Archive for May, 2011

Do You Over-manage & Under-lead?

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

One of the most common mistakes that prevents a manager from reaching his or her potential is to over-manage and under-lead. Many of the managers I’ve met over the years don’t even realize that there is a difference between management and leadership, or that developing a balance of both skill sets is essential if they want to grow their team and maximize results. While I can’t explain as well in a few hundred words what takes me two hours to cover in my workshop, I’ll do my best in this space to outline a handful of key differences between management and leadership. Evaluate your own tendencies, and determine if there are adjustments you should make that will help you to optimize your leadership effectiveness.

Think of management as being about paperwork, while leadership concerns people-work. Management involves systems, controls, budgets, forecasting, scheduling, processes and procedures. On the other hand, the focus of leadership is to attract and develop talent, motivate, create vision and values, and build a team that can succeed in your absence. I explain to the attendees of my workshops that there are two categories of tasks you can engage in every day: “stuff” or people. Frankly, management is the stuff part of your job, and it’s so easy to become consumed by that aspect of your daily responsibilities that you have little or no time left for people. A consequence for building an organization that is over-managed & under-led is that the team is likely to be under-developed & overwhelmed.

Management and leadership are equally important. Don’t get the idea that “management” is a bad word. The problem comes when you over-manage, and spend so much time with stuff that you become isolated, aloof, out of touch, and stop impacting your people. The reason I’ve spent so much time over the years writing about and teaching leadership is that it’s the skill set that most managers have had little training in. They get schooled on how to do the “stuff” part of the job (data entry, inventories, forecasts, budgets, scheduling, reading financial statements, etc.) but don’t have a clue how to recruit, interview, motivate, cast a vision, hold someone accountable, or mentor.  While it is common to over-manage and under-lead, it is also possible to over-lead and under-manage. Think about it this way: management without leadership means that you won’t be able to grow what you keep, whereas leadership without management means you won’t be able to keep what you grow.

Here are three of the twenty key differences between managers and leaders that I discuss in my seminars to help attendees become more aware of what they’re doing well, and where they need to make adjustments in their daily approach to leadership:

1. Managers maintain whereas leaders stretch. Managers are decent at maintaining people, but they’re not great at growing them because they don’t spend enough time with them, and were never trained how to evaluate or develop human capital in the first place. They don’t seem to realize that while you can impress people at a distance (in your fancy office), to impact them you must get up close. Leaders, on the other hand, are committed to leaving followers better than they found them. They stretch them out of their comfort zone, provide the tools and personal touch their team members need to grow to their potential, and hold them accountable for results.

2. Managers lead from the rear, leaders lead from the front. Because they are enamored with “stuff,” managers spend more time in their offices getting dazed by data and numbed by numbers, than they do in the trenches acting as a catalyst and unleashing the potential of their team. As they pencil-whip budgets and count beans in an attempt to turn the numbers around, they fail to develop their human capital—turn the people around—so that their people can turn the numbers around. These folks talk like leaders but act like anchors. On the other hand, leaders spend more time charting the course than they do charting results. They focus on what’s happening in the arena and on the horizon, because they know that the front line determines the bottom line.

3. Managers resist change and defend the status quo; leaders rattle the status quo and change before they have to. Managers who spend a good part of their day roosting in an office, surrounded by stuff, or suffering through hours of death-by-meeting, devolve into a defensive posture where they spend more time plugging holes, doing damage control, and reacting than they do initiating change. However, when they lead in the trenches with their people, they see more clearly what needs to be changed and are quicker to take action. Too many leaders, who were successful at one time because they lead from the front and acted as a change agent, gradually withdrew from their catalyst role and begin presiding and administering from their backside. They regress from active to passive; from “lead,” a verb, to “leadership,” a noun. During this regression, they descend from risk taker, to care taker, to undertaker, eventually presiding over a lifeless enterprise that became comatose on their watch.

If you over-manage and under-lead in areas like the three I’ve presented, don’t beat yourself up. After all, we all get off track. What’s important is that you become a more self-aware leader who makes faster adjustments when you stray from a sound leadership style so that your temporary detour doesn’t lead you into a rut which, if you stay in it long enough, becomes a grave.

