Keeper Trait #15 – Initiative

iniitiativeMany potential employers put it directly in their ads – “must be a self-starter.” It is, apparently, an all too unusual trait.

Perhaps more than any other trait, it separates the successful from the failure, the winner from the loser, the prosperous from the poor. A person with initiative does not wait to be told to something, does not sit back blaming anyone for his or her lack of progress, but steps up and gets going.

C. Northcote Parkinson said that The man whose life is devoted to paperwork has lost the initiative. He is dealing with things that are brought to his notice, having ceased to notice anything for himself.

Stephen Covey adds in his perspective when he says that Employers and business leaders need people who can think for themselves – who can take initiative and be the solution to problems.

In a general sense, your associates, subordinates, and employees will fit somewhere on this chart.4 levels

The Forced Laborer is always there BUT you have to go find them, take them to the job site, show them precisely what needs to be done, and either stand over them yourself or assign someone to do so in order to keep them working. They completely lack initiative.

The Hired Hand is a bit more independent. They will do the job once it has been pointed out, once the tools or devices necessary to do it are supplied, and once the task has been defined. But you usually do not have to monitor them very closely.

The Reliable Assistant has a good deal of initiative but may be a bit reluctant to volunteer. Once you issue a directive or point out a general task that needs to be done (which you can do by either specifying the task or the objective), they will take it from there. What’s more, they will aggressively account to you once they are finished.

The Trusted Associate is so in tune with the objectives of the organization, the supporting objectives of his or her department, and with the comprehensive vision articulated by you, that they will see what needs to be done even before it is pointed out. Then they will take charge and make sure it is done then report to you.

Forced Laborers and Hired Hands cost less money but more in supervisory engagement. Reliable Assistants and Trusted Associates cost more money but they free up manpower and, most critically, they free up your time.

People with the trait of initiative make the world, make your world, a better place. Now, if you’re a control freak, don’t be surprised if you drive people with initiative away. They do not like, and will not tolerate for long, too much meddling. It seems odd that control freaks bring trouble upon themselves. They drive off the independent types who could really help, who could extend their reach, multiply their effectiveness, and divide their work. They limit themselves to associates, subordinates, and employees who require copious amounts of oversight and management causing control freaks to lament that all they can find are people who have to be constantly managed.

So, what do you do? Find those with initiative and integrate them into your work circle so they can do what they do so well. Keep cycling through the others until you build a team that can run the engine of commerce without your constant oversight.


Keeper Trait #13 – Learn-ability

BrailleLife teaches us a lot of lessons. Some people learn slowly. Some not at all.

It’s a sad fact that the majority of us never learn much of anything new after leaving the structure of formal education. This is not to say we don’t acquire a new skill or deepen existing ones, but the broadening experience of learning happens too seldom.

Learning should be a lifetime pursuit and for some it is – not in the formal sense but in the deepening, broadening, enlightening sense. In the context of business and organizational management and leadership, the times are changing at a much faster pace than ever and it is imperative that we keep up.

Our competitors will. When I worked at a major home improvement center, the corporate suits launched the company into a brave new world (for them) of technology because they “learned” that their customers were moving into different modes of buying. And they were losing market share to their competitors, among them

Organizations, like people, soon discover that no plan, no strategy, no intent ever survives contact with the real world without alteration, major or minor, because the plan, the strategy, the intent is subject to unforeseen events and the independent will of others. Others, in this context, are either your constituents who demand new or better products and new or easier ways to buy them, or your competitors who will certainly be creative and ambitious.

Apple made their price control strategy work because they have a unique project available nowhere else. When a former Apple exec tried the same strategy at JC Penney, it was a disaster! Why? Different constituents and different competitors.

So keepers are those associates and employees who can read the ground, learn what it says, and respond appropriately.

On a smaller scale, the second principle applies. The employees of that major home improvement center were captive constituents. I mean that in a positive sense. They worked within the corporation but they live in the real world. They own homes, rent apartments, have families, and buy stuff. They also embrace technology and contemporary means of shopping by using I-phones, I-pads, and on-line search engines. Brand loyalty and store loyalty is foreign to them as it is in the marketplace. No longer do people shop at Sears because they or their parents did. They look for the best at the cheapest price and will readily buy it.

I myself shop a great deal on Amazon, just bought a new garbage disposal to replace our leaking old one. Within 2 miles there is a Home Depot and a Lowes. I could have bought from either because I drive by them a few times every week. Why Amazon? Because the price was less and because it was over $25, Amazon shipped it at no charge. It comes to me; I do not have to go to it.

