WHEN YOU KNOW IT IS TIME TO CHANGE YOUR BOSS

“Kill my boss ? Do I dare live out the American dream ?”
American actor and writer Dan Castellaneta

Every boss has their own style and their own set of strengths and weaknesses. It is rare to actually find a boss who is perfect and maybe the best that we can hope for is to find a boss who gives us enough direction to know what is expected of us, and enough freedom to enjoy doing it.

Author: ThisIsRobsLife (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: ThisIsRobsLife (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


However, there are some bosses whose weaknesses far outweigh their skills, and who will thus have a detrimental effect on your own career development and prospects, and who will remove any of the joy of being at work.

Here are some “boss types” that you should avoid, and if necessary to move on from … or as Winston Churchill would have said “from whom you should move.” Having just 1 or 2 of these characteristics may be acceptable in most bosses, but having many more suggests that your boss is probably out of his depth, and the sooner you get away from them the better it will be for your own quality of work/life.

Business is war … “The art of war” is an interesting enough book to read and has some valid snippets of advice for managers, but the boss who totally sees “business as war” is as outdated as black and white television. (see “Sun Tzu would go broke today” posted October 3, 2011). Business today is based on a complex web of alliances that go beyond the idea that business success is just based on killing all who oppose you.

Author: FrankWilliams at en.wikipedia; PD-ART permission; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: FrankWilliams at en.wikipedia; PD-ART permission; via Wikimedia Commons


The one minute manager … life is complex, the management of people is even more so, and your boss needs to be smart enough, sophisticated enough and experienced enough to be able to handle the vagaries and subtle nuances of business, and the immense complexities of people. A boss who believes that he can learn enough from reading simplistic views of business life is not smart enough to survive.

The emperor … Some bosses believe that they can never be seen to be wrong and will therefore not brook any disagreement. The boss who believes he is always right, and who will not listen to anyone else, is unlikely to drive innovation and creativity in his team. A capable manager will try and find people who are even smarter than is s/he, and will then show that they have a right to lead by listening to the opinions of his people.

Never their problem … Some managers have an ability to let responsibility for tough issues go right past them “to the keeper” (“to the backstop” for my American readers). No matter what goes wrong, it is never their responsibility and they can always find someone to “blame and shame”. A capable manager understands that if it happens on their watch, and in their team, it is always their responsibility.

Author: Stephen Turner at en.wikipedia; GFDL CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Stephen Turner at en.wikipedia; GFDL CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


No feedback … Good managers give their people constant and timely feedback. It is impossible to work for a boss who doesn’t let you know how you are doing on an ongoing basis (both good and bad). Waiting till the end of the year to find out how you have performed from a historical perspective does little in managing behaviour, and doesn’t allow people to adjust what they are doing to be acceptable.

Captain chaos … Some managers have the uncanny skill of being able to create an incredibly chaotic environment around them. I have even come across managers who will deliberately create crises, which they can then solve, as a way of proving their worth. While flexibility in a work environment is a critical catalyst for creativity, perpetual chaos is totally destructive.

The meeting organiser … I have generally found that the number of meetings and conference calls that a manager arranges is in direct inverse proportion to their skills as an executive (see “Meetings bloody meetings” posted April 18, 2011). The premise is that you have meetings to keep people informed, and to involve them in the decision process, but the reality is that managers who call meetings all the time are just trying to cover themselves in case things go wrong. Managers are paid to make decisions and take calculated risks. Most meetings are a waste of time, effort and energy.

Author: Areyn; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Areyn; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The bureaucrat … Bureaucrats achieve little in public sector roles, and achieve even less in the private sector business environment. A manager who “does it by the book” and who lives his life totally by the terms and conditions in the “Policies and Procedures” manual will take too long to move, and today inertia is death. Doing the right thing is always more important than doing the thing right, notwithstanding the need for honesty and integrity at all times.

The politician … I hate business politicians (see “A guide to office politics” posted May 6, 2013), though I do accept that being able to manage upwards is a critical skill needed in a manager. However, managers who love listening to and spreading gossip, who love the political intrigues of a Machiavelli and who believe that “who you know and who you can manipulate” is more important than what you do and what you achieve, should be avoided like rabid dogs.

