be learned. And the first thing that leaders learn is that trying to go it alone leads to failure. There is a futility in trying to be leader without considering those you are trying to lead.

You Can't Lead If You Aren't With Those You Are Leading

One of the most disappointing things I've seen that perpetuates this image is the successory quote about leadership. You know the one. It has the bald eagle sitting alone in a tree and ends with, "...In the end, leaders are much like eagles...they don't flock, you find them one at a time."

This is one of the most ridiculous images for leadership I can imagine. Whenever I'm coaching a leader and I see this in their office, I immediately know that I have my work cut out for me. It's stupid because it gives the impression that a leader is one person doing things by themselves, at their own will. It's like the idea that a leader just sets the strategy and vision and then disappears. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Successful leaders are found in the middle of those they are leading. They don't swoop in, do their business, and fly off to their lone perch. Perhaps a more appropriate image for a leader might be a wolf as it is leading its pack.

Leading The Pack

Leading the pack requires:

  1. Courage to know where to go. Sure this requires vision.
  2. Leading by example (walk the walk). You can't do this unless the team can see you. You have to be among those you are leading.
  3. The ability to influence the individuals in the way most effective to them. Build effective teams.
  4. Recognition that it isn't about you, it's about the pack.

Leadership, at its core, is about influencing people where they are and getting them to go where they need to go.

So, if you are a leader how are you influencing those around you?

Are you building effective teams? Are you making sure that your followers are also building effective teams?

What are you doing to build your own influencing skills? Do something today to make yourself a better leader. Read a leadership article (good start right here). Enroll in a workshop that will build those skills.

Find a coach or mentor to talk you through your areas of your own that need improvement.

The key is, never stop working on yourself. Your team deserves it.

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Natural Laws of Leadership: Motion

Recently I was coaching a senior leader on the topic of operational improvements underway in the organization. There was general frustration that changes and new procedures weren’t being widely adopted by the staff in the department. He asked why people weren’t doing what they were being asked to do. I asked, “What he was doing to motivate a change in their behaviors to ensure people were doing things differently?” He said that he thought that the right solution should be enough to get people to want to adopt it.

While that idealistic thought might work in the fantasy of a Disney movie , it isn’t realistic in real-world leadership.

One reality of leadership is this:

Unless inspired or motivated to do so, people don’t generally possess the desire to do things any differently tomorrow than they did today.

In other words, just because you say something, or present a good idea, or a more efficient way of doing things, it doesn’t mean that people will jump to do it. It requires more than that from the leader. It requires the right amount of force in the right direction.

 

As a leader, your job is to know what direction you want to take your team/organization (have a vision) and to know those whom you are leading well enough to understand the proper amount and type of force to apply in the right place to change the direction (tension) I wrote about this topic in an earlier article.

 

This reminds me of the scientific truth of Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion . There is absolutely a Leadership correlation to those laws. I recently read an article by Vivek Mehrotra where he does a good job of identifying some basic correlations between Newton’s first two laws and leadership. I’ll elaborate on those thoughts here and add perspective to Newton’s Third law as it applies to leadership.

Without a doubt the leadership correlation to each of Newton’s laws are as true as the Laws of Motion themselves.

Newton’s First Law of Motion: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

 

First Law of Leadership: An organization in its current state (status quo) is in an organizational “state of motion.” Things won’t change unless you apply force to cause them to change. Without that leadership force, it will continue to operate along its current path.

 

Newton’s Second Law of Motion: The relationship between an object’s mass (m), its acceleration (a), and the applied force (F) is Force = mass x acceleration.

 

Second Law of Leadership: The force needed to bring change to an organization depends on the size of the organization and the size of the change. If you want to make big changes fast, then you need to apply lots of force. If you don’t mind changes taking lots of time, then smaller but consistently applied force over time will work. The converse of this law is also true. If you expect big changes to come from the part time efforts of a few people, then get used to disappointment.

 

Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

 

Third Law of Leadership: Even when you provide the right direction and motivation, there will be a force that acts to negate the action you are undertaking. So, don’t be surprised when there seems to be resistance to changes you are trying to implement. Particularly in light of the First Law of Leadership, it means that you must continue to exert the right amount of force to continue to make things move until your goals are achieved.

