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  March 23, 2012
Management 101: Leading People...


Last weekend I found myself on a long bike ride with a group of friends. I hadn’t seen some of the other riders in a while so during the course of our ride, we had some time to "catch-up" with each other’s lives.
One of the other riders was Steve. Steve is a casual friend whom I rarely socialize with outside of our periodic rides. He works as a supervisor at a local bank, who after exchanging some pleasantries, proceeded to tell me about all the shortcomings of his management. Steve undoubtedly had a bad week at work and wanted to take the opportunity to vent a little with someone who could do little but listen.
Later that evening, I had the chance to think a little bit more about Steve and his situation at work. It was quite obvious to me that there seemed to be a strong disconnect between the bank’s management and the employees who work there. If they didn’t address these glaring problems soon, there would be a fair amount of trouble ahead.

After years of working with a variety of people, I’ve developed a few thoughts about management. My ideas are neither ground-breaking nor earth-shattering concepts but they do contain some practical and common sense thoughts regarding leading people.

Over the years, I have found that there is no magic formula when it comes to leadership and/or motivation but there are some really good proven techniques that I’ve found helpful in my life.

I’d like to share a few of them with you today and are offered in no particular order.
Put square pegs into square holes

I’ve worked with many capable people who were simply square-pegs trying to fit into round holes. It rarely works.

A good leader should understand and recognize the needs and responsibilities of each position within the company and be able to find the proper people to meet those needs.

It’s not that they are bad employees...it just that they don’t necessarily fit into that particular position.

Additional training will only work if that person already possesses the right aptitude, attitude and/or skills needed to be successful in a particular position in the first place. No matter how much you try, you cannot train a chicken to give milk or a cow to lay eggs.

Make objectives clear and specific

Clear and specific objective must be defined by the leader. Whether that goal is to create high quality and/or innovative products, providing outstanding customer service, reducing costs, or upgrading quality, everyone at the company needs to be made a part of the team and work together to achieve the goals. 

Vague or fuzzy goals will create vague or fuzzy results.

Highly specific objectives will create clear results - good or bad. At the end of the day, there should be no ambiguity as to whether or not the results clearly met the intended objectives.

Allow the entire team to share in the spoils

We read in the newspaper every day where the CEO and upper management are receiving astronomical salaries and bonuses while the rank and file employees are outsourced, laid-off, over-worked and under-paid.

The reason the management is getting these bonuses is because the company is doing something right (most likely earning profits). The management alone didn’t do all the work to earn these profits...everyone at the company did...top to bottom (and if there are slackers...then those individuals shouldn’t still be employed). A certain portion of the rewards should be shared among all of the employees.
This will keep everyone working hard towards the goal. 

Learn to stop talking and start listening

Owners, CEOs, managers, supervisors aren’t born with all the answers. Even if they do hold advanced degrees, they still don’t know everything there is to know. Many times the answers to problems are right in front of us but no one bothered to ask anyone.

Sometimes management will solicit input, but then continued down a predetermined path as if asking for input is just a box that needs to be checked before proceeding.

Management needs constructive input from employees, customers, vendors and other experts. Most of the time, these groups of people feel honored just to be asked their opinion, especially if some of their recommendations are implemented and celebrated.

Many times, it’s the person on the front-line who has the best first-hand knowledge of potential problems and solutions so management needs to stop for a moment and listen to what people have to say. 

Get out of the way

Why is it that so many managers "over manage" (sometimes known as micro-managing)?

I believe that it’s a control issue.   The micro-manager feels as though they need to be able to control everyone’s behavior and every situation but unfortunately this is an impossible task.

This was taught at an early age where a teacher sat in the front of the room. There was a distinct set of rules governing classroom behavior. Students were rewarded for staying with the boundaries of the rules and punished for deviating from the norms.

Micro-managers tend to focus on processes (rules) rather than the results. While this might work on jobs focusing on processing (such as an assembly line or a government worker), it completely stifles the creativity needed to solve complex problems faced by most workers today.

Many people are intelligent and creative. Allow them to use these skills to do their jobs better and more efficiently. Encourage them to try new things and take on new responsibilities.  

Management should be a sail not an anchor. 

Allow others to take risks and fail

One of the best ways we learned how to innovate at OptiFuse is by trying a lot of new things. Sometimes they failed...and sometimes they succeeded.

We make dozens of small decisions each day: credit lines for customers, new product additions, what pricing level should we bid for this contract, should we stock this part or not, where should I be spending my time to be most effective?

Many times these decisions have no real serious consequences but there are times when they do.

A certain amount of decision making should be encouraged by management. Too often employees are afraid to make decisions or take calculated risks because of the ramifications placed on them if they are wrong. Trying new things is how people and companies grow and get better at what they do.

It’s important to reiterate that there is no magic formula to leading a great team. The above six items are only a few in a much longer list but due to space and time considerations we are limited today to these.

Lastly, you might notice that I never used the term "managing people".

No one can "manage" people...you can only manage tasks, time, and numbers.

Business owners, CEOs, managers, supervisors, educators, and parents can only lead people...

Lead people...manage tasks...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse as we continue on of path of learning and leading. 

Jim Kalb

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