Divide & Conquer; Building & Destroying Teams – Part 3 Opinion

This 3-part series has been a unique adventure for me. I definitely feel I will expand on this series. I will find some way for readers to identify when I have made additions to the articles. I think identifying updates is fair for those readers who have taken something from the series.

Part 3 is about my personal opinion on divide and conquer strategies and tactics. I may revert to a very informal style of writing. I encourage readers to contact me if my writing in Part 3 becomes muddled. Let us venture on and see where my mind is comprehending my own reality. Please remember when reading on I am sharing my personal opinion and there is nothing hidden or formally supported through research or study. Enjoy the following reading.

Dividing and conquering is very deceptive. It is as deceptive as any and all strategies and tactics employed by managers and leaders in all applications. Dividing and conquering is a strategy intended to quell the masses; to enforce control over groups. Dividing groups into smaller controllable groups makes complete sense and has been utilizes for far longer than I have walked Earth. (Now, that is a duh statement!)

We are taught from early ages in school to divide into smaller groups to get more accomplished. Classrooms are often ran on divide and conquer, really, think about it… no single elementary school teacher will be able to control 25 or 30 7-year old children. I remember dividing into smaller groups throughout my educational career including up to April, 2017 when I finished my second Master’s Degree. We, as a culture are conditioned from early on to understand smaller groups or teams often can realize more significant learning. Enough about teaching and learning strategies.

In the work world we see small specialized groups in the workplace conducting very specific tasks to support the entire goals and objectives of the organization. Accountants work in accounting, finance, and payroll. Mechanics work in garages doing engine, body, or some specialized sub-section of those two categories. A car dealership is not going to ask an accountant to head out to the garage and change a CV Joint and likewise, the mechanic is not going to put sleeve bands on and visor and go to clicking away at determining payroll and cutting checks. I digress, this is all very simple to understand, let us move on to something a bit more deep and possibly controversial.

Lying and concealing relevant information necessary to do a task is destructive. It seems, in my opinion, many managers do just this, lie and conceal information. I like to think of these bad habits as silo-ing effect where a person keeps vital information trapped within their control to ensure they are indispensable to an organization. These behaviors are driven by incompetence, fear, lack of education, lack of empathy, and poor vision of the environment. I do not want to start grinding my ax here, but I have seen so many managers tell bold-faced lies to people it does not just make me scratch my head anymore.  Instead of just being honest and transparent, which is extremely respectful of a person, managers will say anything. In my career time I have heard such crazy lies from managers it is unbelievable.

Lyes. Lyes, they just keep coming from the mouths of incompetent, under-prepared, under educated, un-empathetic, and scared managers.

“We’ll have a decision next week,” and nothing is ever said and when queried managers deflect with some rhetoric about priorities changing or some other lame excuse.

“We need more data before we can do anything,” yes, data collection is just a form of lying to people in the hopes the data collection process becomes so convoluted attrition makes the topic or situation fade away.

“I totally support your promotion. You deserve it,” if I had a bullshit flag right now, I would be waving it crazily right now.

“I don’t have authority to make that decision,” grow a pair and make a decision.

“I have your back on this,” yeah, right. Mangers are not friends and they rarely could care less about protecting anyone but themselves. Not an absolute, but surely measurable and significant.

Just a few examples of lies we hear stammered from the lips of managers. I have heard others, but they are very specific to detailed tasks. People in general are not stupid and can see the lies for what they are in statements from managers. Lies destroy teams quickly. Lies let nasty things fester up in a team which all stem from distrust. Lies beget distrust, distrust begets apathy, apathy begets loss of vision of the goals and objectives of any organization.

Trust is a huge component of successful teams. There are two ways to look at trust. First, in the very conventional method of having trust in someone they will be honest, ethical, and moral in their words and actions. Then the second way, trusting people to behave in a manner consistent with past behavior. An example of the second way of trusting someone is this; I trust John will stab me in the back as quickly as he can at every turn to make himself look better to move up the corporate ladder. I will do a little Jedi musing here, trust is like the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. The Light Side of the Force is having faith one will do what one says they will do. The Dark Side of the Force says we must trust and be vigilant of those who will behave and act in a predictable way to further one’s own agenda as they have demonstrated through past actions.

