The Difference Leadership Makes

I was watching one of those pseudo-documentaries about the American Navy SEALs on the History Channel the other night(1), and an interesting little tidbit came up during the part where the teams are trying to get their boats past the surf and out into the ocean. If you’ve never seen this exercise (or “evolution” in Navy-speak), it’s actually an entertaining spectacle.

Instructors divide the class into boat teams, each with a student leader. Then there’s all the usual running around with the inflatable dingy carried above their heads, yelling and screaming, push-ups in the sand, and so on. When the surf conditions are just right (the ideal seems to be a combined high-tide and a storm surge, with multiple metre-high waves), the instructors send the boat teams out in the surf. The first team past the surf gets to sit out the next evolution. Everyone else, on the principle that “second place is first loser”, gets to do more running around with the dingy above their heads, push-ups in the sand, etc.

You just can’t get past the surf without everyone working together. You can see a clip of the exercise here: Navy SEAL BUD/S Training – Surf Passage(2)

Image result for surf passage

In the episode I was watching, the instructors noticed that one team was consistently last (and therefore earned their special, unwanted attention), and one team was consistently first (and got the break). So the instructors decided to run an experiment. They took the crew leader(3) from the worst boat and switched him with the leader from the best boat.

The two crews switched results in the race, dramatically and immediately. The last place boat became the first place boat and vice-versa.

Without clear purpose, direction, and motivation provided by somebody, anybody, the team fails and the team suffers for it. Without changing the other members of the team, changing the leadership changes the team’s performance,

When There are Too Many Leaders

I was mentoring at a student civic innovation competition last year. The students were from several different institutions and disciplines (architecture & design, finance, business, marketing, social innovation, etc.) The challenge was to take an under-utilized civic space and research, analyse, and propose a low-cost, community-centred update of the space in a weekend.  Then pitch it to a panel of judges.

It’s an interesting human-centred design exercise, and an interesting team-work exercise. Also they don’t get a lot of sleep.

One team ended up going in circles. They were unable to decide on a design, agree on a way forward, or complete the work. In the end it came down to having one too many leaders. Two of the students in particular saw themselves and driving the process forward. What they didn’t realize was that by pushing so hard for “their solution” they were shutting down the creative process, collaboration, cooperation, and frustrating everyone else on the team with their bun fight.

Listening was non-existent and ego ruled. Despite attempts by myself and another mentor, they never really overcame this friction and failed to win in any category at the pitch competition.

What Kind of Leadership Do You Need?

So what? We need to think carefully about the culture, structure, and ground rules of our teams – how they’re put together, how decisions get made, its purpose, and how it’s going to succeed.

In a military context teams need high levels of trust. The ability to resolve conflicts and make decisions quickly, to coordinate effort, and to motivate members (such as promotion up the chain-of-command.) Hierarchy has its advantages, but…

Not everyone is a soldier. Collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and execution are the order of the day. This means everyone pays attention to the other team members(5), everyone contributes, and nobody hi-jacks the process. Leaders need to be comfortable with messy, even uncomfortable conversations while making sure everyone contributes and stays focused on the task. It’s hard and requires a high emotional intelligence, but then good leadership always has.

 

 

(1) Don’t get me started on how the History Channel doesn’t have any history on it, although my sweetie and I really enjoy watching Forged in Fire together. As long as you know what you’re in for (not history, but rather entertainment) then it’s all good.

(2) I find the music overly dramatic and unnecessary, but some people like that sort of thing. The camera shots from the drone are pretty cool though.

(3) This is a common feature of military training – assigning leadership duties to the students. It lightens the load for the instructors, trains the students in leadership and accountability, and is invaluable in motivating everyone to do their best to make sure everyone cooperates when it’s their turn. It’s a great development tool in any context.

(4) Nothing wrong with consensus, if that’s what you need. Just be ready to take a very long time to make decisions, and have a very clear process for collaboration, discussion, and conflict resolution.

(5) This is where women have an advantage over men. So if you’re trying to solve a really difficult, complex problem, one way to stack the deck is to have more than one woman on your team.

