A Leader’s Journey

I will share my journey from early on to where I sit now. Perhaps others will find my journey to be very divergent from theirs or my journey could be on parallel paths. It is very okay to be far apart on our individual journeys because my journey is not yours and yours is not mine.

In the early days as a wet-behind-the-ears sailor in the U.S. Navy I had very little desire to lead anyone or manage anything. I was a very typical teenager set loose in the world. Thank goodness I had the disciplined structure of the Navy to keep me in check. It took me several years to understand being a follower in the Navy was simply not acceptable by the culture. Leading is not a choice in the military, it is a responsibility each must carry. Everyone in the military must be a leader as ambassadors to the U.S. and representatives of our branch of service, further as a reflection of our diverse culture we must be considerate of our environment especially when interacting with the public either in the U.S. or abroad. I resisted this expectation to my core for several years and only when I was ready did I embrace being a leader every moment of everyday. Believe me, I have failed more days than succeeded.


What I did not realize in those early days was my leadership sponge was soaking up tidbits of wisdom and knowledge from those who were leading everyday. There are several key things I learned early on and I keep them with me everyday.

  1. Never ask another person to do something you yourself are not willing to do.
  2. “I don’t know,” is unacceptable as a an answer.
  3. Admit mistakes.
  4. If another person’s livelihood is in jeopardy, it must be the most important issue to fix.
  5. I am my own worst enemy.
  6. Lead people.
  7. Manage things.
  8. Listen with intent and focus.
  9. Leading is 24/7.
  10. Fairness is a myth, only two things are fair and one is not taxes.
  11. Say what you will do and do what you say you will do.

These eleven points I carry with me. Yours may be completely different and I encourage everyone to discover them and write them down as part of the journey. These ten points are not things I have mastered, but things I continuously must be vigilant of sliding on my backside with because some of these are very tough for me. Let us keep journeying on and I will dissect each point to clarify.


Never ask another person to do something you  yourself are not willing to do. 

I was the Senior Section Leader in my barracks in A-School in the Navy. I had several responsibilities which in turn gave me certain privileges others were not given. I was out with a group of friends and an opportunity came upon us to do the right thing and I made a very poor decision which  the others followed perhaps because of my influence and status as the Senior Section Leader. My decision came back on us all and I did the right thing by taking responsibility for the mishap. The others were given an extra watch detail on their next duty day. I was awarded a weekend Mess Hall detail. I was not going to spend an entire weekend working in the Mess Hall. I chose the newest Section Leader from our barracks and I convinced him to take my Mess Hall punishment. I never bragged about how I dodged the worst detail I could imagine and how I went out partying with my friends while this other person suffered my punishment and that is most likely how I never was discovered.

I was unwilling to do the Mess Hall detail. I used some very slick talking to convince a new person to do for me what I was unwilling to do. This was a complete leadership failure and I will never be able to repair my actions in this situation. I have moved passed my guilt in what I did, but the lesson is still ever-present in my mind. Never ever will I ask another person to do something I am not willing to do myself. I can  honestly and sincerely say, I have not violated this moral value since.

There are always circumstances where leaders may have to ask others to do things which they are not capable of doing themselves. An example is an leader who is trained in management has to ask a skilled laborer to run a complex machine in order to deliver a product to a customer. The leader does not possess the same skills as the laborer and therefore, cannot run the complex machine. This is a real-world example which happens countless times each day across every industry. Managers and leaders are not trained to do certain tasks. So, how does a leader ask someone else to do something which the leader does not possess the same knowledge or ability? The key is being willing to do the task being requested.

I am a curious person. I want to know how things work. As a leader I venture out to see how things are done and this becomes my willingness to do the task. A leader understands the details of a process. This understanding becomes a link between leaders and workers.

Being willing to do what one asks another to do is an opportunity to understand the efforts others exert. A bond is developed and it legitimizes the leader-worker relationship. From the business view understanding the processes means the leader will make responsible decisions in the best interest of the company in regards to labor, equipment, materials, and ancillary costs. One of the most devastating comments I hear is, “My manager doesn’t know what I do, so I can take the whole shift doing something that takes me about 30 minutes to do. What a dumb-ass.” I will never be that leader.

“I don’t know,” is unacceptable as an answer. 

Leaders are paid to have answers. Period. This will be short. There are plenty of other responses to a question which the answer may not be readily available, but I don’t know is not acceptable. Ever. Period.

Say something to the effect, “I need to get more information on that to give you the best answer. Give me 10 minutes and we’ll have a more full picture of the issue.”

