Tag Archives: Business Management

Searching for Success as a Leader? There is a way to get help finding it.

People who are important to the success of a leader will work for the success of the leader, so long as they are treated as if they are important to the success of the leader.

Remember the vastly popular sitcom Cheers? The show took place in a fictional BostonHand and word Leadership pub and revolved around an eclectic group of Bostonians (all Bostonians like to think they are eclectic) who always ended up coming back to this same bar. Why? Because they felt like they belonged: Everybody knows your name; everybody’s glad you came. Having a sense of belonging made them feel welcome and appreciated.

Has anyone ever come to you and asked for your advice or help with a problem or opportunty they faced? How did that make you feel? Were you complimented that someone would think enough of you to ask your opinion or assistance on something that was important to them? I bet that made you feel good and, in return, you wanted to help them as much as you could.

Creating that same feeling among those who have the ability to contribute to your success will encourage them to do what they can to help you find success. When a leader strives to make people feel welcome as part of the group — appreciated for the value they bring, and respected for what they can contribute — then the members of the group do feel wanted, needed and important; in return, they will do all they can to support the leader and the organization.

A lot of leaders and companies like to spout off about how important the employees are to the success of the company, even referring to them as “associates” or “partners.” Unfortunately, all too often, their actions do not back up their words. Often corporate leaders do not really believe the employees are the most important factor in the success of the company – they think they are. Many leaders get so wrapped up in themselves, they forget that others can play a very valuable role in their quest for success. On the other hand, successful leaders have a deep, abiding belief that others are important to their success and show it. When this happens, employees become committed to the success of the leader, because they have a sense of connection with the leader.

The question, then, is fundamental: how do you create the type of culture and environment that signals you welcome, respect and value the involvement of followers in your quest for success? There are really a number of ways to foster that precious reciprocating support that can be an important part of your success.

Here are a few suggestions …

  • Always offer transparent two-way communication with employees – Others will feel respected and connected to your objectives and success when they are in the communications loop. Sharing information generates both interest and motivation and is an important part of showing respect. Listening is equally as important. When a leader is willing to listen to others, it is a signal that their views are valued and that in turn encourages them to try even harder to come up with ideas and make a real contribution.
  • Invite employee participation in the decision-making process – When a decision is being considered or a project initiated – especially something that could impact all employees – the best way for a leader to gain perspective, support and effort from employees is to always engage them in the process. It’s not that employees will make the decision – they don’t expect to – but including them in the process and accepting their input sends a message that their contribution is valued. And once the decision is made or the project launched, it is much more likely that the employees will support it and take ownership of the effort to make it successful.
  • Care as much about the success of your employees as you do about your own – When employees recognize that you have their best interests in mind – be it compensation, development or opportunity for growth and advancement – they will reciprocate by working for your best interests. If the leader shows he or she does not care about the interests and needs of the employees, how can they expect them to care about their success?
  • Keep your commitment and promises – If you are going to rely on the efforts of others to help find success, it will be important for them to learn that they can rely on your words, promises and actions. They need assurance that you will be the same type of leader tomorrow as you are today and were yesterday. You build credibility and earn the support of others when you never promise more than you can deliver and always provide more support than expected.
  • Be open and accessible – If you really believe that someone is important to your success, how would you act? Of course, you would constantly want to interact with them, seek them out, ask questions and solicit suggestions. In short, you would constantly convey the respect and value that you place in these individuals. That is the way successful leaders operate because they know that when followers are made to feel respected and valued, it will motivate them to prove they deserve the trust placed in them.
  • Share the Success – If success is your reward for hard work, share that success with those who worked hard for your success. Employees will do more of whatever they are called upon to do if their contributions are recognized, reinforced and rewarded. There are many ways to do this and certainly financial rewards are one way, but they are not the only way. Often the sincere respect and recognition of their effort is enough to foster their best efforts. Listening to what employees have to say, complimenting their efforts when deserved, publicly and privately acknowledging their contributions goes a long way to demonstrating your understanding and indebtedness for the important part they played in your success.