 

Understand for yourself:

What kind of force is required to get your organization to achieve the results you have in your vision?
Are you aware of the reactions to your actions? Do you understand how your actions are driving the reactions of your people?

Always remember the natural laws of leadership.

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Posted by on in Tension

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The Utopian World?

It seems that we operate in a world where most people expect to go about their business in an ultra-professional, rational, controlled environment. In this utopian environment, people expect their leaders to give them nothing but calm, “let me work at my own pace”, conflict-free interactions in a workplace where nobody is offended or challenged?

Contrary to that perspective, that is not what leadership is about and it is not how leaders should operate.

2 Leadership Imperatives

In any organization, leaders need to do 2 things:

Bring a vision to inspire others and give them a direction to go.

Introduce the right amount of tension to get results.

Vision Alone Isn’t Enough

There have been volumes written about the importance of leaders setting a vision and inspiring others to adopt that vision as their own (Good to Great, The Leadership Challenge, etc.). Vision alone is not enough. As an old Samurai saying goes,

Vision without action is dreaming. And action without vision is wasting time.

And, as my father used to say,

If you don’t know where you are going, any old road will take you there.

It takes more than a vision and a strategy to get results. How do leaders get results? In a word: tension.

The Value of Tension

There isn’t much written about the need for leaders to bring tension to the workplace, but if it is results you want, tension is exactly what you will need. To get things done a certain amount of tension is required. A reasonable amount of tension leads people to act. Too little tension or too much tension leads people to inaction or inappropriate action.

Let’s get something clear. Tension is not by itself a bad thing. Tension is simply a condition that exists and that can be managed. This fact may surprise those of you who have always seen tension as something that happens to you rather than something that you can manage.

There are 2 kinds of tension: task tension and relationship tension.

Task tension is a focus on a particular assignment or something that needs to be done. This is generally accompanied with a deadline.

Relationship tension shifts the focus from the task or the assignment to the people doing or supporting the task. When tension shifts to the people who are involved, rather than the work that needs to be done, that tends to make things less productive.

3 Possible Outcomes based on tension

The right kind of tension brings a team of people together, focusing on a common outcome. The wrong kind of tension can destroy a team. Understanding and managing tension is a component of the Social Style workshops that I teach. In those workshops, we emphasize that there are three possible productivity outcomes from the level of tension in any interpersonal interaction. Here they are:

1. Low Tension/Low Productivity:

I call this the vacation mode. You don’t have anyone telling you where you need to be or what needs to be done. And there certainly aren’t any deadlines. Without something specific to do or a time to do it, not much progress is made. Ever have a project to work on like this?

2. Moderate Tension/High Productivity:

This is the optimum environment. Stress levels are manageable, tasks are clear and defined, objectives and priorities are agreed upon, and deadlines are realistic.

3. High Tension/Low Productivity

In this environment, people are working under high stress. Timelines are unrealistic, objectives are not clear, priorities compete with each other, and relationships are strained. This is the most unhealthy environment in which to work.

As a leader, one of your jobs is to create the environment in which your team can operate at the optimum level.

 

As a leader, you have to understand how to read the amount of tension among team members in any given situation. Then you need to adjust their behavior to influence their team members to increase the right kind of tension and decrease the wrong kind of tension.

 

Once you have managed the tension, then you will be more successful achieving your vision.

How about it, leader? Are you looking for better results? Bring the right kind of tension to your world and you’ll be surprised by the results you get.

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Words matter.

Mark Twain once said,

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

This truth is as important to leaders as it is to writers.

Leaders must appreciate the fact that the words they use will influence the words that their team uses.

And the words that are used by anyone will influence behaviors and actions.

Inclusive words

can form a bond and bring people together. These are words like: we, team, together, support, empower. At the same time, divisive words can separate, segregate, and build barriers between individuals and teams.

 

Leaders set the example for what is expected and tolerated, in both words and behaviors.

Sam Walton, founder of the Wal-Mart department store chain, said,

It takes employees about two weeks to start treating customers the way they are being treated.

