Bob MacDonald on Business

Sage Advice for Superior Business Management

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So This is How the Greatest Government in the World Functions?

November 23rd, 2014 · Business Management, Politics and Politicians Gone Awry

It seems more like a government based on a mountain of promises, supported by a mole hill of performance.

Using the terms stalemate, quagmire, gridlock and futility don’t even come close to describing the sorry state of the American government today. Think about this: In the past four years Congress has not passed one single piece of meaningful legislation. And it’s not like there were no problems or issues that cried out for resolution.

The president and all these so-called national leaders in Congress seem only capable of posturing and pontificating, rather than performing their duties and responsibilities. It conjures up the image of spoiled day-school kids throwing a tantrum and fighting over toys in a sandbox. It truth, this situation is partisanship_(or should be) more shameful than it is frustrating. It is mind-boggling that a country as rich in successful political history and as great as the United States has a government that can no longer organize anything weightier than a bathroom break.

Of course, it has not always been this way. For the past 200 plus years America and our government has been the bright shining light envied by the world and a magnet attracting the best and the brightest to its shores. This feeling was cataloged as “American exceptionalism.” Or in a more colloquial way it was simply referred to as, “the American way.” The truth is that there was as much myth as reality to the exceptionalism of the American form of government, but at least problems were confronted and resolved. It was never smooth, easy or fast, but the leaders were ultimately able to work together and reach a compromise that allowed them to come to a decision on an issue. Clearly that is not the case today, with the very concept of “compromise” equated with surrender.

There are some who suggest that a government conceived in the 18th century has become outmoded and is unable to function effectively in the 21st century. It would be a mistake to draw that conclusion, because it’s not the weakness of our government structure that is at fault, it is the current gaggle of weak, self-serving leaders in that government who are the problem. John F. Kennedy in 1957 “wrote” a book entitled Profiles in Courage. In that work (said to have been actually penned by Kennedy speech writer Ted Sorensen) Kennedy profiled the actions of eight U.S. Senators who had the courage to risk their careers to do what was right for the country. Not much chance that such a book could be written about today’s crop of supercilious senators. California may be experiencing the most severe drought in its history, but America is experiencing the most severe leadership drought in its history. The government is fine; it’s the dearth of true leaders that has been the cause of the current malaise.

There is an excellent message here for anyone empowered with the responsibility of leadership in any position. It boils down to the simple concept of trust. One of the primary reasons the American government functioned as well as it did for 200 years was that the people trusted the government. That trust may have been misplaced at times, but brought up on the concept of a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” Americans were conditioned to at least give their leaders the benefit of the doubt, when it came to their policies and actions. This element of trust that the leaders would do the right thing gave the leaders the freedom to work together and compromise without fear of retribution. It was never perfect and often messy, but it was this general willingness of the people to trust the government that enabled it to function.

This all began to unravel with the onset of the war in Vietnam. There were a lot of victims of the war in Vietnam, but no injury was more long-lasting or impactful than the wound inflicted on the concept of trust in the American government. It was not the first time the government had lied to the people, but it was the first time the people knew they were being lied to; and they didn’t like it. The blatant deceit about the conduct of, progress and validation of the war not only destroyed what was an otherwise vibrant presidency of Lyndon Johnson, it set the stage for even more duplicitous deceit and the destruction of trust in government.

Nixon followed Johnson and took deceit to a whole new level that virtually obliterated trust in government. Every president since then has contributed to some degree in the destruction of the trust American people have in their government. These actions created a gulf between the way things had seemed to be in the past when the government acted and the way people saw things now. This loss of trust has caused the view of government to shift from one of being viewed as a protector against threats, to being the threat.

Trust is engendered through openness, integrity, clarity of expression and constancy; attributes severely lacking in our government leaders today. Is it no wonder that the government is now paralyzed and the leaders have adopted a self-preservation or self-aggrandizement mentality?

The lesson for those in leadership positions is simple: Trust is the most underrated aspect of leadership. The presence of trust makes every effort possible. The absence of trust corrodes from within until nothing is possible. A leader or institution lacking trust is like a car without gas; it’s not going to go very far. And it is important to understand that power or authority does not convey trust. Trust is something a leader must earn and it is not earned overnight, but over time. Trust is fragile and once it is lost, it is difficult to regain.

For a leader trust is a sort a get-out-of-jail card that gives them the freedom to make difficult decisions. When a leader who has built a high level of trust asks followers to do something, they comply, even if they don’t fully understand the reason, because past experience tells them it is okay to trust the leader. And so long as that trust is validated, the leader will continue to have the power to lead.

And the Moral of the Story …

Successful leaders never discount the value of trust. Trust or the lack thereof is a powerful force. When trust is present it can free the leader to make difficult decisions that ultimately will allow the followers and the institution to accomplish great things. One needs only to look at the history of great accomplishments for America when the relationship between the people, their leaders and government was based on trust. When trust is missing it can eat away at the power of a leader and paralyze efforts. One need only look at the current futility of our leaders and the stalemate in government to see the damage caused by lack of trust.