I have learned the best way to acquire a new product.

Ok, so let’s bring this home to the keepers in your organization or company. There are skills, attitudes, and insight that will accelerate your company’s profit margins, your organizations viability. Those skills, attitudes, and insight will need to cover tasks and processes within the company or organization and they will need to cover the changing landscape inhabited by your constituents and competitors.

We often use the term “learning curve” to describe the process of acquiring a new skill. For many, perhaps most tasks, skills, attitudes, or abilities the learning curve can be a challenge.

Therefore a learn-able associate will possess these attributes:

Stamina – the capacity of endurance to see a process through. Some people just give up, keepers don’t.

Adaptability – the capacity of pivoting when necessary, of making immediate changes to facilitate ultimate objectives.

Courage – the bravery to leave the comfort of familiar processes and systems to embrace new ones. Analysts tell us as many as 70% do not have this attribute.

Problem-solving skills – the ability to find a way when there seems to be none. Since I’ve discussed this elsewhere I will not belabor the point here.

I suppose I should ask if the other leaders and managers in your organization possess learn-ability. It can be a trap to feel secure inside your comfort-zone and rest on your successes. If I may, just look at Sears, JC Penny, and soon-to-be gone Best Buy.  All of them once vibrant, now all on life support. For car buffs, look at the mighty Packard and Studebaker car companies. Their demise now readily understood as the result of an incapacity to learn. But we all know that corporations, companies, and organizations are not robotic entities possessing artificial intelligence. They are comprised of people who make the decisions based on what they know and should be learning every day.

Keeper trait #10 – skills and temperament

square-peg-round-holeWhen I lived in the islands, I learned that almost all luxury yachts in the world are finished by women…and the reason is NOT that they will work for less money.

No, luxury yacht builders use women because more of them are temperamentally suited to detail work that most men find tedious and boring. Jobs require skill sets strengthened and validated by temperament.

I hired many people who could sand and finish, but there were two or three who were exceptional and I kept them busy at that phase of the job. One, FYI, was a young man who came to me while he was still in high school. On St. Croix there is a technical high school for training aspiring tradesmen and women to get jobs and the school did a very decent job at it. Their hospitality and catering school was exceptional. Another department was their boat building school, ran by a friend of mine who happened to have been Sean Connery’s stunt double for the underwater scenes of Thunderball. How cool is that?

I hired the young man part-time and put him on fulltime as soon as he graduated. I could depend on him for the steady, slow, fastidious detail work of finishing. His temperament complemented his skill set and made him a keeper.

The two sides of personality are character – our set of habits – and temperament – our set of inclinations. Every living creature has both. Foxes raid hen houses because they are inclined to, beavers build dams, because their habits are developed by genetic inclinations.

There have been lots of studies and theories proposed for the analysis and categorization of temperament. Astrology is one (it fails however, when it tries to classify everyone born in a certain time period as having the same inclination which abruptly change in those born one day later.) Psychologists and psychiatrists, both professional and amateur, have their favorite explanations, none of which should be taken as the gospel.

Temperament is a disposition, an inclination towards certain interests and attitudes that reinforce the development of habits which “characterize” a life and a lifestyle.

Some are inclined to be patient and steady in the face of abuse from unruly customers. Others would sooner commit a felony. Some are slow and methodical, the right temperament for certain jobs like detailing or detective work, while unsuited for others. Some favor autonomy and ingenuity, others prefer consensus and collaboration. Some like starting up new projects but hate with a passion the grind of managing those systems.

See, you thought you just had to find someone who could meet the skill set of the job. But if you want them to stay around, not get bored, not become anxious to move on, not feel either overwhelmed or underwhelmed, then you have to consider temperament. As a certified user of the Taylor Johnson Temperament Analysis I found the procedure to be helpful in finding whether a candidate might be a good fit.

Here’s a useful exercise. Take every position in your company or organization and analyze the temperament needed to be a good fit. List out the criteria that would indicate that temperament.  If that proves too difficult, start the other way around. List out the tasks and attitudes that are demanded and derive from that list the temperament you should look for.

When you get a match, either deliberately or accidently, that person is a keeper.

Keeper trait # 10 – truthfulness is up next. See you after the holiday weekend. No post on Monday, I’m not going to be near a computer. Hope you aren’t either.

Keepers trait #9 – Sensitivity

T101209-N-2943B-001his may seem like an unusual or even inappropriate trait and I want to be clear from this first sentence that I am NOT suggesting sensitivity in the emotional or psychological sense.  A sensitive associate is not to be confused with a touchy one. I do not mean someone who is easily set off, offended, or who must be handled with extreme care.

