How Good Leaders Correct Mistakes (HBR)

Carlos Gomez, the rookie centerfielder for the Minnesota Twins in 2008, scooped up the ball and threw so hard to second base that the throw ended up being fielded in the dugout by Ron Gardenhire, his manager. So what did Gardenhire do when the rookie returned to the dugout? He asked him to autograph the ball. Gomez “is a kid who plays with a lot of emotion,” Gardenhire told the New York Times, “If I kick him there, I might lose him for the rest of the game.” Gomez appreciated his manager’s gesture, but “knew what he did wrong, and it didn’t affect him the rest of the game.” Indeed not. Gomez later homered.

Pick your moments! That’s what good coaches do when they want to correct a player’s mistake. It is also good advice for anyone in a leadership position. Flying off at the handle when someone makes a mistake might be theatrical but it’s not really practical. It may make the manager feel good to vent, but the effect on the employee may be counter-productive. So the next time your employee makes a mistake, consider three things:

Why did the mistake occur? New employees often make mistakes because they don’t know better; veterans make mistakes because they’re not paying attention. Neither is acceptable. Managers need to make certain their employees know their jobs and keep work relevant for others so that they maintain focus.

How can the employee correct the mistake? If the employee knows he’s made a mistake, just let it sink in. If the manager shows he’s upset, the opportunity to teach is lost. If the employee doesn’t know he’s made a mistake, then let him know sooner than later. Have discussions with the employee about what went wrong and how he will correct things the next time.

How can you turn this mistake into a learning lesson? Sweeping the mistake under the rug increases the likelihood it will happen again; shining light on the problem may illuminate new solutions. One mistake can open the door to dialogue. Invite the employee to discuss her needs for more development. Perhaps she can design an improvement plan. Also, the manager may need to become more involved in the employee’s development, either personally or by assigning another employee to help. 

Let’s be realistic. When things go wrong, the manager is responsible regardless of why the mistake happened. So when the mistake occurs, it’s understandable he might be upset. Showing emotion is acceptable. In fact it can be used to make a point. Employees need to know that mistakes can be tolerated but must be fixed; failure to acknowledge them will lead to mediocrity.

Waiting for the heat of the moment to pass allows for reflection, giving the employee time to consider what he’s done and how he can make it better. The manager demonstrates trust and that trust gives the employee the confidence to know he can succeed next time.

First posted on 7/24/2008

VIDEO: Two Giants Who Walked Softly

One was called Mr. Hockey. The other they called the King.

Gordie Howe and Arnold Palmer

Each was the best of their era, as well as the best of men.

Gordie Howe  played 25 seasons in the NHL more than any other player. Big and tough as well as graceful, Howe scored more goals and assists than anyone in his time and served as the game’s greatest ambassador and one of its most beloved characters. Howe was Mr. Hockey.

As famous as he became, Gordie remained humble.

Arnold Palmer won many golf tournaments. Along the way, he popularized golf in ways it had never been popularized. His winning ways, and his winsome smile and swashbuckling golf style, made him a hit with advertisers.

A key to Arnold’s passion for the game as well as his love of people can be attributed to his father, Deke, who taught him to respect fans because they were the same as he was.

It should be mandatory for anyone becoming the head of an organization to study the examples of Gordie Howe or Arnold Palmer, not simply to get a taste of their competitive fires, but more to learn how to act “normal” when everyone wants a piece of you.

First posted on on 7/28/2017

How Are You Coping with Fear? (HBR)

One of the emotional impacts of navigating a tough economy is fear. We speak of courage as a virtue, but seldom do we spend enough time considering the flip side of courage, fear! Of course it’s there, lurking, but how should we deal with it? Specifically, should manager show fear? If so, what happens when they do?

Questions such as these haunt the workplace as declining revenues dictate cutbacks in resources and manpower. Whenever someone is let go, at least ten other people wonder if they may be next. The sense of unease that creates makes people distracted from their work and productivity suffers. Worse, they may dread coming to work for fear of getting the news that today is their last day. As the fear percolates throughout the workplace, what can managers do to address it? Here are some suggestions.