The body-bagger … Business at any cost, no matter how high is the casualty rate, is not good business and I have never tolerated managers who have been successful but have left a trail of “death and destruction” behind them on their road to achieving their goals. Good managers take everyone along with them, no matter how tough is the hill that they are storming.

To really succeed in life you should find something to do that you can really love doing, and if it means working for a boss, rather than yourself, then you need to find one that you can admire and that gives you the opportunity to stay in love with what you do. If you go through life tolerating a bad manager just because he pays you, or just because he scares you, will ultimately destroy your love of life. Find a better management role model.

NOT ALL MANAGERS ARE CREATED EQUAL

“We are all flawed, but basically effective managers are people whose flaws are not fatal under the circumstances. Maybe the best managers are simply ordinary, healthy people who are not too screwed up”.
Canadian academic and author Henry Mintzberg

I have interviewed, hired and/or rejected, hundreds of managers during my career, from first level young potentials to possible CEOs and Board members, and have realised that no matter how experienced they may initially appear, they can come in many guises, including some that need to be quickly disqualified from consideration for employment, no matter how good they may look on the surface. (see “Why are so many managers so bad at recruiting” posted December 12, 2011).

The problem is that it is never easy to totally and accurately measure how well someone will do in a new management role, no matter how well they have done in previous senior roles, even if there are roles that they have held in the past that appear to be similar to the one you are currently trying to fill. As we all know, CVs can be somewhat embellished with some artistic freedoms and some judicious re-engineering, and there are some people who look great on paper and present themselves really well, but who are really a well-developed facade with very little solid structure supporting the attractive visible front.

Author: Rkwriting (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Rkwriting (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Here are a few of these that I have come across in my time, and that one needs to look out for:

The 2-year cycler … On the surface, from their CV, they may look like they have 20 years of experience, but in reality they actually have only 2 years of experience repeated 10 times. These people have the ability to come in, stir everything up and drive change, but cannot sustain the momentum so run out of steam after about 2 years. The IT industry is full of people like this, as the industry has grown so quickly over the last 50 years that many people have never had to live with their own implementations and could just move on and start all over again before being seriously tested. Unless you have a 2-year assignment for them, don’t bother.

The empty suit … Looks the part and says the right things, but has an extremely shallow set of management skills and capabilities. This is the sort of person who works harder on looking as though they belong in the role rather than on actually doing the job. I once, in error, promoted a national sales manager to the role of MD. He immediately upgraded his suits and ties, whipped up his travel to first class and his hotel accommodation to suites, but changed nothing else in the way that he did the job, thus continuing to fulfil the function of the sales manager without taking up any of the responsibilities of a CEO, but he sure looked good while the business stalled.

Author: Argenberg; https://www.flickr.com/photos/argenberg/308888568/sizes/m/in/photostream/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Argenberg; https://www.flickr.com/photos/argenberg/308888568/sizes/m/in/photostream/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The gift to mankind … Presents himself as the great saviour and the great leader. One interviewee described himself to me thus “I am very inspirational and a brilliant public speaker”. I decided to test him on his self-perception, so told him he had 5 minutes to prepare an impromptu speech on his view of “The meaning of life” and left the room for a cup of coffee. When I came back 5 minutes later he launched into a platitude-filled meaningless ramble which was far from brilliant and not at all inspirational, with really old hackneyed expressions like “I would rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”. I have found that really great people don’t have to tell you of their greatness, in the same way that I am always suspicious of people who have to tell me how intelligent they are. Mensa members please take note.

The Engineer … I am always nervous about people who believe that it is all about the product rather than being about the people. I have no really serious issues with managers with an engineering background, though I do use them as a regular source of humour (see “Teaching old dogs new tricks” posted June 20, 2010), but I do sometimes struggle with senior managers in Europe who still believe that product is the main competitive advantage rather than having passionate, committed and self-driven people who understand what has to be done and how to go about doing it.