And the Moral of the Story …

When it comes to finding success, the more people you can enlist to help you search for it, the more likely you are to find it. When others are important to your success, the best way to motivate them to work for you success is to treat them as if they are important to your success.

Just like the customers of the bar in Cheers, all you have to do to keep those important to your success coming back to support your efforts is to make them feel welcome in the group, appreciated, and respected. Most essential of all is to let them know that you know they are important to finding the success you are searching for.

Disappointment is the Residue of Misperceiving Management as Leadership

There are many outstanding managers but very few true leaders

Barack Obama has been president for almost six years and sadly, the most consistent and persistent criticism has sought to portray him as a feeble leader who is neither decisive nor effective.

Much of this perception arises from the coordinated, concerted effort of obstreperous Republicans. Lacking the President_Barack_Obamapower, creativity or willingness to offer anything constructive, they have adopted a strategy of belligerent hostility in an effort to thwart any Obama plan of action. The result is to further erode the opinion of his leadership skills.

At first blush it may seem incongruous to suggest that someone with the ability to twice be elected president of the United States lacks strong leadership skills. Nevertheless, the claim of Obama’s deficient leadership qualities would have fallen flat if there was not some truth in the charge.

Barack Obama is an extremely intelligent individual with exceptional talents, but a natural born leader he is not. On the other hand, Obama is one of the most effective managers ever to occupy the Oval Office.

The Record Speaks for Itself

Any objective review of Obama accomplishments, especially in the face of the ferocious, lock-step resistance from Republicans and right-wing wackos, is clear evidence of his effectiveness as a manager. But that does not qualify him as a true leader. In reality, any success that Obama has achieved is evidence of his exceptional ability as a pragmatic and practical manager—not his visionary leadership skill.

True leaders are, by nature, so passionate about the vision they seek to achieve and lead others to accept that they are rarely practical and pragmatic. When was the last time you recall a leader being accused of being “deliberative, detail oriented and anal?”

Conversely, the essence of management skill is to be practical and pragmatic, almost to a fault. Rarely will a manager – no matter how successful – be described as a “visionary leader.” And it is this misperception of the important elements of management as leadership that ultimately creates disappointment and is at the base of Obama’s low approval ratings.

A Proper Definition of Terms

The problem is that few concepts are more bandied about, misunderstood or misconstrued than leadership. (“Love” might be the only one that comes to mind.) And because the mantle of leadership is so exalted as to be something everyone should strive to achieve, the meaning of leadership has become adulterated and diluted.

Many mistakenly believe that leadership is bestowed by title or position of power. How many times have you seen companies identify the senior management group as “the leadership team”? But just calling someone with management responsibilities “a leader” does not make it so and this misperception can lead to confusion and disappointment, for both the manager and the followers.

One reason the concepts of management and leadership become hopelessly tangled is because success in any endeavor is dependent on the commingling of both. The vision of a leader requires management to make it become a reality. Management without a vision is no more than wayward bureaucracy.

In simple terms, the leader has a vision of what should be done, while a manager has a plan to get it done. What makes a leader seem weak and a manager bureaucratic stems from the fact that very few visionaries are effective managers and even fewer managers are visionaries. That is the reason why, once a company has achieved a certain degree of success, the visionary founder is often replaced by those charged with managing the effort to retain the success. (Often with little success.)

Obama, in truth, is a much better manager than he is a leader. In most situations – especially in business – this would not be a significant problem. But Obama is President; Americans revere and expect leadership qualities in a president and discount their management ability—a skill even more important than vision.

Jimmy Carter was far more effective as a manager than Ronald Reagan ever was, but given the choice between the manager and the perceived visionary, the people rejected Carter and embraced Reagan. Today, Reagan is an icon and Carter is an afterthought. My guess is that if you asked the average person to list the five most effective U.S. presidents, the names of George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy would be most often mentioned. What these men all had in common was the aura of leadership and visionary thinking, not their effectiveness as managers.

