Improve your leadership profile

19 06 2007

Ever wonder if your leadership style should be less interactive, less personal with your team?

Do you believe that the “cold emotionless leader” approach will bring better results to the organization?

Teresa Amabile in an interview entitled How Team Leaders Show Support-or Not in The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge newsletter, outlines her study published in 2004 in The Leadership Quarterly, and gives insight into leadership characteristics and styles as they impact group performance and creativity in organizations.

She identified 4 key behaviors that will improve the perception of team leader’s support by the team members (and by association improve group attitude and final results).

The groups perception of the leader’s support were positive when:

  • they received on-time feedback and prompt response to problems. On-time decision making
  • they were supported in their decisions on a personal AND professional basis by the leader and a sense of relationship was developed through exchange of personal information. Create personal relationships.
  • they were recognized individually and in public for their achievements. Praise and recognition.
  • they were included and asked for ideas and input about decision making. Inclusion and participation of all team members.

Sound familiar?

They are fundamental characteristics of any leader or manager.

The groups perception of the leader’s support were negative when the leader:

  • Did not manage the work efficiently. Lack of timely decision-making, disinterest, disorganization.
  • Unable to provide clear role definition and objectives. Lack of focus and objectives.
  • Unable to solve problems or avoid them. Lack of strategy and planning.

Becoming a good leader is not all about barking orders or the implementation of revolutionary, new and improved ideas about data management and numbers analysis .

It’s about listening, doing your job and making decisions that affect others on-time.

It’s about dedicating time and applying common sense to create and maintain human relationships.

Related Links

How Team Leaders Show Support-or Not

Leading your team to mediocrity

Are we killing team performance by over-communicating

Step by step beginners guide to project management

Leadership, do you want the job or just the title and benefits

What defines an exceptional leader





Oil and water

30 05 2007

Oil and water don’t mix.

That’s what I believed until today.  Oil and water do mix after all

In an organization there are departments that don’t mix well, or not at all.  Sales, finance and production departments are notorious for having problems or “not mixing”.

Each of these groups has a different way of thinking, they create very different processes and final products, it makes sense that they will not agree to, or understand what the other departments are doing.

Tension, misunderstandings, frustration and chaos can result if left unattended.

Sales and marketing is concerned with creating or identifying demand for the product and negotiating an agreement.  It’s about people and relationships, emotions, taking advantage of opportunities, being creative innovative and adaptable, exploring new ideas, making sure the customer is satisfied.  Uncertainty is a large part of every business day.

Finance focuses on numbers.  What did we do in the past, what are we doing now, what will we need in the future and how do we reduce or eliminate our risk.  Structured, predictable, logical, they label everything.  Their evaluation and decision making is based on guaranteed outcomes and not on uncertainty.

Production is concerned with efficiency and is also numbers driven.  Processes are studied, analyzed and standardized in order to maximize control and eliminate  errors.  They prefer set plans and actively resist rapid or constant deviations and modifications.  Believers in contingency plans and backups, logical, not fond of uncertainty.

The goal is to acknowledge that every group is very different, with different points of view, and that these differences are essential to the success of any organization.

The entire system (organization) benefits from the interaction, questioning, and controls required by each department.

If there is total agreement, all the time, something is wrong.

Leadership’s role is to provoke, question, listen, analyze and push this chaos toward a goal.

Successful leaders know how to make oil and water mix,  and make it happen on a regular basis.

Related Links 

New Scientist – Oil and water do mix after all

Are we killing team performance by over communicating 

Leadership, want the job or just the title and benefits

Leadership – who do you want to lead





The dangers of success

13 03 2007

Today a Google search for the word “success” turned up 321 million websites.

“Failure” got 218 million sites.

We all want to be successful. Leaders are expected to be successful.

We’ve been trained, rewarded, pushed and prodded to become successful. School, work, games and personal life, we are always focused upon success.

It is probably genetic in nature. Competition to survive demands success, and therefore the desire to succeed is an inherent quality in human beings.

Success brings recognition, wealth, favor and fame to the individual or group. All are benefits and rewards of being successful. We like the rewards and benefits….we really do.

Business loves success. In fact, business is not very tolerant of failures, especially leadership failures. To be a leader in a business environment means that you must be successful and get your objectives accomplished.

