No MBA mumbo-jumbo, just stuff that's worked through 30 years of team-building in business and the military.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Taking the Drama Out Of the Workplace

It happens all the time: A team member brings a complaint about someone else, or maybe a couple of employees are squabbling and folks are picking sides. I've been reading about workplace drama lately, and living a little of it, and it reminds me how much I hate it.

So what do you do?

You could say your hands are tied, that your boss or organizational policy won't let you do anything else. But then you sound helpless and they won't see you as having any more horsepower than they do.

You could join in the complaining or choose a side, but then you're just fanning the flames. That makes it likely there will be more time wasted, yours included.

You could tell the team member to toughen up, and remind him that you don't pay him to like folks, just to get work done. That's a good way to ensure that these things happen behind your back and you never get a chance to stop the productivity loss.

You could ignore the whole thing, just let things slide, and watch your workplace become Peyton Place.

You could tell the employee you'll handle it, and then go fix things with the other person. That will work, but will make it necessary for you to fix every occurrence, every time.

My preference: I tell my griping team members I don't like talking about people, but that I'm willing to talk with them. Then I get the two parties face to face, let them talk and I listen. Once that happens, the solutions usually aren't rocket science.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Do You Make Your People Better?

There are a small handful of professions, things like pilot or surgeon, where the purpose of the team is to make the guy leading it perform better. For most of us, it's the other way around. We're worth what they pay us only to the extent that our organizations get more from our teams.

It's worth asking yourself if that's true. If it is, you should be able to point to what it is that your team does better with you around. Some good questions:

What did my people get done today that they couldn't or wouldn't have done if I weren't here?

Is my team any different now than when I took over?

Does my individual work result in some advantage for the organization?

Ideally you can point to something specific, like individual productivity is up 10% because I do this, or I save each producer an hour a day by doing that. Ideally you can express in dollars the difference you make, and ideally that amount is more than you cost.

Most of the time it's not that clear cut, but it's still worth thinking about. Your gut will tell you, after a little thought, if you were a smart buy for your organization. The good news is, if you feel like maybe you weren't, you can change that. After all, few things feel as good as being worth what you're paid.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Leadership vs. Supervision

How do you know if you're a leader? If someone is following. Laugh, but that's the truest measurement of leadership.

To truly lead, you need to be going someplace and you need to take people with you. If you're going someplace alone, that's exploration. If you're in charge of people but leaving them where they are, that's supervision.

Supervision is the day-to-day oversight of people. It's making sure they come to work, making sure they do what they're supposed to, making sure they have what they need. Supervision involves time cards and vacations and breaks and the order work gets done.

Leadership results in movement, change. A leader sees a better place in terms of what can be and how it can be done. Leaders see the vision, communicate it, and inspire and enable others to get there.

Often you will have to both lead and supervise, but keep the functions clear in your mind. You can lead far more people than you can supervise. I supervise 14, which is way too many. I lead a couple hundred.

If you do both, make sure you don't get bogged down in supervision. That's important too, but leadership is where the magic happens.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Leadership is Selfless Service

Daniel Boone was more than a folk-hero. He was an amazingly effective leader, one who illustrates a fundamental reality of leadership: it has to be for the team.

Daniel Boone built a successful life in business and in the military. He made his money with honest sweat. But he didn't make it by using his followers. Boone's moments of great leadership were for the benefit of those he led, in the case of taking groups of settlers into the wilderness, or in the service of a greater ideal, such as when he led military expeditions in defense of the frontier settlements,

If you're a ladder-climber, and we all have some of that in us, drum this into your thick skull: You have to lead for the team. Your motivations and actions all have to be focused on making them more effective and making their lives better.

There are two reasons for that. The first one is the practical one that as soon as they sense you're using them for your own benefit, you'll lose them. Even if they don't quit the job, they'll quit following you beyond the letter of what they have to do.

The second reason is ethical: That's a mis-use of the resource. Your organization doesn't pay for the team so it can serve you, and it didn't make you the leader so you can build an empire. Using your people to further your career isn't a lot different than stealing.

Go ahead and work on that career; nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to leadership, your career and your team will be best served if you demonstrate your capacity for selfless service. Believe me, that will stand out like a beacon to your bosses.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Just Start Shoveling

Planning is a key skill for leaders - it's one of those competencies you just have to have. In most cases a good plan will position you to get things done efficiently and effectively. It will also help you organize what and how you communicate.

But sometimes planning isn't particularly helpful. Some jobs are like shoveling snow: You just have to pick up the shovel and get to it.

Some instances when you may want to skip the planning step:
- When what is needed is obvious to everyone.
- When the job is labor -intensive and time is short.
- When there is no precedent. In those cases doing is often a more effective way to figure things out than thinking. Be sure to capture what you learn along the way.

The bottom line: If planning is going to cost you as much (in time, dollars, resources, opportunity) as it will gain you, skip it.

By the way, if you don't need to plan, it will do you and your team a lot of good if you pick up a shovel and start throwing snow.