Sunday, November 26, 2006

Welcome Your Team Back from Thanksgiving

You have a opportunity for practical leadership tomorrow. Build personal relationships by welcoming your team back from the Thanksgiving holiday. Visit everyone personally, and ask how their weekend went. Care enough to listen to their answers. Personal relationships are important to the success of your teams.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Cost of Criticism

Those of us in leadership positions frequently find ourselves with opportunities to give negative feedback. We learn quickly that there is a cost to giving negative feedback even when it is completely constructive. That cost comes in the form of a drop in our team member's morale and a reduction in the quality of his or her relationship with you.

Each time you incur this cost you need to pay it off with what Stephen Covey would call a deposit in the emotional bank account. You need to earn back increased morale and a positive relationship. Thankfully, this is something we can earn in advance of needing it. One effective currency is to balance our feedback with healthy doses of positive feedback and appreciation.

The other aspect to consider in giving negative feedback is to decide if it is worth the cost. Not every bit of feedback that comes into our minds is worth conveying to the people on our teams. It is noteworthy that the most trivial feedback often comes at the highest cost. That is because it can come off as condescending and runs the risk of highlighting "stupid mistakes."

Don't be the leader who rides your team with constant trivial feedback. Give them the opportunity to learn on their own, and the respect of believing they can figure some things out on their own. Consider the cost of every bit of negative feedback and make sure you pay back that cost with praise and thanks.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Leaders Need to Follow

There can be leading in following, too. By following, you give other people a chance to lead. When other people in your team have a chance to lead, the team benefits. Most obvious is the opportunity for them to learn, which expands your teams leadership capacity and thereby its ability to deal with multiple priorities. Not only do they learn about leading, they also get a better sense of what is important to the project. Additionally, when other people lead, it gives them a better sense of ownership in the project. There is no better way to engage them in the vision than letting them take the reins on advancing it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Adrian Savage's Slow Leadership Manifesto

Today, ChangeThis published a manifesto on Slow Leadership by Adrian Savage. Adrian presents an excellent critique of the current business leadership approach of driving ever faster toward quarter-by-quarter results. He recommends that we move toward a more considered leadership approach focused on long-term success. Slow leadership stands on principles of care in decision making and valuing the humanity of the people in our organizations.

I strongly recommend that you read the entire manifesto. There are extremely important issues to consider for today's business leaders. There pervades a strong sense of truth in Adrian's manifesto. I think these ideas are particularly cogent to leaders of public companies.

I'm not ready to leap onto the slow train. I think there are real obstacles to doing so fully. The principles of slow leadership are well worth your time to read, contemplate and apply where you can. Our best leaders do these things naturally.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bureaucracy Gone Awry

My lovely wife just brought in the mail and showed me a amazing example of stupidity in banking. She had a check from our bank for $15. Apparently, we accidentally overpaid to our overdraft line of credit on our checking account. The line of credit is directly linked to our checking account. There is no chance that the bank couldn't figure out where to move the money if they really needed to clear out the line of credit.

We are very big users of electronic banking. I can't recall the last time I wrote a check. It's a huge convenience and a minor savings in paper, envelopes and stamps. The bank, though, spent the money to cut a check and send it to us in the mail.

There has to be a leader in the bank who recognizes the folly of this. First, it's hard to imagine that the penalty for not addressing the balance in the line of credit would be greater than the cost of mailing us a check. Second, if they had to clear the account, it certainly would be better for them to just move the money to our checking account with a notice in our next statement.

While there may be many such leaders in the bank, I bet they are stymied by bureaucracy gone awry. This effect recently has become much worse thanks to US Senator Sarbanes and Representative Oxley.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, while well intentioned, has become the leash used by overzealous bureaucrats to restrain what they see as the out of control innovations in their companies. I know of one company that put in place an accounting process to track the granting of $100 recognition awards by managers. The new process costs more than the award and requires interaction by three people in addition to the manager and the recipient.

I've started taking the lead resisting this trend by pointing out such over-bureaucracy where I see it. Perhaps if enough of us do this, we can reverse this trend. Hopefully someone in my bank will read this.

Steps Zero, Two, and Three in Crisis Management

Max Leibman practically wrote my next article in his comments on "Step One in Crisis Management". The second step in crisis management is to form a quick plan to address the crisis. The key word is "quick" as opposed to "ideal." Grab anything that will address the problem quickly: better to grab a stack of napkins than get out the perfect towel for the job.

And Troy Worman chimed in with step zero of have a plan. I think that's not quite right for crisis management. In crisis management I think step zero is to be prepared with warnings and options. For example, to prepare for the crisis of a fire, we have the warning of a smoke alarm, and the options of sprinklers, fire extinguishers and a local fire department. In our spilled milk example, we have a roll of paper towels at hand.

Step three in crisis management is to appropriately clean up the mess caused by the imperfection of step two. Once the crisis is averted, you have time to go into regular project management mode. You have the time to address the problem in a more ideal way.