Train Wreck: The Danger of Promoting Beyond One’s Competence!

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

John Bell Hood was a Confederate general during the Civil War. He had a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness that sometimes bordered on recklessness, losing the use of his left arm at Gettysburg and having his right leg amputated after victory at Chickamauga.

Reading about Hood’s life while in Nashville recently, the site of his final and resounding defeat in the battle for that city in late 1864, I was struck by how similar his career path is to many managers I’ve seen rise through the ranks in organizations over the decades. These are the men and women who excel at a lower level management position, and then fail when promoted beyond their talent and competence. Apparently, this is what happened to the hard-charging Hood. Wikipedia puts it this way:

One of the best brigade and division commanders in the Confederate States Army, Hood became increasingly ineffective as he was promoted to lead larger, independent commands late in the war, and his career was marred by his decisive defeats leading an army in the Atlanta Campaign and the Franklin-Nashville campaign

Another historical website offers:

A premier example of the Peter Principle is the case of John B. Hood who excelled as a brigade and division leader, was uncooperative as a corps commander, and was an unqualified disaster at the head of an army, which he all but destroyed. . . . Besieging the Union forces in Nashville, he attacked in mid-December 1864 and his army was annihilated. Retreating into the deep South with the fragments of the army he relinquished his command and his temporary commission in January 1865. After the war he settled in New Orleans and was a prosperous merchant until an 1878 financial crisis. He died the next year in a yellow fever epidemic. His memoirs are entitled “Advance and Retreat.” —

When you study the career path of Hood, here are two lessons to learn from and apply in your enterprise:

1. Hire or promote the best, not the “least bad.” When President Jefferson Davis asked General Robert E. Lee’s opinion of promoting Hood to the head of the Army of Tennessee, Lee’s response was lukewarm and noncommittal. General Braxton Bragg, preferred Hood, not because he possessed superior ability, but because he had something personally against the other candidate Davis was considering. Promoting someone for the wrong reasons; someone who is not up to the task but is less offensive than others, is a poor strategy for building excellence within your organization. Actually, it is a recipe for eventual disaster.

2. Prepare your people for the next position before they’re in that position. In war time, mid-level commanders are promoted too quickly because those above them are often killed in battle. You don’t have that excuse in your organization. High potential people should be mentored to develop the skills necessary for their next position, long before they’re in that position.  

Whom are you preparing for advancement within your organization? Do you have a structured training and mentoring career path for your high potentials? Here are a handful of tasks you can do with these team members, depending of course upon the position you’re getting them ready for:

A. Personally mentor them by giving them resources for study and application, and by doing select tasks with them to show them what good performance looks like in areas that go beyond their normal scope of responsibilities.

B. Send the members of your talent pool to seminars and courses that will elevate their skills and broaden their perspective before they’re actually in the position you’re preparing them for.

C. Take high potentials to industry gatherings, conventions and association conferences and debrief them after the meeting to discuss what they learned.

Final reminder: Save yourself months or years of headaches, and a wealth of financial resources by not putting into your talent pool anyone who has the skills and talent, but lacks the character for more responsibility. Character protects talent and without it, the talented but character-deficient team member will eventually self-destruct.

Act Like a Challenger, Even when You’re the Champ!

Friday, May 6th, 2011

It’s common for leaders to speak in terms of building a “team of champions.” While I also endeavor to build a team of champions in my own organization, I don’t want people working in my company who think like champions. Rather, I want to fill my business with team members who have a challenger’s mindset. To use a martial arts term, I want the “red belt” mentality rather than the black belt mindset and here’s why: the most dangerous fighters in karate dojos are the red belts. Red is the rank prior to black, and what makes the reds such tenacious fighters is the fact that they haven’t yet reached the top and still train with intensity and urgency. Black belts, on the other hand, often let up and downshift into a maintenance mode after working so long and hard to earn their elite rank. In fact, it is common for black belts to start packing on pounds soon after reaching their goal, because they spend more time giving advice than they do fighting on the mat.