The same can be said about the kind of words that leaders use. But it probably takes less than 2 weeks to impact behaviors.

Anyone who has been in any kind of leadership role can probably testify to the barriers that often form between people and teams. These barriers get in the way of effectively completing the team’s objective. And it is these barriers that often take up much of the leader’s time and effort.

The Nasty Four-Letter Word

Thinking of these barriers brings to light a nasty, four-letter word that can describe, and is often the source of, most problems with any team barrier: T-H-E-Y.

How often have you heard team members say “THEY don’t understand our needs?”

How often have professionals in your organization say, “THEY don’t know how to communicate?”

THEY is one of the most divisive words that can be used by any member of a team, particularly by a leader. It creates a mysterious, nameless, faceless enemy that is somehow controlling your world. More divisively, it creates an antagonistic environment in which you and your teams have to work. Once anyone starts to use the term THEY, of course there must be someone THEY are competing against. And that someone is, of course, US. There can’t be one without the other, whether it is implied or explicitly stated. And as soon as the competition between US and THEM is introduced, you will be spending more of your leadership time addressing relationship tension than you will be actually delivering results.

The message to all Leaders out there is, yes, words matter.

You can do something about it!

Fortunately, you can do something about the mysterious “THEY” and prevent this issue from thwarting your valiant efforts as a change agent. The first step is to understand that YOU are part of “they.” You have more control over what is happening around you than anyone else. You can break down the barriers, starting with those which are right next to you. To do this you need to do four things:

Alignment: Make sure everyone who works for you and around you is focused on working towards the same goal. There can be no tolerance for hidden agendas. That simply wastes resources and energy. Did you know the only difference between a laser and an incandescent light is FOCUS? And with the right amount of focus, that laser can cut through almost anything.

Know yourself: Be honest with yourself and understand your strengths and limitations and your preferred method of operating. Just as important, understand those things you aren’t particularly good at or don’t like to do. It takes real self awareness but this is essential.

Know your partners: Just as with knowing yourself, understand the strengths, preferences, and limitations of those with whom you are working.

Take the first step: Do something bold. Do something for others. “THEY” starts with you. If you don’t like them then start by looking in the mirror. If “THEY” don’t understand something, make sure you do (See #2). Then make sure that you are explaining it to your team in ways that they will get it (See #3). If “THEY” aren’t partnering well, then make sure you rise above the conflict and become the best partner imaginable.

Do yourself and those you lead a favor and ban that four-letter word. You’ll be amazed what a difference that will make.

Do these four things and you will be prepared for greater success.

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Several years ago, during the dot com boom, I worked for an internet startup company. During the company’s prime there was a desire to have the Account Managers understand what it takes to be a good Project Manager (PM). There was lots of talk about doing training to develop these PM skills. Despite the talk, there was never the time or the budget to get the Account Managers trained. After one particularly disastrous software implementation, the Account Manager admitted that he made promises about dates that were completely unrealistic, but he was hopeful the team would be able to “pick up the slack.” Even after this situation, there continued to be lots of talk but little action. Sadly, this startup company didn’t actually start-up (are you surprised?). Today I affectionately refer to it as “goingdownthetubes.com”.

Is It Really Important?

This scenario is not reserved for young, startup companies; nor is it reserved for inexperienced staff. It highlights what happens in the most elite of organizations and in your personal life on a daily basis. It highlights the foolishness of hoping for one outcome while demonstrating behaviors that do little to ensure it will happen. The result is frustration, counter productivity, and unintended consequences. And it is something that we can all relate to.

 

The Checkbook and the Calendar

This scenario highlights a truth called the Checkbook and the Calendar. I learned this model from a good friend and leadership coach, Croft Edwards. The Checkbook and the Calendar model is a simple and effective way to do two things. First, it is a way to validate what is really important to you. Second, it is a way to see what is really important to those around you (staff, peers, or superiors).

Here is how it works.

If you want to know what is truly important to someone, all you have to do is look at their checkbook and their calendar. People spend their time on those things that are important to them. Conversely, the things that people spend time on show what is really important to them. Similarly, people will invest (spend their money) in those things that are important to them and the things they invest in are what is really valuable. This is true whether it be a conscious or subconscious decision.