A sensitive employee is one who can discern and respond to subtlety. They “get it” quickly and clearly.

My father taught me, and I passed it on to my own children, that the way to make yourself invaluable to an employer is to quickly discover what is important to them and never disappoint them.  Find out their hot buttons and do everything you can to avoid pushing them. Instead, if they have areas and issues they prefer over others, meet them.

Sensitive employees do just that.

Sensitive employees and associates are:

  • Highly tuned in to the workplace. They can sense the mood of the moment and know how to respond to it.
  • Highly tuned in to the feelings of others and exercise great care never to offend, abuse, or ignore anyone on the team. This goes for managers and leaders too.
  • Comfortable working alone.
  • Respectful of the boundaries of others. They never intrude without an invitation or a compelling reason.
  • Particularly useful in service industries like restaurants, concierge services, and here’s a surprise, sales. Now you might think a sensitive person would be handicapped in sales because of the presence of rejection. But my sales model is not one of pressure, but of collaboration. In my last sales job I explained to all my clients that I was not intent on selling them anything but I was intent on helping them make the best selection for their particular needs.  (I was in the top 5% of sales for the region by the way.) We have all endured insensitive sales people who persisted on pursuing a script even though it did not match the setting. Telemarketers seem to be script-bound. Sensitive servers and salepersons can anticipate the needs of others before being told.
  • Capable of coming up with great ideas because they usually process information deeper. Sensitive people are usually inclined to creativity, have an inclination towards the arts.
  • Usually highly intelligent and possess great, active, vibrant imaginations. They are particularly good at finding a way where there is no way.
  • Know what your values are and match them.

There are downsides of course. Overly sensitive people can be moody, can be more inclined to self-medicate, and can be a bit hesitant to volunteer for fear of rejection. But, taken in balance, and used within the context I have set, this trait is an asset to the team.

Keeper trait #9 is appropriate skills and temperament. See you in a few days. I have been notified by my hosting service that they are moving my websites to faster servers so there might be slight and incremental outages in the service but it will be finished soon. Thanks for your patience.

Keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful

employeeShe was a hidden gem. A degree in Business Admin, she had taken a job as a server just to get a job. In the economy of her city, jobs were not that easy to find and even though she was way over-qualified, she took the job. For several months she worked, showed up on time, handled her duties diligently, and said nothing while her superior bungled his.

Eventually top management gave up trying to educate and train that manager to handle the minimal demands of the job. When they let him go, they asked her if she would accept the position. She did and grabbed onto it from the first moment. Within hours the top management saw that their choice had been the right one. Now, quite some time later, the positive report holds up. This is a true story, by the way.

So this event provoked me to consider just what it is in certain people that make them stand out, that make them valuable assets to a company or organization. I came up with the following list which I will discuss deeper and post, one at a time, over the next several days.

Here is my list of 16 personal qualities found in people you must keep around you. The series begins tomorrow.

  1. Resource-fullness
  2. Aggressive accountability
  3. Psychological security
  4. Loyalty (personal & institutional)
  5. Creativity
  6. Organization
  7. Diligence
  8. Prudence
  9. Sensitivity – they understand what is important to you
  10. Skills appropriate to the position
  11. Truthfulness – no sycophants need apply
  12. Stewardship
  13. Learn-able
  14. Teach-able – can bring others along
  15. Volunteerism (Initiative)
  16. Polite

Motivators that don’t motivate – 5 Ways to kill the engine of ambition and progress in your associates and make yourself look completely inept.

Motivation is a very personal thing so when you find it alive and well within someone you work with, it’s in your interest and theirs to do all you can to keep it vibrant. The challenge with those who would be motivators is they easily disconnect themselves from the perspective of others. Being egocentric beings, we all look at the world through our own eyeballs. The trick is to see things through another’s while still doing your job as manager or leader.

In the end there is not much you can do to motivate someone who is themselves unmotivated but there it is fairly easy to throttle it down or kill it outright by making easily preventable and avoidable mistakes. Here are 5 of them:

1. Be sure to tell them how expensive the utility bills are for the store, shop, or factory so they will want to work harder so you or your company will have more money to pay them. Whenever you have an employee meeting make certain that everyone knows that the electric bill for last month was $25,000 or whatever. Why this doesn’t work? Each person you tell has his or her own utility bills to pay on whatever income they are earning. Hint: They don’t give a flying flip about the company’s electric bills and trying to help you pay them is so far down the list of important things to your associates it’s not even on the list of important things to your associates. In one business, the general manager tried this for quite some time until more than one of their key associates reminded the manager that their electricity at home had been disconnected twice because they had not had enough to pay the bill. Your overhead costs cannot possibly compete with the challenges they face for their own survival.