The seen-it-all-before … This is the “I’ve been everywhere, man” (made famous by Johnny Cash https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmFN9C9PVpg ). I have come across candidates in a recruitment process who have tried to convince me that the reason that I should hire them is that they have done everything, and seen everything that exists in their environment. As I have a strong belief that the right attitude is more along the lines of Randy Bachman’s “You aint seen nothing yet”, I have little time for people who believe that there is little left for them to learn, see or do. Learning is a life-long journey not a destination, and people who do not understand this do not deserve consideration for a senior role.

The sound-biter … Perhaps driven by the need to say something memorable in a 30-second TV news clip, I am surprised by the number of people who have forsaken the need to say something original and meaningful in their own words, for the convenience of dropping some sound bites. I once had a candidate tell me that “Leaders do the right thing whereas Mangers do the thing right” as being part of his personal philosophy. He went all a-dither when I asked him to explain to me what that actually meant for him, but in his own words. For much the same reason I have always looked somewhat suspiciously at people who see “The one minute manager” and “Who moved my cheese” as being great works of management insight, rather than being just some interesting brochures. Being a successful leader and/or manager is a tough role to fill, and is not for the simple-minded.

Author: Andre Engels; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Andre Engels; via Wikimedia Commons


The recruitment process is one of the most critical elements of any manager’s role, and having the best people in place to provide leadership and direction to great people everywhere in any organisation is the key driver of success.

As said by American business consultant and author Jim Collins “People are not your most important asset. The RIGHT people are.”

LEADERS BUILD ENEMIES

“You have enemies? Good. That means that you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

It is an old adage that political leaders need enemies, and that if they don’t actually have one at any specific time, then they will have to create one. Look at how readily we in the west rushed to convince ourselves in 1990 that Saddam Hussein was the obvious “enemy du jour”, leading to the Gulf War in 1991 and the coalition force’s invasion of Kuwait (Desert storm), and which ultimately led on to the full invasion of Iraq in 2003, and Hussein’s sentencing and execution.

Hussein was the perfect enemy. He had already nationalised the oil and banking sectors in Iraq as well as a slew of other industries (always gets everyone angry), and was known for his brutality against any opposition through his ruthless paramilitary and police organisation, which had a penchant for torture and executions. As well, both US President George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair had incontrovertible proof that he had been amassing weapons of mass destruction, and in particular nuclear and chemical weapons that he was ready to use against Israel just as a rehearsal for full scale terrorist attacks on the US. Well, I guess that even world leaders can be wrong.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


So, if political leaders need enemies, is the same true of business leaders ?

The IT vendor companies that I worked for during my career tended to have a designated enemy (not just because they were a competitor) on which we not only kept a serious eye, but one we were also encouraged to deride and dislike. At DEC it was Data General (and vice versa), at SAP it was/is Oracle, and at Sun Microsystems it was Microsoft. It was even commonly known at the time that there were regular dinners hosted by Scott McNealy of Sun and Larry Ellison of Oracle, where the main topic of conversation was focussed on how to destroy Microsoft. They should have planned more and eaten less.

Author: amadeusm; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: amadeusm; via Wikimedia Commons



Author: Peter Kaminski; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/35034359460@N01/3772015/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Peter Kaminski; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/35034359460@N01/3772015/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


These are fairly obvious business enemies, as the belief is that every piece of business that one loses to a competitor is taking food off the plates of our employees and their families. I have always believed that competition is important, as it takes more than one vendor to create a market, and that for example, SAP was seriously more successful once Oracle came onto the scene as a provider of competitive business application software, which at least gave the marketplace some credibility as well as some choice.

But I also have a belief that every successful leader, no matter how widely loved and admired s/he is, will create their own horde of enemies along the way, even amongst those close to him/her, which is something that comes with having strong beliefs and a strong drive to execute.

It appears to be virtually impossible to do great things and to please everybody at the same time. Great leaders will, by dint of the strength of their beliefs and convictions, create antagonism from those that cannot share these for a number of reasons, and in particular from those that are close to them.