It is a cruel and brutally honest reflection of what is important to you. It is universally true and accurate. You can’t deny it.

Let me give you two examples to which most of you will be able to relate. Thinking of my college days, no matter how “broke” my buddies and I were, when the weekend came around we were somehow always able to come up with enough money for beer. It was fine if that meant we had to eat Raman noodles for a month. What was important was getting the beer. You could see that by where our money went.

Another example is a bit more current. I know that it is good for my overall health to exercise at least 4 times per week. My doctor has even confirmed that this is an important thing for me to do. Despite the validation from a medical professional and the logical argument purporting the benefits of this activity, it is relatively easy to see if I concur with the importance of acting on this. Just look at my calendar. How many days in a week do I set aside an hour to exercise at some point in the day? If it is really important you will see it on the calendar.

 

If you still have doubts about the truth of the Checkbook and the Calendar, then think about yourself. What’s happening with that unfinished project in your garage or the box of pictures that you are going to scrapbook when you got a chance? How much did you spend on that leadership development class you were looking at?

 

The beauty of the Checkbook and the Calendar model is in its simplicity.

It always tells the truth.
You can use it to look at yourself.
You can use it to look at others.
And others can use it to see what’s important to you/

The Checkbook and the Calendar model is a way to prove something that Stephen Covey says,

You can’t talk your way out of something that you behave your way into.

So, what is really important to you?

Do you pay lip service to developing the leadership skills of your staff or even yourself? Where are you demonstrating that on your calendar and with your checkbook?

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A Leaderhip Urban Legend

There is an urban legend that goes something like this. A proud U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was sailing along one dark night when the navigator noticed a light directly ahead. He quickly notified the Captain who immediately got on the radio. Here is the exchange that followed:

Captain: “Unknown vessel, you are on a collision course to our position. Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Unknown Voice: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Captain: “This is the Captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Unknown Voice: “This is a Petty Officer 2nd Class. Please divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South.”

Captain: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS NIMITZ, ONE OF THE LARGEST SHIPS IN THE UNITED STATES’ PACIFIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. WE HAVE ON BOARD AN ADMIRAL. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT IS ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP!!”

Unknown Voice: “This is a light house. It’s your call.”

This story incidentally turns out to be completely untrue (I don’t want all my Navy readers to write me nasty emails). However, it is a prime illustration of how a leader’s Ego can allow them to create a perspective of reality that could be damaging, in more ways than one.

 

Can you see the Ego?

Eckart Tolle describes the Ego as that voice in your mind which tells you that you are better, or worse, than someone else. In this story, the Captain’s ego clearly is at work because he is placing his perceived importance ahead of situational awareness.

This story came to mind recently when I was working with some senior executives to implement new operational procedures to support a new computer system. These procedures were developed by a team of Subject Matter Experts from across the company who worked for the better part of a year to ensure they were consistent across the company.

As often happens, the new system and related procedures meant that some people and, in some cases entire departments, would have to change the way things get done. (The equivalent of the “divert your course” request.)

One senior leader, however, was particularly adamant that the new procedures placed an undue burden on their team and therefore were unacceptable. When asked why, they insisted that financial reporting would be compromised and that they would not be able to effectively execute ongoing initiatives. This leader further went on to say that they were going to escalate this to the business unit Finance Leader if things didn’t stay the way they were. (The equivalent of the Captain’s rant about the size and importance of the aircraft carrier.)

I then explained that the new system and related procedures were actually requested by the company Chief Financial Officer, who is the Finance Lead’s boss. (The equivalent of the “This is a lighthouse” notification.)

Did it really have to get that way?

Why do some people respond to situations, changes, or a difference of opinion with such a visceral reaction? Think about your own experiences when you have seen someone’s ego at work in a similar fashion. What were the circumstances? What pieces of information did the Ego not see?

The Ego tends to trip us up when we face a situation from inside our own mind rather than from the circumstances of the reality of the situation.