I honestly have faith there is a better way to lead people than divide them. Unity is a root of Community which we recognize as efforts conducted by a group in relation to accomplishing some task or tasks. In business there are many small communities, but there is also always a larger entity which makes a decent vision of goals and opportunities. I caution though, plan for the best and prepare for the worst. There are far too many wild cards in the deck of life and Murphy will always throw his Law into the mix to make things just so much more interesting.

Dividing and conquering is really a well-used military strategy which employs tactics necessary to win a battle or war.  More to come………

Divide & Conquer; Building & Destroying Teams – Part 2

In Part 1 we discussed how to build a team by dividing an organization’s goals and objectives into tasks and sub-tasks. We then divided the whole group of people into smaller teams based on their knowledge, skill, abilities, experience, and interests. All of this, in the end provides an organization with some form of profit. We divided to build teams and with some hope on my part, the organization’s leadership understands this is just the beginning of something great… a great success or a great failure.

Now, oh now, we get to look at how dividing can be destructive. This becomes a down-and-dirty conversation about how management can behave in ways which make us all stop, get that messed up look on our face, and scratch our head in pure wonder. I will not claim division is all bad and I may choose to detail how dividing a large group can galvanize the group towards something good, but I may also choose to discuss that topic alone at another time (teaser alert).

Throughout time groups of people have been divided to maintain control, mostly this is referred to as social control. Without going into a highly argumentative diatribe, I will say this, social control is real and very necessary to maintain civility within a momentous global population. Some of the tactics utilized to maintain social control are very questionable, but I will leave those to your thoughts and not interject my opinions.

In business managers find it is easier to control smaller groups of people. I will step out on a branch here and state the more complex and cognitively straining the smaller the group the better for management. Highly intelligent people working on very complex projects are a real threat to management if let to congregate in large numbers. So here lies Tactic 1, management will divide the more cognitive and complex tasks into several sub-tasks to almost the break-even point of profit to segregate the most intelligent employees. Intelligent employees ask far too many questions and to minimize the threat of making management appear incompetent, management will ensure only a small number of highly intelligent workers are in any specific group. It sounds far worse than it actually is, but I challenge you to stop and look around you at the dynamics of your own work team composition.

Tactic 1 is related to the rise of labor unions in modern industrialized business. Management at the time of the Industrial Revolution in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century. People were allowed to freely mingle in the workplace and the smartest ones initiated a movement towards worker rights and thus, the inception of labor unions began! The intelligent workers organized the average workers and manipulated them to strike and stop production in order to secure improved working conditions, adequate benefits, and reasonable compensation. Management attempted to break unionization, but the fullness of understanding of factory work was less sophisticated during the Industrial Revolution and Tactic 1 was not even on the horizon for management to consider.

Tactic 1 is very much a broad organizational component today and has led to, what I consider the weakening of labor unions (perhaps another topic for another time). Today, business leaders and managers understand it is vital to have smaller teams to take on the more cerebral tasks and even small teams to do very repetitive jobs. One of the biggest negatives for an organization is the larger the organization the more managers are needed to maintain Tactic 1.

With more managers in the organization there are more levels of management. Yes, I am purposefully not using the term leader or leadership at this point because in context people have been comodified and are being managed. I am certainly not attempting to dehumanize or rob anyone of their individuality, but a lot of management effort goes into determining the correct composition of a group and then to build a team. We sometimes do not realize the effort which goes into Tactic 1, but it is real and it is a difficult task.

There are more managers in an organization to support smaller groups and build teams. Sometimes and organization gets complacent and allows more managers than are necessary. Workers are not stupid. Workers know when there is a bullshit manager who is grossly incompetent. This is Destruction 1, too many managers who have zero clue what they are doing within or to a group. Raise the proverbial bullshit flag.

No manager goes to work in the morning and says, “Gee, I really want to destroy my team and make my life a living misery where I’ll most likely end up being hated by those I have to lead or worse yet, I could end up in the unemployment line.” I confess, this is not a rule of absolutes, I have met one or two managers who really could give two rats’ asses about people. Just because a person is elevated to a formal management position does not mean that person knows Jack Diddly about being a leader. And sometimes true injustice happens and the worst managers in the world get promoted to a higher position of authority. Scratch your head, I certainly have and most like will again.

