Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” That phrase was spoken by the prison captain (warden) to prisoner Luke in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke. The captain had just knocked him down, both figuratively and 217px-cool_hand_luke_martinliterally. The captain was showing his superiority over Luke’s lowly position as a prisoner, and serving as a warning to others on the chain gang that he was indeed the boss, and his instructions were to be followed without question.

Unfortunately, around businesses in America today, that attitude can be found in many bosses. And, just like that warden, communication failure is typically the reason for the failure of leadership. Fredrick Taylor’s principle in 1911 that “the workman who is best suited to actually doing the work is incapable of fully understanding the science,” is no longer the best management model. It lacks the essential communication and feedback processes. The American Heritage Dictionary defines communication as “the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior.” Key to that definition is the word exchange, which implies a 2-way path.

But it’s not just a matter of crafting a clear message. That same message will be heard by different people in different ways. When I went from leading a team of technical professionals to leading a team of call center employees, I learned an important lesson of “situational leadership”. Many years later, I took a course with that subject by Ken Blanchard. Blanchard describes the relationship of the development level of the staff to the appropriate matching style of the leader.

The idea hit home with me. Leadership expectations must indeed be situational. For employees who were at the beginning of their career, much more direction and mentoring must be given, compared to those who have experience and knowledge of their craft. In addition, the ability to identify where a person was in relation to their career was a skill that is more than just a review of their resume of work. Having effective one-on-one meetings with direct reports is an important activity toward understanding the individual’s progress and building a trusting relationship. Early in their career, a more directional approach is required. As the staff member matures in their responsibilities, the transition to more of a coaching model is preferred as they learn to handle the responsibility delegated to them.

I think that excellent communication skills, including both speaking and listening, are the most important proficiency that a manager needs. Communication is always better received when coming from a person with whom you have a relationship. Using that skill effectively will help achieve personal and professional satisfaction, and will most likely propel a qualified manager to a higher level of career growth.


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I had the pleasure of hearing Al Switzler, co-author of Crucial Conversations, give a speech a few weeks ago. He described an interesting model of human behavior that was enlightening and even a bit disturbing.

We all need to have those conversations that we have been avoiding, whether it be with a spouse, child, boss or staff member. But HOW we have that conversation is, well, crucial.

What happens when we continue to avoid those conversations? Al told the story of a saw mill that his team visited a while ago to work with their management team. Their productivity had been decreasing of late, and they needed to understand how they, as managers, could get things back on track. Well, I’ll let his co-author tell the story: Feeding the Hog (video)

Fewer than 1 in 3 North American employees are fully engaged.

How many of your teammates are “feeding the hog”, instead of being productive? According to a recent study from BlessingWhite, fewer than 1 in 3 North American employees are fully engaged. What’s much worse is that 19 percent are actually disengaged.

How do you engage your team? Do they feel a sense of purpose? Do you really practice empowerment, or just give it lip service? Have you approached that team member who isn’t pulling his/her weight? Engaged employees contribute to your success, and they stay longer in the company. Help them turn off the hog and get their unique abilities and strengths put to work. Everyone really does want to contribute, but they are individuals who don’t all think the same way. They have unique ideas and ways to do their job. I always have to remember: they aren’t the same as me.

And thank God for that!

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I just watched (again) the movie Network. If you haven’t seen it in a while, it’s worth a rent. Peter Finch played the incredible Howard Beale, famous for his line “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!” No one could have predicted back in 1977 how prophetic it would really be for the television industry.

Howard Beale was fighting against the corporate empires of the world as summed up in that outstanding speech by Ned Beatty

You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!!

Without going into too much movie story, Howard Beale hit a nerve with the American people and created a stir that no politician had ever achieved. He had people screaming out of their windows, sending telegrams to the White House, and generally riled up to the point of revolution.

Then everything went back to the way it was.

Leadership is sometimes the voice crying out in the wilderness. But sometimes it’s a softer voice in the boardroom, office or cubicle. But either way, it’s a sustained one, not a flash in the pan. Often, as Jim Collins has told us, it is the quiet level-5 leader that is most effective. The one who understands his hedgehog — that one thing that makes the company successful. And, the person who can instill that vision into everything that he does.

What’s your hedgehog? Not just what are you good at… what are you awesome at? Then think about how you can develop that strength and become that one that will get noticed, not just for a flash, but for good. Chances are, Michael Phelps is a decent basketball player too. But when he’s in the pool everyday working out, you can bet he’s not thinking about developing that 3-point shot.

There’s room for all of us at the top. We just need to sharpen up our hedgehog.

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