2. Remind your top sales people that the end of the accounting period is approaching so they need to snap to and address all the open estimates out there. Be sure and do this when they’ve had a great sales week and do this without saying anything about how terrifically they’ve performed so far. Remind them of how far there is to go without celebrating how far they’ve come.

3. Send a generic email to everyone using general terms and vague references commending progress for the entire team but avoid face to face commendations. Use email to hide behind while at the same time congratulating yourself on what a wonderful communicator you are. Better yet, don’t say anything until they are fed up and turn in their notice, then on their way out the door let them know how you’ve appreciated their contribution. That goes down real well. Hint: Get out from behind that desk, walk over to where they are and tell them face to face how they are a valued member of the team. If they’re in another building or State, pick up the phone and tell them. Emails are ok. Conversations are terrific. Face to face conversations are the best!

4. When they come to you to report on a big sale, a deadline that’s been nailed, a contract that’s been secured or a project that’s been completed, let the first words out of your mouth be an interrogation over why they didn’t do more. I actually saw this happen more than once (Truthfully I’ve seen all these things happen more than once and done some of them, I am ashamed to say, myself). A salesperson would call up the sales manager or a general manager and tell them they had just closed on a big, big order then the first words out of the manager’s mouth were to ask if they pushed any add-on sales. This one has to rack up there as one of the stupidest things a manager/leader can do. The message conveyed is that nothing the associate does is EVER good enough! Dumb, dumb, dumb! If the car is running and travelling at high speed, don’t puncture a tire.

5. Mess with their pay and tell them it is a positive move going forward. All employee and associate issues are local. See #1 above. You may be a member of management in your company or you may represent management in your company and you may be dialed in to what the company has to say and speak what they decide to do from their perspective. But your associates, your employees are dialed in to WII-FM, What’s In It For Me and they do not take kindly to being compromised. Never forget that your associates and employees are not stupid and can see a spin from a thousand yards away. One major US company suddenly and with but a three day notice eliminated all sales commissions and spiffs from their sales staff telling them that they did this for the employee’s benefit. The spin was that “We know how difficult it is to budget when your wages are inconsistent from paycheck to paycheck so we’ve eliminated the commissions so you can have a consistent known amount each pay period. This is a positive move going forward.” This is not only unfair it is insulting. Every affected person could see it as a positive for the company but a negative for themselves. It’s only a positive move if it affects your associates and employees positively. Everything else is considered negative no matter how you try to spin it. If pay cuts and benefit cuts are beyond your control, empathy for those who now have to get by on less won’t hurt. One manager of said company above added insult to injury by advising his people that they really shouldn’t consider their pay to be that important but to buy stock in the company for long-term growth and wealth. This is an example of high position blindness brought on by forgetting what it is like to be a wage earner. I can guarantee you that every employee whose wages, benefits, commissions, or spiffs were cut has only one long-term objective and that’s to get the hell out of that company as soon as they can.

If your biggest cost is personnel it should also be your biggest asset if you work it well. What examples of demotivation have you seen, experienced, or gasp, done yourself? I’d like to know and so would my readers. Know someone who could benefit from this, do them a favor and pass it along.

Management 101 – Part 4 – Control

steeringThe first three installments in this series covering management’s most basic principles addresses Planning, Organizing, and Training. Once those have been done, or more realistically, once those are being done, the final principle is that of controlling action.

If nothing is moving, the first challenge is to get things moving in an orderly manner. One that happens, the next logical addition is to control what is moving; minimize waste, maximize efficiency, and focus efforts.

Control happens when movements are contained within certain parameters. In engineering those parameters would be called “tolerances” because a certain degree of latitude is allowed. In retail businesses, they control inventory by budgeting for shrinkage, which is the loss of inventory, through breakage and theft. In manufacturing, control is exercised by managing time, predicting and planning for the supply of component parts, and monitoring specifications.

In all applications of control, there has to exist a standard from which all variance is measured. Here it might be helpful to borrow a term and concept from surveying. When new territory is being plotted, surveyors lay a base line, a straight line running a fixed length along which all other measurements are to be made. When the original settlers of the San Bernardino valley laid out the city their base line, now a busy street, ran for many miles. All other streets and the plots of land that would be parceled out to settlers were measured from that on line.

Management and leadership uses the same principle. A standard is established which becomes the target for measuring performance and therefore a basis for controlling action. Corporate run restaurants establish the target number of diners and their average purchase amount and they control costs by carefully controlling portions in both recipes and servings.