Destruction 2, the manager with a personal agenda and no organizational vision. Everyone has heard the mantra, “Be professional, check your personal issues at the door,” but we all know many do not heed this advice at all. Unfortunately, it appears most who carry personal agendas are ladder climbing managers. The manager who will throw anyone under the bus to get an attaboy from the higher ups. First-level, front-line, floor managers are the key holders, they determine what senior managers and leaders get to see and hear. Being a key holder gives them the ability to chase their personal agenda. It is very clear to those looking up from below, but everyone is looking up and rarely looks back to see what is going on below them. This is nature for the predator, this is why we have forward looking eyes, because we are apex predators and is our nature to look forward or upwards for something more. The real destruction is this, the team is ignored and apathy sets in to weaken the team to a group of independent individuals with little to no identity as a team. A team has to have a leader and most look to the formal manager to fill the role of leader.

Destruction 3, myths, mis-truths, and lies. Division is build on smoke and mirrors. Mushrooms, keep ’em in the dark and feed ’em shit. Spread rumors like wildfire to weaken and drive sharp wooden spikes between teammates. Here is a quick story, it is true and really draws a sharp image of Destruction 3.

The company I work for started a new safety initiative. Our team manager, Joe,  came to our site for his monthly visit and rolled out the safety initiative. Joe asked us all in a team meeting if there was anything we wanted to focus on to get us into this new mindset of safety awareness.

Our team decided to take on changing the way we get product. Our product comes to us in a rusty tub that is about 30 inches high and 5′ by 4′. Product can weigh anywhere from a few ounces to over a 100 lbs. We do not access to any lifting devices so everything in the rusty tub has to be manually removed by us. By the end of the meeting we had decided to change the rusty tub through a rigorous brainstorming session where we discusses many alternatives.

The meeting ended and Joe assigned follow-up for the safety initiative to the Team Lead, Stan. We all went our separate ways back to work. Stan sent out a nice set of meeting notes the next morning and we joked about it as we moved into our daily tasks.

We heard nothing else for a couple of months. Joe was unable to come to our site for two months because of organizational commitments, so we were pretty much rudderless for a substantial amount of time. Stan did not grab hold of the safety initiative and so apathy set in. The rusty tub kept showing up and we kept lifting heavy product with our backs because there was no other way.

Joe came down and we had our team meeting. One person brought up what was going on with the rusty tub. Joe stated that Stan was working on it and we had a solution. Time ran out and apathy was well rooted. We all went on our merry ways back to work.

About six months after kicking off the safety initiative we got an email from our Product Services Department informing us they had resolved our rusty tub issue and we would be getting a brand new ergonomic transport system for our product. Several teammates commented on how this became a Product Services issue. Stan said Joe decided to push it to Product Services to save our safety budget for other needs.

12 months after our team decided the rusty tub was a safety issue we still did not have a resolution and attrition had supplanted apathy. We did not talk about the rusty tub anymore. Joe never brought it up in meetings. Stan never kept us up to date on the progress. Product Services was silent.

About 18 months into this debacle and one of our teammates heard a Product Services employee was injured assembling our new transport system. Stan sent out a group email letting us all know there was a short delay in the projected delivery of our new transport system.

We are now at the 24 month mark from when we identified this rusty tub as a serious safety issue. Joe is on site for his monthly visit. We are sitting in our team meeting and someone brings up the rusty tub and Joe says, “What? I thought that was taken care of over a year ago?”

One person said in reply to Joe, “Are you kidding us? You’ve walked by that rusty piece of shit at least 100 times in the last year, not to mention probably 10 times today and probably not more than 40 minutes ago. Do you just not give a shit about us?”

Three months later we got our new transport system. It really was not ergonomically better than the rusty tub. It cost about $5,000 and it injured a coworker from Product Services who was off work for nearly a year. The idea was for this transport system to be moved by a forklift, but it was so massive in size the forklift drivers refused to move it. Now, we have to manually load and unload it like before. Unlike the rusty tub the new transport system requires each individual upstream process to bring their products to us instead of a central area like before. We just created an opportunity for more people to interact with an unsafe transport system and added time and damage to product by causing additional movements of product.

Destruction 3, oblivion on the part of the manager caused apathy and then attrition. Lull them to sleep and the topic becomes dead. As you read the story, find the missed opportunities.

The destruction of a team is simple, show little to no interest, let inadequacies shine through, lie, cheat, and be an ass. Those will all surely put a team six feet under. It is a leader who is needed. Someone who cares, is willing to listen, and most importantly wants to take action is one who will lead a team. There are more destructive forces out there to break teams, but these are the three really big ones which fall under Tactic 1.

