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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Leading Without Authority

I remember clearly the day my boss said to me, "I expect you to exert influence where you have no authority." I didn't like it; it seemed to me that if he wanted me to get the thing done, I should have the authority to do it.

But sometimes you won't have authority. Sometimes, on your team's behalf, you need to change behavior in another department. In those cases you need to lead without authority.

It won't be that hard if you already have influence, because influence is more effective than authority. You know that team member that everyone listens to, sometimes more than they listen to you? That guy, or gal, has influence. Influence comes from credibility, from a reputation that makes people trust you. If you have it, all you have to do is talk.

If you don't have influence, then you have to build your case. Start with the idealistic: How what you want is good for the world, will secure the future of the company, may even shrink the hole in the ozone layer. Then move on to what's in it for the other department; it has to somehow be good for them or they won't listen.

It sounds cynical, but the bottom line is other departments aren't likely to change just to help your team, and without authority you can't make them. You have to persuade. And it takes a better leader to do that than to command.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When a Team Member Leaves for More Money

If it hasn't happened already, someday a team member will give you notice, and the reason will be more money. Sometimes, that's even true.

Most of the time, though, that's code for "I don't want to get into all the reasons I'm leaving, or to have you try to talk me out of it. So I'm going to say they'll pay me more than you will."

There are all kinds of studies that put money fourth or fifth on the list of reasons why people like their jobs. First is usually feeling needed and valued. Social connections are important too, as is a friendly, safe environment, and feeling like you're doing good in the world. When your team member says it's money, chances are it's at least one of those other things.

By the time you're having the conversation, it's probably too late to keep that person.  But do a good exit interview, asking about all those other things. You'll get some negative feedback; those are things you'd better fix if you want to keep the rest of your team.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to Demote and Motivate at the Same Time

Can you demote someone and motivate him at the same time? Sure you can. Twice, after firing people, they've thanked me and credited me with getting them on a better path. It's not easy, though, and it has less to do with how you handle the demotion than how you've handled everything leading up to it.

First, you have to have one clearly-communicated standard that you and everyone on your team is expected to meet. 

Second, you have to react consistently to every failure to meet that standard, every time, and even-handedly. No favorites, no exceptions, no special treatment. Not even for you.

Third, you have to make every member of your team feel valued not just for his or her work, but for being the person he or she is. Hint: You do that by actually valuing them.

If you follow those three rules, then when you demote a team member, he'll already know that he has not met the clearly-defined standard, and he'll also know, from observation and personal experience, that failure to meet the standard has consequences. Since all of that is out of the way, you can spend most of your time on a pep talk about how valuable he's been and will be again if he can just get on top of this temporary blip in his performance.

If you've genuinely valued him in the past, and you mean what you say, he'll buy it. And you won't have to lead him through a couple weeks of the crabbies before you can start moving the team forward again. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Challenge of Unequal Pay

It's one of the toughest conversations you'll have as a leader: One team member finds out exactly how much less he's making than another. He's angry, he's hurt, he wonders if he can trust you. What do you do?

There are two good reasons to pay someone more: Either the job he does or the work he does is worth more.

If it's the job, it's usually an easy conversation. You can point to the degree needed for the other job, or the different scale that job has with your company. You can shift the conversation to what the unhappy team member can do to make himself eligible for that other job, or one like it.

If it's the work, you have a tougher job. If you base even part of your raises on merit, you have to tell employees regularly how they're doing. If you've done that, you can point out how the higher-paid team member is doing the things you've already counseled your unhappy member about. If this is the first time the unhappy employee is hearing it, though, your relationship and credibility is going to take a hit, and rightfully so.

The bottom line: If you're talking to your people regularly about performance, and if your pay decisions are fair, you won't have this problem very often.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Would Your Team Volunteer to Follow You?

I envy people who lead volunteers. You know why? Because they buy into the vision; it’s the only reason unpaid workers work.


It’s true that volunteers can cause a leader a lot of headaches. You can’t discipline them (How? Pay cut? Suspension?) and they’re really hard to fire. And they’re prone to quit when things don’t go their way.


But volunteers have the best possible attribute of a team member: They believe in what you’re doing. They’re there out of love and conviction; they’re working from the heart. Motivating volunteers is so easy a caveman can do it.


So here’s one of the most challenging tests of your leadership: Would your team volunteer to work for you? Take the pay question out of it; if they could choose any boss and any department in the company, would they choose yours? If you asked which team did the most meaningful work, would they say yours?


The work your team does is important. Do they know it? Do they believe it? If not, it’s on you. Get out there and paint the vision in such bright colors they can’t miss it.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The President's Leadership Challenge with Syria

Our president’s in a tough spot right now. Doesn’t matter if you like him or not, any leader can feel for him; he’s up against an almost no-win situation in Syria, leadership-wise.


His problem: Those he’s trying to lead aren’t buying his vision. If he does what he thinks is right, it might erode his leadership as followers, at home and internationally, become disillusioned. If he doesn’t, he could lose leadership cred too, as he might appear indecisive or willing to sacrifice his own integrity to be popular. To make things worse, every day of delay makes it less likely that his desired course of action will do any good.


You’ll have days like that, when life throws something at you that you never saw coming, and you don’t have time to paint the vision or build buy-in with your team. Every one of those situations is different, so I only have one piece of advice for you: Never, ever compromise your own integrity. Do what you think is right, explain why you think it’s right, and always be consistent. Then, your detractors will have to challenge you on values, not on actions.


Trust comes from walking your own talk. Down the road your team will likely forget the details. They’ll never forget it if you take the easy path against your own conscience.