Envy … there will always be those that are jealous of what you have achieved and will therefore go out of their way to try and discredit you. At an early part of my career, I was asked to move from the role of running a high-performing region to take over another region that was struggling, and after I agreed to do so, my predecessor was reassigned to a non-line role. When his old region started performing well, he went out of his way to tell anyone who would listen that while I might have some limited skills and qualities of leadership, things would only work as long as I was in place, and would immediately fall apart once I moved on. It could be one of the reasons that I have an obsession with leaders leaving a lasting legacy (see “Leaders leave legacies” posted January 13, 2014). Turning a failing organisation into a success will not get you thanks from your predecessor, who would rather that you also failed so s/he can justify their own previous poor performance.

Collateral damage … as you start to implement a direction and strategy, it sometimes becomes obvious that there are people in your area of responsibility that will just not be able to make the grade. You owe it to them to do everything that you can possibly do to try to help them succeed, but there are times when you have to accept that this is not going to happen, and you then have to cut them loose. Do not assume that they will immediately be grateful for removing them from a role where they will definitely fail badly, and suggesting that they would be better elsewhere. I once had to remove a country MD who was failing dismally and, although he then went on to build a successful career elsewhere, he still won’t talk to me nearly 20 years later.

Personality clash … not everyone will be won over by your charms and personality, and whilst some may well see you as “the great saviour”, there will be others who will just not be able to accept what you are doing and how you are doing it. You will need to remove some of these that are openly antagonistic and defiant, but you must remember that removing everyone who disagrees with you is not a great strategy, as you must keep people who are prepared to disagree and question things. The ones to get rid of are the politicians who use subterfuge, rather than those that just have a strong opinion. It is just important to remember that you should give people the option “to agree and commit, or to disagree and commit”, as ultimately, after all the discussion is over, there can only be one way forward, and commitment is key.

Overlooked contender(s) … the person who was the runner-up to the role to which you have been appointed is a potential enemy, just based on the fact that they were overlooked, will feel slighted, and can be dangerous based on the fact that they probably still have a following. The reality is that this is an important person to get onside, as for you they may also be a potential successor, and bringing them onside will also bring their followers. US 16th President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) said “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends”.

Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents, The White House; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents, The White House; via Wikimedia Commons


It is also important to remember what was said by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) “You can have no enemies, but be intensely disliked by your friends”.

HOW MUCH SHOULD WE RELY ON INTUITION ?

The dictionary defines intuition as “a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence: a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why.”

This definition of intuition actually bothers me a bit, based as it is on a “natural ability or power”. Many people do seem to think of intuition as being some sort of sixth sense, or as some sort of magical power, but our “gut feels” are generally formed out of our experiences, skills and knowledge. This means that intuition alone is unlikely to always result in good decision making, but it does mean that we should not write it off completely as a way of supporting the decision making process, as long as it matches our true areas of expertise.

Author: Dennis Jarvis; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Dennis Jarvis; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The problem with using intuition as a decision tool is that it is based on “experiences, skills and knowledge”, and as writer, actor and tall person John Cleese points out in a must-see 40 second short video, which you can find on YouTube by searching on “John Cleese Stupidity”, to know how good you are at something requires the same skills that are needed to be good at that thing, so if you are absolutely hopeless at something, you lack exactly those skills to know that you are hopeless at it.

Author: John_Cleese_2008.jpg: Paul Boxley; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: John_Cleese_2008.jpg: Paul Boxley; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


This means that not all “gut-feel” is necessarily good “gut-feel”, and that intuition can only be truly worthwhile in an area where we have some domain specific experience, skills and knowledge.

I have met some people who are very intuitive about one thing, such as wind patterns for hot air ballooning or diagnosing medical illness, but I have not yet met anyone who is obviously intuitive about a broad range of experiences. One cannot assume that someone who is highly intuitive about the best yachting maneuvers (like Ben Ainslie for example), is also likely to be highly intuitive about any other element of his/her life. If intuition is to be a highly honed skill, it needs to be based on a considerable amount of practice, as ultimately intuition is about our ability to recognize certain recurring patterns. The more experience that we have in a particular area of expertise, such as diagnosing tropical illnesses, the more familiar we become at recognizing the patterns, and the faster can we make decisions about what these patterns mean.

