Category: Servant Leadership

Take One for the Team

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?

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.

I Got Promoted, Now I Feel Like an Imposter

I Got Promoted, Now I Feel Like an Imposter

I’m new and so there are a lot of things that I don’t know.  I’ve just been promoted out of the rank and file into a supervisory position, so I must know what I am doing, and yet every day I feel like a fraud. Like they are going to find me out and send me back to the floor and take away my office.

I used to have a safety net in my job – it was my supervisor.  They could help me in a tight spot, connect me with the right person, suggest a course of action or pull in other resources to get the job done.  Now I am supposed to be that safety net and I am scared that the wire walkers on my team are going to hit the cement hard because I don’t know how to catch them.

This is a situation that many managers have experienced and there’s even a formal name for it – The Imposter Syndrome.  In some people, it can get so bad that despite years of external evidence of their success they still cannot internalize and take credit for their own accomplishments.  For managers, this leads to a constant feeling of unease with their boss and their team and creates pressure to “perform” in the way that got them the promotion.  It was my seniority in the company.  It was my charm.  It was affirmative action.  My dad is the boss’ best friend.  It was anything except their own experience, skills, and performance.  This self-deception only amplifies a managers feeling of being a phony and this circle of doubt could hang around their neck for years.

Fortunately for most managers, the Imposter feeling is entirely predictable and manageable.

Share this post on LinkedIn

Predictable as it almost always appears a short time after they get recognized for their prior performance with a new position, project or team.  Not right away mind you.  In the early days of something new, a manager will be riding on the high of recognition, promotion, and bigger compensation.  They will be excited about the new challenge and like a new President, ready to make a difference in the first 90 days.

One of the most taught management training models in the world, Situational Leadership II, describes this manager as the Enthusiastic Beginner – low on competence and job knowledge but high on commitment.

SLII-Color-Model-Exp_inpr

The Developing or D1 manager in the chart above “doesn’t know what they don’t know” and it’s only when they “know what they don’t know” that the feeling of being an Imposter starts to enter the picture.  The D2 manager is the “Disillusioned Leader” who not only doubts their competence but doesn’t feel the same commitment to the job, company or position.

While the Imposter does show up among experienced managers making an upward move in the same company from one management job to another, it is far more prevalent in the following situations:

  • The first move from the shop floor or the accounts payable office or the sales territory or the developers den into a supervisor position.
  • Being a manager who defies demographics in a particular unit or company,  such as a woman in a tech company or a Millennial in a union shop.
  • A new executive recruited into a conservative company that typically recruits from within.

In each of these situations, the environment magnifies an already uneasy transition.  The new supervisor has 10 other developers wondering why they weren’t promoted.  The young manager in a union shop has an experienced staff that feels they have seen and done it all.  The outsider has to learn the culture of the new company and learn to manage at the same time.

Share this post on LinkedIn

This Imposter phase can last a lot longer than any manager wants it to, but it’s as manageable as it is predictable.

A good manager takes on the Imposter within by being authentic to themselves and by serving the people they manage.

A good manager focuses on the basics  – working hard, being on time, listening, building relationships, and serving the team while they sort out the environment and knowledge they need to develop as a manager.  The team will understand that you are new and for awhile at least, will give you a break based on your newness, as long as you are taking care of their needs in a consistent and fair manner.

At the same time, a good manager also seeks out or creates a routine of personal affirmation to ward off the Imposter.  This can be done by using a daily affirmation journal where you list all the good moments in the day whether it’s people related or business related.  A reminder that your skills, ideas and leadership made a difference.  Ideally, it would also involve your boss, where every week you can outline the good and bad and they can provide the praise, encouragement and guidance that a new manager needs.

And part of that encouragement should be to continue to be the person you were before you got promoted – the authentic you.  Not an imposter.


Read more posts about Managing Not Doing or How a Mgr Finds a Friend.

Should a Good Manager Take Criticism Personally?

Should a Good Manager Take Criticism Personally?

Do any of us take criticism well?

For me, I expect to be able to take it better than I do.  I know that it’s needed and important to my growth as a person and in my career.  I know that it’s important that my decisions and behaviours are course corrected when necessary by someone who I like and trust.  Sometimes that’s my boss.  Sometimes it’s a friend.

