Silence from the Black Box








It’s easier to remain silent.

We learn this  in our earliest and most foundational relationships:

  • Don’t talk back to your father (child/parent)
  • Don’t talk in class (student/teacher)
  • It’s my way or the highway (athlete/coach)

This socialization, combined with the wiring in our brains that makes us highly tuned to how other people feel about us, make it easier to remain silent.  More so in hierarchical environments, like the workplace, where many people feel vulnerable to the whims of their boss or team leader.  Despite their experience and training, the default is usually acquiescence.  After all, no one ever got fired for staying silent.

But what if you worked somewhere that silence could lead to death?  Like in the cockpit of an airplane.  The recent news of Boeing 737 crashes has reminded me that silence, deference or deafness in the cockpit is a leading cause of preventable airline crashes.  In this article from 2018, a retired airline captain reviews some of the crashes that lead to the creation of Crew Resource Management (CRM), a set of training procedures for use in environments where human error can have a devastating effect.

Learn more about Crew Resource Management

In describing two crashes from the late 1970’s he states “Neither accident should have happened because some of the crewmembers knew things were going wrong but could not persuade the captain.”  Now CRM, is a major component of every airline safety program.

Every pilot is taught the skills of leadership, followership and effective communication

Followership might not be a word in the English dictionary that we are familiar with, but it should be a skill that every manager tries to master.  It starts by giving a voice to everyone on the team and communicating with them in a style that works for them.  Some are extroverts, comfortable in large groups and are OK talking over each other in a meeting.  Others will need time to think, consider the options and craft a complete and thorough response.  It’s a manager’s job to hear them all and eliminate the silence that kills.

We are all working to the same goal – whether that be landing a plane safely, completing an open heart surgery or making our revenue targets – and everyone is responsible for that goal. If we learn from the CRM playbook, we can still be the captains of our team at the same time we are being responsible to the concerns and needs of our fellow crewmembers.

If you’d like to discuss your followership, click here to Pick My Brain for free.



Take One for the Team

It’s a phrase I heard quite a bit when I played baseball in college  –  “Take One for the Team”.  Players were expected to make a physical sacrifice for the good of the team and it was often painful.  A catcher who blocked the plate with 200lbs of runner charging down the third base line trying to score the winning run.  The middle infielder who keeps his nose down on a rocket one-hopper on a bad infield, risking a solid shot to his chest or face to keep the ball in front of him.  The shortstop who doesn’t step away from the runner sliding into second with his cleats high to ensure the double play is turned.  The pitcher who throws more innings than he should in a lopsided game who sacrifices his arm and his stats to provide rest for other pitchers who will play the next day.  Or most often, the batter who crowds the plate on a hard throwing pitcher, willing to wear one in the ribs or in the back to get the tying run on base late in the game.  These acts are universally well respected by teammates as serving the good of the team ahead of your personal accomplishments.

A good Manager should also know when to take one for the team.

When a project goes sideways and an important date is not met by your team, whether the reasons for going off the rails were within their control or a Force Majeure, you the manager have to take the heat from the big boss.

When an irate customer wants someone’s head on a platter for a late delivery or a botched installation by your team, you the manager have to put your head in the guillotine.

When you ask a member of your team to do things a little different, you the manager have to calm the waters with all the others who object to something new and make sure they know it was your idea.

Taking bullets like these are part of the job for a good manager with training and experience and selflessness acting as body armor.  What made you a good manager protects you, so you can protect them.  Your team doesn’t need to take fire for a mistake twice, once from you and once from an outsider (and yes the big boss is an outsider as far as your team goes).  Whether their failure was small or large, they will have already paid the price and seen their professional self-perception wounded within the team and behind the closed door when you reviewed the situation with them.  And hopefully, they will have taken the correction and criticism personally and learned from it for the future.

When a manager recognizes that a situation requires him to step in between his team and a problem , he must be willing to do so for the long-term benefit of the company. It won’t be as physically painful as getting a fastball in the ribs, but you will likely take some heat from a vendor, a key customer or the big boss.  The personal sting will last a couple of days but the respect from your team will more than compensate for the short-term discomfort.