 

Now, don’t be confused we all have an Ego. It’s part of our human packaging. Your Ego is the voice that tells you the new guy knows nothing of value because their experience comes from a different company. And your Ego is the voice that tells you don’t have the right to question decisions because someone smarter than you must have determined that this is the best thing to do, even if it doesn’t seem so. The Ego is also part of our lives for a reason. It helps us to get up and want to succeed. But when left unchecked, it can take us on a dangerous path: like towards a light house.

 

A leader’s responsibility is to be aware of yourself enough to recognize when the voice that you are listening to is your Ego. This Self Awareness is also the first step in Emotional Intelligence.

A leader’s responsibility is to get out of your mind enough to listen to the people around you and see the situation for what it is.

Only then can you accurately respond to your environment and influence those people to whom you owe effective leadership.

Get out of your mind and Lead

So, the next time you find yourself in a difficult position and are feeling the weight of leadership, ask yourself if the voice you are listening to is really your Ego. Be honest with yourself. Get out of your mind and be a Leader!

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Dave Hasenbalg is President of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership and Operational Excellence. This article and others from Dave can be found at: www.linked2leadership.com He can be reached at dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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Nobody likes to give bad news. But sometimes, that is exactly what is needed, as long as it is honest feedback.

A true leader has the courage to say what is needed, even when that may be the last thing you want to do.

Who are you serving?

While leaders may think that they are being a “nice guy” by not giving someone who isn’t performing well the bad news, in reality they are only making things worse.

Unless you address the problem with the individuals in question, you are doing a disservice to the individual, to yourself, and to the overall organization.


The Pink Elephant Syndrome

A real world scenario

The cascading impact of Leaders who don’t address performance issues is something that I call the Pink Elephant syndrome. While this may sound like an unbelievable story, it is a very real set of circumstances that took place several years ago.

Steve (not his real name) was a Vice President of Marketing at a mid-sized company. Steve was a nice guy who enjoyed his VP title, which he had specifically negotiated to get. Steve was someone who thought more of his abilities than perhaps his track record would merit. His marketing campaigns frequently didn’t generate the kind of increased returns that they were expected to produce. Most of them managed to just keep the current customer base while the competition was making inroads into the market space.

In addition, his staff couldn’t stand working for him. They worked long hours and repeatedly had to make last-minute changes to marketing campaigns. Rarely did those last minute changes result in additional customer orders. Of course, Steve didn’t work late when his staff did. He would give the direction and either go home, or go back to his office, where it was common to see him sleeping at his desk.

Steve reported to the owner of the company, who never addressed Steve’s job performance, his poor team morale, or his tendency to sleep at his desk. The owner didn’t want to “be the bad guy.” So, these things just kept going along, year after year, in exactly the same way. Meanwhile, Steve kept getting annual raises and was told “keep up the good work.”

Changes are sometimes harsh

Then the company was sold. New owners came in and immediately gave Steve feedback that he wasn’t cutting it. While he had marketing experience, he wasn’t performing at the level expected of a Vice President of Marketing. They held him accountable for the results of his marketing campaigns. They told him that it would no longer be acceptable to find him asleep at his desk. Before long, he was on a performance plan that demanded results: or else.

I think you can see where this is going. Within a year, Steve was let go. But, the story doesn’t stop there. Unfortunately, during his time as a Marketing VP, he had also become quite accustomed to the salary of a Marketing VP. Steve had an extremely difficult time finding another job. When he applied for other Marketing VP jobs, it became clear that he really didn’t have the skills necessary for a job at that level and certainly at that salary. He stayed unemployed for over a year.

As a Leader, It’s not about you. It’s about them.

Admittedly, Steve had a role to play in it because he had very little self awareness and did little to improve himself professionally, which is one of the hallmarks of a good leader. But, I would submit to you that the company owner, who never gave Steve the feedback, is just as responsible.

As a leader, if you see someone isn’t performing well, and you don’t address it with them, then who is really at fault?

You see the problem. You know what needs to change. As a leader, it is your responsibility to fix the problem. Will the feedback make you unpopular? Perhaps. Will the feedback seem harsh? Maybe, depending on how you deliver it. But which is worse, giving someone honest feedback that makes them a better performer for you and your organization, or not giving them any feedback and leave them unemployed and wondering, “How things could have gotten so bad?”

