Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Inner "Why"

Even before our beers arrived, Abe launched in to his frustrations with Brett, who is leading his inventory team. “Two consecutive yearly inventory counts have yielded poor results, and it is not due to a lack of effort,” he said. Brett approached last year’s underwhelming results by hiring a second inventory employee to double check the daily inventory counts. This approach provided nominal improvement on this year’s inventory, but results were still not in line.

"Following this logic", Abe went on to tell me, "Brett has employed a third member of his staff to triple check the daily counts of the two current warehouse employees who were already counting each item in the warehouse." He had implemented this new process in preparation for next year’s count, expecting a more accurate count.

Brett’s mantra, “more eyes means more accuracy.”

My only response was a line of questions.
As it turned out, it only took three to make progress:

1) Do you have the “right” person for the job (meaning, does Brett have the competencies necessary to be successful)?

Abe said, yes.

2) Does he have the right (and adequate) tools/training for the job?

Abe, again, said yes.

3) Does he have the right motivation and inspiration to do the job?

With a puzzled look on his face, Abe said, “I think so.”

I had seen this puzzled once before, I knew it meant we were making progress.

“Would you say Brett wants to have perfect inventory counts,” I asked?

“Yes, ” Abe said again, still puzzled.

“Is Brett motivated by a fear of not having accurate counts, or by an internal desire to achieve excellent results? Do you know why Brett works for you?”

Abe looked pensive. I continued,

“What if Brett was motivated to ensure there was never an item missed in an inventory count, not because he feared getting a ‘talking to’ (or worse, getting fired), but rather because he cared about accurate inventory and was motivated by his own desire for excellence? Would he still need to spend payroll on three employees to count the same items 3Xs?”

Abe finally took a sip of his beer , and his face relaxed. “I have some work ahead of me digging to the bottom of Brett’s ‘why’ don’t I,” he said with a sigh. I nodded and said, “and when you do, you may find Brett is in fact not the ‘right’ person.”

More often than not, it is a motivation issue rather than a skill issue. It is the internal “why” that puts us off course when it is either misaligned or missing altogether.

More on the inner “why” in this
TED talk by Simon Sinek

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The “man (or woman) behind the curtain”

While sitting with Jon at El Camino (on Cinco de Mayo) last week, a question arose about the role of a manager. Jon is the manager (and emerging leader) of a Fortune 50 Company with plenty of manager titles to go around. But Jon wanted more, he wanted to make a difference. In an attempt to influence his peers and direct reports, Jon found himself searching for the best approach. So we discussed—

The first approach (nearly every person new to management goes through at least a season of this approach) is most like the Wizard in the iconic classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Wizard is a mystical person who controls various components of his team and business unit with a complex orchestration of buttons, levers, cords, and a voice-enhancing microphone. We’ve all worked with one of these managers at some point. His office door may be open, but there is clearly a curtain. It may not keep you from entering the office, but most definitely keeps you from seeing the real person behind the Manager title.

This manager believes he has achieved some enlightenment (or knows he hasn’t and is compelled to fake it) and must protect it at all cost. This manager seems very important, and is always extremely busy—too busy to truly engage you, and too busy to reveal any aspect of himself (especially his faults). That, my friends, is the curtain.

Success can be gotten this way, for a time. However, this approach neglects the true role of a leader—to develop people, people who can lead themselves, the future of the organization, and the future of our society. Not to mention it obliterates any chance for creativity and innovation.

The second approach is more like that of Dorothy; a likable girl who understands she is on a journey (not unlike everyone else). She leads out of the authenticity of her own experience, adds to it humility, perseverance, insight, and inspiration—all in pursuit of a bigger vision (to get to the Emerald City and meet the Wizard). While journeying with her friends she stirs the Scarecrow to recognize his heart, the Lion to realize his courage, and the Tin Man to discover his brain.

Each of her friends had these gifts all along, but Dorothy led them each to their own discovery of their greatest talents by motivating and inspiring them throughout their journey. She championed authentic conversations, persevered challenges, and called her followers to discover their own greatness.

Dorothy's leadership caused each of her friends to truly come alive, to reveal their innate talents. (Despite the disappointing end to their journey—discovering the truth about the wizard, a hopelessly insecure “leader” behind the curtain.)

True Leadership isn’t about erecting a mystical and secretive curtain.
True Leadership is a relentless pursuit to inspire others to discover and develop their own unique talents, and use them in ways they never dreamed possible.

A debate about the need for a leadership "mask" or “curtain” continues in the comments of a Harvard blog post from late 2009.