The closest parallel to what Obama faces as a more effective manager than leader would be to compare the dynamics TeddyRooseveltof the temperament and style of Teddy Roosevelt (left) against his handpicked successor, William Taft. Roosevelt was clearly the type of hyperactive visionary leader that attracts a strong following. He had a vision for a “progressive” America in which the role of government was to protect the weak against the strong, as opposed to a government that empowered the strong to abuse the weak that existed when he became president. Roosevelt passionately and aggressively set about to “bust the trusts” and change the rules of government in an effort to create a level playing field for all.

Clearly this is the definition of a leader: One who seeks to change the system, rather than manage it. Roosevelt’s vision generated heated hatred from the powerful and loving adulation from the powerless. The truth is that Roosevelt set the vision, but he was unable to manage it to fruition and failed in most of his efforts to change the system. Constrained by an admittedly impertinent promise not to run for re-election, Roosevelt turned to his good friend and protégé William Taft to succeed him as president. Taft believed in the vision Roosevelt had created, but he was a methodical, consensus-seeking, pragmatic manager, not a visionary leader. History reports that Taft was able to use his management skills to pass more legislation, change more laws and bring about more of Roosevelt’s vision than Roosevelt himself. And yet, it is the visage of Teddy Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore, not that of Howard Taft.

You see, Americans love their leaders, but give short shrift to managers. And viewed with even more disdain are managers dressed in a leader’s clothing. President Obama shares in the blame for the electorate’s disappointment in his leadership abilities, because in his effort to be elected president, he positioned himself as a “transforming visionary leader.” His election as the first African-American was certainly a transforming event for the country, but when the “vision” failed to materialize and when Obama naturally fell back on his inclination as a manager, disappointment and disillusion in his leadership ability took hold.

In fairness to Obama, from the day he was inaugurated, he was faced with the most serious economic challenge since the Great Depression. It was a challenge that called for sober management – not inflammatory rhetoric – in order to prevent a “total meltdown” of the economy. Obama’s strength – managing the problem – was successful in preventing a debilitating depression and setting the stage for a fairly rapid economic recovery. On the other hand, Franklin Roosevelt met the same type of economic challenge with visionary leadership but lacked the coolness of an effective manager and the Great Depression dragged on for a decade. And yet, it is Roosevelt – not Obama – who is revered as a great leader.

If you need even further proof of how leadership and management can be confused – and how hungry people are for real leadership – all one needs to do is return to the election of 2012. By any measurement the presidential election was Romney’s to lose – and he did. Break the 2012 presidential election down to one defining tipping point and it is this: Obama reiterated a promise of visionary leadership while Romney stressed his experience as a manager and promised more of it. Even though Obama had failed to deliver on the promise of visionary leadership, the people chose the hope for leadership over the promise of management.

It could be argued that what is needed in these complicated and confusing times is an effective manager, and, in truth, we probably did end up with the best manager, but for the wrong reasons. The only problem is that when management is misrepresented and misperceived as leadership, the residue is always disappointment—even if the manager is successful.

Sometimes the Best Boss is No Boss at All

If you want to be successful in business, the last thing you should strive to be is a boss

Do you have any “bad boss” horror stories? If not, just wait; if you work long enough, you will. And when you have a bad boss you will know it from the angst and frustration you are forced to endure. And if that’s not bad enough, a recent Swiss study determined that those who work for a bad boss have a 40 percent greater chance of suffering a heart attack.

Bad bosses have their own individual traits any one of which they can employ to make your life miserable. They are, in a word, “bossy.” They micromanage all you do, and communicate as clearly as a monk under a vow of silence. They hoard credit in the fashion of an obsessive-possessive personality disorder and are all-American, professional blame-game players.

The University of Florida researched the phenomena of “abusive bosses” and even came up with a term to describe bad bosses; it’s called “power poisoning.” The Florida research determined that bad bosses are bent on satisfying their own need and wants, while devoting little or no attention to the needs and wants of followers. In fact, they act as if the rules do not apply to them. All of this is bad enough, but what is even worse (the heart attacks notwithstanding) is that most bad bosses don’t even know they are bad bosses; they confuse loathing with love, alienation with admiration.