We strive for success, we really want it to happen, we plan for it, we train, we learn new things, we even modify and manipulate external factors to assure the outcome we desire. Despite all our planning, spending and preparations we are not always successful. No one is successful all the time.

We often forget that past success is not a guarantee for continued success, and that failure is always a learning experience, not always a bad outcome.

The illusion that we must always be successful, and the glory and attention that success brings is not always a good thing.

“Pray that success will not come any faster than you are able to endure it” Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe

Success, and particularly continued success, can lead an individual or organization into the following behaviours and attitudes.

  • Cult of Personality / Fame. The focus is on the personality and not on the present or future work outcomes. It becomes more about who is doing it and less about what to do.
  • Fear. Avoiding or agonizing about doing something different, new or original, “ we were great doing this…let’s keep on doing it”.
  • Can’t let go. Inability to let go of a success and move on to the next challenge. Unwillingness to say “that project and party is over…what’s next”.
  • Over Confidence. Invincible attitude leads to strategies, theories and attitudes that may provoke attacks on enemies or punish those in a weakened position.
  • Loss of control. Inability to gauge or control excess or weakness. Losing touch with the reality of the situation.
  • Yes Men. Lack of honesty from the people around you, no real challenges to ideas, methods and objectives.
  • Hangers on. Distractions and undesirables begin to fill the agenda and schedules.
  • Closing Networks. Cutting ties with old networks and individuals to move “up” in status.
  • Depression. When the happiness or emotion of succeeding does not reach previous levels of emotional highs or didn’t meet the expectations.
  • Risk. Anxiety about repeating the success may drive one to take larger risks, or to eliminate risks.

So go on seeking success, it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t take the failures too hard, learn from them, pick them apart and understand exactly why failure occurred.

Celebrate when you do succeed, take your 5 minutes in the limelight. Then put your feet back firmly on the ground and get back to work.

“Try not to become a man of success but rather become a man of value” Albert Einstein.

Related Links

Why do we fail

Leadership lesson – A Message to Garcia





Don’t find a solution, find a way to make it better

12 03 2007

We make a large error in our business and personal lives if we believe that every problem or situation can be solved immediately or in the short term through our decisions and application of resources.

Theoretically it’s possible, but our focus on solution instead of optimizing and making changes to make it better can blindfold us toward evolutionary processes that in the long term provide better, stronger and long lasting solutions.

I’m suggesting that every situation should be initially evaluated based on two basic criteria; can it be solved now, or can it be improved now.

The situations that can be solved now or in the short term, should be. The organization should dedicate the time and resources toward the solution.

An example would be a delivery service that has 3 trucks and cannot cover the current delivery area on-time due to an increase in customers and package volume. A possible swift solution would be the purchase of another vehicle and hiring of a new driver.

A situation that cannot be solved now or ever should be approached by identifying areas where improvement should be made. The time and resources of the company should be focused upon the improvement.

An example would be government’s attempt to eliminate poverty or disease from a population. A perfect solution is not possible or practical, but by focusing on specific areas one can find great opportunities for success or enormous impact (vaccinations for children against polio).

When we look at every situation as a problem that needs to be solved right now we may be missing the best solutions and strategies required to resolve the situation over the long term. Ask yourself:

  • Can we solve the problem quickly and efficiently with simply modification of variables or a shift in technology? If the answer is yes, then set the process and resources in motion.
  • What if the problem is not able to be solved quickly or has no practical or economically viable solution? This is where the approach of resolving and modifying parts of the problem comes into play.

This evolutionary approach to problem solving is not often requested or expected in business (the quick fix is always applauded and sought after), but often the best long term strategy is optimization and gradual modification.

This evolutionary problem solving process will provide new opportunities for change and solutions to be developed in the future.The identification of areas, processes or resources that are the bottlenecks in your organization become areas of opportunity.

Modifying and improving these bottlenecks will automatically create new bottlenecks, in new areas. The focus on identifying and solving these “new” situations leads to a process of continual improvement and a better, stronger organization.

This is one of the fundamental ideas behind the Theory of Constraints (TOC).

Common sense tells us that in a complex world not all solutions are simple, quick or painless. The “quick fix” is a great idea, but not often found in everyday life.

Observation of science, technology, philosophy and business ideas and strategies show us that change occurs through the rare revolution (paradigm shifts and new discoveries) and through the more common evolution (gradual modifications leading to continual change.