Divide & Conquer; Building & Destroying Teams – Part 1

I am going to start a three-part discussion which will start with building a team through dividing and conquering moving to destroying teams and then my commentary. Links to each will be available for each part.

Dividing and conquering is a mainstay in military warfare strategy; so too does the business world use tactics of dividing and conquering to cement the organizations ability to sustain and grow operations. It can be easy to identify how an organization uses divide and conquer (d & c) strategies and tactics to dominate an industry, but it is not so simple to understand how d & c builds and destroys teams. Let us examine how this is possible and what the impact can be to an organization or group.

What is meant by the concept of divide and conquer? Smaller numbers are more easily managed, manipulated, and motivated. One may also see d & c as a way to successfully lead diverse groups.

Divide and conquer strategy and tactics may seem on the surface to be negative in nature, almost devious in how it is perceived by many, especially by those who are the losing side! In military warfare d & c tactics include dividing one’s own forces to appear larger than they actually are to the enemy or dividing the enemy’s forces in order to secure victory. In nature we see many predators like wolves culling herds for easy kills which is an example of survival tactics and team buildings. It really depends on the side you are on which dictates the perception of divide & conquer strategies and tactics as being good or bad.

Let us look into team building through divide and conquer strategies and tactics. When an organization is facing a task which is enormous it becomes a necessity to breakdown the task into manageable sub-tasks. Now we have small tasks to accomplish a larger goal, but we do not send our entire force to tackle each task by itself, we separate our human resources into teams and move forward towards working several of the sub-tasks simultaneously. Each small group becomes autonomous to some degree and hopefully the organization’s leadership has identified individuals’ knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, and interests in assigning groups for sub-task completion. Everyone has seen an organization chart and understands how things are broken-down into groups, an engineering firm leader is not going to assign an engineer to an accounting department to calculate payroll taxes just as a restaurant owner is not going to have the Michelin Chef bus tables. This is most often referred to assignment by specialization and is vital for every organization to master for success.

Groups have been assigned accordingly and now it is time to build teams. Two basic necessities for team building are leaders and followers. Followers are those who will complete specific tasks as assigned to the group based on specialty. Leaders are those who have formal authority over the group to make decisions aligned with the goals and objectives of the organization. This is not a team, yet. This is a hierarchical structure with clear task assignment and cloudy expectations. Who or what develops and sets expectations?  General expectations are driven by the industry as a whole to begin. Expectations become more detailed flowing to individual groups from leadership. There is a caution here because in some cases an organization can have very general expectations which do not translate into specific expectations at individual group levels (I would venture to say, if this is the case, then the organization may be heavily laden with managers with limited leadership abilities). Team? Not yet.

Specific groups have been developed for completing sub-tasks meeting larger organizational goals and objectives. There are leaders and followers who have some idea of expectations. Followers have the easy part now, follow the work plan and finish assigned tasks. Leaders have a completely different responsibility now to cultivate a team. Please bear in mind, we are discussing specialized groups within  larger organizations in this context.

Group leaders must complete the evaluation of knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, and interests for each member in the group. Leaders may choose to review group members’ resumes and applications to build a basic understanding of knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience. What about interests? This is where leading becomes fun! It is time to get to know the individual people within the group and the interests which drive each person. Drive or better known as motivation. What interests an individual also is a large portion of what motivates a person.

Remember there is a definite difference between leading and managing. A leader will take the time to know the individuals within a group and develop the team around the individuals’ motives and interests. It is a complex puzzle which often times has one or two pieces which are not part of the puzzle. Knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences can qualify a person for a group, but that does not insure a good fit for the organization or individual.

Here are two really important Human Resource concepts for building teams; there is organization fit and individual fit. Sometimes individuals do not fit with the organization and sometimes the organization does not fit the individual. Just because this person has all the basic qualifications does not mean they fit the organization. We do not expect an engineer to move from a construction company  into a lab to develop a mechanical heart, even though the knowledge, skills, and abilities indicate the engineer is a great match for mechanical innovation. Likewise, a person with nonviolent values would most likely not be a good fit for a weapons manufacturing company.