As a leader, it’s not about you

. It’s about people you are leading. You are there to get results from your people and to make them stronger contributors. If, at times that makes you unpopular or seem like the heavy, so be it.

 

If you want to lead the orchestra, you are going to have to turn your back on the crowd.

Promise yourself and your people, that you won’t let the Pink Elephant Syndrome happen to anyone you work with. There is one way to deal with the Pink Elephant Syndrome: that is to deal with it.

Are you facing the Pink Elephant Syndrome? Is there some difficult feedback that you should be giving? What could happen if this person never hears the feedback you are avoiding? Better yet, how much better could things be if the person you have in mind improves the things you haven’t told them?

 

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Dave Hasenbalg is Chief Operating Officer of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership and Operational Excellence.
He can be reached at
dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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Aren’t the Holidays great?

Like many people, I enjoy this time of year. It’s a time for sharing time with family and friends, a time for reflection, and perhaps most importantly it is a time to do things for others who may be less fortunate than us. In light of the spirit of serving others and the spirit of Christmas that embodies it, I thought I would share a leadership perspective that is applicable this time of year.

Regardless of your religious affiliation, there are many leadership lessons to be found in the Bible and in particular in the life of Jesus. In homage to the person who is the reason we celebrate Christmas, I’d like to share some lessons in leadership that I have taken from the life of Jesus.

Walk the talk. The most effective way to lead is by example. When the echoes of the words have faded, people will remember what you did more than they will ever remember what you said.

Embrace the value of everyone, not just those with position and title.

Work with what you have and make what you have work. Jesus didn’t complain that he only had a dozen people to change the world.

Don’t be misguided by pageantry and formality. Sometimes the most influential people come from the humblest of places.

If you’ve got something to say, say it. Polling the crowds and authorities to get their preferences will only dilute the message.

Speak to people in a way that they will understand. Leave the flowery speeches and language to the politicians.

When people resist you it is likely done because they are afraid of something. Address the fear and the change will come more easily.

They lied and spoke badly about Jesus behind his back. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it won’t happen to you at some point. If what you are saying and doing is meaningful, someone is going to talk bad about you, don’t take it personally.

There is strength in people that is often unseen. Find a way to tap into it.

Be where you are. Be in the moment. Don’t waste time focusing on what you wanted to do or where you would rather be.

May your days be merry, your holidays be happy, and your leadership be as effective as it could possibly be.

Merry Christmas.

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Dave Hasenbalg is Chief Operating Officer of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership and Operational Excellence.
He can be reached at
dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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Be Honest

How many people woke up this morning and said to themselves, “I’m going to be completely non-productive today.”? How many people went into work this morning committed to finding a way to make mistakes? The answer is nobody. Nobody goes into something hoping to fail. So, why do some people flourish while others struggle? The answer is leadership. And people deserve good leadership.

Ivy League Stars Can Fall

Let me tell you about James. (I’m not using real names here.) James was a star student at a private prep school. He was awarded the highest honors that the school could give. He was captain of several athletic teams and received top honors there as well. After prep school he was accepted to an Ivy League college where he also excelled both academically and athletically. It seemed like James was destined for greatness no matter what he did. At his first job out of college, James began working for Brad. Brad is a hands-off manager. In fact, his hands are so far off you might think that he is absent. James receives minimal guidance and direction. The only time Brad gets involved with his team is when his boss takes an interest in what is going on in the department. When James is given projects to work on, he does them and does them well. But, on any given workday are as likely to see him surfing the web as you are doing anything for work. So what happened? How did this Ivy League star fall so far?

The answer is leadership.

People genuinely want to do good work and to be recognized for it.