And earning the trust of your team is the hallmark of a Good Manager.

Can You Manage Your Kids Like You Manage Your Team?

A friend recently told me that she had called an all-hands meeting with her kids and was laying out a new incentive program to get them to engage more in their tasks around the house.  I wonder if that works?  If it did, I know it would be best seller material for every manager out there who is the master of their work domain but to whom the mix of teenagers, communication and chores remain a mystery.

Maybe they seem like a mystery, compared to your team at work, because you don’t spend 8 hours a day with them.

Taking our kids to the office on a regular basis might not be feasible, but can we apply the same basics of being a good manager to parenting and get better engaged kids as the end result?  Let’s see…

From my experience – two children aged 12 and 18 – being an engaged parent does not become an issue until middle school.  Babies, infants, and toddlers dominate our every waking and sleeping moment and as new parents, we cannot help but be overwhelmed by the newness of childraising and importance of keeping another human being alive and well.

Apply this Management Lesson:  During this period, like the start-up period for a new company that we are trying to keep alive and well, a one week vacation from our children every year from ages 2-5 can be a sanity, marriage, and life saver.

Related Post:  Vacation Days Are Not the Answer

Once in elementary school, parents still play a meaningful part in a child’s day. They are still young enough to need a ride or an accompanied walk to school.  The school itself still needs parents involved in classroom activities or field trips. There is plenty of time for interaction and for getting to know who your child is in their non-home environments.  You know their friends and the other parents and it can be a very social, happy time.

Apply this Management Lesson: This is a great period for you to focus on Know, Like and Trust with your kids. Pay attention to them as individuals.  Listen to what they have to say. Care about what they care about – even if it’s Justin Bieber.

Read More Posts Related to Know Like and Trust

Middle school is where your involvement in your child’s life and their development changes.  It’s summarized nicely by the Coaching Association of Canada:

Up until now, you’ve most likely been directly involved — helping your child learn movement skills, for example, or starting them out in a sport you enjoy. But in the Training to Train stage, your children are more independent, you’re less likely to do sports with them, and your role is more an advisory one. The focus from here on is on things you need to know as opposed to things you can do.

From middle school on, you are less directly involved in your kids lives.  They walk to school with friends or take the bus.  Teachers don’t want your help.  If they play sports, they are likely playing for a trained coach, not you and another parent.   They are going through puberty.  Their need for independence is high but their  confidence and motivation may be low.

Apply this Management Lesson: Move from a focus on Directing your child to Supporting them. The Situational Leadership II framework uses  words such as reassuring, appreciating and facilitating to describe how a manager works with a team member who is moderately competent, but not highly confident.

The ability to match your parenting/leadership style to the needs of your kids comes full circle with high school aged teenagers, who have the confidence and the competency in most walks of life but still rely on you for key resources.  Resources like money or a car or tuition for school.

Apply this Management Lesson:  Like a member of your team at work who has flourished under your leadership, it is now time to let them fly on their own.  Not by running their own project or leading their own team but by leaving home for university,  choosing a career or travelling in a foreign country without you.

Through it all, parenting and managing are both Service oriented roles that require a major commitment of our time and focus.  Like we challenge managers to spend at leats 50% of their time Managing, Not Doing at work – we should accept the same challenge at home, to spend at least 50% of our time Parenting, Not Doing.

What Is With You People?

A frustrating thing for a new manager is when the team asks for training, and you deliver it, sharing important ideas to make their jobs more productive.  Then most of them don’t follow through.  They go back to doing things the way they already know.  And it happens again and again.

And each time it’s followed by your inner dialogue that goes something like this:

Why don’t they implement the great suggestions I gave them?  Why are only one or two members of the team really keen to make the changes to their work habits that I recommended?  I know these changes work because they worked for me.  Don’t they care about their job?  Why can’t they be more like me?

At which point it’s best to pull back on the crazy reins…and realize that having a team full of keen learners that want to put in the hard, hairy work of making lasting change is not likely ever going to exist in your time as a manager.  Since most of the people on your team will want to be comfortable most of the time, they will rule themselves out of the change equation:

Time + Commitment + Discomfort = CHANGE

And that’s OK.

