Monday, January 31, 2011

Managers Need to Be Leaders, Not Managers.

One does not "manage" people. The task is to lead people.
–Peter Drucker

How many times have we seen comparisons between "management" and "leadership"? Warren Bennis, one of my favorite leadership authors, tells us that "management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing." But are "doings things right", and "doing the right thing" mutually exclusive? Can’t we have both? Of course we can. More importantly, we need both in order for our "service and knowledge" based economy to be successful. Research already shows organizations will flounder under management, but will thrive under leadership.

Many of the concepts of modern management were first created back during the Industrial Revolution, when we first developed industry and manufacturing and factories. Foremen were in charge of managing those factories, including the machines, equipment, resources, schedules, and the factory laborers. The foremen would soon find out that the factory workers did not like being managed as if they were machines, and so the workers resisted. The results were labor strikes and the creation of labor unions. Well that is no surprise. And it’s no surprise that unions still exist today.

It's now the year 2011, almost 200 years after the Industrial Revolution, and far too many managers still have an Industrial Revolution mentality in carrying out their duties. Yet our economy no longer depends on machines and manual labor for production. Service and knowledge is what our economy produces, with 80% of our Gross Domestic Product coming from people. Production comes from workers who provide services and expertise, as opposed to machines and factories. But our management mentality has not progressed with the times. Instead of adapting to a different economy, management behaviors reflect the thinking of the 19th century. We have not made the leap towards leadership.

Here are some simple realities:
Machines and operations are managed.
Projects and resources are managed.
Objectives and goals are managed.
Tasks and deadlines are managed.
Time is managed.
Finances are managed.
A business is managed.
Things are managed.
But people? People must be led.

Leadership is what we respond to. People do not want to be managed. This is especially so with the modern-day workforce. We are not wired to respond to management. People are far more complicated than a factory machine, and require much more maintenance. People have needs, as Abraham Maslow articulated way back in 1943. People need job satisfaction, challenge, belief in a mission and an opportunity to contribute to that mission. We want continuous training, development and mentoring. We want opportunity to grow and advance. We want to be inspired and motivated. We want to trust our manager and be led by them. Salary and benefits are secondary priorities to us. There are enough HR surveys that tell us the same thing. In these surveys, workers indicate that work environment and job satisfaction are just as important, if not more important, than salary.

Leaders recognize and develop other people’s abilities, and capitalize on those abilities. They ultimately inspire exceptional performance and results. Success, for any organization of any size, is tied to leadership, not management. Managers need to let go of their Industrial Revolution mentality, and start adopting the leadership attitude. Managers need to stop acting like managers and start leading people.

So are you managing people? Or are you leading people?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Leaders Should Ignore the Generalizations of Generation-Y

Leaders need to ignore the articles that make generalizations about Generation-Y and the other generations within the current workforce. The articles I refer to use research and surveys in making generalizations about Gen-Y, and seem to focus the perceived shortcomings in the younger generations. The majority of the articles suggest that Gen-Y is prone to entitlement, outspoken, not able or willing to focus, and dislikes criticism. Leaders must look past these articles if they are to remain effective as leaders.

The irony is that I have met and worked with many Boomers and Gen-Xers who share the same qualities as Gen Y. I have observed plenty of entitlement in Boomers and Gen-Xers who are living in their own reality of status quo. Many of them are unwilling to listen to new ideas, much less challenge existing comfort zones. And they do not take criticism very well.

Let me offer a blunt and harsh reality that we should keep in mind. The vast majority of corporate leaders that brought us to the financial crisis a few years ago were Boomers. Bernie Madoff was a Boomer. Some of our country’s political leaders that have been recently found guilty of ethics violations and breaking laws were Boomers. Those CEOs of fallen organizations, the same CEOs who were earning huge salaries and benefited from golden parachutes as their organizations collapsed, were Boomers.

Another reality: the ADD dysfunction is not something that only affects Gen-Yers, as I have read often enough. I’ve worked with many Boomer executives who were not able to focus on any one thing for more than 2 minutes. Perhaps modern society is just more educated on recognizing the indicators of ADD. But there seems to be plenty of ADD to go around for all generations.

Here is a safe generalization:
No matter what generation we belong to, or how old we are, we are all very similar creatures. People are people, and no matter what year they were born, they will have simular behaviors and needs and wants. Yes, some of our lives have been influenced by very different events and realities in history. But we all suffer from many of the same inadequacies that are in our "wiring".

My own observation of the Gen-Yers that have crossed my path:
- Many crave positive feedback and respond incredibly well to coaching and mentoring. They are not just open to coaching, but thrive on it.

