Sunday, February 25, 2007

The 30% Solution and the Leadership Epidemic

This weekend, as I was sorting through my weekly pile of notes, I came across a statistic I had written down. Based on the illegible scribbles attached to the note, I must have been driving when I wrote it.

“On any given day, the typical employee commits only 70% of their productive capacity to the organization’s objectives.”

I’m not sure where I heard or read it. I don’t know if it is true or what “productive capacity” means. All I know is I can’t seem to shake this mystery quote from my mind.

Now, I’m not writing to point out my poor note-taking habits or obsessive tendencies. Rather, I mention it because it reminds me of an idea that lies at the foundation of my approach to working with people.

“You can buy a man’s back and his time, but you cannot buy his heart or his mind; these he must give willingly.”

In my mind, the missing 30% is the part that isn’t for sale. Your people must give this part willingly. It is where leaders succeed or fail.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that people should or can work at 100% capacity all of the time. You cannot work machines at 100% capacity all of the time, so if your plan calls for squeezing 100% from people, you’re flirting with disaster.

Still, the 30% means something. So what is it?

The answer lies in what brought you to the leadership table.

Look at it like this. The chances are some part of your 30% is what brought you to the leadership table. Perhaps you used part of your 30% to better manage you tasks and improve your personal product quality or quantity. Maybe you used part of your 30% to develop a better understanding of your organization’s underlying value proposition, to “Know the Machine” better than anyone in your department did.

Here in lies the rub. Your experience tells you that success is a function of the 30%. The problem is you can’t base your future success on your 30%. You must base your future success on tapping into the 30% that your people must give willingly.

In short, so much leadership sucks because so many “leaders” try to tap into their people’s 30% with the same tools they used to tap into their own 30%. Rather than take the time to develop a leader-follower relationship that respects the value of the 30% they apply the one-way boss-employee relationship that worked with the one resource the truly controlled.

“When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

If you don’t want your leadership to suck, it’s time to expand your collection of tools.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why Most Leadership Sucks and What You Can Do About It - Part IV

I ended Part III with this observation, a.k.a. Observation Three:

The skill set that brought you to the leadership table in not the same skill set that will enable you to succeed.

To fully appreciate Observation Three, you have to ask yourself, “How did I get to this point in my career? What was I doing before I claimed a seat at the leadership table?”

Chances are, you were working, doing something well enough to keep your job; well enough to be recognized as someone with potential.

Maybe it was your first job out of college when you were making enough money to afford a real car, one that didn’t smell like other people’s lives, and other nice stuff. Perhaps, it was a job you stumbled into as you tried to find something that paid better than the last job and you found you had a knack for the work; were you enjoyed it enough to think, “This isn’t too hateful, I could do this for a little while longer, maybe even make it a career.” Or, it could be that you woke up one morning and discovered that you weren’t 19 anymore and realized you needed to get off your ass and get your act together or you would be spending the rest of your life living in a two-bedroom apartment with four of your friends who weren’t doing anything with their lives.

What ever it was you were doing, chance are you were doing the “good work” as in the technical stuff where your time and effort converts raw material into something more organized, something that a customer was willing to pay for, something that created value.

Further and more importantly, chances are, you were doing something that made you stick out. Maybe you were the best craftsman that ever worked at your organization; maybe you took the time to figured out how to apply a new technology to an old problem; maybe you managed to deliver just the right project to just the right client at just the right time to get noticed.

If technicians are the people that represent where the rubber meets the road, you were a master technician. Chances are you got that way by putting in extra hours, developing a better understanding, trying new things often times failing some times succeeding until you perfected your craft and made it look easy and life was good.

Then the company grew, or a position became vacant and the next thing you know, they were asking you if you were interested in taking on greater responsibility, having more control, making more money. Then they promoted you to lead programmer with four guys working on your team and you were on a roll.

You sought out the best talent, and then you and your team continued to investigate and applied new technology, tried out new things, accepted failure as a learning experience and pressed on with your remarkable work and life was good.

Then one day, one of your team members comes to you with a problem. Another team member, Steve, it seems is not completing integration testing before releasing his components for use. Of course, you already knew that, but it was no big deal; Steve, like you, is a perfectionist, his stuff always works so you didn’t worry about it.

However, this time, Steve’s components aren’t working. Worse yet, they are corrupting data.

The next day, after a marathon, coding sessions your team was able to fix the problem, Steve said he would do a better job of integration testing and everyone was happy, if not a little tired and life was good; until it happened again, and again and again…

At which point, you began to realize that running a team was different than doing your own work writ large; that you were going to have to do something more.