In exchange, they will work hard to do what it takes to get the job done, if only the person in charge can connect with them and will lead them. If someone isn’t doing well at work, 90% of the time it is because they aren’t sure what is expected of them or they don’t possess the competency to do the job at that point in time. In either case, it is the responsibility of the leader to address it by making sure the expectations are clear, the skills and experience of the individual align to the work at hand, and the desired outcome is reached. Ken Blanchard calls this situational leadership and does a good job of illustrating it in his One Minute Manager Series of books. Specifically, in “Leadership and the One Minute Manger” Blanchard says,

Everyone has peak performance potential – you just need to know where they are coming from and meet them there.

So, did James suddenly tell himself that he was just going to coast in his career? Did his new job reveal that James is not capable of mastering the requirements of the job? Not likely.

Servant Leadership

What happened is that James came face-to-face with self-appointed authoritarian royalty. Leaders like Brad are more focused on fitting themselves with the crown of authority than they are working with their people to help them achieve great things. Sadly this is an all too common story. The most effective leaders are those who have realized that they will be far more successful if they find ways to help their people to be successful. This is called servant leadership.

Servant leaders find it hard to work with people while wearing the crown of authority because the crown tends to fall off when you bend down to help somebody.

In what ways are you a servant leader? How are you helping people achieve the performance potential of which they are capable?

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This post, as well as others from Dave, can also be found at http://linked2leadership.com/author/dhasenbalg/

Dave Hasenbalg is President r of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership, Team Effectivness and Operational Excellence.
He can be reached at
dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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Posted by on in Ego

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A Challenging Leadership Scenario

Below is a profile on leadership that tells of two different types of leaders. Both leaders have definite flaws in their leadership profiles, but I think that one of them can been seen as a more effective leader.

Can you relate to this scenario? Have you experienced something like this before in your organization?

(This situation is real but the names have been changed.)

The Micro-Meddler

Ben is the most senior ranking official at an organization of over 200 people. His preferred method of operating is to keep a fairly non-formal approach with all of the staff. He doesn’t like it when too many rules and procedures are implemented because it gets too “corporate.” When people bring something to his attention, he jumps into the details and quickly works with people until he feels that a resolution has been found. He isn’t a micro-manager, per se. After seeing him in action, I’ve actually coined the term “micro-meddler” to describe him more accurately.

You see, Ben seems to always get in the middle of things in an attempt to help, but he ends up messing things up. And as one might imagine, he then expects others to clean-up the mess that he creates.

The staff has all learned how to take advantage of this approach.

When they want something, they simply become the proverbial “squeaky wheel” until he takes action to come save the day. Although he thinks that he is helping, he is actually undermining a functional system with his various approaches to leadership. To make things worse, Ben tends to avoid confrontation, preferring instead to reward those whom he likes with surprise bonuses and giving little or no feedback to others. The lack of structure in his personal preferences seems to foster a hapless approach to his rigor-less leadership.

The Egregious Ego

Ben has more troubles. One of them is his direct reports, Chris. Chris has been in position for many years in a role that coordinates many of the projects and work efforts across the organization. Because Chris has been around a long time, he has become the subject-matter-expert in many areas. For many things, it seems that if you want something done you’re going to have to talk to Chris. Chris knows it and apparently he likes the power.

I’ve dubbed him the “egregious ego.”

Chris is not easy to work with. Different people throughout the organization have complained that Chris is rude, abrasive, argumentative, and quick to spread rumors. Over the years, the situation seems to have become more pronounced. But people have learned that when they want something from Chris they need to adjust their approach, just catch him on a “good day”, or find others in the organization with whom to collaborate so they can attain the same results without having to work with Chris.

So who is the most effective leader of the two?

Can you relate to either of the people identified in this scenario? Have you worked with anyone who behaved like either of them? It is clear that both people have some challenges as leaders. So, here is the question for you: Who is the more effective leader for this organization?

 

According to John C. Maxwell, the true measure of leadership is influence: the ability to influence the behavior of others. With that in mind, I would submit that Chris, the “egregious ego” is the more effective leader. While Chris’ behavior is arguably more dysfunctional to the organization, the end result is still greater influence on others.