Corporate run casinos know how much money the average gambler will lose at a blackjack table per hand that is dealt. They also set the standard for how many hands the dealer should deal per hour and thus can predict with reasonable accuracy how much the table should earn. They then monitor the take from that table and can see where it deviates from the base line. If a regular pattern emerges, say one particular dealer is earning less than those who precede of follow him, the house begins to look for the reason why.

Base line control works just about everywhere. It was Peter Drucker who said that “if you cannot count it you cannot control it.” So the concept and practice of control is a counting action. Leaders do not do so well at this because the nature of leadership is less specific and more inspirational. However, if inspirational and motivational influence does not somewhere and somehow translate to measurable advances, leadership is relegated to platitudes and concepts. They’re pleasant but produce little in the way of lasting effect.

Control is a concept many people are uncomfortable with because it requires them to hold people accountable for results. We live in an age of fuzziness where we confuse feelings and attitudes with genuine advancement and progress. HR people and social scientists have proposed that we focus on the feeling side of work which can have a counterproductive effect if not balanced with real control targets. Your role as manager is to place the right people in the right positions so they can do the right job at the right time and produce the right results. Feeling good, loved, accepted, and fulfilled has value as long as that focus does not override the objective – to produce results.

On the other hand, too much control can result in friction (see my post here about that subject). If things are functioning smoothly and on track, a different kind of control is called for. MacGregor’s X and Y management styles addresses this and I will too in future posts (this is also the subject of my next book “How To Light A Fire Under Almost Anyone Without Getting Burned”) so be informed that that this subject is by no means exhausted here.

In summary, here are the 7 key components of the principle of control:

  1. Management is a game won or lost by numbers. To be able to control is to be able to count.
  2. A base line needs to be determined and laid out so EVERYONE who is accountable to it understands it and what it means. It is unfair to hold people to standards they are not aware of.
  3. Ineffective managers keep moving the base line. This inevitably causes confusion and resentment. If you arbitrarily move the baseline to put more money in your pocket while taking money OUT of the pockets of the people who work for you, count on your best and most productive people moving on.
  4. Ineffective managers have no baseline going in or they refuse to reveal it to their associates. People respond best when they know what is expected of them. If you are going to hold people accountable for numbers make very sure they know what those numbers are.
  5. Monitor deviation from base line numbers and find out why before jumping to a conclusion. There can be more than one reason why numbers are not met or exceeded.
  6. If you move numbers higher because of better than expected results make sure it is a joint effort and a reasonable one.
  7. To control results you’ll need to coordinate efforts. Until you have clear evidence otherwise, you may assume that most people want to do well in their jobs and will continue to do so if given the right tools and competent management. Demanding more with less will doubtless provoke resentment, grumbling, and plots of rebellion (just ask an ancient Pharoah when he demanded his guest workers, the Israelites, to make more bricks with less straw).  It takes lots of fuel and gear grinding to get a vehicle moving, but once it is on the road, a different type of control is necessary. You can let the machine do what it was designed to do and simply keep a supply of fuel, lubrication, and guidance to keep it on the road an on the way.

The first three installments of Management 101 are available here:

Part 1 – Plan

Part 2 – Organize

Part 3 – Train

I am yet in Uganda, East Africa. I spent the last two days on the road travelling up-country arriving back in Entebbe last night to discover that my internet access was no longer functioning. As of mid-day today it is still out. I have a wireless modem used here through the mobile phone providers but it is so slow I hesitate to use it. Nonetheless I have. Even getting airtime is fun. A trip downtown to the currency exchange office to but more shillings, then a walk down the street to the mobile phone office, a wait in line, then it’s my turn. Select the number of gb’s I want for a month and pay the fee while the tech retrieves the SIM card registration, gets the airtime and downloads it onto the stick. I am using the stick modem now. Thanks for your patience.

Management 101 – Part 2 – Organize

organizing calendarWhether you’re planning a meeting with your associates or the launch of a new product, the plans are doomed unless and until things are organized. Plans may make us feel better and plans do give us a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

But plans, in and of themselves, will remain locked in and of themselves. Organization must logically follow. It must be determined:

Who will do what.

When will it be done.

Where will it take place.

How will it be accomplished.

What will be required to get “it” done.

Who will get the stuff that will be required….and on the list goes.

The only why that should be asked is to validate the component pieces, i.e., why is this person or that thing needed at this time?

Organizing includes:

Specialization of participants and resources – This is the ability to focus on the tasks at hand and the  objectives those tasks are supposed to bring about.

