Birds of a feather – why we need to belong

We-have-control-over-the-people-who-we-allow-to-influence-our-lives-Bobby-G-Muse-Jr-Simple-Life-Publishing-Posted-11-1-2014-300x224It commonly happens. Single adults hang out with other single adults. After marriage, couples transition away from their single friends and begin to hang out with other couples. The same occurs after children arrive.

Why? Because we are socially programmed to associate with people who are like ourselves. We find both encouragement and support in being with others who share the same frames of reference. On the job, notice how people who rise through the ranks make new sets of friends. People who move into positions of management find their connections with other managers strengthen and their former associations weaken.


Because we learn from others whose challenges and experiences resemble our own.

Because we find encouragement in discovering that others share the same challenges and face the same dilemmas.

Because we need to be able to talk to people who understand what we mean.  It can be dismaying to think you are alone…and sometimes you are. You may serve in a place where you cannot find others of the same level of responsibility. Or it may just be difficult to build a connection with others because of interpersonal or political dynamics.

Because we tend to become like the people with whom we associate.

So, we’ve made a place.  It’s a free, private Facebook page called The Practical Leader Associates. It is only for readers of The Practical Leader and you can join it by clicking on the picture below or this link

Here’s what you can expect to find there:

  • A growing number of leaders like yourself who will answer your questions, respond to your comments, and support your efforts.
  • A place to ask questions and engage others
  • A platform for you to post relevant content from around the cyber world regarding leaders, leading, and leadership principles and practices.
  • Listening ears and supportive voices.

Click through now and join one of the most useful groups on the net.

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4 Lessons in leadership from a 2400 mile road trip

road-trip-signI’ve been absent from this website for the past couple of weeks (but then you knew that already from the lack of new articles – at least I hope you noticed). First, I flew to Reno for a 4 day leadership conference sponsored by SCORE. Then, there was a flight to Phoenix where we picked up a rental truck and drove it to central Arizona. After loading the truck and driving back to Phoenix, the truck was parked when I made a quick trip by plane to southern California and back. Finally, we climbed into the cab of the truck and headed east on I-10. Four days and nearly 2400 miles later, we’re back in Florida.

True enough, in today’s modern vehicles it is simple enough and relatively easy. The truck we rented was nearly new so we didn’t expect mechanical problems. And it was air conditioned and equipped with comfortable seats. Then there is the American Interstate Highway System which provides high speed roadways with limited access for efficiency and economy.

So, let me make 4 applications to our role and responsibilities as leaders.

1. To get somewhere you really need to know where it is you are going. This may seem obvious but too often it is not emphasized. I knew that at the end of the journey was an appealing place. If there is no destination, your life is little more than a pleasure trip. Indeed, most people live precisely that way. There is no destination, no purpose, no vision, no meaning. They just live exploring this attraction and that. Leadership is measured by more than short trips. It is measured in long journeys taken to reach far off destinations.

2. When you understand where it is you are ultimately heading for, you can begin to plan incremental destinations. Few of us can see the big picture and remain motivated in pursuit of it We need more visible, more immediate mile markers to measure progress by. 2400 miles is a long, long trip and the drive times are long and relatively uneventful. My GPS device tells me how many miles there are to the destination. I knew from entering the destination at the beginning of the journey the total miles, that feature helped me countdown the miles. Seeing the miles reduce prompt feelings of success and achievement.

3. Adjustments are often necessary. Our travel was interrupted or slowed by traffic congestion, road repairs, and bad weather. Some things you can foresee and plan for, most you cannot. No trip goes without some adjustment.

4. Leaders do not merely put in hours, they set goals and reach them. There is one main factor that separates leaders from followers. Leaders make progress and stay at it as long as it may take. Followers put in their hours and then go home. I knew that if we were to reach our destination in four days, I would need to cover a minimum of 600 miles each day. To cover fewer than that in one day would mean a longer drive the next. Leaders make schedules, set goals, and do what has to be done to reach them. Our effectiveness is not measured in hours spent but in progress made.

We’re developing an online university and I need your input. There are many courses in development and we’ve been able to attract some talented instructors. But we want to prepare courses in subjects you prefer. Could you take a brief survey and let me know what you think? Click on this link and fill in the blanks. Yes, you are signing up for mailing list, but it will bring you news of the courses as they are released and discount coupons for early enrollment. Click on this link today and let me know what you think.