Photo taken by Joe DeShon; CC BY 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Photo taken by Joe DeShon; CC BY 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Yet, I have met many people who have told me that they are “highly intuitive” … about life. I always try and get them to be more specific about which part of life it is that they are claiming to be highly intuitive about, but generally with little success at getting them to pinpoint their true area of intuitive expertise. They just have an intuition that they possess this 6th sense magical power.

I also find it highly bewildering that there are people who have written books that people buy, and who also run training programmes that people seem to readily attend on the topic of “… how to create success in any area by using your brain in unique and compelling ways so that your innate intuition can propel you ahead to successful solutions …”. These include, but are not limited to, losing weight, knowing how to spot your perfect mate, building better relationships with your children, and making better investment and business decisions” … and one can achieve all these in one life-time, and supposedly with little real experience, skill or knowledge in any of these subjects.

My intuition tells me that these books and courses are focused on attracting some very gullible people.

I also struggle with people who rely mostly on intuition as the main driver in their ability to sum up people, for example in the recruitment process, and I am surprised when people tell me that they can decide in the first few minutes of an interview whether they will hire someone. Whilst one can, to some degree and in a short time, understand a range of the visible personality traits, such as how assertive or extroverted someone is or how relaxed and confident they are, it is hard to understand their attitudes to work, life and the meaning of the universe without delving more deeply, and I have long believed that one should hire for attitude even more than for skills, as skills can be enhanced but attitudes are hard to change.

I have found that people who tend to hire based on “gut feel” tend to hire people who are mostly just like them, and so tend to hire people who most closely match their own image, which is fine if your goal is to protect the status quo and to change very little, but does not do much in terms of driving change, and the ability to drive change is one of the few constants in business life and success. I tend to believe that gut-feel hiring is more about expediency as defined by American writer Rita Mae Brown who said “Intuition is a suspension of logic due to impatience.”

I have also come across people who believe that investment decisions can be made using intuition and gut feel rather than some deeper analyses of what they are considering as an investment platform, whilst remembering the fact that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. My investment counsellor at Barclays Bank in Bordeaux waxed lyrical about Bernie Madoff, based on the sole fact that his gut told him that someone who had been the head of the Nasdaq must know what he was doing. Madoff knew exactly what he was doing … it just wasn’t to the benefit of anyone other than himself. I didn’t buy the story, based mainly on the fact that anyone committing to a 12% annual return on investment didn’t fit with my own intuition about investment returns, and I therefore didn’t invest and also quickly changed my investment counsellor.

Author: Smerus (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Smerus (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


American psychologist Robert Heller summed it up well with “Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it is enough.”

ARE WE READY FOR WORKPLACE DEMOCRACY ?

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.” Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965).

Author: Hanhil at nl.wikipedia; PD-AUTEUR; Released into the public domain; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Hanhil at nl.wikipedia; PD-AUTEUR; Released into the public domain; via Wikimedia Commons


I am seeing an increasing amount of discussion about the concept of workplace democracy, and have even most recently come across a company where all staff members were invited to vote “yea or nay” on the appointment of a new CEO, when the current founder and CEO felt that it was time for him to step aside. The outgoing CEO chose his successor, and then asked all staff to vote on whether they agreed with his choice. Luckily they did (although it was not unanimous) which was fortunate, as I feel that this particular partial attempt at the democratic process may have been somewhat short-lived had it been a resounding “nay” vote.

I have also had the privilege in the last year to meet, and hear talks from Heiko Fischer of Resourceful Humans, who believes that the greater the level of democracy and the less management that exists in a company, then the more will people drive themselves and therefore the more they will drive the success of the company. Heiko likes to compare traditional hierarchical management structures to a hamburger where the patty (employees) needs a large bun (management) to hold it together, rather than to what he feels is needed today being more like a burrito which has a thin unobtrusive layer (management) holding all the ingredients (employees) together. As well, a hamburger needs considerable structure within the bun, whereas structure is less important in a burrito. Not a bad analogy if you are a supporter of his premise.