Why “Bosses” Fail

Bosses who fail tend to be those who believe their job is to “be” the boss, as they mistakenly understand that role. They view their job as being a supervisor, the chief, the one in charge and superior to all others. That’s why the term often conjures up negative feelings from the rank and file: their bosses so often made them feel like underlings, peons, cogs in the machine, and worst of all, lowly subordinates. For me, the very concept of a “boss” is an anathema to effective leadership and the last thing a successful boss does is to boss people around.

From a personal perspective, there was always a feeling of failure if anyone ever responded to me by saying, “Well okay, you’re the boss.” As a “boss” your goal should always be to have those who work for you to want to do what you want them to do, because they are motivated to do so; not because you are the boss. From my observations and experience, companies would create a more productive environment, increase productivity, build loyalty and increase success if the very concept of “the boss” was eliminated. And there is evidence to validate this assumption.

A Wall Street Journal article titled “Who’s the Boss? There Isn’t One,” proves the point. In it, the editors profiled the Valve Corporation, a company that makes a conscious effort to operate in a “boss-free” environment. Valve, founded in 1996, is a highly acclaimed and successful video-game maker. The Journal article pointed out that the company is structured with a flat hierarchy where pay is often determined by peers and the workday is directed by employees themselves. The Valve website says the company has no managers or assigned projects. Instead, its 300 employees recruit colleagues to work on projects they think are worthwhile. The idea of mobility and the option to work on different projects at Valve creates a sense of flexibility and mobility among the workforce; and is symbolized by having desks mounted on wheels, allowing them to move around to form new work areas.

The WSJ article suggested that Valve may be an outlier, but pointed out the company is not alone in the effort to outsource bosses. “Companies have been flattening out their management hierarchies in recent years, eliminating layers of middle management that can create bottlenecks and slow productivity,” the article reported. “The handful that have taken the idea a step further, dispensing with most bosses entirely, say that setup helps to motivate employees and makes them more flexible, even if it means some tasks, such as decision-making and hiring can take a while.”

Frank Shipper, a management professor at Salisbury University (Salisbury, Md.), has spent two decades studying “flat management” structures and concludes these types of structures help a company stay innovative, “because ideas can come from anyone in the organization, regardless of tenure or position.”

The WSJ article identified a few very large companies that have benefited from a “boss-free zone.” General Electric was cited as a company that has run some aviation-manufacturing facilities with no foremen or shop-floor bosses. One leader, the plant manager, sets production goals and helps resolve problems that may arise, but does not “boss” the daily activity of the workers. Teams, whose members volunteer to take on various duties, meet before and after each shift to review work, set goals and address problems.

Sign of the Future?

It may not be practical to adopt a “no bosses” approach at all companies, but it is possible to create “boss free zones” within any company. I have experience with one company that encouraged employees to take it on their own to find, develop and implement ways to simplify processes and procedures within the company’s operations.

These groups were called “Work Simplification Teams,” and they were made up of volunteers from all areas of the company. The groups would get together – with no management present – to identify areas of effort, elect leaders and plan the activity. (All of this was taken on with no expectation of extra pay and in addition to their normal job responsibilities.) Once the group had completed its work, the team would present their findings and recommendations to an all-company meeting where their ideas would be questioned and discussed and then presented to management. This approach kept the company on the cutting-edge of efficiency by allowing those who are expected to do the work to determine the best way to do it.

An ancillary benefit to this approach was that it allowed younger workers to learn how to lead – not from a position of authority – but by communicating, listening and convincing others to accept their ideas. It also helped them learn to understand and respect the ideas of others; all of which enabled them to become better bosses when they became a boss.

The conclusion to be drawn by all this is that a person being a boss does not make people better, but people who are given the respect, freedom, encouragement and opportunity can make a person a better boss.

And the Moral of the Story …

The best boss is the boss who does not act like a boss. The best boss makes an effort to get out of the way, instead of in the way of those charged with doing the job. The best boss does not tell others how to do their job, but sees their job as providing the information, support, tools and encouragement to others, so they can determine the best way to do their job. The best boss does not see themselves as a boss, but as a mentor, teacher, coach and cheerleader for others. If a person in authority adopts this philosophy, they are not a boss, but a leader. Clearly, individuals and companies would be more successful when there is more of a commitment to have fewer bosses and more leaders.