Leaders are Lightning Rods

The higher you go, the more likely you are to get zapped.  By Skeptics, Critics or Cynics.  Negative charge always follows the path of least resistance, the tallest point around, the Leader.  (It is easier for folks to blame the Leader and try to get the Leader to change than it is for them to change themselves.)

If you are not the tallest thing around, but are a leader aligned with the top leader, you can get a negative charge “splash over” that zaps you when the leader gets zapped.  Call it guilt by association.  But it hurts your credibility nonetheless.

Be aware that people will express their discontent with you as a Leader when they are talking to others.  But when they are talking to you they are likely to play suck-up.  Aside from the dynamic where they are uncomfortable criticizing you to your face, and the need to feather the nest of “victimhood” when they are with their peers, the reason they will feel free to criticize you is that everyone thinks they deserve to be a critic.  People engage in critical talk all the time;  they rarely mention good things.

But you cannot seek out pats on the back.  Leadership is lonely.  You have to enjoy the kudos when (or if) it comes, because it doesn’t come often.

Negative charge builds up and always seeks the easiest path.  And that is you.

The savvy Leader holds true to the Higher Principle, while grounding himself in the reality of the situation.  In this way, the negative charge does not build up so much, and the Leader has some insulation from the charge.  He does this by remembering the bigger picture of how things work as he circulates and listens to people and their fears, frustrations, and aspirations.  This discharges their discontent while encouraging them, and may give the Leader ideas about actions to take, or mindshifts to make, so that their discontent is further discharged, and they can build up their courage to face adversity with greater poise and power.


Stealing Credit: Blunder #9

The leader that steals credit from others for their hard work is only investing in their own failure.

You’ve seen it happen:  a manager takes credit for the work of one of their subordinates.  They hog the limelight, as if they were the only ones who worked on a team project.  They represent work effort, creative ideas, critical analyses, — or worse, actual results —  as their own.  They are either too arrogant, too self-serving, or too lazy to think through the end result of their taking unearned credit.

What do people in the organization do when they see someone taking credit for others’ work? They no longer trust the liar.  Not being trusted is a sure path to failure, for once trust is lost, it cannot be recovered.

NEVER take credit for another’s work.  Make sure that you give others credit for their contributions.  If you  are the leader and your people see you giving public credit this, they will be more faithful to you, and will help you advance.  If you are a peer, your peers will trust you more.   It will make you look good, and you will maintain your credibility.  And in the end, you will have the opportunity to advance more quickly and get things done more effectively, because you will not have to fight the losing battle to reclaim your integrity.

New Research on Stress and Living

Wisdom from gramps about how to live longer.

Bacteria may be Hazardous to your Heart.  Oral hygiene is serious:  a client’s wife died 2 days after having oral surgery.

Feeling stressed?  Clench your Fist!

Reacting too Quickly: Blunder #8

The leader who reacts as opposed to responds will multiply their workload.  They force unintended effects which require clean-up later.

Reaction is spontaneous, immediate, and happens without thinking.  In the thick of battle, there may be no choice but to react and pick up the pieces later.  You do what you can in the moment and hope for the best.

Responding is on-target, purposeful, and requires thought.  It gives you the opportunity to mentally separate from the scene and develop options for action.

How often are you really in battle?  The high-intensity work-world jacks up your adrenaline to handle the stress.  The flood of adrenaline sometimes makes your brain seem as if you are in battle when you are not.

Ask yourself:  Must I react to this situation now, or can I delay it a bit to respond more thoughtfully?

Why Values are Important

Sometimes in my consulting the thinking about management requires that we return to the issue of values.

Sometimes I get quite a bit of push-back from mid-level managers regarding why this is important.  Yet the reluctance to examine organizational values almost never comes from executive management.  (When it does, I suspect it is because they know that there is hypocrisy going on that they do not wish to make public.)

Executives understand that values are the navigational aids for decision-making.

To illustrate this idea, imagine being out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico on a friend’s 30-foot fishing boat.  The GPS has quit working, and the compass has a bubble in it so that it doesn’t give accurate readings, but points generally in the right direction.  It is overcast, so you can’t see the sun.

Wouldn’t you like some navigational aids right now?  Some signposts that tell you which way to go to get safely to your destination.

Without values, a leader is pragmatic.  Pragmatic means doing what gets results, without regard for adherence to any principle except achieving results.