The still-hungry red belts demonstrate a stronger commitment to improve through a solid work ethic, consistent training habits, and by remaining coachable. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see reds knock out blacks during sparring sessions. They’re sharper because their killer instinct hasn’t been dulled by the belief that they’ve “arrived.” In my own experience, I lost 25 pounds in the ten weeks leading up to my red belt test because of the added hours of sparring.

While black belts can still advance with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degrees, etc. a common tendency after reaching their goal is to take a break. One friend of mine passed his black belt test and didn’t return to the mat for six months. Parallel analogies in business abound. When business “black belts” with their “champion’s mindset” get to the top of a mountain and become “number one” or have a record year, their tendency is to build a fence around the ground they’ve gained and hold it, rather than seek out higher ground that offers an even bigger prize. They stop changing, risking, deciding, recruiting, innovating, training, and holding others accountable. Prosperity drains their urgency, and they eventually find themselves in a rut.  

 Following are ten contrasts between a challenger’s and champion’s mindset. While there are always exceptions to the rule, the rule normally rules.

  1. Challenger’s mindset: hungry. Champion’s mindset: satisfied.
  2. Challenger’s mindset: humble. Champion’s mindset: arrogant.
  3. Challenger’s mindset: teachable. Champion’s mindset: know-it-all.
  4. Challenger’s mindset: something to prove. Champion’s mindset: “been there, done that.”
  5. Challenger’s mindset: willing to serve. Champion’s mindset: wants to be served.
  6. Challenger’s mindset: tries something new. Champion’s mindset: stuck in their ways.
  7. Challenger’s mindset: works with a sense of urgency. Champion’s mindset:  paces themselves.
  8. Challenger’s mindset: plays to win. Champion’s mindset: plays not to lose.
  9. Challenger’s mindset: rattles the status quo. Champion’s mindset: defends the status quo.
  10. Challenger’s mindset: lives for the present and future. Champion’s mindset: lives in the past.

 There are other differences, but these paint a clear picture of why a challenger’s mindset is necessary in any endeavor where continuing to grow is important. But, don’t misunderstand my point: I’m not saying that I don’t want champions working with me, because I do. What I don’t want are people who think like champions. My goal is to surround myself with champions who maintain the hunger of challengers. In fact, here’s a lesson I’ve taught to top performers for years:

 Act like a challenger even when you’re the champ. Challengers are hungry, humble, and have something to prove. Champs can become lazy, cocky, and complacent.

Here are four suggestions for developing a challenger’s—a red belt’s—state of mind. Use them to shape your personal success philosophy so that you can positively affect and influence those you work with:  

  1. Accept the fact that you’re never as good as you think you are. When you focus less on how “successful” you are and more on closing the gap between your current status and your fullest potential, you’ll create a positive tension that keeps you both humble and hungry.
  2. When you’re doing well, don’t sit on the ball, run up the score. Never settle for your “fair share” of the market, but strive for an unfair share. Don’t make it a goal to create a “level playing field” in your market area. Instead, work hard to make the playing field so un-level that your organization has an insanely unfair advantage over your competition. If you’re not thinking in these terms you’ve probably already regressed from high gear into neutral. All that’s missing from your office is the hammock, pitcher of margaritas, and Panama hat.
  3. Embrace urgency as a core value. Urgency is one of LearnToLead’s five corporate core values, as well as one of my personal values. You must convince yourself that there is power in now, not later. You may never get later. Act now!
  4. Live your life as an “and then some” person. Do what is expected and then some. Pay the price and then some. Do what others aren’t willing to do; go where they’re unwilling to go; try what they’re afraid to try, and one day you’ll find yourself in a category of one.

 Be an example for your team and work with the hunger, discipline, humility, intensity, and teach-ability of a red belt. Set your goal to reach the top, but even once you become a Grand Master, maintain the mindset of a challenger. This disciplined state of mind separates the martial artist from a partial artist, the legitimate champion from a one-hit wonder.