Leadership is about many things, but without trust it is about nothing.

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Is the Power in You to Empower Others?

November 16th, 2014 · Business Management, Effective Leadership, Employee compensation, Improving Your Business Leadership

The promise of most business leaders to empower employees has about as much credibility as a politician’s promise to bring about change

No management technique is more talked about, praised and promised than the concept of employee empowerment. The idea of empowering employees is held up by business gurus as some form of management nirvana. Rare is the business executive who does not avow devotion to empowering employees and the benefits derived from employing it. And yet, for something so universally touted as an invaluable management tool, it’s amazing how rarely it is taken out of the toolbox. The truth is, if there is a popular management concept more honeycombed with hypocrisy, myth and duplicity than the idea of “empowering employees,” one would be hard pressed to find it.

There is a simple reason for this disconnect between the lip-service praise for employee empowerment and the strong reluctance on the part of many managers to implement the concept. Most corporate managers simply do not understand what it means to empower employees. Too often, they mistakenly equate giving power to employees with a reduction in their own power. The reality is that empowering others actually enhances the power of the leader. But for those managers who have invested their whole career in an effort to achieve a position of power and are married to this misconception that empowering employees is losing power, it’s understandable why the idea of giving away any of their hard-earned power would be an anathema to them.

These leaders fail to understand the unique – seemingly conflicting – characteristics of corporate power and that is that power hoarded ultimately weakens and is lost, while power that is willingly apportioned will, in the long run, magnify the power of the one who shares power.

The real meaning of empowering employees – something rarely mentioned or understood – is not the actual transfer of power – with all its rights and responsibilities – from the manager to the employee; the manager retains all the functional power of their position. Rather, it is the sharing of the essence of power that empowers employees.

Ask yourself: What is the real value of power? Isn’t the essence of power having the ability to have some influence and control over events that will impact you and your future? Do you feel better about yourself and more involved when you believe that you have a say in what happens in your life? Do you feel a sense of appreciation and loyalty toward those who put you in a position of power?

How you answered these questions can help you understand the real reason why empowering employees is such a potentially powerful management tool. You see, the empowering of employees does not mean giving your power away; it means retaining your power, but sharing it. The manager retains all the functional power of their position, but they share the value of having power with employees, so that they can, in fact, influence the actions of the organization and feel they can make a difference. It does not mean the leader has abdicated the power to make the decision, but it does mean that others feel empowered in the process of making the decision.

Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labors

If you worked hard to attain your power and enjoy the feeling of having it, don’t you think those who work for you would enjoy the same feeling? If you are the one who makes others feel empowered, isn’t it natural for them to feel beholden to you for the power they are allowed to share?

The truth is that most employees really don’t want the risk and responsibility that comes with actual power, but they do want the feeling that they can make a difference in the organization and that their talents and experience are valued in a way that can influence decisions that are made by those in power. The power of the leaders who follow this philosophy is boosted because the employees so empowered – with the ability to influence and make a difference – have a strong incentive to follow and support the leader who is the source of their empowerment.

Using Your Power to Empower Others

Once you truly understand the concept of empowering employees, you can then take the steps to make it happen: building trust, showing respect and offering consistent, open communication.

A leader empowers others by trusting others. Trust is built when an employee is assigned a task and then given the support, tools and authority engaging-and-empowering-184x184to complete it. If a leader exhibits trust in the employees to do their job – by avoiding hovering over them and micromanaging – then the employee feels empowered to make a difference and has incentive to do the best job possible.

A leader empowers others by inviting input. When a leader discusses issues with employees, asks questions, seeks input and asks for recommended solutions, it is a clear sign that the leader respects the knowledge and experience of the employee. Such action empowers the employee to participate and be involved. This approach does not transfer the power to make the final decision to the employee, but it does empower them to influence the final decision.

A leader empowers others by sharing Information. Information is power, and being “in the know” is always equated with power. So much so that many leaders seek to hoard and hide information lest its dissemination dilutes their power. When information regarding vision, plans and results of an organization are consistently, openly and honestly shared with employees this “being in the know” gives them the feeling of importance and empowerment that encourages participation and ownership.

A leader empowers others by recognizing and rewarding the accomplishments of employees, being accessible and building open relationships with employees, showing concern for the future of the employee by investing in the development of their knowledge and skills and by creating a transparent culture that liberates the potential of the employee in a way that allows them to feel that they do have the power to make a difference.

Any one of these actions regarding, trust, respect, communication and the other elements of empowering employees can be used by a leader without giving up one iota of real power; and yet by sharing the benefits of having power the leader empowers others.

And the Moral of the Story …

If a leader is going to seek to empower employees it is first important to understand exactly what that means. Many leaders are under the misconception that empowering others equates to a loss of their own power. Just the opposite is the reality. The more a leader empowers others, the more power they will acquire. The true essence of empowering employees is not abdicating power, but in sharing the benefits of power which boil down to having influence within the organization and being in a position to make a difference. And, that’s the difference between talking about empowering employees and actually benefiting from the effort to do so.