Author: Tebu.an; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tebu.an; via Wikimedia Commons


I feel that that one of the drivers of this flirtation with workplace democracy is the current belief by some that this is exactly what the new generation wants … that young people today have a significantly different set of work expectations than did my generation, and particularly in terms of company loyalty (now more to a role), flexibility of working times (less based on 4 weeks annual leave and more on long breaks as needed), and significantly less management control (less direction from above and a greater say in what they do and how they do it).

But, are they really demanding democratic-style freedoms, and just how much structure is too much structure ? Are we really ready to do away with traditional management structures and build more democratically based organisations ?

I have long been against over-management (see “Sixth rule of management” posted November 19, 2012) and in particular matrix management, which despite its potential benefits for vocational career development, is mainly the creation of people who know that change is needed, and who have decided that added complexity is the answer. I have always believed that complexity is never the answer, and that when it is, then it must have been a pretty stupid question to start with. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) nailed it when he said “If you can’t explain it to a 6 year old, you don’t understand it yourself. Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

via WIkimedia Commons

via WIkimedia Commons


I have no question that the traditional “command and control” management style is totally passé, but I am of the belief that some structure is still needed, not just for the sake of management control, but also more importantly for the benefit of the employees.

When I retired I had a final session with my boss, who asked me for some feedback (the first time that this had happened in nearly 15 years).
Amongst other things, I told him that “he had been a great boss because he had left me entirely alone to do the job in my own way, but that he was also an awful boss because he had left me entirely alone to do the job in my own way.”

It was not that I was a needy person that wanted continuous advice, feedback and recognition, but I disagreed with him that being left totally alone, all of the time, was something that senior people wanted. His belief was that as we had monthly board meetings, this should have been enough to set the context for all of us to act accordingly. The problem was that apart from the one annual 2-day session to discuss strategy, management meetings were nearly always about content rather than context. As a result, cross-divisional alignment tended to be difficult. For example, aligning the field with product development was somewhat hit and miss, and as a result sales incentives tended to suit sales rather than corporate direction; the service organisation, in isolation, hiked maintenance prices by about 30% at one stage and then had to back-pedal after a customer revolt; software development delays impacted the performance of the field organisation as customers delayed orders in anticipation of new products, but didn’t impact the development organisation who worked to their own timetable insulated from the real world, and who kept recruiting during hiring freezes based on their self-appointed immunity from restrictions.

I believe that we cannot expect people to have any ability to define what they will do and to know what is expected of them if we do not clearly articulate the reasons for “why we are here” in the first place, as a company, as a division, as a team, and we do not give then enough direction and understanding to help them to be an integral part of the strategy.

People should definitely be given the ability to define how they will handle the content of the role that has been assigned to them, within guidelines for quality and standards that apply, but I also have a strong belief that this can work only if the context has been well defined beforehand, and that this context must also include the appointment of those who have been asked to lead the organisation.

To leave these corporate decisions to the vagaries of “voters” is likely to lead to a similar situation as Switzerland finds itself in today, where its latest referendum result appears to have been based more on an emotional response to immigration rather than any real understanding of the implications of the referendum result for their country, its prosperity or the ultimate benefit of its citizenry.

Author: User:Marc Mongenet; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: User:Marc Mongenet; via Wikimedia Commons


WHEN DID EVERYONE BECOME A LEADER ?

“Life isn’t easy, and leadership is harder still.”
Bard College Professor Walter Russell Mead

Author: Chatham House; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Chatham House; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I can remember a time when the term “leader” was used to describe the most senior person in any human run entity, such as the CEO of a large company, a President or Prime Minister of a country that actually had a seat at the United Nations, or even the head of any religious organisation that needed more than one minibus to take all its adherents to the annual sausage sizzle. (See “Management or Leadership” posted March 7, 2011).

This does not seem to be the case today, when we appear willing to accord a leadership title to all.

It is as though words like “specialist”, supervisor” and even “manager” have all been discarded from our business lexicon.