We now have a group of puzzle pieces which belong all to the same puzzle. The leader is beginning to put the puzzle together by getting to know the people. A good leader will let individuals do what they enjoy doing in the department. A great leader will challenge team members to expand their knowledge, skills, and abilities to develop a unique experience in order to foster the sense of value for each person within the team.

We have divided a large group into smaller groups to manage the goals and objectives of the organization. In over simplifying this concept, we now have teams because leaders have taken the time and put forth the effort to know their people and assign them appropriate tasks and team positions which fulfill the need to be valued.

A huge undertaking has been divided into tasks and sub-tasks. A large group of people has been divided into small specialized groups to accomplish tasks and sub-tasks as their specific knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences, and interest best suit the goals and objectives of the organization as a whole. People are motivated by many things and trade their labor for benefits from a company. In turn, a company pays people to produce products and/or services in the hopes of realizing a profit.

I am quite proud of myself, I just explained an organization in under 100 words! We have successfully divided and conquered a complex undertaking in terms of a business or group with specific goals and objectives in pursuit of realizing some form of profit. Let us move on now to Part 2.

Divide & Conquer; Building & Destroying Teams – Part 2

What do I have to do?

This is a very personal topic. I struggle with this continuously. It is the dreaded question we all ask ourselves; what do I have to do?

For me, this is extremely difficult because it comes with an overwhelming sense of being defeated. I have made every attempt to improve my knowledge, skills, and abilities through education and experience. In my most humble opinion, I fail horribly. Let me detail some reasons why I fail and why I keep repeating this failing behavior.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over exactly the same way, but expecting different results. Albert Einstein

If leading and managing were easy everyone would be really great at it and there would be few problems, issues, or situations in the world. I know, I am sounding a bit cliche here. Back to the ranch and the topic at hand.

What do I have to do? As an informal leader, this means I am not in a recognized and paid position for my leadership contributions, I am continuously seeking opportunities to convert my informal status to a very formal status. For some this seems to be a very simple process and becoming a formal leader or manager is almost divine plan. Here are a few issues which pose the most formidable barriers to my perceived success.

I am passionate. I throw myself completely into what I do. Sometimes I take too much ownership of things, especially things which are beyond my control or expertise. My passion is often misunderstood and is a major liability to my success as a leader. A good leader would temper passion and develop tactics to level the passion to relevant issues.

My perception is my reality. There is no such thing as a shared reality because we all carry our own biases and interpretations to our surrounding environment. There are moments when situations are shared, but still I will argue there is no such thing as a shared reality. I perceive things in extremes, I suppose because I worked in electronics for a number of years and things are on or off which is clearly extremes. The idea of shared reality is a detriment because I like to think people care about the things I care about, but very untrue. This leads to some resentment and my stubborn side manifests itself in very unfashionable moments. A good leader would absorb the various perspectives and adopt a more global reality taking into account the many players in a situation. My way is not always the best way or even a good way. Learning to recognize and develop others is a vital aspect of being a good leader.

Emotions are damning. Closely tied to being passionate, but not exactly the same because emotions are the demons who rear their ugly little heads and let situations go flying out the window. This might be the root of the question, what do I have to do?  Emotions drive a sense of desperation in leading. What a good leader might do is employ personal tools to keep this little monsters in check. For me, I breathe and do a yoga meditation chant in my head. It works, the evil little critters scurry back to their cages in full retreat. I have spent years getting to the point where I see one loose and I go full-tactical so I do not become over-run by my emotions. Still, it happens. I have lost jobs because I let these destructive uncontrollable emotions overcome me at the wrong time. Note: too good of emotions can be not so great, it can create a euphoric attitude and then some one loses an eye and no one wants a loose eye rolling about!

Should. Very few things will go the way they should. I am a serial rehearser. I play situations out in my head over and over again, talking myself into what I think should happen. I will say this, I am not clairvoyant, and I cannot predict the future. There is a little strategy to controlling the should; every time I use should I stop myself and question why something should be the way I imagine. Three words I want to eliminate from my vocabulary are: subordinate, that, and should. I think the best way to get around this word which can play havoc with a mind is to be aware of one’s self and how it sets one up for success or failure. This is applicable to everyone, not just perspective leaders.