Division of work – An organizer recruits or assigns personnel to the tasks that must be done, hands off work to them (delegation) and makes assignments requiring measureable results. By definition and implication organizers are precise not vague and they clarify not obfuscate.

Forming tasks and workers in logical and sequential order. – To organize is make lists, assemble resources, arrange components, and sequence tasks.

Organizing can be simple or complex depending on the size of the project and the skill and experience of those involved. Inexperienced personnel will need greater detail. More experienced people can get by well with more generalized plans.

Here are 7 Benefits of ORGANIZATION:

  1. Efficiency – To organize is to gain the most productivity from the least effort and hassle. Organization minimizes waste or eliminates it entirely. Duplication of effort is reduced, multitasking can result, or unneeded items can be eliminated from the budget.
  2. Fluidity of movement – Organized efforts avoid whiplash of the attitudes. Poor organization produced false starts, abrupt stops, and wild changes of direction.
  3. Economy – An organized manager/leader realizes the most expedient use of the resources at hand saving the company money and himself effort.
  4. Humane consideration of your associates – organizing gives evidence of planning which is the result of care. When you care about someone or something, you plan for them or it. When you are concerned about the outcome you pay attention to the in-between events that take up the space between the idea and its manifestation.
  5. Organization defines structure clearly, reveals how things fit together, and diagrams what relates to what, who relates to whom, and who cares for what. The entire organizational system might be in your head or it may be revealed in organizational charts. Whatever the depository, it should be shared an known by everyone who works within ints structure.
  6. Organizing enables managers and leaders to see where responsibility resides, where and how authority should flow, and from where accountability should come. See # 5.
  7. Organization builds the channels within which delegation functions so that power, the authorization to act and the releasing of resources to act, can flow more freely.

Remember the three fundamental objectives of effective leadership? To extend YOUR reachmultiply YOUR effectiveness, and divide YOUR work. The product of organizing is not more work for you, but to create less, to enable you to get more done by empowering others to execute plans that will accomplish your goals. Some managers and leaders are not naturally gifted organizers, and they do accomplish things, but at great labor, often much frustration, and a good amount of wasted effort.

Almost anyone can learn the basic skills of organization and many tools exist to help us.  The simplest is the venerable task list. I’ve tried the task list in Outlook. I use OneNote and Evernote. I’ve tried Google’s Calendar. All of them have been some help. None of them have been as handy and readily available as a pad of paper and a pencil.

Complicated projects require more planning and therefore more organization. You may have built in organization where you work. The chain of command, reporting procedures, and audit systems can be helpful when you understand them and work with them.

Tight organization may be required when risks and consequences are high. Looser organizational systems may work well when participants have a PROVEN record of responsible behavior, careful accountability, and mature use of authority.

Every effective manager is a competent organizer. Many effective leaders are not. Management’s specific domain is that of organization and implementation while leadership is to inspire and project. However, effective leaders recognize this and soon employ the assistance of capable organizers.

The first lesson in this series is Management 101 – Part 1 Planning. The next lesson is T = Train. Who is the most effective trainer you know? I have two more lessons in this series before beginning another. What would you like to see covered here? Drop me a line or leave a comment.

Management 101 – Part 1 – PLAN

planningPOTC – the four elemental components of any effective management strategy

I am still in Uganda and will be for several more weeks. It is my privilege to be training some new managers as they make the transition into the realm of those who lead others.

I am well aware of the Peter Principle which says that in an organization, personnel tend to rise to the level of their incompetence. And I am aware that not everyone can make the transition into places of authority and to the command of others. But one works with what one has with the understanding that some will make the grade and others will not. Even seasoned trainers cannot always predict who will rise to the challenge until the person gives it a go.

I am also aware that it is almost certain that if adequate preparation is not provided, the attrition rate among new managers will be higher. So I am here giving what amounts to basic training in management to a team of people we hope can rise to the level of ability and responsibility their jobs require.

Reaching back to the fundamental principles of management I am emphasizing the four elemental components of an effective strategy – POTC:  


PLAN     –     ORGANIZE     –     TRAIN     –     CONTROL


No manager can skip the planning stage. Getting somewhere demands consideration of where you want to go connected to where you are and a PLAN for getting from here to there. It demands knowledge of and consideration of the conditions and components that will be necessary to get the plan operational. Planning does these 9 things for the manager/leader:

  • It makes your work and the work of others more efficient. Translate to mean it gets more done for less time, less effort, less money which can only mean one thing – profit. Even if your position is in a non-profit organization there is still the imperative to efficiently utilize the organization’s resources and funds. Therefore,


  • Planning enhances efficiency because planning denotes and connotes ORDER. Order creates more out of less. For visual evidence of that, think of a cluttered closet or cupboard. When disorder exists in a storage closet, all available and useable space is filled with a jumble of items. Putting those things in order creates useable space that was not there before. It creates more out of less. Part 2 of this series is ORGANIZE where I will examine the topic more thoroughly.