Or perhaps say, “That’s a tough question, let me gather a bit more information and I’ll get back to you.”

Just, please, for the love of all good in the Universe, do NOT say, “I don’t know.” Erase the phrase from the vocabulary. Be a leader, earn your salary, and have answers.

Admit mistakes. 

Everyone makes mistakes. Me, you, and even Bill up on the 3rd floor. We all make mistakes.

Admitting a mistake takes humility. Humility takes us to contrition. Contrition is where we learn from our mistakes. Learning is an opportunity. The opportunity is to learn from our mistake so as we do not make the same mistake twice.

There will always be those who cannot admit their mistakes. I am going to go out on a real weak branch here and make a couple statements regarding the inability to admit mistakes. First, some people cannot admit mistakes because they have suffered some traumatic experience in their life which evokes a level of fear which makes admitting mistakes a threat to their core. Second, those who cannot admit mistakes may simply lack the desire and care to admit they have done something not-so-right, this may be a character flaw.

I have told my children for well over 20 years  now and I believe this to be an ultimate truth in this world, there is only one thing which cannot be fixed… death. We have not been able to fix death yet. Every mistake which is not death can be fixed. I certainly am not saying fixing things will be easy, acceptable, or fair. Still everything in the world can be fixed as long as the cost and effort are willing to be expended.

Admitting one’s mistakes shows maturity and understanding of how the world works. Hide things from me and I will be pissed, the effort and cost to correct the situation will be arduous and expensive. Tell me the mistake honestly and I forgive with little recourse for repair. I feel admitting mistakes is a cornerstone to trust.

If another person’s livelihood is in jeopardy, it must be the most important issue to fix.

Joe comes into his manager, Tom’s office and tells Tom his pay is all messed up. Tom has a choice here, the TPS reports can wait or Joseph can wait. What do you think Tom should do? The TPS reports are due by the end of the day and payday is two days away.

“Joe, I’ve got to get these TPS reports finished, they’re do today. Payday is in a couple days. I’ll get to it tomorrow. We have time.”

WRONG.

When someone’s livelihood is threatened and a leader fails to make it the most important issue of the immediate moment the relationship is damaged and trust is lost. Not only is the person who is directly affected upset, but others will soon follow suit and become distrusting of a leader who fails to prioritize people first.

Tom’s first response is catastrophic. Joe’s pay is important to Joe and his family. Tom failed to recognize the importance of the situation.

“Joe, I’ll tell you we have a situation here. James and his Payroll Team are off-site today at a state training. I’m not sure there will be much that we can get done today. Tell me what’s wrong with your pay and I’ll call or text James and we’ll get ready to get it fixed first thing in the morning so it won’t affect your payday. Is that okay with you Joe?”

RIGHT!!!

There were circumstantial issues which Tom needed to communicate to Joe. There was action communicated to Joe and a solution with an implied promise the problem would be adequately solved in a defined time. And then, Tom asked Joe if the course of action was acceptable. Tom just has to follow-through with Payroll and keep Joe in the loop of resolution with good communications.

Leaders cannot solve every issue immediately. Still, issues revolving around one’s livelihood need to be elevated to the highest importance and it needs to be communicated with open and honest transparency. The fallout of not making it an important issue can cause a ton of issues for a leader, mostly the loss of trust throughout the Team or company.

What happens when Joe comes to Tom after not being paid correctly on payday and tells Tom he is three-months behind on his rent and his family is being evicted? Joe did not bring the issue to Tom before the fact and Tom may not be able to do much to help. But, Tom has to exercise empathy and listen to Joe and then jump into action to get Joe’s pay fixed immediately. Tom will refer Joe to EAP (Employee Assistance Program), but because Tom is an exceptional leader he follows through with Joe through open and honest transparent communications.

I know I do not want to be put into Joe’s problems, but Joe is a Team member and deserves to be helped. No one wants to get a notice their pay is somehow incorrect. When one’s pay does get messed up, it is important to take immediate action to repair the problem. Good leaders know this and know TPS reports can wait for the real important things like someone’s pay. It really is simple, do not muck with anyone’s pay.

I am my own worst enemy.

I own this one. I am my enemy. I will destroy myself as long as I do not keep a watchful eye on myself.

Think before opening the mouth and letting sounds out. If sounds come flying out with emotions then I am certainly starting to fall. For me when emotions drive my language I revert to my barbarian habits. F Bombs explode. M Effers get called out. Poo hit the fan. Voice raises. BOOM!!! I have stepped on everyone’s toes and offended with my colorful ordinance.