Say NO. Some place in my youthful adulthood I developed this very bad mantra; be all to all at all times. I am by no means a yes man, still I have a very difficult time saying NO. Good leaders know how and when to say NO. If people find out I cannot say NO, they will take full advantage of me and use me until I let the emotional demons run a muck. Over the years I have developed a sense of NO, very difficult, but it does exist and I wish I used it more often. I have occupied positions of leadership in my past and I am a very different animal when I am in a formalized leader position. I will use NO very liberally as a leader with those in my sphere of influence, but those outside of it I rarely say NO to because I want to be the best and I know how to drive to the best results. I will find a way. NO is a very hard pill to take for just about everyone in the world and it will be the creator of conflict before its sound stops resonating. A good leader not only can say NO, but can also justify it with grace and poise. I think it all takes practice to become proficient in saying NO.

Expectations can be good? Not always true, but expectations can be very good. First, expectations can be devastatingly destructive because it can set people up for blistering failure. Example: I expect to go to work and everything will go as smooth as a hot knife through room temperature butter, but then everyone else did not get my memo and it becomes a storm of disproportionate belief. One cannot go to work and expect everything to be perfect, not can one be the eternal pessimist and expect the worst to happen at each turn. These are personal expectations and rarely are they ever good. On the other hand, organizational expectations supported by sound policies, process, and procedures are very constructive to good leadership. A team without expectations is no team at all. Think about it, it a team takes the field of play without the expectation to win they will not employ strategy and tactics to drive success. There is a guy I know who always says, “No plan is planning to fail.” In leadership (and management) plans are expectations. Expectations are the plays used to achieve a win.

What the heck does all this mean? What do I have to do? I have to keep in my vigilant mind these things because these things can undo my best intentions in no time at all. These are not necessarily requirements for being a good leader, but these are my weaknesses and as such illuminate the possibility everyone else has their own set of weaknesses. There are strategies to develop and tactics to employ to disable these shortcomings in everyday life and as a leader. I encourage everyone to do a deep diving self-analysis and determine what barriers impede success for them.

 

 

Hey! See Me? See Me! The Art of Recognition.

Very few leaders, managers, or leader-managers demonstrate mediocre attempts at recognizing their people.

How many people on their way to work ponder such thoughts as, “I think I’ll just blend in today and be average or just mediocre”? I like to lean towards the optimistic side of this question and I truly believe most people want to be their best every day. I feel being our best is key to our happiness because it validates our usefulness and sets up our foundation for feeling accepted and wanted within our social groups. Yes, even in our jobs! Many people are very social at work because we spend, at least eight-hours a day for five-days a week with our coworkers. Humans are social creatures and we form our social groups with those we are surrounded by for most of our waking hours.

How does this impact leading and managing? Easily actually, this is where strategy comes into play for most leaders, managers, or leader-managers. I have to say, in my humble experience, very few leaders, managers, or leader-managers demonstrate mediocre attempts at recognizing their people and their people’s efforts to be their best. In a recent study mentioned in an article on Psychology Today author Victor Lipman discusses employee recognition. Lipman’s article references studies in 2007 and 2013 where non-monetary recognition importance for employees in the workplace rose from 57% to 70% during the time frame. What does this mean?

Most people go to work to be their best. At the end of the day we all have to admit to ourselves we work to earn pay. We trade our time and abilities for pay to survive. Without a doubt (and I do not have to quote a study), nearly everyone who earns a paycheck goes to work with the root reason to earn money. Again, we are social critters and we seek validation within our groups. Recognition is a big key in how we see ourselves and establish our value to others, including our employers.

Recognition is the most cost-effective strategy to engage people in the workplace. Lipman’s article demonstrates people are not necessarily looking for money anymore, but instead are seeking a pat on the back and a hearty “Job well done!” This is a topic which really makes a lot of sense to me. Leaders, managers, and leader-managers (I know I keep throwing that in here, maybe I’ll discuss it later in another post) can really impact the level of satisfaction people have at work by sincerely praising efforts which exceed normal expectations. The key buzz word in today’s workplace is employee engagement.

There is a balance and there is finesse in the art of recognition. Many leaders, managers, and leader-managers (let’s call them L M & L-M for now) fail to hone their abilities to really sharpen their unique recognition strategies. There are several key factors in making recognition meaningful.