Overwhelming leadership success and management failure

patton relievedOne of the best examples of overwhelming and comprehensive leadership success and overwhelming and comprehensive management failure can be seen in the career of General George Patton. A brilliant and courageous strategist, his record of success on the field of conflict in two wars is nothing short of phenomenal.

But as bright a star as he was, it faded some at the end of his career when military command put him in charge of administering a designated precinct of conquered territory. In that he didn’t do so well. He was a leader, not a manager.

Now, I am not here to do anything other today than draw the distinction between the skills Patton so brilliantly manifested as leader and those he so poorly executed as a manager.

First, leadership and change go hand in hand. Who responds to leaders? Followers! Followers follow someone who is leading them somewhere else. Managers don’t. Managers maintain and the word “maintain” means to “cause or enable a condition or state of affairs to continue.” Leaders are change agents, managers guard against it.

Second, leadership is a relationship. It is a function of a set of intangibles and nuances that Patton did and people like him do it very well. But management is an assortment of tasks that are done and redone that measure and oversee the processes that maintain things to continue as they are. Leaders make things count, managers count things.

Third, leaders primarily look ahead while managers look behind. Managers find fulfilment and reward in remaining faithful to systems. Leaders are always breakout people. They delight in making a difference and revel in uncertainty. Managers get excited about keeping things steady and certain. Leaders launch into the unknown, managers would rather not.

In effective organizations, both are necessary. And both share some people skills, but their intentions and objectives are different. Not contradictory, effective organizations foster a collaborative relationship because it functions best.

One reason Patton did so poorly as an administrator is that he could not readily or comfortably make the transition from leadership to management. And I suggest that he shouldn’t have accepted the job at all. Perhaps he had no choice, but it wasn’t long before command made a change. So we can conclude that perhaps one more skill is vital for effective leaders – that of knowing when to quit and move on. Leaders lead and are seldom satisfied doing anything other than that.

6 Essential Lessons About Motivation From a Job Offer…and the person turned it down

no thanksJason is a principal officer in one of a consulting firm’s city offices.  The Regional VP recently met with Jason to offer him a position as a District manager. For two hours or so the Regional guy talked about the district, its strengths, and its few weaknesses and offered the job.

It was an offer that carried with it some prestige and, for a short time, Jason considered accepting the it. But in the end, he turned it down.


When I discussed it with him I learned there are three reasons why he declined.

First, there was the challenge of finding a successor. The office Jason managed ran like a well-oiled machine and all the numbers were up over the previous year. Jason was concerned that there would be too much disruption to simply move on unless a suitable successor could be found. There was some flexibility as to when he would need to move up and had that been the only issue or even the major issue, he would probably have accepted the offer. But there were two more challenges.

Second, accepting a position of higher and broader responsibility implied a commitment of sufficient time to make the transition work, time Jason did not have. While the Regional VP did not define a specific length of time he expected, Jason would not accept the offer unless he could devote a minimum of two years in the new position. His personal leadership philosophy, set of values, and sense of responsibility told him never to take on a job unless he could devote himself fully to it and offer it a more than a tentative commitment. He liked challenges but shunned advancement for the sake of advancement alone. The problem was that Jason has become the local office manager with a clear understanding to the company that he would stay in it for two years and no more. He was committed to other pursuits outside of that office and away from that company. Two years was the limit. He was one year into that two year period which left only one more year. Taking the district manager job would mean extending it another year, something he was not willing to do.

Third, during the two hours or so that he met with the Regional VP, Jason got the distinct impression that the VP was far more interested in the company and the job than he was interested in Jason. Not once did the VP draw any parallels between what the company needed and the skill sets of Jason. Not once did the VP even try to find out if the needs of the company came close to matching the needs, ambitions, and values of Jason. When it was over, Jason felt he was little more than an object than an important and vital part of the company’s vision.

So, he declined.

There are 7 very essential lessons about motivation in this that we need to look at.