Project Managers have been replaced by Project Leads and Team Leaders, even if the entire team consists of 2-3 people, Senior Maths Teachers in schools are now The Maths Leader, and Shift Leader has replaced Shift Supervisor even in small factories.

My first promotion in 1968 was from the position of Computer Programmer to the role of being in charge of a 6-man programming team, which carried the exalted title of Senior Programmer. Today that title is more likely to be Leader Software Development, just as the person who is responsible for looking after the elevator staff at Harrods Department Store in London will no doubt be carrying the title of Leader Vertical Displacement Services.

Even my next promotion carried the title of Supervisor, and it took me another two years to actually get to a position that carried the word “Manager” in the title. We had a leader … he was the CEO.

via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-US}}

via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-US}}


I find that it is very rare these days that anyone even talks about management training, as people who are seen as being of management potential are now sent on Leadership Development Programmes rather than management training, despite the fact that statistics tell us that most will never get beyond a first level management position. Even Primary school teachers today go on leadership development courses even if most don’t/won’t/can’t become a school principal, and just want to be able to teach young children, and to do it well.

Is it just a question of time before we replace the increasingly more humbly titled MBA with the more importantly sounding MLA (Mater of Leadership Attainment), as business schools finally come to the realisation that this is a whole new gravy train?

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT license

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT license


I was recently asked to come and talk about leadership at an annual company event that brings together all staff that are in any “people responsible” roles (to be somewhat cautious in my use of language) for a 2-day talk fest to kick off the new business year. In discussing the remit with my host, I innocently asked whether, as my session would be on the topic of Leadership, I could assume that I would be addressing the senior executive team. It turned out that I would actually be presenting to everyone except their “Top-100” senior managers, being the 1000 or so first and middle level management.

When I asked whether, based on the audience, discussing “management rather than leadership” would not be more appropriate, I was told that the company had decided to run a programme that was planned to make everyone “a leader in their role”, and that this was all part of the key messaging of this year’s kick-off meeting. My suggestion that what he was describing was surely more about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way” rather than being about “leadership” almost lost me the assignment.

However, as it was an existing client, and it was a good fee, I titled my session, as they had suggested, “We are all leaders” and spoke about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way”.

I do wonder however, whether we have come to a point where the word “leadership” has become so overused that it is losing its true meaning, just like the word “cloud” is today in the tech industry where everything is now labelled as being cloud, when much of it is really just smoke.

Are we trying to give everyone the title of leader as this then removes the need for senior management to actually do something about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way” ? By making everyone a leader does that just conveniently shift this responsibility from the top of the pyramid down to the individual ? Despite the changes in titles I have not seen the commensurate increases in authority and levels of freedom that one would normally associate with someone in a leadership role.

I salute the whole idea of giving people more freedom, fewer barriers, more responsibility, the right to manage themselves and how they do their job, as I have long believed that when we remove the shackles from people, many will take the opportunity to soar rather than just make do.

I am also not questioning that people can take up a temporary leadership role dependant on the situation being faced at the time, like one team member being quiet during a team discussion on technology, but leading the discussion when the topic switches to sales and marketing.

But I don’t think that this makes them a leader. It can, however, make them a liberated employee who is committed to making a serious contribution to the company in areas where they have subject matter expertise, and as such we should treat them with respect, hear what they have to say, and make sure that we nurture them as one day, in the right environment, they may actually become a true leader.

If we really want to build leaders, we need to give people the culture and the freedom to act, to learn and to grow, rather than to just give them a title with the word “leader” embedded in it.

Author: Arquivo/ABr; CC BY 3.0 BR license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Arquivo/ABr; CC BY 3.0 BR license; via Wikimedia Commons


“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work and time. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal.” American Football Coach Vince Lombardi (1913-1970).

THE ART OF MANAGERIAL COURAGE

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not the one who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and President of South Africa Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).

Author: South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: South Africa The Good News / http://www.sagoodnews.co.za; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have no question that a key necessary element for any successful manager is to have a high degree of managerial courage.

Someone once defined managerial courage to me as being prepared to make the tough decisions and taking responsibility for them, but I believe that this is too simple a definition as I believe that it is much broader than this, so here are 10 of the key criteria that I consider to be critical.