Yet there are principles for which a leader MUST be responsible, as they model for the organization the principles of conduct that others are expected to follow.  The leader is the standard bearer for the organization, and if someone below the leader holds higher standards, then the leader implicitly abdicates their authority and credibility.

So it is important for the leader (used generically, but specifically applicable to members of the leadership team) to understand  just what values are important to the organization, because it cannot be saying one thing and practicing another.  “Do as I say, not as I do” throws an organization into disunity and disorganization.

Leaders should make themselves clear and hold the standards on values regarding honesty (to clients, peers, and management), integrity of accountability, merit and reward, teamwork, engagement, respect, initiative, discipline, courage & compassion.  None of these are binary switches.  All have shades of gray.

Needless to say, some of these values have bearing on legality.

Because people follow, leaders must understand, model and maintain the standards for the values of the organization.  Personnel look to them to define the “navigational aides to decisions and behavior.”  If people do not exhibit these behaviors, leaders should first look to themselves to see if they have been clear and consistent in their leadership for organizational values.

Societal “Stockholm Syndrome”

Stockholm Syndrome is defined as loyalty to a more powerful yet abusive entity.  The syndrome was first identified in the early 1970’s as a result of the way hostages of a bank-robbery, under siege with their captors for a week, came to defend their captors, and felt they owed their captors aid.

I propose that we have entered a new era in which the vast majority of the population has Stockholm Syndrome.  And our captor is the United States Government.

Here’s how I got there:

We start with the psychological condition known as learned helplessness.  The condition was first identified from psych experiments in which rats are placed on a metal wire grid and given repeated unpleasant electrical shocks.  Initially, the rats jump and try and to climb the walls to escape the shocks, but to no avail.  Eventually they rats learn that they are helpless to prevent the abuse, and so they stop trying, and learn to suffer the pain, growing more and more accustomed to their predicament, living stressed-out, anxious and frustrated lives.  If they had a voice they would plead for their tormentors for mercy.  Or they would plead for different tormentors.

Learned helplessness happens to people, too, and I have seen many cases in my consulting work.

Instead of electrical shocks that cannot be escaped, the pain is poor and arbitrary decision-making by a highly-controlling executive management that demands that they adhere to the rigid dictates of their administration.  When some adventurous managers make decisions that are opportunistic, they are quickly slapped on the wrist (or fired) and the decisions remanded.

Let’s take this concept further.  We live in a highly complex and specialized technological society.  There are so few areas of living that people can actually master for themselves.   Most people now live in cities or suburbs.   The work that is done by most city dwellers is specialized; many individual contributions make up the whole of production, whether the end-result be a service or a product.  The commute to and from work places people constantly at the effect of other drivers.  Once folks get home, life chores  (auto mechanics, home repair, meal production, clothing, lawn care, housecleaning, etc.) are frequently (or often) outsourced to others.

Technologically, there are more and more things that one “must have” in order to live in the modern world without being a Luddite.  The consequence of this is that there are fewer and fewer technologies that can be mastered.

Businesses must adapt to the ever increasing regulatory burden, or face extinction, thus reinforcing learned helplessness.  And the workers in those businesses understand that those regulations are biblical and must be obeyed, just as they learn that their corporate keepers can do as they wish, with little consequence (or adherence to common-sense).

Is there any reason to think that someone who works for a major corporation in a cubicle or on a production line does not see the ridiculous plunder of wealth that CEO’s and executives get — even when the company does poorly! — and not feel that they are helpless so stop the insanity?!

Rather, it is a mark of psychologically adaptation to identify with those executives (who they are held captive to for their livelihood like indentured servants) and aspire to be like them, rather than to go crazy with all the cognitive dissonance of the insanity, arbitrariness, and unreasonableness of life as a cubical-dweller..

Even with regard to climate, we are told that not only are we powerless to stop catastrophe, but that we must feel guilty because we caused the catastrophe.  As penance, we must bow to the mandates of our supreme Government keepers (who know more than we do).  Again, in Orwellian fashion, our government keepers do not have to abide by the same regulations…remember, “all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others.”)

So people live lives in which there are fewer and fewer things in which they have primary agency, and more and more things in which they are merely cogs in the machine, rather than the one running the machine.

Further, as governments and corporations get more powerful, and technology becoming evermore present, people are not only identifying with the inevitable reduction in freedoms and liberties that are entailed, but are readily agreeing to the intrusions because they are becoming ever more dominant.

The aggregate effect is to make people identify with and defend their captors as being good for them.