What can be changed, fixed or modified today to make the organization, process, product or service incrementally better?

Related Links

Why don’t they?

Starting over

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

AGI Institute – Theory of Constraints

Evolution (Disambiguation)





Using positive reinforcement to win customer loyalty

22 02 2007

We respond positively to positive feedback, recognition, and reinforcement of our behaviour and activities at work or home.

We get angry or lose interest in an activity, goal or organization if we don’t receive this “pat on the head” or “cheer-leading” on a continual basis.

Our customers also need reinforcement and recognition in order to maintain their motivation and good feelings toward your company or products.

What are you doing to make sure they get it?

Does the customer feel like you are just “going through the motions”?

Does it feel real?

Are you really showing that you care?

What sets you apart from your competitors AFTER the sale?

Related Links

27 Great Leadership and Management Ideas

The power of something extra

What defines an exceptional leader





Starting over

9 01 2007

Ever get involved in a project that requires modifications, and then those modifications led to more modifications and more and more?

Before you know it, the project has lost sight of it’s objectives, and the team is working on solving problems unrelated to the original goals.

I’m reminded of Rube Goldberg and his famous machines. We don’t intentionally try to complicate our work, but if we step back and look at the objectives, and the current processes and procedure in order to reach those objectives, we can often find distortions and diversions of comical proportions.

There are two simple actions that will eliminate and control our spiral into complexity and error.

  1. Step back and look at the problem, objectives and current procedures on a regular basis. What is working, what isn’t working, and why? What are you doing to modify or adjust the solution procedure or process instead of moving closer to a solution?
  2. When you discover that something is not working, and have analyzed why, don’t be afraid to START OVER. Throw out the current plan, and begin again.

We tend to avoid re-doing and restarting a project or activity because we want to salvage the time, money and effort that has been invested.

This inability to “do over” and start from scratch often prevents us from implementing better and more efficient solutions.

Our initial attempts to solve the problem have educated us about the requirements and environment. There is nothing wrong with starting over, in fact it may be the best and most efficient way to solve the problem.

Related Links

12 reasons why we ask for business help

Analyze and plan using 7 simple questions

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

9 steps to better decisions

Rube Goldberg Website





Leadership lesson – A Message to Garcia

19 12 2006

I have just discovered the piece written by Elbert Hubbard in 1899, A Message to Garcia.

Inspirational and as relevant today as when it was written 107 years ago. A must read.

In 1495 words Elbert Hubbard has captured the essence of what being responsible is all about. A magnificent example of how independence, clear objectives and discipline can generate desired results.

Excerpt: “In all this Cuban business there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion.

When war broke out between Spain and the United States it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba – no one knew where. No mail nor telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly. What to do!

Some one said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”
Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia.

How “the fellow by the name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia – are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.

The point that I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”

By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing“Carry a message to Garcia!”…….. Link

The majority of analysis I have found related to this piece focuses upon the employee. How we all wish to have individuals who do the job, who don’t require complex instructions, supervision and followup.

Disciplined individuals who are able to adapt to unfavorable circumstances and maintain their sense of mission. People who get the job done without whining, complaining, negotiating outcomes and deadlines.

Take a look at A Message to Garcia from the point of view of the leader, President McKinley. Faced with the need to notify Garcia in the jungles of Cuba, he trusted one man, Rowan, with the nearly impossible.

McKinley was satisfied that his instructions were clear, and did not give Rowan tips and tricks on how to get the mission completed. He was confident in Rowan’s abilities, or was prepared to accept failure. There were no committee meetings, no majority votes, no back-up army or alternative plans considered.

Here are some questions related to mangement and leadership to reflect upon.

  • Have you surrounded yourself with capable individuals, and trained them?
  • Do you trust that they have the capacity and abilities to do their job?
  • Do your people understand and embrace the mission and objectives of your organization?
  • Do they know you will support their actions and in order to reach that goal?
  • Have you enough confidence in them to let them carry the message to Garcia?

Related Links

Leadership – who do you want to lead

Are we killing team performance by over-communicating

What defines an exceptional leader

Motivation – Heroic Moments

Wikipedia: Elbert Green Hubbard

Quotations by Elbert Green Hubbard

A Message to Garcia