Working to Code – An Example of Defining the Basics

My partner and sweetie introduced me to the concept of knolling (a method of organizing objects). She is a university professor who teaches a creative design-heavy capstone marketing class. Turns out that knolling is only Bullet #7 in Tom Sachs “The Code”, the rules for being a successful employee at his design studio. It struck me how fundamental these rules were, The Basics if you will, and how important he must believe they are to the success of his company for him to codify them in this way.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every company or organization were this clear on their values and expected behaviours? That they understood what drives their success? Many organizations do, but most don’t. At least not in a living and authentic way.

What are you personal, team, or company bullets/basics/code? What disciplines, processes, and tools drive your success?

p.s. Tom also has a “How to Sweep” video. I would argue that if you or your company cannot thoughtfully and elegantly describe its work in a similar way, you might now know what you’re doing.

 

How to Spot a Great Team

Some leaders of teams that don’t regularly succeed will still insist that they have a great team because team members care about one other and no one ever leaves the team. A more accurate description of their situation would be to say that they have a mediocre team that enjoys being together and isn’t terribly bothered by failure. See, no matter how good a leadership team feels about itself, and how noble its mission might be, if the organization it leads rarely achieves its goals, then, by definition, it’s simply not a good team.

The Advantage – Patrick Lencioni

Stop Motivating Me…

Start with values, meaning, and a higher purpose first. Link what I’m doing to that. The rest will follow.

Message to my Manager: Stop Trying to Motivate Me

Some Early Thoughts on Leadership

I came across a couple of excerpts that I used to have up on my wall when I was a signals officers. They were printed out on a dot matrix printer, which should tell you how long ago that was.

Reminders of the demands of leadership…

How to sack a divisional commander: Tewkesbury, 4 mAY 1471

Lord Wenlock

LORD WENLOCK not having advanced to the support of the first line, but remaining stationary, contrary to the expectations of Somerset, the latter, in a  rage, rode up to him , reviled him, and beat his brains out with an axe.

— Richard Brooke – Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes p. 104 – Oxford University Press

it is not infrequently the case that when an officer falls on the battlefield, enquiries are made as to which side shot him

An officer of the 15th Foot

There is a story of a Major of the 15th Foot who, on the field of Blenheim, turned to address his regiment before the assault, and apologized for his past ill behaviour. He requested that, if he must fall, it should be by the bullets of the enemy. If spared, he would undertake to mend his ways. To this abject performance, a grenadier said: “March on, sir; the enemy is before you, and we have something else to do than think of you now.” After several attacks, the regiment carried its position and the Major, gratified, not doubt, to be still alive, turned to his troops and removed his hat to call for a cheer. No sooner had he said “Gentlemen, the day is ours” than he was struck in the forehead by a bullet and killed. There was a decided suspicion that the bullet was no accident.

E.S. Turner – IBID p. 145

From Inspiration to Action

This article, Turning Inspiration Into Action, summarizes really well the steps needed to change our our own behaviour. It also works really well when trying to drive change team in a team, department, division, etc.

Commit publicly, book the time and use it, ask people to hold you accountable, break big tasks into small ones, design regular reminders, examine why you avoid it when it happens.

I’d only add one more thing: celebrate successes along the way.

From inspiration to action

There, now go change the world.

I Can’t Change Other People – Ten Things I Know to Be True #6

(or “I Can’t Help Other People That Don’t Want to Be Helped”)

leopord

The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. This isn’t true of stock markets, but it is true of people. People seldom change unless they’ve been through a life-changing event or under sustained, focused effort over time. Studies show our personality traits are pretty much set by first grade, if not earlier.

Which means I’ve wasted a lot of time and effort up to now wondering why people can’t just do what they’re “supposed to”. To behave in a rational way, for whatever value of rational you want to define. I can’t make people change, and I can’t make them behave or do things that I want them to. And now that I write it down, it makes me sound like a bit of a jerk, doesn’t it?

I might be able to influence others with my example. I may be able to hold them accountable for their actions and explain what impact it has on me. I may be able to clearly communicate my wants, needs, and expectations. But the choice about what to do about it, and how others choose to act, is totally up to them. Not me.