  • Planning manages risk. The very act of planning means looking into what is going to happen and factoring in what could affect wither the outcome or the path to the outcome. Planning tries to accommodate the circumstance that could impact events so that their impact is not life-threatening.


  • Planning mechanizes people and processes in the sense that it coordinates them avoiding or at least minimizing duplication of effort, minimizes waste of either effort or resources, and perhaps most importantly, reduces friction that always occurs whenever two parts in motion make contact. If nothing is moving, if nothing is happening, no friction exists because nothing is moving. Planning considers that friction will occur and addresses it.


  • Planning enlightens the manager about what will need to be done and what are the expected results, therefore the manager wikll better know what skills and attitudes will be required. Planning anticipates training, the third topic in this series.


  • Planning focuses the direction of the organization toward agreed upon objectives that in turn validate the company. It is not enough to do things. It is necessary to do the correct things in the correct sequence. Planning does that.


  • Planning assists in maintaining control. I will address the control factor soon (hint: the “C” in POTC is? You guessed it. Control.


  • Planning unleashes motivation and keeps it at a healthy level. Responsible people respond positively when they see their efforts actually mean something. People hate busy work. They respond negatively when they are asked to do something just to do it. They respond better when they can readily see how what they do has meaning, relevance, and importance. Planning means you actually thought about this before you asked them to do it.


  • Planning requires you, the manager, to be attentive, creative, and innovative. Managers have to think, they have to understand, they have to have ideas. This is one of the key differences that separates leaders from followers.

The next article will cover ORGANIZING. Until then, what benefits have you seen from planning that I did not include in my list? What did you discover when you or someone you worked for failed to plan well?

The all in – all out school of management…and why it does not work

Ying YangOk, we have to admit it. We are busy. Too busy.

There are meetings to prepare for and participate in. There are reports to write, read, review, comment upon, and process. The day’s schedule is very often controlled by someone else or at the very least, torpedoed by unplanned events. In my time management seminars, I challenged my students to keep a daily log for two weeks BEFORE they even thought about becoming a more efficient manager of time.


Because some portion of our time every day is controlled by others. Just how much depends on where you are and who you work for. Keeping a log, writing down everything you do in no longer than 15 minutes blocks and monitoring it for two weeks will begin to reveal just how much…or how little…of your day you can actually plan.

Try to plan too much and you will soon become frustrated with yourself for not getting more done. 

As critical as time management is, it is NOT the topic of today’s post. So why have I brought it up? Because ours is a big club. We have much to do, maybe too much to do, so we tend to let the events that occupy our times mold our approach to and response to those times. We abdicate control over events and responsibilities, and in so doing readily fall into the All-in All-out style of management.

There are two extremes to which we tend to gravitate.

The first is over-engagement, also known as meddling. At one time I worked as a sub-contractor for a charity on the west coast. One of the jobs in my contract was to coordinate an annual conference which generally attracted about 1500 paid registrants. One night, as the registration deadline approached, I and my team were working at the piles of paper forms that had accumulated, making sure that each were properly and accurately entered into the computer database. (NOTE: This was in the very early days of computers. That particular organization had a Wang mainframe computer. The CPU was about the size of an American washing machine and featured a whopping 128K of memory on memory boards about the size of 3-ring binders.)

Now, I am a cut to the chase type of guy and get really bothered by people who clutter up the process with needless frills, well-intended though they may be. The Executive Director of the charity in reference was an all-in manager, meaning he meddled into everything, trusted no one, and viewed himself as the only thing holding back the organization from complete chaos and certain collapse. Here I was with my team trying to complete application processing when Mr. Big decided it was time to modify the font on the confirmation letters and forms. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever in the process whether the font was Times New Roman or Arial. None! But he wanted another font. In those days changing fonts was not so simple as today’s drop-down menu and select procedure. No, one had to enter codes in the correct sequence in precisely the proper place or everything came out gibberish. It took an hour for him to make the change because he wasn’t as adept at font manipulation as he thought he was. So, we tried to keep busy doing anything important even though he was muddying up the flow of things with his meddling.

It gets worse.