  1. The people with whom we work are not objects and should never ever be treated like objects. Only manipulators, who move pieces around to satisfy their own designs treat people like objects.
  2. Motivators know that outside pressure will change someone’s direction, interests, schedule, or efforts only as long as that pressure remains. Manipulators know that, too, but they are committed at keeping the pressure on. It is a demeaning relationship for both parties.
  3. Enticements like more responsibility, higher prestige, even more money will usually be trumped by a person’s personal values and commitments. That’s what neutralized the offer for Jason. He was unwilling to ignore his own “two and through” commitment and he was unwilling to leave his colleagues at the local office in the lurch simply to move into a perceptibly better place for himself. He had a sense of collaboration and fair play that effectively blocked the singular move up and away. It just seemed too selfish for him.
  4. We must remember to always engage with our associates and subordinates as whole people. We may think we own them for several hours a day, but we don’t. We’re only renting their attention and efforts. They have objectives and ambitions that transcend those of the enterprise or the organization. The stronger a person’s personal sense of values and defined philosophy of living, the less likely they are to succumb to the enticements that mere mortals like ourselves can dangle before them.
  5. Draw others out before you try to pour it on. The Regional VP would have been received far better had he tried to discover a parallel between his needs and the ambitions, desires, values, and intentions of his prospect. His entire approach was, in this sense, doomed from the first word. Had the VP found out where Jason was in his career and where he was going things might have turned out better. As it was, Jason perceived he would be solving the VP’s problem and helping out the company at great cost to himself.
  6. Don’t make things worse. The Regional VP did. After Jason declined the offer what do you think the VP did when he received Jason’s answer? The Regional guy did nothing. He sent no letter thanking Jason for his service and for being willing to listen to his proposal. He made no phone call. He did nothing! He made no communication of any kind, not even to acknowledge that he had received Jason’s refusal. This only reinforced in Jason’s thinking that the Jason’s perceptions and conclusions were right, that the VP didn’t care much about him. He cared more about himself and his company. The old adage that we work for ourselves regardless of who signs the paycheck really is true. The VP had not figured that out.

The last I heard, the VP was not having an easy go of it finding a District Manager. It seems just about everyone has figured him out. Motivation is always internal. People are motivated already, the question for us as leaders is to find out where and for what and discover ways we can help them reach their goals while we satisfy our own.

Leading from behind, what it is…and what it is not

theretheygoThis concept of leading from behind appears in the news fairly often. The term and the concept have found their most academic expression in an idea put forth by Linda Hill of the Harvard Business School. She claims it originated from reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography when he likened leaders who shepherd their flocks from behind. Hill’s concept is that of collaborative effort within teams who take responsibility for projects and goals.

Having spent many years working with Navajo leaders in the Southwestern United States I learned a little about shepherding. I’ve spent even more time working with leaders in a great many cultures and found that the dynamics and principles of effective leadership are universal.

I need to point out that Hill’s premise of “leading from behind” is more of an observation about certain specific and limited iterations of work group dynamics than it is a proven practice. She opines that the workplace of the future will be different, but no one can really say what or how.

The phrase “leading from behind” is not one used by Mandela but it has been kicked around in the media with both positive and negative intentions. Since this blog is focused on practical leadership, it is a worthwhile investment of our time to take a closer look.

All leadership gifts and their incarnation are active not passive. Banish from your thinking now that leading from behind can mean that you are missing in action. If anything other than chaos and tumult is to result someone somewhere has to lead. A clear and certain trumpet call musters the troops. A sure and steady voice gathers the attention of the workforce.

What it is:

It is deliberate not accidental. Even collaborative and inferred effort is done so calculatingly. The shepherd can let the sheep wander on their own only within parameters. There are dangers and there are opportunities. Effective leaders are not always hands on and predominant, but they are always there.

It is purposeful not incidental. I both laugh and cringe when I hear a leader claim to be involved when something happens that they had little or nothing to do with. Leading from behind means the leader has intent and ideas and has made both known even if they did so subtly.

It is collaborative and cooperative. One technique I use in workshops is to give an assignment, then break up the group into smaller clusters of three or four people. With assignment in hand, the clusters are told they have but a few minutes to complete the task. If there is a natural and confident leader, the group will come together, divide the job into smaller tasks, and then create the assigned work. If not, nothing productive happens. Discussion ensues, arguments arise, confusion reigns. Leading from behind may mean exercising influence indirectly but it does mean exercising influence.

It works best in times and places of non-crisis. If a child is running into the street and into traffic, it is not the time to convene a focus group to discuss the threats of playing in the street. It is the time for action. Leading from behind, as Hill describes it, works best in non-threatening, non-urgent conditions.

It is, at this point in time and evolution, more theoretical than it is practical. While some groups have enjoyed some success using indirect leadership methods in smaller work groups, there is someone of strength at the helm of the ship. It is unclear to me whether Hill advocates this method for the leadership of entire companies or whether she intends it for use in smaller units inside companies.