- They want the vision and values of their organization to be noble and responsible.
- Making a difference is important to many of them, and so they will respond when told how their work contributes to the vision.
- Being well-plugged into technology, they research everything, and they want to devour new knowledge at a blinding pace.
- Their upbringing with technology has made them adept at multi-tasking, and they can be immensely efficient and productive.
- Gen-Y seems to have more of an open mind and is far more likely to innovate and think outside the box than their older counterparts.
- Plenty of Gen-Yers demand work-life balance. (I could stand to have a little more balance myself.)
- Most importantly, Gen-Yers raise the bar on leaders. They expect a higher quality of leadership, and they want their leaders to be socially responsible.
Leaders will need to continue adapting their styles to fit what individuals respond to and what motivates them. Leaders do this already. They foster dialogue and build trust. They develop cultures and teams. They identify talent and potential. Leaders create connections to those individuals so that they can be developed. They inspire and motivate, and they are change agents. All of these qualities are necessary for leaders to get the best out of any generation. This same approach will be equally successful with members of Gen-Y, maybe even more successful.

The younger generations represent our up and coming leaders, and my first-hand observations have me believing that Gen-Y will make fine leaders. Gen-Y’s talent potential is as strong as any of the preceding generations, and they might be more responsible and open-minded as well. They just need to be developed, and developing the next crop of leaders is our responsibility. It is up to the leaders from the older generations to ignore the generalizations, focus on the strengths of Generation-Y, and develop a better generation of leaders.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Teamwork Comes From Conflict

Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas.
 -Donatella Versace

Humans dislike conflict. Some of us go to great lengths to avoid conflict at all costs. Too often we think it is destructive, or at least counter-productive. We often assume that disagreement means that there is discord. But the reality is that conflict is vital toward creating exceptional solutions and performance. Effective conflict also creates understanding and mutual cooperation along the way. Conflict is vital in business, as well as life. Conflict is the most important phase of communication, and it is when communication can be most productive. It is when resolutions occur and solutions are created.

Ideally speaking, conflict within a team arises when there is a difference in ideas. This is certainly ideal because a team with a balanced member culture will have varying or even conflicting ideas on how to approach and solve challenges. What is not ideal is when all team members always initially agree on all issues. That suggests that the team is not fully considering and testing all available scenarios, options and approaches.

Below is a great YouTube video called “The Secrets to High Performing Teams”, summarizing research performed by Assistant Professor Kristin Behfar at the University of California, Irvine. The video was produced by and hosted at It is a magnificent piece for anyone that is a part of a team or leads a team in life or business (that means most of us).


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Top 6 Drivers for Personal Success

These can be called drivers, or they might be better described as values. As you engage your business or career to achieve your vision, you need "rules of the road" to guide your behaviors and priorities throughout the journey.

6. Keep all of your promises:
The promises you make to customers and staff must be sacred. Nothing kills a business or career faster than a broken promise. Integrity is all the more important these days, because the public perception is that there is an enormous lack of it. This integrity-gap perception exists predominantly with corporate executives, politicians and lawmakers, and Wall Street. Anyone that has managed to build their "leadership capital" with those around them will gain followers and customers. There is substantial research indicating that customers are willing to pay more for products they trust.

5. Follow your passion and play hard:
There are numerous surveys that show the majority of the workforce are working in jobs they dislike. This applies to all types of workers, including accountants, lawyers, and engineers. Why would anyone want to work at succeeding at something they are not passionate about? In short, your best and most motivated effort will always be when you are following your passions. This is when you give your best effort without even trying.

4. Know where you're going, and where you're starting from:
Baseball hall-of-famer Yogi Berra once said "If you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up somewhere else." Your business or career has to have a vision in order to have direction. By considering the long view and the entire journey, your steps will be easier to identify and prioritize, and you will make better progress. Spinning your wheels in reactive mode will never get you very far.

3. Be prepared to accept risks and learn from setbacks:
There is an old saying "Without obstacles how would you ever know what you are capable of?" Having an open mind so you can challenge your comfort zones is how people achieve great things in their lives. If you push those comfort zones hard enough, there will be setbacks. It makes sense, because you are in uncharted territory when you leave your comfort zones. Remember that you learn more from setbacks than you do from success. Learn from those disappointments, and put those lessons to good use.

2. Build lasting relationships:
This is especially important for both entrepreneurs and for professionals. Entrepreneurs need to focus on customer relationships to convert those into customer loyalty. But loyal relationships with staff is important as well, because staff is also involved in the development of customer loyalty. Professionals need to create strong relationships with peers, but also subordinates and superiors. Developing credibility in those relationships allows the professional to be far more effective at what they do. That being said, the professionals must also develop relationships with their colleagues outside of their own organization. This is the network that professionals will be tapping into if something should befall their position.