Societal Stockholm Syndrome has three primary negative effects:

  1. It means there are fewer people who see themselves as leaders, and who are trained through their life to be leaders.  Rather, most people are trained into a type of get-along apathy through the hundreds of ways that others (and other things) are “in charge” of their daily lives.
  2. This means that there are more people who can be led around easily, particularly by the most powerful entity in their life, their national (federal) government.
  3. As a second-order effect, it means that an unscrupulous government can more readily abuse its power with the willing aid of its constituents.  With the complexities of our society, the government can claim [in Orwellian fashion] it is doing things for the good of the people, all the while running roughshod over the original inalienable rights of the people to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (which has nothing to do really with simply being happy in its original meaning, and everything to do with making decisions for oneself that allowed individual accomplishment in livelihood and personal judgment to rule as the basis for how to conduct one’s life).
  4. As a third-order effect, as people’s rights are abused, they will learn to accept even more abuses, making a run toward their freedom more difficult still as the victims of Stockholm Syndrome come to make up the majority in a democratic republic.  They owe fealty to those who own them, and accept the predations as “necessary and good for the people.”
  5. When #4, above is coupled with the fact that there are fewer leaders who can see clearly, and who are willing to fight the institutional tyranny to cut through this Gordian Knot of legislated obedience to the One, it does not take long to see that the sustainability of liberty and freedom are quite limited.

And so the spiral goes.

The antidote to all this is to educate people of intelligence and capability, to let them gain the insight of this malady, and then to teach them how to be agents of change and leaders among followers, and to forge a path to a return to the principles of liberty and freedom.

There is enough of the rebel in the DNA of humans that will seek to correct this affliction of insidious decline once the awareness of it comes on the radar screen.

Not Voicing an Opinion: Blunder #7

Unless you are intentionally making your team think through something without benefit of your advice—and stumbling and bumbling about in the meantime—you’ve got to voice your opinion.

Not speaking up when the team is about to fail is an abdication of your role as leader.*

I have seen a couple of times when managers who  knew their team was going to fail.  In one instance, the manager wanted the team to “be taken down a notch or two.”  In the other, the manager simply didn’t want to get involved “down in the dirt.”  In both cases, the team had a public failure, and in both cases the manager piled on the additional harm of declaring that they knew the team would fail.  The team members’ anger towards the manager was intense, though few showed it.  But they each never put forth their full effort, and spent too much time wondering how their manager was going to screw them again.  (And the highest performing employee immediately rang up a headhunter and soon vacated her position for another company.  She said that she would never give that manager another chance if she could help it.)

* The exception to the rule is when you want the team to fail so that they can learn from failure.  However, the failure cannot be a big failure that hurts their reputation in any way, such as when their failure is visible to outside parties.  If you let them fail under those conditions—when you could have prevented it—then they will have real animosity towards you, and they may never trust you again.

Organizational Inertia

The primary causes of Organizational Inertia, and the inevitable results on Performance:

1.  Laziness on the part of Executive Leaders

  • Not much can be done about this.  Executives control the organization.  Unless they are willing to change, things will remain the same.  If you are young enough and have aspirations for growth and opportunity, best go somewhere else.

2. Lack of “Buy-in” by mid-level managers to the agenda of the Executive function.

  • Usually the lack of buy-in comes not from rebelliousness, but from a lack of understanding the importance of forceful movement that the Executive function interprets as necessary.  Without buy-in, there is a disconnect between the head of the organization and the hands.  Efforts is likely to be half-hearted at best.  Executive leaders must back-up and sell the agenda, and convince mid-level managers in the benefits to them of passionate pursuit of the goals.

3.  An “Entitlement Culture” wherein people expect to be compensated irrespective of their contribution.

  • The Entitlement Culture comes from two sources:  one, a generalized belief that personnel are “owed” something—common in Unionized enterprises; two, a culture in which success is assumed to continue with little effort into the future, such as a large legacy organization in which people see little of the necessary anxiety that fueled early generations of sacrifice to survive—this cause is often an artifact of the assumptions and habits of the Executive function, who may be resting on the laurels of their success, or the success of their predecessors.

4.  Anxiety about the future (opportunities, jobs, compensation).

  • On the one hand, anxiety can be used to good effect by the leadership to break inertia and propel the organization to perform at a high level so long as they do not “overcook” the message about the reason for the anxiety and its potential negatives to the personnel.  On the other hand, if the anxiety is too great (perhaps due to being overplayed by management0, inertia is likely to persist with potential for a “death-spiral” occurring whereby those who cannot tolerate the anxiety leave the organization for better opportunities, leaving the less-talented personnel in place who are just not able to sustain quality or quantity.