The next day we were an hour behind schedule and assembling pre-conference information packets which had to be mailed the following day. The hour got late, well into the evening, and we still had lots to do. But Mr. Big kept hanging around making regular and often forays into our space, each time slowing down or stopping the process in order to make his presence, expertise, and perceived redemptive value known.

Finally, it occurred to me that Mr. Big really did consider himself to be the one who worked harder, longer, and more intelligently than anyone else and that he was not about to leave as long as anyone else was there. He simply could not ever let it be known that someone else left after he did.

So, I quietly assembled my team and informed them that we were going to announce we were done for the day, leave the building and hide behind the shrubs just outside the entrance so Mr. Big would find it acceptable to leave and we could complete our responsibilities in peace.

I made the announcement that we were leaving. We made the pretense of wrapping up things for the day and left the building, finding hiding places in the bushes. Within seconds, Mr. Big was out the door and into his car. Since I was a trusted contractor, I had a key (the key system at mission control is another amazing story but I’ll save that for another time). I unlocked. We re-entered. And we got things done free from meddlesome Mr. Big.

All-in type of managers are typically like Mr Big. They innately distrust everyone. They consider themselves to be more intelligent, more experienced, more capable than anyone else. They will not leave you alone. They create as many issues as they resolve, probably more (in aeronautics it is called self-induced turbulence which comes from over-control of the plane’s flight control systems, holding on so tightly and rigidly the fluid nature of movement becomes harsh and jerky). And everyone who works for them or with them can see exactly what’s going on.

The meddlesome manager/leader gums up the works, slows down progress, and annoys just about everyone they interact with. Blinded by massive egos, they fail to attract and retain the talent that would enable them to extend their reach, multiply their effectiveness, and divide their work and seem to be quite content with that. Effective leader/managers are not.

The opposite position is the disengaged manager/leader. S/he stays out of the process even when intervention would be the right thing to do. I think of Mr. Carlson, the hapless manager of WKRP in Cincinnati, one of my favorite sitcoms. Content to busy himself with new gadgets and hobbies, he hides in his office away from the processes that would make his company even more successful. (To his credit he does finally hire a capable manager and lets him turn things around).

To be fair, many disengaged leader/managers are not disengaged at all but simply are distracted. Busy people always juggle conflicting demands and it is easy for most of us to simply leave running machinery alone when some interaction would be helpful.

However, the extreme position of over-engaging is not balanced by neglect. You need to know when to intervene. Here are 4 Keys to determining when and how to get involved:

  1. When you notice numbers start to slide. Most all of us would agree with Peter Drucker’s maxim that “if you can’t count it you can’t manage it”. And, most of us work with monitoring systems that give us sales numbers, response numbers, reports, accounts, and inventories. Over time, a norm will emerge. If that norm remains, well, normal, then you can probably leave well-enough alone. It’s your call but sometimes your participation (not meddling) will cause those numbers to get even better. Leader/managers can do a lot simply by acknowledging that someone is doing well. It was Tom Peters and Robert Waterman who brought attention to the “Let alone, Zap!” style of management in their book “In Search of Excellence.” If you’re going to intervene, try to get there before it’s in free fall.
  2. A former IBM executive (and personal friend) once said that a thousand “attaboys” are instantly wiped out by one “Oh s..t!”  Even when you do get involved try to abandon dramatics. It serves no purpose other than to label you as an absentee manager who shows up unannounced but demanding the lead role and a center stage spotlight. Prima donnas get attention but not respect.
  3. Learn when to reward the producers among your associates, how to motivate and structure those who show the potential to become stars, and why to ignore the consumers (not customers, but those in your team who do not have what it takes to produce without a large investment of time and attention from you).
  4. Determine if the process needs attention or the people who pull the levers and work the gears need attention. Sometimes it is the people. Sometimes it is not. Before you say or do anything you might have to walk back, determine just where the problem is. This flows parallel with Douglas MacGregor’s X and Y styles of management.

I’d like to know your experience with the Mr. Big’s in your life and also the no where to be seen ones. Leave a comment so the rest of us can enjoy and learn from what you have discovered.

I am in East Africa at the moment and will be here for several weeks. I am not on safari. I am assisting a project I work with to fine tune the management of its businesses here and having a great time. This is not my first visit here and doubtless will not be my last. What I find particularly reassuring is that the PRINCIPLES of effective leadership are universal. Their manifestation certainly varies from culture to culture but their efficacious nature does not.

I am letting you know where I am because my normal posting schedule is Monday and Thursday,  but I cannot always rely on internet access. Sometimes it “has failed” as they say it here. So when I can, and when the system works, I’ll be posting.