I work on me each day. I seek counsel from trusted advisers. I remind myself through rigorous vigilance I am my own worst enemy. I identify my behaviors and I work on them with those I trust the most.

My enemy will drag me down by planting seeds of doubt. We all know what this means. We let ourselves talk us out of what we know to be true.

My enemy will find any weakness. Once a weakness is found my enemy will exploit it like no other. Lack of confidence. Lack of ability. Confusion. Embarrassment. Anything which can and will make me less than I am able and capable of doing each day.

My enemy is me. My enemy is the self-talk I let happen in my head. Self-talk is a huge component of being a great leader. It allows us to work out problems in our head. It allows us to be our biggest cheerleader or worst enemy. Self-talk can give and take equally and faster than the blink of an eye. I grab my enemy and bring him close to me so I can understand him better because I keep my friends close and my enemies closer.

Lead people. Manage Things. 

I add these two together because they go hand-in-hand. Lead and manage. Become a leader-manager.

I will keep this short. Leaders lead people and managers manage things. People will quickly detect any micro-management, so beware leaders. Managers are mostly  not invested in what people will do when motivated in whichever direction they go.

A leader-manager understands the roles which need played on a moment-by-moment basis. Leader-managers know they have two hats and knowing which to wear for a situation is crucial to success.

My advice, do not get caught managing people and things do not respond to leadership.

Listen with intent and purpose.

This seems so painfully obvious, but for some reason it is just painful and in no way obvious. People in general fail to listen with intent and purpose. Be aware of the surroundings and listen to what is being said both verbally and non-verbally. Pick-up on what is going on in the room. Shut the mouth and wait. Believe me when I say we have time to see what happens and it does not diminish our role as a leader one iota when we wait. Things have a way of working themselves out when we wait and see.

Still listening is 50% of communication and that is a lot! I encourage everyone, including myself, to listen intently and with purpose. Show interest in what is being said. Engage in the words and respond appropriately.

Listening validates the speaker and conveys respect. I do not have to agree with the speaker, but I do need to validate and respect the speaker. Be the best communicator possible because what is being said is extremely important to the speaker.

I use a little reminder, St. Fu. Shut the F up. I write it at the top of my pad of paper when going into meetings. When I get the urge to defy St. Fu I read my scribbled reminder and take a couple few deep breaths to see if I can wait. And then, I listen.

It takes courage to speak-up and it takes an equal amount to zip-it and listen-up.

Leading is 24/7.

As I go down my list the explanation becomes shorter and shorter, but I think it is okay.

Being a leader is not restricted to 9 to 5 in the office or at the plant. Being a leader means making good decisions in every moment of our lives. Being responsible and accountable in a caring and engaged manner with our family, friends, peers, supervisors, subordinates, acquaintances, and even strangers.

Fairness is a myth, only two things are fair and one is not taxes.

Birth and Death, all else in between is not fair. I will let better minds debate this statement. This is my belief. No one will ever change my mind on this belief.

We are all born and we all will die.

Say what you will do and do what you say you will do. 

A leader must be honorable. A leader must follow through. A leader must not put his tongue-in-cheek and say things which are half-truth or flat out lies.

Say it and then do it. It really is very simple. Still for some reason saying and doing are perceived as threats to some people and they are unreliable. Or maybe we should look at them as anti-reliable, the state of being so unreliable one becomes reliable to not do what they say.

Doing what we say is very difficult and often we all will fail to some degree to do what we said we will do. There are always some circumstances which derail us from doing what we said we would do. I guarantee everyone will fail at this point in some aspect whether professionally or personally.

How do we mitigate the destruction from failing to do what we say we will do? Great question with a myriad of possible answers. Get on your journey and figure this one out for yourself. I know personally, this is my biggest weakness and I fail at this often. It eats away at me and I have to accept I am not a super hero who can do everything.

For leaders this point can destroy careers, relationships, families, basically this can destroy anything. Can it be fixed, well, sure but the price tag might be really too much based on the transgression. This is another cornerstone to trust, and yes, I know my structure has more than four corners!


With all due humbleness, I submit trust as every foundation where the cornerstones are tidbits of wisdom and knowledge we gather through our journeys. I think of these 11 points continuously. These are my guiding morals. They are complex and living. They grow as I grow and are replaced by better versions as I learn more about myself.

Your points may be similar, but they are yours and not mine. I own mine and I have to work on them to be the best leader I can be today, tomorrow, and every other day in every aspect of my life. Journey on!