For recognition to be meaningful the following steps can be used in a successful strategy by a L M & L-M:

  1. Be aware and timely. Know what people are doing and respond with recognition as people are doing exceptional work or going above and beyond. No one wants to be recognized two weeks after they did something more than their usual.
  2. Be specific. Address the specific action. “Bob, I noticed you updated the TPS report log. Great job! The log has been a mess and your efforts are going to make everyone’s job so much easier. Thank you, you are appreciated.”
  3. Use the person’s name. I once heard people wear names tags so they are not commodified. Recognizing a person’s name makes situations personal and familiar.
  4. Say, “Thank you.” I know I always get a warm-fuzzy when someone thanks me and I get to say, “You’re very welcome.” Try it in your everyday encounters, just take the moment to say thank yous and you’re welcomes. I find both phases can be humbling in very good ways.
  5. Be open. Praise people in groups with their peers and other L M &/or L-Ms. DO NOT turn the attempt to recognize someone into a neck-sack bloating boast session. State the recognition for everyone to witness and move on. Lingering in recognition too long becomes awkward and embarrassing.
  6. Recognize justly. DO NOT pick favorites to continuously  recognize. It’s a trap! This is where I find real effort to be paramount on the L M & L-M’s part. Refer to strategy 1 Be aware!
  7. Recognize continuously. Give recognition on a regular basis, people do great things everyday. Be cautious not to be overly praising because it will devalue recognition moving forward.
  8. Avoid group recognition. It’s a trap! A big L M & L-M fail falls into this category. It is the sign of oblivion and laziness. Not everyone in a group participates at an equal level, when a group is recognized it devalues the efforts of those who really put forth the effort. It is perfectly okay to exclude members of the group who did not exert effort in an accomplishment.
  9. Recognize the facts. DO NOT embellish. Awkward!

By no means are these 9 steps the all-encompassing be-all-end-all to patting someone’s back. These steps do play a big part in a sound foundation. Real effort is entailed in recognition, more so in the informal recognition like I have been discussing here.

Please feel free to refer to the example of Bob’s accomplishment in Step 2.

People want to be patted on the back, proverbially because some people really do not like to be touched. Plus, you really do not know where they have been! Give a handshake if appropriate. Recognition takes time and time is money in the business world. I encourage everyone to invest in seeing people and what they do every day. We do not have to merely recognize those we work with, but we can extend this to everyone. When a server keeps your beer full, thank them. When a store clerk grabs another dozen eggs because one is broke in your carton, thank them. When someone thanks you, say, “You are very welcome,” and mean it. Others’ day will be brighter and you will feel lighter and more appreciative of the things which go on around us!

In the workplace, if not done regularly, recognition may be seen through skeptical lens. Over time and properly utilized recognition strategies will become like a virus. Most will be infected and want to do extras because they want validated and accepted. The cost is time and awareness if properly done.

Note: Leaders, managers, and leader-managers are not the only ones who can recognize someone. I find peer and customer recognition to be especially important and rewarding. Go out there and pat some backs!

Your Oxygen Mask First

In the event of a rapid cabin depressurization oxygen masks will drop from your overhead control panel.

I like to tell stories sometimes. I like to think of them as those bits of wisdom I carry with me. I want to share this one story which most can readily identify with and may not have ever thought of in terms of leadership.

Most of us have flown on commercial jets at one point or another, some more than others. Having worked on military aircraft I am always pumped to fly, scared a bit, and a little anxious! I grab the airplane emergency sheet in the seat-back as soon as I sit down. I want to know what type airplane I am on; I prefer Boeing jets above all others!

I listen intently for the Captain to tell the Flight Attendants to, “Prepare for push back.” It signals the Flight Attendant’s safety speech which I absolutely love to intently listen to like every flight is my first! I can almost repeat it verbatim, I hope you cannot hear my grinding gears in my mind!

“In the event of a rapid cabin depressurization oxygen masks will drop from your overhead control panel. Sharply pull the mask and bag to you to activate the flow of oxygen. Place the mask over your nose and mouth. Pull the straps on either sides to secure the mask on your face and breathe normally.” Now comes the leadership part, “Please put your mask on before assisting others.”

Please put your mask on before assisting others. I always envision a strapping twenty-something man worried about his wife or young child. He is willing to sacrifice his own good to protect them. Most will think his action heroic and appropriate. I see things a bit differently.

As leaders we are charged with the health of our organization and the well-being of those who work for us (Do not worry a blog for this topic will follow). Back to being a leader who needs to consider organizational health and human well-being. The most important part of this equation is the leader. Please do not scrunch your brow and think me crazy.