For most of the members of your team, it’s just a j-o-b that pays the bills and doesn’t require marching or any kind of manual labor.  They like their job, understand their role and have the skills they need to perform their duties on a daily basis.

This doesn’t mean that they won’t change or won’t learn.  It means that they won’t take to it naturally and will only adopt new processes or learn new skills when their survival depends on it, or when you as the manager force it on them.  I know you’d prefer not to micro-manage, but when something absolutely, positively has to change by a certain time, there is no better way than tracking, measuring, reporting and meeting about the status of the changes. Every day until it’s no longer the new process.  It’s just the process.

So if they are not going to implement change, why do they ask for the training?  I would guess that the team is not actually asking for the training – but it’s just the one or two keeners in the group and they are asking really loudly.  And you are listening, because you speak their language, as you were likely one of them before you sat in the manager’s chair.  So it will be up to you to evaluate a training or development request from the future company rock star. Most likely you can accommodate the request with some 1-1 time with them and avoid the inner soliloquy of frustration that follows team training sessions that are interesting to only two people, you and the person that requested it.

Save the team training and the required managing by FedEx (tracking, measuring and reporting) for new ideas, processes or skills that are game changing or company saving.

Anyone Can Be a Good Manager

That’s right, anyone.

It does not matter how much experience you have, your age, your level of education, your communication style or your personality.  You can be a good manager.

Because being a good manager is a process.  And this process has steps and concrete things you can learn and apply that are universal to managers everywhere, no matter the size of company or the country it’s located in or the industry it serves.

The process begins by MANAGING NOT DOING.  When you move from a “doing” job into your “managing” job it’s important to remember that the managing is the work, and your habits should reflect that.  Spend 50% of your time on your team – coaching, training, praising in public and working the big boss and the system to make sure they get the resources and the love they need.  But let them do the work.  You may have been the best sales person, CSR or accounting clerk before you were promoted, but now your success depends on their ability to perform.  Imagine what they can do with a superstar manager.

Your long term success as a manager depends entirely on the next part of the process, getting your team to KNOW, LIKE AND TRUST you.  This requires you to consistently be yourself – whether introverted or extroverted, numbers driven or big picture dreaming – so your staff can count on you being the same person every day. It matters less about who you are and more about being that person consistently and authentically.  Brooding and locked in your office on Monday and giving high fives and playing rock music on Tuesday will only confuse them.

While they are getting to KNOW you, you can get to know them by paying attention to them as individuals and listening to what they have to say.

People are hard wired to LIKE other people that are interested in who we are and what we care about – and all it takes is regular, careful listening.

The final component is TRUST  – hardest and longest to win and the easiest to lose.  You will be trusted if you do what you say you will do and deliver for your team and the team as individuals exactly as promised.  Great things have been accomplished on the backs of making sure someone has the exact colour post-its they feel they need for the job.

The final step in the process is living a managerial life dedicated to SERVANT LEADERSHIP.  You can always tell a bad manager because it’s always about them. In the meetings with the big boss they refer to themselves and not the team, they suck the oxygen out the room during meetings, deliver sermons from on high and assign themselves the key accounts and the high profile clients.  A good manager is about the team – first, last and always.

Time to stop doing.  Time to start the process and Become a Better Manager.

Meetings are Practice for Managers

Imagine a hockey team made up of the best players in the world, that only gets together just before the game.  They all know the rules and they share the same goal – to score more goals than their opponent – so they figure they can just roll out there and win.  After all, they are the best players in the world.  They don’t need no stinkin’ practice.

Well that did happen in 1979, when a team of NHL All Stars with 14 future members of the Hockey Hall of Fame and a Hall of Fame coach were defeated by the Soviet National Team 6-0.  The Soviets used their backup goaltender.

The same things can happen to a company and many of us have worked in a siloed work place where the “players” (managers) take care of their own responsibilities with no unifying plan or consideration for the other departments, product lines or locations.  Sure they know that Pete runs the manufacturing facility in Wenatchee, but they don’t know Pete and since they don’t know him, they don’t trust him to help them if they were to pass him the puck.  So instead of passing to Pete, they try to deke their way through the entire other team.