So what am I going to do when people make choices that I don’t agree with or like? How do I not get frustrated when the change that I *know* they need to make doesn’t happen? My only control is over myself and what I’m going to do about it. Up to and including changing or ending the relationship if that’s what’s right for me.

How other people feel is always valid, but how they act is their choice. Hoping, wishing, expecting somebody to change how they behave because it benefits me, or because I have a persuasive argument, or logical argument, is silly. Especially when their past behaviour doesn’t line up with what I expect or am hoping for.

Part of my Ten Things I Know To Be True series.

I’m Busy, They’ll Figure It Out

Sixth in a series about communication and change management

We can’t manage time.

We can’t manage five minutes and turn it into six. We can’t manage information overload – if we tried our heads would explode every time we walked into a library. We don’t manage priorities, we have them.

We can decide what to focus on and how we spend our time.

Alice's White Rabbit
We can’t manage time, but we can manager our focus

Those things we choose to spend our time and attention on are more likely to be successful than those we don’t. Yet some of us seem determined to try to do everything that comes along, whether or not it aligns with our work and our lives. There may be many reasons for this behaviour. The result is often stress, failure, and shame.

You can’t create more time. You have to budget the time you we do have. Decide what you must, should, and want to do with your time. More importantly decide what you’re NOT going to do.

If your objective is to make a program or initiative fail, then you don’t need to make the sometimes difficult decisions about what other things you’re not going to spend your time and attention on. Just let it happen by default. Because you’re too busy.

Here’s the paradox. As managers we get things done through other people. Managing people take a lot of time and effort. Maybe even more than managing ourselves. Which can be a pain. If people did what they were supposed to, being a leader would be a lot easier.

One of things that can’t get ignored by default are the human relationship aspects of your job. I think it should be near the top, in fact. You can’t ignore the people part, building trust, and then get mad when the projects executed by those people fail.

There’s no point in being so busy that you don’t check in on a project, program, or initiative only to find out in the last two weeks of a three month effort that you’re two months away from finishing it. Now you’re going to be spending the next two weeks pulling that particular set of chestnuts out of the fire. While you ignore your other work. Tell me again why we’re so busy?

Fix #6 Have a Rhythm

Clear responsibilities, hysterical transparency, and regular reviews drive accountability. Getting things done doesn’t mean doing everything yourself. Getting things done means planning and delegating the work, keeping track of progress on a regular basis, and reporting on that progress.

Consider maintaining a”relationship” with the projects you’re accountable for, as well as the people you work with. Regular, habitual check-ins, meetings, or status updates are the best means of keeping a project on track.

Establish a rhythm lets you stay up-to-speed on what’s happening with all the work and your team. Ideally once a week. Once a day if that’s appropriate for a critical, complex, or large project.

If your check-ins are once a week, and the work is more than two weeks in duration, then break the work into two week chunks. With tangible, deliverable results at the end of each. This could be a report, a presentation, a manufactured good, a software release, a construction milestone, a signed contract, etc. Something real.

Two weeks is a nice way to break up the time. In the first week something should be started, and in the second they should have finished. Now you can verify progress. There is a report, a presentation, or other work product the shows progress. Not started? Okay – what’s the hold up? Finished now? Good – where’s the deliverable?

This is one example of how to design a project to provide the clear responsibilities and transparency.

You can deliberately build in the rhythm that allows you to manage, direct, and oversee the work. Or you can spend more time later cleaning up the mess. Your choice.

Why Delegating Work to Your Staff Is Good For Them

I believe delegation saves leaders and their organization time & money in the long run. But what about the poor, put-upon, over-worked, under-paid employee? Well, turns out it’s good for them too.

I’m assuming of course that your staff wants to get better. That they want to gain mastery of their skills so they can come to work every day and do their best. That they want the autonomy that comes with being trusted and having a good track record. That they are mostly willing to prove themselves and have the evidence that they are trust-worthy, dependable, valuable to the company. They may even want to prove they are ready to be promoted.

Otherwise we need to have a different conversation about hiring the right people.

This is what good delegation does. It’s not about getting the tasks you don’t like doing off your desk. Although there is something to be said for finding somebody that enjoys and does well those things that you don’t. If we’re honest, we can’t be good at everything. It’s important we focus on the things we are good at.