What it is not:

It is not rewriting the facts to make it look like something happened when it has not. This is a CYA (cover you’re a** for those readers outside the US) maneuver used by someone who should have been paying attention. Politicians do this all the time.

It is not ignoring a situation or neglecting one then claiming you are leading from behind. This is a face saving effort on the part of someone who is either reluctant to lead or out of ideas.

It is not passive. Even those who lead from behind lead. They do not do nothing and try to call it leadership. They are exercising influence deliberately and purposefully. An intent is fixed, a purpose is validated, and actions are thought through. One does not sit idly by and hope something good happens because effective leaders know that hope is not a valid strategy.

It is not an excuse for doing little or nothing while at the same time claiming to be leading. Neither laziness nor inattention are qualities found in an effective leader. Shepherds do not sleep while flocks wander about. They do not sit under a tree while the sheep stray off over the hill. Shepherds are constantly scanning for danger, remembering the need of the sheep for food and shelter, and direct the flock accordingly.

It cannot take the place of strategic thinking and strategic planning. In their book “Transforming Health Care Leadership” authors Michael Maccoby, Clifford L. Norman, C. Jane Norman, and Richard Margolies devote 140 pages to explaining and illustrating strategic intelligence and what it means for leaders. I won’t even attempt to cover their research here but they’ve identified four key components worth noting here – foresight, visioning, partnering, and motivating. Hill seems to focus on partnering and motivating. I suggest that if there is no one to exercise foresight and define vision, then just about anything can…and will happen. And I don’t mean that in a positive sense. I mean that in its implications of catastrophe.

In short, one can lead from behind only if one knows what lies ahead and what it will take to get there.

Using Authority, Capitalizing on Power

vintage woodshopI was in my first year of junior high school. That means the ripe age of 12. I had enrolled in woodshop as one of my permitted elective courses and very excited about learning how to make things.

I don’t really remember the first project we were given to work on. But I do remember the first piece of lumber I had to cut. Skinny and short for my age, I selected a hand saw from the storage rack and a board from the storage bin. Laying it out on the bench, I measured and drew a line.

With saw in one hand, holding the board with the other, I clumsily drew the teeth across the edge. Making a pile of sawdust I cut through the board. But try as I could, I could not keep the saw on the line. As the waste piece fell off, my project board had a crooked edge both across the grain and vertically.

The shop teacher came over, picked up the piece, and laid it back down. “Well,” he said, “I’ve seen better.” Then he walked off. Not more discussion. No instruction. Nothing.

Now, no doubt he was accurate and truthful.  Doubtless he had seen better.

But was that really the point?

Leadership confronts opportunities like this often, usually many times a day. Someone makes an attempt but somehow someway falls short. And leaders really, really need to remember how significantly what they say and how they respond will impact the person.

You can use your authority or capitalize on your power.

That instructor way back in junior high used his authority. He made an accurate and truthful pronouncement that passed judgment on both me and the work I had completed.

But it fixed nothing. I already knew it was not a good cut. How could it have been anything else? I had not used a handsaw before. I had been given no instruction. I tackled the job with as much enthusiasm as I could muster and focused my efforts. To be told that he had seen better remedied not one thing except to let me know that he possessed knowledge that I needed but he was not going to share it and that I had failed to live up to the rest of the human race.

Just about all of us have heard of Douglas McGregor’s X & Y theories of management. X being directive and authoritative. Y being indirect and informative. Well, there is a third not spoken of much but one under which we have all suffered. That is the SOB style, the one used by my shop teacher, is probably more widely in use than we would hope.

The use of authority, as I’ve illustrated, usually makes the one using authority feel better while making the one upon whom it was used feel worse. He could have used his considerable power (defined as the influence one has upon others) to instruct, to place things in perspective (“No problem, this is your first cut and I’ll show you how to make cuts the right way” or something like that), and to move the class along towards its implied goals of developing woodworking skills in young students.

The office of a leader is filled with nuances. There is advice and direction and then there is inspiration and motivation. There is that which is accurate and there is that which is helpful. It is not impossible to be, say, and do both at the same time.

No one is suggesting that standards be lowered or eliminated and no one is suggesting that incompetence be sanctioned. I am suggesting, however, that life and death is in the power of the tongue. We as leaders can either make things better or worse. And it depends on what we say, when it is said, and how we say it.

It does matter…and they will remember.

Do you really want that promotion?

Leaders are change agents. Managers are less so. Leaders steer the ship in new directions or they inspire followers to pursue the company’s vision with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Manager just, well, manage. They keep systems operating smoothly, meet quantifiable targets, and keep things on track.