While many good managers efficiently plan meetings with their own team and ensure that everyone is on the same page, many organizations get tripped up by a lack of meetings between managers.  Like a Sergeant in the Army, managers in organizations are the people that get things done.  Executives think they do, but the good ones will admit they get credit for the work done every day by their managers.  And while the executives, often with good reason, make slower, more calculated moves at their level to work with executives from other areas to affect change, it’s the managers who can really strip away the bureaucracy through back channel relationships with other managers in other departments.

In fact, it’s better for an organization if managers have built up a little squad of fellow managers that can run the company and keep the executives from screwing it up with a calm voice of reason and a quick phone call to their opposite number in the adjoining building.

But before they can do this, they have to meet.  One to one if necessary, but preferably as a group with the common goal of making their lives simpler.  Create a Band of Brothers that sticks together for a noble purpose.  A group that know when something stinks when it arrives from the C Suite and as a group is confident enough to disregard or only partially implement directives from the boss for the greater good of the organization.

Manager:  “Sir, we attempted the implementation as you recommended but it was not feasible from a cost/resource/time/sanity perspective.  We did however figure out we could get the same results you need but with 20 less steps at 5% of the cost.”

Executive (to Manager): “Good Work”

Executive (to CEO): “I took care of that problem sir and managed to do it with less cost and time than forecast”

Everybody wins, but only if the managers have some practice time. Preferably without the executives present, as they tend to suck up all the oxygen in the room.  Talk, shoot the shit, discuss the common issues they face (the main ones being people – those work for them and those who they work for) and develop a relationship built on common goals.

The Recipe for a Good Manager

I grew up in sports and follow many sports, especially baseball, golf and college basketball closely.  Each of those sports has its own recipe for success.  These recipes provide teams or competitors the best chance of winning, even without the best players or the most skill.

In baseball – pitching and defense.

In basketball – defense and free throws.

In golf – chipping and putting.

The manager’s recipe fort success has just 3 ingredients:

  1. Managing Not Doing
  2. Sell Yourself Using Know, Like and Trust
  3. Practice Servant Leadership

By mastering these 3 ingredients, the accidental manager can succeed in their role, regardless of their skills, personality type or lack of experience.

Rachel Dolezal – Trust

A manager or leader normally follows a Know Like Trust path to building a high performing relationship with the their team and it appears Rachel Dolezal was no different.

According to a bio on the web site of the Spokane N.A.A.C.P., which may soon be removed, Dolezal was active and effective in her field for 18 years before she became the local President of the Spokane Chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. and soon after was chosen by the Spokane Mayor to serve as a police commissioner for the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

The time she had taken to build this relationship with her team and organization unravelled once it became clear that many facets of her background were invented to suit the narrative of the story she wanted to tell.  The results were swift and predictable.

In a story published in the NY Times this week, a long time member of the the Spokane N.A.A.C.P. was quoted as saying,

 “The issue for me has been the deception, the lie, portraying herself as someone she isn’t.”

Which is polite talk for “I don’t trust her.”

Which illuminates the reality that while Know and Like come first in the relationship progression – Trust is the glue that holds it all together in the long term.

Good Manager Bad Manager – Jurassic World

Her clothes say it all.  They are professional, tailored, expensive and perfect for an executive at a large clothing retailer.  So why is she wearing them at a dinosaur theme park?

Because it’s all about Claire – who she thinks she has to be. Who she wants to be. How she wants to be perceived.  Which are all signs of a Bad Manager.

It should be about the guy with 20 toy dinos lining the top of his workstation and the retro Jurassic Park t-shirt – he is not just collecting a paycheck.  He is in it for the Dino love.

So Claire, drop the corporate armor and the bad shoes and get yourself a Khaki shirt and some hiking boots, then ask the Dino guy the names of the dinos on his desk.  You will get to know him and he may start to like you.  Trust is not far behind.

Good managing is all about the people that work for you.