Organizational Adulthood

Ever watch a 12 year old walk through a department store, pointing out each and every flaw in design or pricing?  Adolescents are particularly adept at finding and announcing fault. With any luck, and several years’ frontal lobe development, they learn the value of perspective and filtering.

Not everyone learns the finer points of socialization. Witness those who are perpetually involved in disputes.

Organizations go through a similar maturing process. Just like people, they can actually get stuck in the “we say it like it is” or “take me as I am” phase.

Evolved organizations move beyond straight talk and into solution building. “Managing Up as a Form of Corporate Collaboration” talks about the benefits of fearless communications motivated by a desire to contribute.  The post wrapped up with this sentence:

Managing up doesn’t mean seeking to have your way; it means you are sharing information that might not otherwise be known and shows that you trust the more senior group to evaluate your information in the larger context of the organization.

I wrote that post with the greatest respect for management structures and in recognition of the need for all levels to communicate effectively. Top-down, bottom-up… Neither model can effectively stand on its own. We need solid communication skills at every level.

Bringing coaching language into the picture can help people and groups move forward quickly. Decide for yourself. Which of these is more effective?

“I’m disappointed that you haven’t delivered that material to me and I’m losing my patience.”

– or –

“What got in the way of meeting the delivery date you provided?”

The second phrase clearly declares a missed deliverable, but it does so in a way that seeks to understand. The Coach Approach takes a disappointment and turns it into a two-way conversation. It sets the stage for an accountable relationship 100% more effectively than simply telling someone to do something and then growling at them when you don’t get the expected result. It moves us past adolescence and into organizational adulthood.


Zooming versus Micromanagement

Boardroom table

Boardroom tableSomewhere, somehow, we got the idea that leaders shouldn’t bother with the finer points of running a business; that staying high level is the mark of true leadership. That’s dangerous thinking that can slow down the development of a business unit.

When I interview management candidates, I like to have them describe their leadership style. The reason I do this is to see if their thinking has graduated beyond clichés and into the realm where they truly understand their gifts and the personal development cycle that was necessary to get them where they are today. I’ve noticed there are certain clichés that, when offered, often represent the full and total understanding of the person in front of me. In other words, they’re stumped to come up with any kind of example or deeper conversation on the subject. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – it just underscores that they are at the beginning of their leadership journey rather than a seasoned manager.

“I have an open door policy” can be an example of one of those statements. Another common one is “I hire good people and let them do their thing.” But the one that bothers me – and this is the only one that does – is this line: “I’m not a micromanager.” The reason it bothers me is that the word micromanagement is not well understood, therefore it’s easy to misuse.

Attention To Detail Is Not Micromanaging
Great leaders have the ability to toggle their attention between high level and detail according to business needs. It’s a skill that requires flexibility and a keen understanding of how everyday tasks impact the longer-term vision. If something doesn’t look right, it’s the leader’s job to dig in and understand what’s happening. You’ll have to decide each time if this is an opportunity to delegate, or something you should handle personally.

Here’s what I wrote in “Zooming For Effective Leaders“:

I think part of the problem is that it’s not sexy to wallow through the muck of a gnarly problem. It’s messy and it can be frustrating. Some call that management hell – I call it being midway to a solution.

What Is Zooming?
Zooming is a highly desirable leadership trait where the leader consciously steps away from higher level activities to “zoom” or deep dive into detail to assess a situation or satisfy curiosity. These leaders see things that others miss — and this comes from their unique ability to connect the day-to-day minutiae with how well or how quickly the team will achieve big picture goals. And for that reason, their teams are often among the higher performers in the company.

So the next time you’re curious about why something is the way it is — an invoice looks odd, fulfillment time seems too long, or you’re overhearing comments not in line with the usual banter — dig in. Share with your team what you learn.

And don’t ever let anyone use “I don’t know” as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Why Bother With Blogs?

Pen and paper

Pen and paperGood blog posts are like a serving of fine, aged whiskey. You don’t need a large quantity to feel its kick, and you can tell that a great amount of time and effort went into producing it.

There’s a whole lot more than ideation and creative writing behind a good blog. Each post has to be meaningful and short – two adjectives that don’t often get linked together.  I liken the blogging process to a distillery. The writer gathers her ingredients, simmers them over time, reducing the mix until only the concentrated essence of each thought remains. What you’re left with is intensified content with all of the fluff removed.

Here’s another way to look at it. Have you ever asked two people the same question and found that one rambles on and on while the other is able to provide a succinct and satisfying response? The babbler is still in the ingredient gathering stage while the other has already distilled the topic into its simplest terms.

I get my best daily doses of learning from good blog writers. They don’t replace face-to-face interactions or cultivating relationships, but from a time and space perspective, it’s extremely efficient. You can access them on your schedule – with no time away from the office – and you can drop them without distracting others. But best of all, blog writers are generous people. If you come across a writer that is particularly intriguing, all it takes is a quick email message to launch a new professional and learning relationship.

In honour of blogs and blog writers everywhere, here are the things I think are the best:

  • Blogs transform solo learning into social learning. When readers disagree or have something to add, they are free to leave comments or email the writer privately. Readers often increase their social circle by interacting on topics of interest.
  • Blogs are a safe way to investigate opposing points of view. Maintaining a social or work circle of people “just like me” is a surefire recipe for stunted development. Yet, it can feel uncomfortable to plunk oneself in the middle of a group with dissenting views. Reading blogs is a safe way to test the water and decide if you want to know more. At the very least, it will widen your perspective.
  • Anyone can point out gaps or faults (humans develop this ability early – just ask anyone with teenagers in the house) but blog writers tend toward solutions. Don’t get me wrong. Cynical points of view are popular right now – especially if you’re a stand up comic. Some of the most-read blogs contain cynicism in their titles but a quick perusal of their posts show their ability to develop thoughts that graduate past problem identification and spend more time in the solution stage.

Maintaining an active blog is a lot of work.  A well-written 300-word post has unseen hours of thought, research and writing behind it. Why so much time? It goes back to that famous saying attributed to Churchill: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead.” There’s no way to rush a distillery. Unless you’re talking to an adolescent – in which case you should get them to do some writing for you — right now — before they figure out how much work is involved.

Here are some of my favourite leadership blogs:

Seth’s Blog. Seth Godin is short and to the point. Don’t read it unless you’re looking for serious professional development and don’t mind being poked at from time to time.

Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog. I’ve alway said curiosity is the mother of everything good.

Lead Change Group. What is learning and development if it’s not intentional change? This group of writers are some of the best from the blog-o-sphere.