But criticism still hurts because it’s personal.

It doesn’t matter that it’s delivered professionally and compassionately and privately by someone that I trust. It’s a rebuke of my behaviour and that is personal.

And that’s OK.

I am going to refer to Trevor Regan‘s   post called “Choose the Wild” quite a bit here, as much of what he has to say is relevant to taking criticism.  So please read his post and watch the video at the end as I cannot do him justice with my paraphrasing.

If you live in a world where no one criticizes you, you are a tiger living in a zoo.  All safe and easy. There is no struggle. In fact, you are hiding from the struggle, the fear and the failure that a jungle tiger lives with every day.

In the world of the mid-level manager, the fear of criticism and the failure it represents is one of the scariest things you will experience in the workplace jungle.  Because that project, that sale, that event, that new product is a reflection of you and if it fails, you fail.  And failure is very personal.

But it’s also part of the jungle life.  You know who never fails?  The zoo tiger.  The manager who does the minimum to keep his job.  The guy who says the right things and performs in front of the big boss but checks out with everyone else.  He’s not growing his team, pushing out new products, hunting for new clients or volunteering for a new project.  He’s hiding in his comfort zone where there is no chance he will be criticized or fail.

So if you’ve chosen to be the jungle tiger, how should you deal with criticism?

Take a moment to acknowledge the failure and to take it personally.

Like this post?  Share on LinkedIn!

That’s right, I want you to take it personally in whatever form that is for you and give it time to hurt.  I encourage you to take criticism personally because you are a person and not a cog in a machine.  If you care about your work, criticism should sting a little and hurt your pride.  In the moment, you need to acknowledge the failure and own it.

For me, taking it personally means calling the boss names under my breath and challenging their intelligence as I talk to myself on the drive home.  I think about the running list of petty grievances that I have with the world.  And I give myself time, usually until the next day, to let it sink in.

As a manager, remember how personal criticism is when delivering it to someone on your team and do it professionally, compassionately and privately.  Give them space to take it personally, even if that means they have to leave the office.  If you were in their shoes, you’d appreciate the understanding and so will they.

If someone doesn’t take it personally, that will tell you something as well.  Start to see if other signs of a zoo tiger are present in that person – hiding, being checked out, performing, or making excuses.  It might be time to force the cage open and drop them into the wild.  Or lend them to another zoo.

After you have given yourself time to take it personally, then get over it and start moving forward again.  Once you’ve made the pitch, launched the product or started manufacturing, it’s all out there with your name on it and it won’t be perfect.  Recognize that criticism and failure are part of being in the jungle.  Acknowledge the intent behind the criticism and make the changes suggested.  Fix the problem.  Go to version 1.1.

Like this post?  Share on LinkedIn!

The experience will have made you better and next time, because there’s always a next time in the jungle, the critics will be fewer and the failures will be minor.  And you will be ready for the next challenge.

Read another post about Becoming a Better Mgr

Vacation Days Are Not the Answer

Vacation Days Are Not the Answer

There was a great article in the Globe and Mail about the trend toward young tech companies in Canada following the lead of their Silicon Valley counterparts and offering unlimited vacation. In the company profiled, this pot ‘o’ gold at the end of the benefits rainbow backfired spectacularly when less than half the employees took any time off in the first year it was offered.

The co-founder attributed the failure as follows:

“…employees may have felt uncomfortable taking time when he and his co-founder hadn’t taken a single day off themselves since founding the company three years before.”

And there you go – young teams are more impressionable more likely  to model themselves after the manager in the room.  Even when you say, “Do as I say, not as I do” they will do exactly what you do.

It’s interesting that a benefit like unlimited vacation is almost always offered at companies where the employees still have spots.  While Millennials may be part of a generation that is often considered entitled, unjustly I believe, their need to believe in a cause and commit to something bigger than themselves outweighs their need to climb the Andes.

From that same co-founder:

”…he attributes the policy’s failure in part to the military-like camaraderie of the startup world, where taking time off can feel like leaving your fellow soldiers behind on the battlefield.”

At this stage, when the company is fighting to survive and become something with staying power, everyone needs to be suited up everyday.  It’s an exciting time and who would want to leave that – even for a surfing vacation in Bali.  Something important, earth shaking and difference making might happen while you are away.