The reason you have to put your mask on first in the case of rapid depressurization is so you are able to assist others. If you are passed out from oxygen deprivation you are the one who needs assistance. Put your mask on first so you are able to help others.

Being a leader is similar. A leader must take care of them self. To make decisions in the best interest of the organization and people a leader must be at peak performance. A leader can only be as effective as they are healthy them self. When I say healthy I am not merely meaning physical health, I mean every aspect of health. A leader’s body, mind, and soul must be healthy to successfully lead. A leader must maintain healthy moral beliefs and ethical standards. Leaders must also keep professional and personal relationship viable.

When the oxygen mask drops a leader must recognize something has gone wrong in life. It is not being selfish to stop and take care of issues which need attention in the immediate here and now. Great leaders can see unhealthy issues coming and have developed countless skills and strategies to resolve them before there is a problem. Perhaps I will revisit this topic later to discuss some of the not-so-mystical strategies and skills to head off doom and gloom!

My point here is this; leaders are required to be at their best 24/7. When leaders let issues make them unhealthy we get to read about their fall in the headlines. Go to any news media outlet after you read this and you will see plenty of fallen and potentially falling leaders. These fallen leaders could have stopped, assessed their health, and overcome the negativity raining down on them.

Strategy 1 to develop skills to maintain health is to stop, assess your situation, and ask yourself, “Hmmmm, how would I like to read about this in the headlines?”

Lead Change in the World

Lead People, Manage Things, Develop Strategies to Blend the Two.                        Gary Wood Jr

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People are smart and they know what it feels like to be managed, or what most term as being micro-managed. It most assuredly is not a welcome feeling because it robs an individual of their humanity. What is a reasonable solution? In this context of dehumanizing people, managers and leaders have a daunting task. It really is about how people are treated, not only in the workplace, but in life itself.

I believe in a simple rule for understanding managing and leading. Manage things. Lead people.

Things are managed, like commodities, objects with value which must be controlled to minimize loss and maximize profit. Profit is not necessarily monetary and many can ponder the many different ways profit can be realized, still not the point here, right now. A manager oversees objects like machines or even process because things are not always tangibles.

People are led through several types of leadership. Because we are human and have those nasty things called emotions which have been formed through our life experiences, therefore it is necessary for us all to be led. We all have our own set of perspectives and biases which drive our emotions from moment to moment. Effective leaders understand this and know there is no one-size-fits-all method for leading people. Often times when a leader or manager attempts to create the level playing field their attempts at developing fairness end in a mix of success for some and failure for others.

Leading people starts by understanding each individual’s motivation for doing some task. Why do people do what they do? In my post Hey! See Me? See Me! The Art of Recognition I mentioned people go to work to make money, money provides the ability to meet our needs and desires. There are more motivating factors than just money. People go to work to have social interactions and to pursue interests, these are aspects which fulfill or need to be a part of something, feel valued, and as part of  our journey towards self-realization. It is ever so important for leaders and managers to understand the motivating factors which drive people.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic motivation theories are very applicable to leadership principles, strategies, and tactics. It is crucial to understand which direction a motivation is coming from, whether it be from internal drive or external needs and desires. A strategy which may be successful is to understand where a person finds their individual motivation, perhaps it is a single mother who wants to raise her child to be a productive and respectful adult citizen or maybe it is a person who wants a new car and is willing to work long hours and overtime to get what they want. Once the root of motivation becomes clear tactics which manipulate those driving factors become apparent, but I caution it is easy to fall into a trap because there are always emotions tied to motivation, even extrinsic motivation.

Unless you are a soothe-sayer who can predict the future or read minds, it is safe to say understanding an individual’s motivational factors is no easy undertaking. Now, imagine being a leader of several to many people and it becomes necessary to understand all of them in order to guide and develop their abilities to complete tasks which effect the organization’s bottom line. I must say this from my own experience, it is an ugly, dirty, and smelly challenge because there is a very fine thin line between knowing someone professionally and personally.

As leaders and managers the task is to first take into account the best interests of the organization. Honestly, if leaders and managers do not put the organization first, there likely will not be an organization for long. It is so much more though than just taking the organization’s position as the most important strategy because there are many factors which contribute to the overall success of an organization. Believe me, it does not matter much if an organization makes a thing or provides a service there will always be one constant variable, people.

More to follow….