To face reality … A successful manager has to ensure that he and his team can face the realities of the business situation, as a false view can create complacency when serious remedial action may be needed. Too many managers try and find enough good news about how things are going to enable them to put a tick in the box and move on. I once had a new sales manager try and convince me of the veracity of his $10m sales forecast for the quarter based on his having a total team pipeline of about $100m. The problem was that deeper analysis showed that none of the opportunities in the pipeline were advanced enough in the sales cycle to be able to close within the next 90 days. The $10m forecast was based on hope and little else.

To rely on others … You can’t do it all yourself no matter how much of a control freak you are. It takes courage to rely on other people to do what is needed to drive your success as well as their own, but delegation is a key to success, not only by sharing the load, but also by enabling people to be trusted and challenged so that they can learn, grow and develop.

To weed out those who can’t succeed … I have long believed that if you hire people for their strengths, you have no right to fire them for their weaknesses without first working hard to help them to try and overcome these. However, the time may come when you realise that no matter how hard you both try, this particular person will never rise to the needed level of competency needed in this role, and that it is time to part company. It takes courage to do this quickly and decisively, particularly if you were the manager responsible for their recruitment, but it has to be done without hesitation for the sake of the individual involved so they can move to a more suitable role, as well as for the team and the company.

To question the status quo … I have found that in most companies, promotions come faster for those who are seen to protect the status quo than for those who are creative and who are prepared to question those things that are considered untouchables. Successful managers have to be courageous enough to question the right to survival of all sacred cows, and to even turn some into hamburgers if they have outlived their use-by-dates.

Author: en:User:ChrisO; GFDL/CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: en:User:ChrisO; GFDL/CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


To test the boundaries … I have always told my people that I trust them to do the job that I have asked them to do and that they should be courageous enough to test their boundaries, which meant that when dealing with me it was better to seek forgiveness than to seek approval. The problem is that when you are scared to test the boundaries and go to your boss for approval all the time, s/he may say no, which then means that for you to proceed is insubordination, which is unacceptable.

To live by and enforce the values … It is not enough to talk about the values, not even if you have them carved into stone; you also have to live by them and to ensure that so does every member of the team, especially the top performers. It takes courage for a manager to tell a high performing employee that while you appreciate them achieving their goals, their behaviour is unacceptable. You cannot, for example, allow a highly successful salesman to leave a trail of body bags as a by-product of their successful results, no matter how much business they are generating.

To make decisions … Procrastination is easy, and one can always justify holding off on a decision because of a heavy workload, but the longer you hold off on taking a decision the more the situation can deteriorate. Have the courage to make a decision and then commit to it. If you are an experienced manager, the direction that you decide to take, from some well thought through alternatives, will be less important than your commitment to its execution. I see more failures from procrastination, or a lack of execution and commitment, than I do from the actual decision taken.

To tell the truth … It takes courage to stand up in front of your boss and tell him something that you know s/he is not going to like, especially if they an aggressive, self-opinionated, brilliant founder of the company, but it is important do so. If in doubt, remember the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. I accept that there may be some instances when it may be better to stay silent, but when asked for your opinion it is ultimately more important that you are honest rather than follow the yes-men.

Author: Vilhelm Pedersen (1820 - 1859); via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Vilhelm Pedersen (1820 – 1859); via Wikimedia Commons


To take calculated risks … Business life is full of risk, and managers are paid to take calculated risks as a natural part of their responsibilities. You take risks with your recruitment, your business strategies and their execution and in driving change. Just doing the same thing over and over again is a recipe for disaster.

To be yourself … You need courage to be yourself rather than to play-act a role that you think will be best accepted in the organisation. Integrity means that what you think is the same as what you say is the same as what you do. I have seen managers who are very loving, caring and tender people with their family and friends and then try and act like tyrants in business. It won’t work as ultimately people will see through you, and your role playing won’t be effective.

Aristotle understood all this 2400 years ago when he said “You will never achieve anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour.“

Source: Jastrow (2006); via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Jastrow (2006); via Wikimedia Commons


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