5.  Fear to take chances unless specifically directed by executive leaders.

  • In highly regimented and authoritarian organizations, leaders sometimes become rigid gatekeepers of resources and decisions.  Unless they approve of actions, nothing happens.  If the executives create momentum, then there is not really a problem of inertia.  Yet if they are neither visionary, innovative, nor possess a high-degree of urgency, then they will be unnecessary hurdles to increasing momentum because this sort of executive leader often craves the power and control they have over the organization.  Naturally, authoritarian, controlling leadership is difficult to transform.

6.  Reluctance to take risks on the part of Executive Leaders.

  • In some instances, executives have things set up very good for themselves.  Rewarded for quarterly performance or other short-term results, they are reluctant to make investments or necessary changes that will help the organization for the long-term. Obviously, this places an inertial constraint on the organization that will only be broken when the calculus changes in their risk-to-reward matrix.  unfortunately, when the high-performers see this sort of situation, unless they have golden handcuffs, they are likely to abandon the organization for one in which the executives place the well-being of the organization above their own self-interest.

See also the post on Organizational Momentum.

Few People Are Leaders

Leadership requires a desire for responsibility.

It requires high standards.

It requires a dissatisfaction with the here-and-now, and a constant striving for a better-future.

It requires a high-tolerance for stress.

It requires passion.

It requires foresight and a willingness-if not an innate analytical ability-to look for the invisible meanings and root causes behind the concrete and visible.

It requires a tolerance-for-ambiguity, but a paradoxical antipathy to it.

It requires the courage to take chances, to make “bets” that a certain course of action will work, and to stand tall in the face of adversity.

It requires a sense of urgency, yet the patience to wait for the tide to shift.

It requires (if it is to sustain itself) a high-degree of humility that “I don’t know it all” and a desire to learn more, always.

It requires the ability to understand and manage complexity, and the higher you go in organizations, the more complex the factors.

It requires a “feel” for people, a deep compassion for their humanness, but the ability to exert “tough love” to serve the greatest good of the group.

Few people are willing to step into the role of Leader. They do not have these attributes. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t valuable. The world needs more followers than it does leaders.

In our democratic republic we have a freedoms that force responsibility : Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Dissent. That means that everyone is a critic (as they should be). Of leaders. And their own Leader in particular.

President Teddy Roosevelt said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

In every civilized democracy, being a critic, a side-line-quarterback is not only entertainment, but it is practically a birthright. And when things aren’t going so well, there tends to be a “pile on” mentality, a ganging-up to criticize the Leader.  Seeing this, even among those who might desire some of the “fruits” that come from leadership, many refuse to “step up” to the role of a Leader.  The hassles of being publicly pilloried have kept many good men and women from stepping into a leadership role.

Of those who do step into the role of Leader, a few are mature enough, or intelligent enough to know what it is like to be striving at the top.  So they work to help their own Leaders be successful.

Exhibiting good followership is the sign of a good leader.

Not Taking Charge* : Blunder #6

You can take too long to take charge.  It undermines your leadership, as people will see you as passive, disengaged, or uncaring.

I’ve seen managers new to a company take their time “listening” to the company or the department, making sure that people know that the leader is “connecting” with them, and is thoughtful and informed.

Being connected before making decisions is positive, but this must be balanced with decisiveness, especially on key issues.

One Senior Client Manager wanted to make sure that the Project Team was being responsive to the client, and not hassling the design team.  He held meeting after meeting with the Project Team to get their view on things, and they all told him that the design team was a bottleneck to get their job done, and that it was damaging their ability to meet the near-term project milestone.  They all conveyed to him how important it was for him to go to the Design Team manager and speed up the re-designed plans.  But he just dragged his feet.  He later explained to me that he just didn’t want to come across too aggressively to the Design Team.  Naturally, the Project Team lost trust in this manager as a capable servant for their needs as they missed the milestone, and the manager damaged his own credibility.

*Taking Charge and Not Taking Charge must be balanced based on needs of the team and the situation for timing, intensity, and duration.  In other words, you can take charge too quickly, too much, and for too long.  And you can wait too long, and not be in charge enough.

If you only have one option, then you’ll probably blunder at least some of the time.

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