Acknowledge fear. Fear is not something that you sweep under the rug, especially in tough times. When people ask about their jobs, or the status of the team, be straight with them. Give them as much information as you can. Dismissing their concerns only heightens the sense of uncertainty.

Focus on the work. Managers are not therapists; they are hired to get work done. Focusing on the work helps you find relief from outside pressure. The manager needs to keep engaged in the work flow by monitoring what is happening as well as what isn’t happening. She needs to find ways to keep people engaged.

Find hope. Tough times require hope, but it can be difficult to find. Finding satisfaction in work may help some people; others will need more uplifting. Managers can do this by celebrating results in meetings or even springing for lunch, either on site or off. Most important, managers need to set the emotional by and remain upbeat, at least about the work. If the manager mopes, the team will lose heart.

Above all, the leader can’t show fear. She may feel fear, but the leader can’t reveal its effects. Her job is to serve as the team’s bulwark. She must be the proverbial shoulder upon which they can lean. Why? Because it’s the job of the leader to address adversity. Stalwart behavior in times of crisis is essential. If the leader falls apart, people will lose their sense of faith in the organization, and that’s deadly to team performance. 

When the leader carries herself with a firm focus on the task as well as consideration for others, she inspires others to follow her example. She does not remove the fear, but she enables others to concentrate on what they can control rather than what they can’t control – their immediate fate.

First posted on on 7/14/2008

VIDEO: You Oughta Be in Sales

Is there any business process more despised than sales?

But if sales is held in such low esteem, then how are customers supposed to come to us? Do they magically appear like Christmas presents under the tree?

Sales is that five-letter word no one wants to mention. Too bad. All of us need to be in sales. What you are selling is YOU.

So if are not selling, it means you lack faith in self and faith in what you can do to help others.

Re-framing sales then means re-thinking what you do. Very basically, consider sales as everything you do for a client — service, execution, follow up and re-engaging the process.

Selling your commitment is something that anyone with whom you work with can appreciate. Ultimately, sales is a reflection of your and your work. Use it to your best advantage.

First posted on SmartBrief on 7/14/2017

A Methodology for Leading into the Unknown (HBR)

One of the toughest things to teach leaders is how to lead when the context and variables are constantly changing. One man who is helping leaders make better decisions is Don Vandergriff, a retired Army major, lecturer and author. Vandergriff has developed the Adaptive Leader Methodology (ALM) that helps individuals learn to lead in situations of escalating complexity.

The principles of ALM are universal and applicable to anyone who must manage and lead others. As Vandergriff explained to me, ALM immerses students in “complex scenario, and facilitate(s) them as they attempt to solve it.” As Vandergriff sees it, ALM “places people in roles of responsibility so they understand the context their unit or organization operates in… In ALM, they are placed two or three levels higher [than their ranks] in many of the scenarios.”

ALM is uniquely suited to teach military officers how to lead in “asymmetrical warfare,” where the unknown variables outweigh the known ones. “Instead of repeating a given scenario, you continue on and do a different one, with different conditions.” As Vandergriff explains, “By varying the scenarios, the conditions, and then… giving a good “reflection” session from peers, the teacher, and [observers], the learning process becomes continuous.”

This is break from the Army’s traditional approach to education which emphasizes competency. A shortcoming of that model is boredom and barriers. Says Vandergriff, “Good and great students got bored very easy. Plus, they did not discover their unit’s place in the larger picture because they were only allowed to go as high as that unit in their learning environments.”

A twenty-four year veteran of the Army and Marines, Vandergriff taught ROTC at Georgetown University and routinely received top marks for his instruction. Today his students are lieutenants and captains in the field leading combat troops. Lessons they learned from ALM are “what prepared them (the most) for what they face now.” Specifically, ALM provides a tool kit approach that fosters innovative thinking, new approaches to problem-solving and rapid decision-making, Vangergriff’s influence extends beyond the Army; he has taught Marines, Navy SEALs as well as units in the British and French military. 