The Joys of Leadership: Woes Beware!

Leadership takes courage.

Imagine the physical and psychological stress leaders have endured through their courageous decisions and actions throughout time. It can only be imagined because unless one has experienced it firsthand it is so nebulous to comprehend it is actually only imagined. Leading is not joyful, most times it is overwhelming, and this is exactly why everyone is not a leader.

In August 1945 Harry S. Truman ordered the use of what we call weapons of mass destruction on Japan. The Atomic Age happened in a horrific blink of the eye. Imagine now how President Truman felt after reports came back to Washington D.C. entire cities were leveled and nearly 100,000 Japanese were killed in one singular tragic attack. The weight of this one decision he had to bear alone everyday for his last 27 years. People do not think about things like this when thinking about the weight of being a courageous leader.

In most cases, we see leaders on sports fields and courts, in government, or the celebrity on television. We see these public leaders and we glorify them for their courage and abilities. This is a perfectly normal perspective because these are the examples so readily available through media. We see these leaders on television, hear them on the radio, see them and hear them on social media, and yes, even in printed media. We see them and we see their riches and successes. To some extent we idolize them with envy and wonder.

But there is more to leadership.

As humans we tend to remember the negatives in life. We remember our first automobile accident and in response we have sharpened our driving awareness to not have the same experience again in life… anyway hopefully that is the case! We stub our toe on the corner of the bed in the middle of the night and we walk a bit more carefully as a result. We learn from those negative experiences and we remember.

What about the good times? Do we really remember them as vividly as the bad times? We learn from the bad as a protective action. We have to consciously recall the good times. There are triggers which light our minds up when something happens to us which reminds us of a good or great experience. We learn from the bad and we get the warm fuzzies when remembering the good.

I will share some of my good, if not great leadership experiences and some may identify with them. The point is to see the joy through the challenges. It is difficult some days, but the warm fuzzies are like gold!

As a father, I did my best to raise my children. One girl and one boy less than 2-years apart in age. We suffered through the normal behaviors as they grew up. We attempted to display positive behaviors and model the way we felt life should be lived. The payoff comes now as I see their successes. Each one are their very own person. My daughter was born in the afternoon and my son was born almost exactly 12 hours opposite. My daughter is logical and needs to feel secure with everything around her. My son is abstract and his mind is, as he is, an artist’s mind. They are both successful in life as adults now. Their mother and I successfully navigated and led them through their childhood with little scars and gave them the tools to find their own happiness. A great leadership experience!

I used to be a teacher a community college and trade college. I am not a usual teacher or instructor. I am very interactive and fun. I think learning should be fun and not a miserable task needing accomplished to meet some ends. Countless times a student would come to me and ask for help with learning some concept or skill. I think most felt  I would be less accessible than I was as a teacher, but I want everyone around me to be a success, and I will go to almost any legal length to help someone achieve something big in life. Great leading moments came as simply as when the light came on when a student learned what the shortcut Ctrl + B does on a keyboard! I still smile when I remember watching people I taught walk across a stage and receive a degree like it was a set of keys to success. Their accomplishment became my accomplishment and I truly feel lucky to have these experiences with people.

Some of the greatest leading joys have come through helping people achieve something. My children growing up and students learning and receiving degrees are excellent examples from formal leadership roles. Still some of the most gratifying leadership memories come from the informal leadership roles where courage and care were necessary to achieve something.

Making the conscious choice to behave like a leader and step into a situation which could blow-up on us is courage in action. We see examples of this everyday where normal people take the step and do something extraordinary to help someone or something. Heroes, it is what we call these people. In a flash with possibly little thought people are transformed from an average person to hero. For some they soak up the experience and others humbly try to move on. Look around and there are countless examples of everyday people doing courageous things.

I guess my message in this article is a bit confusing. Leading is not easy and it has lots of pitfalls and traps. It takes courage and the return on that investment is a warm fuzzy feeling. Shouldering the responsibility of leading is tough without a doubt. I am here to say, the satisfaction of letting our courage roam freely and step up to the challenges of everyday life where we can make the conscious choice to help others is the everyday leader the world is so desperately seeking every moment of everyday.

Smile, open your eyes, and be a leader. Go get a leadership job if you want pay, but do the right thing and be the everyday leader who is courageous and despite fear finds a way to do the right thing. Do not walk by blindly and when you do stop, care, care about what you are about to do and do not expect everyone to fall over with gratitude. Get your gratitude from within yourself, be humble.

Go be joyous as an everyday leader!

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 have 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 discussed 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!