Most of us expect promotions. We expect to advance into higher levels of authority and responsibility. We don’t always understand what that implies. A skill set and personality that works wonderfully in one spot does not always work very well in another. Let me explain using a focused example.

Kent was the owner of a successful machine shop. He had a from four to six employees depending on the workload who turned out small parts on a relatively short turnaround time. He managed the shop well, kept the processes tight, and turned a profit year after year. He could control his employees with wages and incentive bonuses.

Then, a large non-profit organization hired Kent. There he worked with a larger staff of volunteers. Kent’s new job demanded a different skill set that of being able to articulate visions and inspire volunteers to pursue the vision. It was a completely different dynamic than that of his shop…and it didn’t work too well. A heavier hand might have kept manufacturing processes on track but the new organization demanded a lighter touch. He managed the shop with perfection but the non-profit required a skill set for which he was not very well equipped.

It is not necessarily true that a great manager can become a great leader. In 1969, Laurence J. Peter wrote a book called the Peter Principle. In it he said “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

He was not being cynical, he was being observant. We tend to believe that people who have performed well at one level can perform just as well at another, that a line manager can become an effective leader.

They might.

But they might not.

Now lest we think that one job is more prestigious and therefore more worthy than another, let me be clear that the best work experiences I have ever had were in companies where the number 2 person knew they were a number two person and were quite content to be there.

Most of us go through a good many positions in our careers but one of the most valuable secrets we will ever learn is to know at what level we function best. Managers who are put into positions of higher responsibility (check again the chart I used last week, reprinted here below), may indeed find conceptual thinking rewarding. But others like to “get their hands dirty” so to speak. They like the pace and activities found in maintaining systems and processing plans.

hersey blanchard chart

Others find it grueling and boring.

Then there are entrepreneurs who love starting businesses but hate running them. They love the challenge of taking a concept and fleshing it out but bristle at the drudgery of day to day management (at least they perceive it as drudgery).

So, let’s look again at the Peter Principle. The prevalent idea is to advance up the ladder until one sits in the highest office. Pressure is usually applied from several directions – spouses, parents, associates, and superiors can exert either subtle or more overt influence to try and get you to move up. Perhaps you should. But maybe not.

How would you know and what should you do? I’ll begin to explain on Thursday.


Three things you can measure right now that will help determine where you fit as a leader or manager

FindingYourPlaceAt what level do you most often think? At what level are you most often called upon to think?

You have to think about a lot of things. You daily task list may be long and detailed or limited and general. But you have a lot to think about.

Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard conducted research to determine the types of thinking leaders and managers do. Then, once the types were defined,  they plotted them out to determine who did which type of thinking and what that indicated about their roles.

They discovered that leaders and managers think about:

Concepts – understanding the organization, department, or business as a whole. They seek to discover how their work and their role fit into the overall organization. Most importantly, they think about how to keep vision alive and vibrant and to insure that all that goes on does so according to that vision.

Human interaction and motivation – how to best understand the people with whom they work. They know that people are not machines and that each responds to opportunity and challenge differently. Motivation is a purely personal response which demands that leaders and managers possess the ability to discern the dynamics that are at play and know what to do.

Technical tasks and methodology – People need to be trained. They must have certain skills for certain jobs. Job schedules and quality must be maintained while using safe practices and safe equipment. Widgets have to be made from whatzits so someone has to consider how that happens, by what process, and in what order.

Hersey and Blanchard also discovered that the mix and blend of thinking differs depending upon the leader’s or managers position in the organization. Lower level leaders and managers have a greater responsibility to consider technical tasks and methodology. The higher up the scale one progresses the more one’s thinking transitions from tasks and methodology to concepts. Predictably, everyone at every level thinks about the human side of things at about the same amount. They diagramed it like this:

hersey blanchard chart

Where do you fit?

So, we can reverse engineer this to discover where we fit. The more we are responsible to think about concepts and the implementation of those concepts, the higher up we sit on the management scale. So the obvious conclusion is this ‘ what are you responsible to think about and what does that reveal about where you are in the organization? Then, there is one more thing I suggest you consider. That is, where would you like to be? Are you feeling comfortable and fulfilled where you are? If you’re stressed out much of the time, one must ask why? If it is due to a bad fit, if you are a concepts thinker stuck in a technical thinking position, stress will result. The reverse it also true.

Think about this over the weekend. Next week I will discuss how to find your place.