1. Being prepared to articulate your value creates opportunity:
And the number one driver/value for success is: the good old "elevator speech".

No matter who you are, or what you do, you will occasionally and unexpectedly cross paths with that one individual that can catapult your business or career. Will you be ready for that chance meeting in the elevator, or supermarket, or charity ball?

The first few seconds of any meeting is your initial contact and first impression, and if you do not get past this step, you will not get anywhere. And so, this is a critical step. Will you be able to convey your unique value in 15 seconds or less? Will you have a compelling message that will provoke a great dialogue? Everyone needs to have their elevator speech down pat. Your 15 second talk must be very relevant, unique, and persuasive. You must also be able to deliver that speech with comfort and confidence, which means that you should rehearse it until you have it mastered. Remember that if you cannot effectively market yourself, someone else will get the opportunity. So you must be ready.

Are you achieving the success you've always wanted? Are all 6 of these values part of your "rules of the road"? Take an honest look at your results, your behaviors, and your habits.
What will you do to make the right changes?


Friday, January 14, 2011

Four Barriers to Team Success:

The following are four frequent barriers to high performing teams. Make sure these are not affecting your teams.

1. Unclear definition of success.
Teams need direction. Professional sports team have crystal clear direction in the form of the World Series, or Super Bowl, etc. However, business teams often have only a moderate clue of what their ultimate goal is. Often, they form their own assumptions based on opinion and conjecture. If a team is to perform well, they need direction, and they must be clear on what success looks like. And success must be specific and measureable, i.e., reducing waste or errors by x%, or increasing level of service by x%.

2. Unproductive conflict or non-conflict.
The best teams thrive on conflict, and have adapted to make conflict work for them. A lack of conflict suggests that ideas may represent path of least resistance, or lack of creativity and innovation. Lack of conflict may also suggest that the team is in a comfort zone, or worse, apathetic. If the ideas and approaches within a team are never coming under challenge or scrutiny, it could very well be a safe assumption that there a significant lack of contemplation and due diligence in the team’s decision making. Again, conflict needs to be healthy, and team members must focus on the messages in the conflict, and NOT the emotions.

3. Lack of culture.
Challenging the entrenched and outdated approaches usually entails some sort of risk. And it requires commitment. Innovation means challenging the comfort zone of the team, and possibly those outside the team. If the culture of the team and of the organization is not one to support any risk-taking, status quo wins out. The culture must be comfortable with and even committed to changes, and making the appropriate changes that increases likelihood for team success. The culture must also be focused on the common agenda, rather than any individual agendas.

4. Lack of leadership.
Every team needs leadership, and not just from the manager on the org chart. In every successful team, leaders emerge by default. A leader that gains the trust of the other members will lead through their own personal power, and does not need authority to lead successfully. Think of a team captain of a sports team. A team captain is designated by his/her peers after demonstrating a trustworthy commitment to the team and its members. Without leadership, the team flounders like a ship without a captain.

Great teams are not impossible to build. How great is your team?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mastering Excellence

Being in the midst of the NFL playoffs reminds me of the importance of excellence, and the mastery of excellence. Achieving success in sports, as well as life and business is all about mastering excellence. Excellence is not just about skills, or talent, or even execution. It’s also about having the right attitude, specifically commitment, confidence and persistence.

Vince Lombardi, the Brooklyn-born legendary head coach of the Green Bay Packers, and the person for whom the NFL Super Bowl trophy is named after, said this: “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field or endeavor.”

So the question becomes, no matter what your chosen field or endeavor, how do you master excellence? Ask any genuine leader how they achieved exceptional success, and they will agree to the following three ingredients for excellence:

1. Taking the Right Attitude.
The right attitude is a decision you need to make every day. Your attitude not only affects you, but it affects the people around you. There are two ways you can look at virtually everything in your life. A pessimist focuses on the difficulty in the opportunity, and the optimist focuses on the opportunity in difficulty. Frederick Langbridge reinforces the different views of an optimist and a pessimist in the following quote, “Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.”

Your attitude affects your body language and your behavior. People who are optimists come across as strong, confident and motivated. People who are pessimistic appear weak, or unwilling, and they often do not appear to have their "act together". A positive attitude creates self motivation, and that motivation is very contagious. It helps build your leadership capital with those around you. Having a strong positive attitude reinforces your capability to  face any challenge and create the right outcome for yourself. Your attitude is a direct factor in your ability to master excellence in whatever you choose to pursue. And here is something all leaders know: Only one person is in charge of your attitude, and that’s you.