With that, I will leave you to think about what that “something more” might be.

Here’s a hint, being a technician, even a great technician is different from being a leader.

Put some thought into it, leave me a comment or send me an e-mail and we’ll talk more next time.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Why Most Leadership Sucks - A Recap

As I’ve been working my way through writing this series, I have concluded that a periodic recap would be a good way of keeping the writing together. If you have any suggestions, please send an e-mail or leave a comment.

Why Most Leadership Sucks – Part I

  • You are part of the leadership problem
  • Leadership isn’t and may never be your strong point
  • Your view of the leadership potential of your subordinates is often reflective of how your peers and bosses view you
  • What brought you to the leadership table is not what will make you a successful leader

Why Most Leadership Sucks – Part II

  • Leadership is not the be-all and end-all trait of organizational success
  • You must accept the truth about your abilities and acumen
  • The real world does not tolerate fools

Why Most Leadership Sucks – Part III

  • Leadership is an active relationship
  • The relationship is based on trust
  • The relationship mitigates the risk of failure
  • The relationship improves likelihood of success for all parties
  • The relationships does not require that you like your boss, peers or subordinates

As the series grows, I will expand and repost this recap.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

"No Yelling" A Book Review

I have a confession to make. When Rob asked if I was interested in reviewing Wally Adamchik’s new book on leadership, I agreed with a quick e-mail and pressed on with my busy schedule.

I have another confession. Sometimes I judge a book by its cover. So, last week when a copy of No Yelling: The Nine Secrets of Marine Corps Leadership You Must Know to Win in Business arrived in the mail, my first thought was “No Yelling? Marine Corps leadership secrets and no yelling? Note to self, the next time, ask for the name of the book before you agree to write a review.”

I reviewed the table of contents: Integrity, Technical Competence, Self-Awareness … Commander’s intent, Culture and Values, but nothing about yelling, so far so good. I gave the introduction a quick read and scanned the first two chapters, no yelling here. I went online and looked at the Fire Starter website, still, nothing about yelling.

Somewhere in my search for some yelling, it came to me, this is a seminar book. You know, the ones that speakers sell at the back of the room, the ones that capture the seminar on paper so you can relive the experience.

As I skimmed my way through the rest of the book, I found myself building a picture in my mind, a picture of Wally, in a suit, wearing an OD green campaign hat, yelling, “Integrity! Trust! Consistency! Non-Negotiable! Let’s do an exercise! No you maggots, not that kind of exercise! That’s not leadership! Now all of you, drop down and give me 20! HooRa! Next chapter!”

Oh! Admit it! Sometimes, your imagination gets the best of you. Sometimes, just like me, you stereotype and judge a book by its cover.

So, if you judge this book by its cover, you could be forgiven if, “HooRa! Next Chapter!” was your first impression of a former Marine’s take on leadership. Also, like me, you would be wrong.

After realizing what I was doing and that I might be missing something, I went back and read each chapter, and spent some time contemplating the value of each of Wally’s Nine Marine Corps “Secrets” and thought how they might applied to my Non-Marine Corps life.

Curiously, I finished with a different opinion.

Don’t get me wrong, Wally’s book is not perfect, in many ways it reads like a seminar book. Also, not being a big fan of military sea-stories, I found the numerous Marine examples a bit tiresome; sometimes I just skimmed the examples. A strong editor could do wonders with this material; simply tightening the examples would easily strengthen Wally’s message.

However, that being said, No Yelling does a good job of providing the reader with food-for-thought that will prove far more valuable then the techniques or methodologies others sell as leadership.

As the title suggests, Wally Adamchik takes nine building blocks, fundamental leadership competencies, and defines them in terms of his experience as a Marine Corps Officer and businessman. He further defines these competencies, these values, through the shared experiences of Marine leaders serving on active duty and working in the business arena.

Herein lies the value of No Yelling; Wally is trying to help you grow. He isn’t trying to sell you a set of leadership techniques that make you a better leader. He isn’t yelling at you trying to get you to buy into a simplistic, leadership methodology. Wally isn’t trying to build new conventional wisdom. Rather, he is asking you to take a moment to look inside, to think about these nine secrets and to and see if these values add to the foundation that supports you as a leader.

While looking inside is more difficult activity than copying a technique or methodology, it is far more rewarding in terms of building lasting leadership success and isn’t that what leadership books are supposed to do.

If you like sea-stories, No Yelling is a must-have item for your leadership library. If you don’t know what a sea-story is, you may find No Yelling a bit of a challenge but it is well worth the effort. Either way, check it out.

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