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Now it’s the Republicans Turn to Disappoint us as Leaders

November 9th, 2014 · Building Better Business Managers, Business Management, Politics and Politicians Gone Awry

As voters we live in the real world but continue to believe in a fantasy world.

The Republicans have scored a smashing victory; not just in taking control of the US Senate, but they have also scored gains all the way down the line to governors and state legislatures.

Most pundits suggest these results were driven more from frustration over Obama’s failed leadership than any worshipful endorsement of a clearly defined Republican agenda. Since such an agenda was actually nonexistent, the Republicans adroitly based the crux of their effective campaign message on being against Obama for his failure as a strong leader, rather than for anything specifically positive.

This is nothing new. Republican and Democrats have taken turns playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for 150 years now. The politicians in both parties republicans-vs-democratsknow that American voters long for and will fall for anyone who promises to be that “the great leader” who will solve all their problems. The party on the “outs” also knows that the electorate will turn on any leader who disappoints them –and that always happens when they fail to solve all the world’s problems.

The problem is that the problems we face are very real: income inequality, immigration reform, unemployment, Mideast unrest, healthcare, just to name a few. But promises – while they have to be made – are pure fantasy. It’s not that those elected don’t want to be effective leaders – they do. The problem is that the Constitution is not structured in a way that allows a leader to manage and solve problems the way they are in the real world.

What I mean by this is that the Constitution allows for the election of leaders, but not managers, and problem solving demands both. The Constitution – with the concept of division of power – vests the president with the responsibility to lead the country, but not the authority to manage it. The president is not CEO of America and while the president can influence he cannot command; he cannot rule by imperial fiat.

As a result, being elected president requires promising the voters more than what he can, with any certainty, deliver. And promises made are just as often promises broken:

  • President Franklin Roosevelt’s promise to keep the United States out of World War II . . .
  • President Jimmy Carter’s campaign oath to reduce defense spending when, in fact, he raised it . . .
  • President Nixon’s pledge that his “new leadership will end the war” in Vietnam . . .
  • President (H.W.) Bush’s promise (“Read my lips”) not to raise taxes . . .
  • President Obama’s vow to close the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay . . .

And the list of broken presidential promises big and small doesn’t end here. Virtually every U.S. president had retreated from the shaky ground they campaigned on, and broke some of the promises they made before taking office.

A Source of Great Frustration

Ultimately, voters are frustrated when presidents deliver less than what is promised. The voters then turn to those making the current promise hoping they can deliver. But that never happens—because it can’t. There is logic in this divided structure of government, because the alternative would be a monarchy or dictatorship, which would be even worse. But it does set up any president for failure, because to get elected they must promise to do what they don’t have the power to do and when he fails, it starts the circular fantasy all over again.

So what is point here? Well, for one thing, the business world is better positioned to offer a vision and achieve it, because the organization can take advantage of having both a leader and managers. However, it is important to understand the difference between a manager and a leader. When the responsibilities of the two become confused or mixed, problems follow. (Just observe ho government functions!)

Understanding The Difference Between Leadership and Management

There are those with the penchant to be leaders and those who have an affinity as natural managers. Both are important to the success of an organization, but there is a fundamental philosophical and operational difference that separates a leader and a manager. The leader and the manager have different and distinct responsibilities when it comes to influencing the success of an organization and if that difference is not fully understood and respected, the likely result is frustration, confusion and the ultimate failure of the organization. At the same time, success for both the leader and the manager are dependent on one another and if their efforts are not interconnected, both risk failure in their individual efforts.

In simple terms: A leader seeks to transform an organization by painting a vision of the future that both inspires and motivates others to work toward that objective. A manager has more of a “paint by the numbers” transactional mindset using detailed planning and specific tactics to complete the steps necessary to achieve the leader’s vision.

What is important to recognize is that the more “transactional” a person in a position of leadership is, the less likely he or she will be successful as a transformational a leader. Likewise, the more “big-picture” a manager is, the less likely he or she is to be successful as a manager. A transformational leader’s success is usually in direct proportion to his or her ability to communicate the idea, stay focused on the ultimate vision and show respect and concern for others in a way that inspires them to join together to achieve the vision. On the other hand, managers tend to be more successful when they focus more on process and procedure, with less concern for people issues.

These differences and the interdependence of leaders and managers is brought up here because it helps offer some perspective on why the Federal government seems so incapable of getting things done – especially big things – and being efficient. Maybe even more important, it helps us understand why presidents always seem to disappoint us as leaders. And the cycle has started all over again with the recent Republican victories.

And the Moral of the Story …

Transformation leaders and transactional managers both are necessary and play critical – if different – roles in the success of an organization. Without the ability to conceptualize and communicate a transformational vision that motivates all to participate in the outcome, an individual cannot be successful as a leader. Without the vested power to impose transactional process and procedure from the top, an individual cannot be an effective manager.

The simple truth is that these two different approaches to a challenge or problem must be interconnected and work together to achieve success. And if you need any more proof as to the veracity of this conclusion, all you need to do is look at the American political process.

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