Vandergriff also teaches in the corporate and public sectors, applying the same principles. Part of his instruction includes tactical decision games that can be very challenging. Participants “were frustrated, confused and challenged. As they day went on, they got into it, and then remarked at the end of the day and follow-on emails, how much that made them better leaders. When developing adaptability, you want to put your students in uncomfortable situations doing scenarios they are not familiar with,” he says. 

“The number one objective in my developing leaders is strength of character,” says Vandergriff. “I believe in what I am doing… What keeps me going is a belief in what I am doing is right. I was raised to see a problem, fix it.” That’s good advice for anyone leading in a complex environment. Leaders lead by doing, and so often they must do the fixing and solving so that the organization can move forward.

First posted on on 7/21/2008

VIDEO: Managers! Learn to Budget Your Involvement

Know your place.

That’s advice that Scott Rudin believes is the role of every producer. One of the most successful producers on Broadway today, as well as a successful film producer, Rudin believes that it is the role of a producer to create a safe place for people to collaborate.

As Rudin told Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” he didn’t always believe that. When he was producing films — after starting on Broadway — he felt he needed to be everywhere and do everything. Not only was that a recipe for burnout it negated the talents of the people hired to work on the film. So Rudin learned to budget his involvement to the benefit of his people and his projects.

Rudin’s lessons apply beyond the footlights. Management itself is the art of bringing people together to work on something in which they believe and in which they can succeed.

It is a matter of knowing your place.

Why Do You Want to Manage? (HBR)

“Most new leaders advance in their careers due their proficiency with technical skills, but they don’t necessarily have the leadership abilities needed for success in their higher-level positions,” says Steve Cohen, senior vice president with Right Management. Bingo, Steve! 

Time and again, I have witnessed talented and productive employees move into management not only without the necessary training, but also without a real desire to manage others. This phenomenon is particularly acute among employees with technical skills such as design, engineering or science. It also appears in high-producing sales people who can make more selling than they do managing.

Moving into management is a huge leap of faith. First, for many employees, it means giving up what they really love doing. That’s why they’re considered promotable in the first place, because they’re good at their jobs. But too frequently managers-to-be are not asked if they really want to move up, and worse they’re not prepared to manage others.

So before you consider promoting a competent employee ask three questions:

Why does this person want to manage? Technically competent employees typically enjoy their jobs. Many want to continue being designers, engineers and scientists; management to them is administrative, not something worthy of their skill set. Ask the prospective manager if he actually wants to manage and, if so, why? More money and prestige may be incentives but they aren’t enough to sustain a career.

What additional contributions can this person make as a manager?Employees who are contributing at a high level are hard to find. Sometimes organizations forget that promoting the high-level performer into management means she will not be doing her old job. On the other hand, other organizations will prevent a good employee from advancing because she is too productive. For employees who do not want to advance, the answer is to leave them be; for those who want to advance, organizations need to find ways to let them grow and develop. Otherwise they will leave to work for another company.

How will we support this new manager? If a new study by Right Management is any indication, the answer is, “not well.” Just three in 10 new managers receive coaching, even less than the 35% that senior leaders (including CEOs) receive. Coaching is not the only solution; support can come in the form of professional development via executive education courses. In-company mentoring is another solution. Regardless, the newly promoted manager needs some help, sooner than later.

Some employees have the gumption (as well as the self-knowledge) to say no to the promotion. They know that they enjoy pursuing their chosen passion rather than becoming a manager. On the other hand, those who do want to manage eventually discover one of the hidden pleasures of management: leading a team for results. Those who succeed in this endeavor are called leaders!

First posted on 8/11/2008

VIDEO: 3 Things Managers Can Do to Promote Collaboration

We expect our managers to give us direction for our projects.