2. Being Goal Oriented.
Know what you want, why you want it, and define how to achieve it. Defining personal and professional goals will create a road map for your success. It is not enough to have a dream. In order to bring dreams to reality you must have goals with defined action steps. Action is what makes things happen and being goal oriented is an empowering process. As you achieve things from your list, you get that great feeling of accomplishment, and that starts to build a powerful momentum. That momentum adds to your motivation and attitude and to your capabilities.

3. Attention to Details.
Attention to detail is critical to mastering excellence and it will make you stand out in comparison to others (remember that you are always being compared to your peers). Attention to detail means nothing goes unnoticed. It means you do nothing less than 100 percent. It means paying attention to how you dress, how you behave, how you communicate, how you carry yourself, how you take care of your surroundings, how quickly and efficiently you follow up, and how you treat others. This is how leaders emerge from the rest of the group and how business owners separate themselves from the competition.

You have the ability to be excellent at whatever you pursue or endeavor, and being excellent is a choice that is completely within your control. Decide today to raise your level of success by taking the right attitude, by being goal oriented, and by paying attention to every detail. Excellence and success go hand in hand.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Difference Between Decision and Action

"When all is said and done, more is said than done."
- Lou Holtz, former coach of the Notre Dame University football team.

"Five frogs were sitting on a log. One decided to jump into the pond. How many were left?"

Did you think four? Think again. The age-old quote doesn’t say one jumped in; it says one decided to jump in. There is a big difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.

Decisions are useless unless we follow up with action. Only action will bring us any likelihood for success. In fact, the etymological meaning of "succeed" is "that which follows", and success is what follows action.

In the military, soldiers learn "Ready, Aim, Fire". But in life and business, we see a good deal of "Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim…" Once a decision is made, it is time for action.

Theodore Roosevelt said, "In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." If we do the wrong thing, at least we can learn something from our mistake. But inaction teaches us nothing, other than regret. Sometimes the cause of inaction is the fear of failure. But the reality is that we learn more by trial and error than by sitting and doing nothing. Nothing risked, but nothing gained. Peter Drucker told us "People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year."

The founder of Atari Computer, Nolan Bushnell, summarizes the importance of follow up: "The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It's as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer."

So, don't sit up and take notice, but get up and take action, for the secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Business Planning for 2011

"Economists say that the great recession, the longest and deepest since World War II, ended 18 months ago and the US economy is growing again. Growth is relative. That doesn’t mean sit and wait for things to improve. Rather retool for the economy that exists today.”
– Rosalind Resnick, Entrepreneur Magazine, December 2010

As you review your company’s strategic plan and forecast for 2011, what can you do to ensure that your company will meet those objectives and goals? Ms. Resnick’s comment is absolutely on target, you can sit around and react to your environment, or you can retool your business objectives and take a proactive approach to success for 2011. Instead of waiting for the economy to improve, take charge of your own economy.

There are a number of strategic areas that may be worth focusing more time and effort on in your business as you begin to think about retooling:

• First and foremost, revisit your strategic plan. It’s appropriate to focus on the 2-3 year horizon because you need to identify what you want to grow into. However, it is critical to focus on what your business needs to accomplish in the next 12 months. What are the critical success factors that your business needs to focus on in order to accomplish your forecast? Do your employees know what the 12-month plan looks like and do they know what they need to contribute in order for the plan to be successful? If you cannot answer ‘yes’ to any of these three questions, you are not ready for 2011.

• Second, identify what is really working and set a plan in motion to maximize it. Capitalize on your strengths. What product or service is your top seller, and how do you get customers to buy more of it? How do you grow your customer base for that product or service? Knowing your core business strengths allows your organization to maximize on existing opportunities where your company is already excellent.

• Third, try new and different things. After you have identified the core products and/or services of your business, look for new, out-of-the-box opportunities. Outside and uncontrollable distractions often cause us to pull the reins in and focus on what we have always done. Use these changing times to your benefit. Challenge yourself and your employees to look at every process, product line, service, and customer for new opportunities. You will be surprised what your team may find and suggest. At first blush an idea might seem outrageous, but outrageous could mean the difference between status quo and a new level of success.

The last thought to consider is leveraging your uniqueness. The business marketplace is becoming a sea of similarity. Your brand should communicate the value you bring to your customer from the eyes of the customer. Your brand is not really about what you think you do. The brand you should be leveraging is what value your customers say you bring to the table. Find out what your customers really think and start spreading that unique message.

If you did not like the results you generated in 2010, you have two choices. You can continue on your current path and hope for different results, or you can set your goals, maximize your strengths, honestly look for new opportunities, and incessantly market your brand with a voice that is meaningful to your customer.
Hope is never a successful strategy, but focused action is. Forget the talk on economy and focus on your economy. There has never been a better time to take advantage of the competition than now.