Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Crazy Senior Managers

Sometimes it seems that the more senior a leader is the crazier they act. I've usually attributed that to people having very little insight into the kinds of issues senior leaders worry about. The bigger the gap, the less insight people have into what a senior leader does.

Less kind people claim the Peter Principle as the cause of crazy senior leader behavior. Perhaps that's as good an explanation.

I was talking to someone at work who suggested two other factors. These seemed like plausible explanations as well:

  • First, the more senior a leader gets the more likely people are to show deference to what they say. After a while, a senior leader may be so used to hearing people say that their crazy ideas are right that they start to believe that all of their crazy ideas are right. We all would do well to guard against this error of self-perception by encouraging (and listening to) real feedback throughout our careers.
  • Second, and I hope this isn't true very often, senior leaders are more likely to get into competitive situations with their peers. And those peers are more likely to sit back and watch each other fail with their crazy ideas, even hope they will fail. I hope none of us find ourselves in such an organization.
  • As we advance up the leadership ladder, we will have crazy ideas of our own. Certainly we should guard ourselves against thinking too highly of ourselves or putting our own success ahead of the team's success. With any luck, we'll keep learning and beat the Peter Principle. But if I'm right about people not understanding what their senior leaders do, we need to be extra diligent in communicating the whys behind our actions. People deserve to feel safe under our leadership.

    Saturday, September 23, 2006

    Three Quick Ideas

    I'm developing a one day leadership class. I thought I'd share some key thoughts from one of the earlier sections:

  • Leadership is granted by the team

    Management status is given by the organization, but a leader derives his or her power by the consent of the team. The team chooses to follow a leader toward the goal that the team wants to reach along the path that the team is willing to take. Force only works for a while. The leader has to earn the team's follower-ship.

  • Leadership is about team success

    Leadership is not about making the leader successful. Leaders need to get people to follow an idea: the idea of getting to a shared goal along a certain path. The leader's ego is not the driver. Leadership is not empire building. Leaders are measured by the success of the team, not by the number of followers they have.

  • Leadership continues beyond the current goal

    Teams don’t end after reaching one goal. Leaders will need to continue to lead future projects. If you burn out your team on the current project, they won't follow you on the next. Success and failure follow you. They are part of the currency that gets teams to grant you leadership.

  • Monday, September 11, 2006

    Choosing Excellence

    Many of us have been reminded about PMA - Positive Mental Attitude. We have a vague sense that this is probably good advice, but nevertheless want to ridicule it. Now, Malcolm Gladwell's new book Blink provides some examples that back up the value of PMA.

    In Blink, Gladwell describes the psychological concept of "priming." The idea is that people can be greatly influenced subconsciously by exposing them to concepts like success or failure prior to undertaking a task. One example he gives is an experiment where students were divided into two groups prior to taking a test. The first group was told to think for five minutes about what it would mean to be a professor; the second, about soccer hooligans. The professor-group did 13% better on the test than the soccer hooligan-group. This is a shockingly large difference.

    Blink got me thinking about the possibility of self-priming. I've always thought that, to a large extent, a person could choose their emotional state. Further, it seems clear that a leader can help set the tone of their group. I never considered just how big an effect this might be.

    Are you having a bad day: Prime yourself to have a good one by thinking about all the good things in your life. That is, choose to have a good day. Is your team in need of success: Prime them to be successful by talking about how great success will be. It certainly isn't all you need to succeed, but what a difference it might make.

    Finally, here's the part that feels too wonderful not to try. Do you personally want to succeed: Prime yourself for success by taking time to visualize success, or think about successful role models. Use this idea next time you have a speech to give, or a big meeting with the board. Why think small; how about five minutes of positive thinking at the start of each day.

    Suddenly, I feel an urge to mock such cheeriness.

    Wednesday, September 06, 2006

    Productivity Verses Hours

    A while back I wrote about management's tendency to ask staff to work extra hours. Occasionally people need to work extra hours, but effective leaders should always be mindful of burning them out.

    Another issue with people working extra hours is the question of how productive they actually are with their time. My experience suggests that productivity may be inversely proportional to the number of hours a person works. I'm not just talking about productivity as work done per hour; I'm talking about work per associate.

    Some managers measure productivity, commitment and loyalty by how many hours their associates work. This drives associates to put in more time in the office, but doesn't drive them to do more work. It may actually make them resentful of the time they spend in the office. I've worked with plenty of 60-hour people. What tends to distinguish them is the amount of time they spend in the halls talking to people or shopping on-line. They do this openly and with impunity as if to say, "I'm allowed; I'm always in the office."

    I find these 60-hour people barely get their 40-hour job done. Often they need to put in 80-hour weeks to catch up during crunch time. Along the way they can be a distraction to the people around them. But, they sure can impress their management.

    On the other hand, I've had a couple of associates who needed to reduce their time to 32 hours a week. This reduction in hours always comes with in a reduction in pay, but I still take a risk of lost productivity. It's practically impossible to make up the lost 8 hours by hiring someone.

    On the up side for me, I've always found that my 32-hour people work steady and hard while they are at the office. Sometimes they even work overtime (but I discourage it). I'm confident that my 32-hour people do more work than most 60-hour people I've known. They even do more work than many of my 40-hour people.

    Now I wouldn't go as far as to suggest reducing everyone's hours, but you should be open to supporting associates who have a need. And, I would caution managers against setting a tone that values hours in the office. This might even mean that the effective leader sets the example and goes home early on occasion. Now that's novel.