When you invite an employee to speak about the project, you make it known that you are someone willing to listen. That, of course, is just for starters. Savvy managers can take it a step further by employing a three-step methodology.

  1. Comment. Ask your employees to tell you in their own words what the project is all about.
  2. Contribute. Invite your employees to tell you what changes they would make to the project.
  3. Collaborate. Challenge them to collaborate with you. If the project is to be successful it will need to involve the contributions of everyone.

Direction is essential, but so, too, is the ability to add your own ideas in order to make the project better.

First posted on SmartBrief on 6.03.2017

Live Standards, Don’t Just Talk about Them (HBR)

“Speaking Truth to Power” was the headline of a cover story in the Economist marking the occasion of the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the former Soviet dissident and Nobel laureate. In his books, Solzhenitsyn chronicled the horrors of Stalinist repression, revealing the hypocrisies of the Soviet system that subjugated people to party. His defiant stand earned him exile but honor and dignity in the West.

The headline serves not only as a fitting epitaph for a dissident, but also as inspiration for those who aspire to lead. We often equate leadership with power, but it’s not always the case that they are connected. Indeed, it may be true that those in senior positions have power, but they may not be leaders. Conversely those without power are true leaders. 

How can this be? Those in power who put themselves before others are acting in their own self-interest while those without power who put others before themselves are acting for the good of the group. There’s a degree of altruism in authentic leadership, and while it’s difficult to practice, it does give genuine spine to an organization. Here are three ways to implement real leadership:

Report bad news. A 2006 study by Vital Smarts/Concours Group showed that one key reason that projects failed was that people failed to speak up when they saw things go wrong. Sometimes people are afraid to speak up because the failure may make them or their boss look bad. Yet this is exactly the time to report mistakes so that they can be corrected.

Stick up for your team. One reason bosses get no respect is because they fail to show respect for their people. Such bosses take credit for team success and affix blame to hide their own shortcomings. The boss who lauds his team in front of his superiors is a boss that employees love working for. And when the boss takes the heat for things gone wrong, they like him even more.

Create a righteous culture. Doing the right thing can be difficult; we all suffer temptations from fools and ourselves. But if the boss holds himself accountable and expects the same of others, acting with integrity becomes less of a chore and more of an aspiration. This is not simply about ethics; it also involves treating colleagues with respect and honoring their points of view, especially when they conflict with your own. People want to do the right thing but even more so when others are doing the same.

These three suggestions should not override diplomacy. That is, there are times to speak up and times to remain silent. You don’t need to challenge the boss or the boss’s boss every time you disagree. That kind of constant criticism will marginalize you and diminish your influence. People will assume you’re a crank and dismiss you. Then when you have a real issue, you’ll be ignored as the team’s contrarian, the one no one pays attention to.

Make no mistake, leadership is not sainthood. Leaders have faults first and foremost because they are human. But genuine leaders acknowledge their faults and seek to do better. Their self-awareness is painfully real; they know their personal shortcomings. Over time, their example sets the standards for others to follow.

First posted on on 8/19/2008

VIDEO: Promote People Who Say “No” to the Boss

I like to refer to my wife, a successful health care executive who works with physician leaders, as Dr. No. What she lacks in medical insight she makes up for in business acumen and decisiveness.

She is adept at weighing options and providing clear and cogent advice. More important, she is not afraid to speak truth to power.

Every organization needs people like my wife. To encourage others like her, Bloomberg columnist Al Hunt advises rewarding people who have the gumption to challenge their bosses.

An executive need not heed every bit of contrary advice, but every executive should demonstrate the courtesy of listening.

Executives whom I admire encourage their direct reports to speak up. To mitigate such fear, executives should reward people who do speak up with increased levels of responsibility.

These are the executives who can be groomed for greater roles because they have demonstrated that they have the guts to voice opposition when they believe it is necessary.

First posted on SmartBrief on 5/26/2017