It teaches them to prioritize their work, plan their day, and make them more effective. But what of the work that doesn’t get done? Some things might get delegated “to the floor”. Bonus points if they stop doing low or no-value activities because they’re busier with high-value (to the company) work.

This is part of your role. To help your people work out what they need to delegate to their own staff (if they have any), or not do it at all. If and you and your team are not getting the most important things done first, then you probably aren’t getting the most important things done.

Wouldn’t you rather get the least important things not done? I can hear the screams: “No Bernie! We have to get everything done!” Well, that’s not going to happen. So let’s deal with reality instead.

Question for the Comments: What’s your worst or best experience being delegated to?

Other Delegation Articles You Might Be Interested In:
You Need to Get Good At This To Be a Good Leader
Outstanding Entrepreneurs Do This Well
What Is Accountability?

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

Why Are You Hiding Your Values?

I was in Rogers on Tuesday (they’re a local  cell phone service provider), on the 29th anniversary of my engagement to my bride, trying to get her a phone upgrade.  I thought it would be a simple process, and a nice gesture on our “asking” day.

Silly me. Three hours later we walked out with a new phone, bitter and disappointed at the service we received from Rogers. The only reason I didn’t switch was because the clerk couldn’t get through to her own customer service to cancel my contract, and I didn’t want to spent my entire anniversary waiting for this to get sorted out. But that’s not really what I want to talk about today.

While waiting I noticed the Roger’s one-page strategic plan lying on the counter. It seems I’ve inherited my grandmother’s faculty for reading upside-down. At least somewhat.

That skill had something to do with why she spent a few years living in Argentina after the war. There’s also something about her burning her then-dead German husband’s papers on the roof of the apartment in Switzerland under cover of doing laundry before fleeing. That’s also another story.

I asked the clerk if I could take a look at her company’s values, and she said no. She hid it furtively. As if she’d been caught doing something wrong.

This puzzles me. If a company is going to go through all the time and effort of discovering a set of expected behaviours for the company, then why can’t its customers see it? Are they embarrassed? Are they afraid that customers will laugh? In Roger’s case, given my treatment by them that night, that might realistic.

I began wondering how many other companies have values that they’re not willing to share with their customers, suppliers, and partners. Are they afraid to be held accountable to them? If you set out values and expected behaviour for everybody in your company, and you know that that’s not who your company really is, then I might understand your reticence.

I challenge you to publish your values. I dare you to make a public commitment. Commitment that is necessary for accountability and results. If you’re not willing to make that commitment, maybe you need to go back to your executive retreat and have another think.

If it turns out you don’t have any values, besides just making money, which I doubt, then don’t make something up. You’re not fooling anybody. Share who you are as a company, and be willing to be held to it. Otherwise the public will make up its own stories about why you behave the way you behave, or treat them the way you do.

Then make sure there’s a way for your clients, staff, suppliers to tell you when you are – and aren’t – living up to them. Listen. They’re already talking about you anyway. If you’re not hearing them it’s because you’re not listening.

If you’re not willing to fire employees behaviour that  consistently violate your core values, or you’re not willing to fix internal systems that consistently violate your customers humanity (such as making a phone upgrade a byzantine, three-hour gauntlet of bizarre rules and contractual obligations that require approval from an unreachable customer service representative in some overwhelmed call centre), then don’t waste your time.

There is a direct line between integrity and execution. If you don’t understand the this linkage between vision and engagement, values and execution, purpose and urgency, then stop wasting your time. Don’t waste it on “values” and “strategy” if you’re not going to follow through, or are doing it only because all the other “good” corporations are doing it.

That’s how I got started smoking – because the “cool” kids were doing it. It took me more than 29 years to quit and permanently damaged my health. But that’s another story.

My Own Personal Values

For the record, here are my own personal values:

  1. I will keep my word
  2. I will not lie, steal, cheat, hate, nor tolerate those who do.
  3. I will leave this world better than I found it.
  4. I will deal with reality, and face my fears. The only easy day was yesterday.
  5. Family first and last