 

There are many factors at play in any leadership situation and each factor impacts another. These are some key leadership elements at play here:

  • Positional power vs. Task Power (Ken Blanchard)
  • Abdicating authority
  • Effective leaders vs. “good” leaders
  • Obtaining results vs. “just doing things”
  • Violating the natural laws of leadership

Stay Tuned

Please let me know your thoughts on this situation, particularly as it relates to the elements listed above. What similar experiences have you had and how did you deal with them? In a future post, I’ll highlight the input received.

In addition, I’ll introduce what I call the “Natural Laws of Leadership.” Specifically as it relates to this scenario, I’ll introduce the first Natural Law of Leadership: Empowerment Through Inaction.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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This post, as well as others from Dave, can also be found at http://linked2leadership.com/author/dhasenbalg/

Dave Hasenbalg is President of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership, Team Effectiveness and Operational Excellence.
He can be reached at dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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Posted by on in Awareness

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Have you ever had front row seat to watch a good initiative fail? It can be breathtaking. Literally.

Several years ago I was given the challenge of driving a major initiative in a Fortune 500 company. Our goal: find ways to significantly increase revenue and to reduce expenses in one of the company’s business units.

Several of subject matter experts were taken out of their “day jobs” and gathered to form a team. We took the charge and ran with it. After about 4 months of intense research, analysis, and voice of the customer assessment the team had identified half a dozen opportunities that had the potential to generate tens of millions of dollars of either savings or additional revenue.

About that time there was a change in leadership in the sponsoring organization. Uh oh…

The new leader wasn’t convinced that new initiatives stemming from detailed customer research was the right direction, and preferred to make smaller, more incremental changes in another part of the business unit. Of course, the decision wasn’t made as clearly as that. It really occurred slowly over the next two months and came in the form of multiple, smaller course adjustments, like redeploying key team members and delaying important go/no-go decisions.

It essentially died a slow, painful, and dreadful death. It took our breath away.

Eventually a skeleton crew was all that was left of the once proud team and the only remnants of the savings were the two simplest initiatives that were the easiest to execute and least politically risky. The team was sent back to their “day jobs” exhausted, disillusioned, and cynical. Leadership lesson here: Don’t do this. It’s really short-sighted and the “soft costs” cost way more than you can ever know.

Stick and the Streamer

Does this sound like an initiative you have experienced? What happened? Among other things, this illustrates the fact that many leaders fail to acknowledge the reality that any decision they make takes time to execute. In fact, it takes an exponentially larger amount of time and effort to execute than it took to come up with the plan in the first place. And the larger the scale of the initiative, the longer it may take to execute. I call this the “stick and streamer” effect.

Picture if you will a stick and to the end of that stick is fastened a streamer. If it helps, imagine the ribbon that is used in rhythmic gymnastics. Use this tool to represent the stick and streamer model for leadership.

The stick represents the leader. The streamer represents those being led.

Notice how the smallest flick of the wrist (a leader’s decision) has a much larger proportional impact on the streamer (the led). The same thing happens in every organization. It takes time for each action to make it to the end of the streamer. The more severe the shift in direction, the longer it takes to ripple to the end and get the rest of the team in line with the new direction. The impact to those at the end of the streamer is also more significant. Paradoxically, the smoother and more subtle the action, the more alignment there is between the stick (the leader) and the streamer (the led).

As a former U.S. Army Officer, there is a helpful rule of thumb that each new lieutenant learns that might also help in using this model. It’s the one-third/two-thirds rule. In short the rule says that the leader should take 1/3 of the available time to plan for a mission and then allow his unit 2/3 of the time to prepare and execute the mission. Stated another way, it is going to take your team at least twice as long to execute your initiative as it took you to plan it.

 

So, when it comes to making your own leadership decisions, remember the lesson from stick and the streamer. You can make decisions, but allow your team the time to execute and make that decision successful.

 

In your leadership role, do you really give enough time and patience in allowing ideas to blossom and grow to their desired potential? Do you build correct expectations into your plans so that that you are communicating realistic time lines to your superiors? Do they gives ideas enough time to grow and mature? Or are you or your leaders cutting  ideas time lines down and not providing that needed time frame to engage and fulfill the dream? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Please share!

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This post, as well as others from Dave, can also be found at http://linked2leadership.com/author/dhasenbalg/

He can be reached at dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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