Perhaps a generous vacation policy might be better served at the next stage of a company’s development, when everyone is out of the foxholes and there is less uncertainty about the future of the company.  That’s often a pretty crazy stage, too.  At least it’s a manageable stage, because there is more people and more cash flow and some professional managers, HR people and accountants who will make sure that one person or one bad decision won’t bring the company down while you are hiking the Grand Canyon.

As a founder of a start-up, if you have to offer people unlimited vacation to recruit the talent you need, you might as well shut the doors now and save yourself the time and agony.  If your idea, your product or you personally are not enough to bring in the foot soldiers who want to make a difference, then vacation days are not the answer.

Is is Better to be a Leader than a Manager?

Is is Better to be a Leader than a Manager?

In the last week, the comparison of leader vs. manager has popped up a couple of times in my LinkedIn feed usually through a quote that implies that it’s better to be a leader than a manager. Here is one as an example, from someone whose ideas I admire:

Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.  –Tom Peters

While I am hoping that Tom intended to demonstrate the different skills inherent in managing and leading, it is likely taken by most people as an either or statement.  If you are a manager, all you do is arrange and tell, but when you are a leader, the choirs sing and the heavens part as you nurture and enhance your team. Most readers would also take those attributes and assign them by proxy to managers and leaders – because surely it’s better to be a leader than a manager.

But in most companies when do you start being a leader? At some executive title that is slightly higher up the food chain than a mere manager?  Can a supervisor be a leader?  How about a coordinator?  Or a customer service representative?

The good news is that you can do both, no matter what your job is.

Leadership and management are skill sets, not titles.

Managers demonstrate leadership skills every day and not at the expense of “arranging and telling”.  Most companies would fall apart without a manager that makes the shift schedules and communicates new policies to their team while creating an environment where people are motivated and engaged.

It is true that the balance tips more toward leadership type work the higher you climb the corporate ladder, but even C-suite executives are still spending portions of their day managing – with performance reviews, asset allocation decisions and directives on new product lines.

So yes, there is a difference between being a manager and an executive and one does tend to do more leadership type work than the other.  Both are valuable to the organization – precisely because they do the right amount of managing vs leading.

So let’s add an asterisk to Tom’s quote:

Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.** –Tom Peters

**and you should try to do both well.**

 

 

The Martyr as Manager

Too many managers are martyrs and that holds them back from being great leaders.

I should know.  I was one of them.

Merriam-Webster defines a martyr as :  “a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle     For martyrs that are managers, the principle that they are beholden to is some variation of “the company can’t survive without me” and the things of great value that they sacrifice are their health, their relationships at work and home, their sleep, their peace of mind and the future of their career.

In my case, my martyrdom revealed itself around vacations.  I took the days, but never planned them and most years didn’t take all the days allotted.  Two phrases that I used when vacations came up  were “I like being at work too much” (for co-workers) and “the thing the company counts on the most is that I am there every day” (to myself and family).  And in the time off I did take,  I was rarely taking it off for actual vacations.  I’d take the first week of school off, to further my martyrdom by helping my wife, who works in education, and my kids adjust to the first week back.  It was help they did not need and I was happy to play the martyr there, too.

My friend Sheldon knows all about it:

I was proud of the fact that I was rarely missed work, even when mildly sick , and looked down on people that took what I deemed excessive sick days.  I was three years without a sick day in 2012 when I landed in the hospital for 10 days with a bilateral pulmonary embolism.  But I was back to work part time a month later, when most take six months to recover I told people, and a year later almost worked myself back into the hospital by not taking vacations or sick time.

It’s a crazy spiral that only drags you and your career down.  In the moment, you may think that the big bosses can’t help but notice your dedication to the company and will reward your sacrifice with promotions and raises and praise.  But they didn’t in my case and they likely won’t in yours because martyrs are a pain in the ass and promoting you will only encourage that behaviour in yourself and in others.

So take some time at the beginning of the year to plan all your vacations for the next 12 months and include your family in the planning.

This simple act keeps your work life in perspective and keeps you looking forward instead of getting mired in the present. Your family will thank you, your team will thank you  and your company will thank you, for bringing the best version of yourself to work and being a good role model for others.