So you’re a Manager… Shame on You!

From personal experience, I have found that leadership and management are two notions that are often used interchangeably. I’ve always thought of these two concepts as being quite different and a recent discussion wth a collegue got me thinking that the vast majority of those charged with the responsibility for running organizations and developing their talent really don’t have a clue. They are managers.

How it works: A company’s management team generally consists of people who are experienced in their field, and who have worked their way up through the ranks of the company. A manager knows how each layer of the system works and generally possesses a solid technical knowledge. These people have been assigned titles like Senior Manager, Director, Chief, or Vice President. Organizationally, there is a structured hierachy with nested levels of people given a measure of authority within the organization commensurate with their title and position. Of course there are rogue groups out there who buck convention, but nearly all of the organizations that I’ve been part of during my career have followed this tried and true business template.

The ability to lead is just one of the many assets of a truly successful manager. But the converse is not true… An example: Have you met (or heaven help you, worked for) somebody who was a brilliant engineer, and as a result was promoted to manage the group that they once were a member? Over time, it becomes clear that despite their technical prowess, they are a horrible manager. Nobody disputes the fact that this person knows the product and process, but their ability to gain support from and to motivate their team is lacking. The fault isn’t necessarily with the individual who has been promoted, but with the senior management who has made the decision… Those individuals are not equipped to discern whether their choice for that new manager position is going to be a good leader. They are following the process that those who came before them used.

And this is why I will suggest that care must be taken in distinguishing between a leader and a manager. Pure and simple, the main aim of a manager is to maximize the output of the organization through administrative implementation. If that is the mind-set that you are aligned to, then you’ll ue that as a goal when hiring your next manager. Again, from my experience, I’ve found that within organizations, it is not the always the manager who emerges as the leader, rather a subordinate member with specific talents who takes the group in a certain direction. Teams are more likely to extend themselves on the behalf of a these leaders as opposed to the manager.

So, be honest with yourself: If you were stripped of your title and authority, would people still be engaged in supporting the direction that you are charting? The short of this week’s post is that we manage things… cost, time, risk. But we lead people.

Scott Williams is one of us that gets it:

For now, go and be intentional…

Posted in Career, Leadership, Management | 1 Comment

What i’m listening to

A good friend and skilled writer, Marc Reichardt regularly shares his thoughts and opinion over at Dichotomous Purity. One of my favorite topics that Marc covers is an in-depth review and analysis of each episode of the HBO series Game of Thrones. Additionally, Marc shares from time to time what music he is listening to, and that got me thinking.

So much of the punk scene in Detroit is of the goth genre, so it is refreshing to hear a local band churning out garage-band inspired punk. I guess that you’d call Protomartyr’s music post-punk, but I’ve been a fan since first getting turned on to the band in 2012. Most recently, I’ve been reading a growing number of positive reviews as a result of their appearance at SXSW. Their most recent releases are available on iTunes.

A co-worker turned me on to Death (yes, that’s the name of the band) in January of this year. The band was formed in 1971 by the Hackney brothers. After hearing the story of how their music had been discarded in the 70’s and was re-discovered 30 years later in the attic of an old home in the city of Detroit captured my attention. The two of us immediately downloaded the documentary “A Band Called Death” and watched it during lunch – it remains one of the best movies that I’ve seen in the past year. If you haven’t seen it, then go download it on Amazon and watch it immediately.  The music has been on constant rotation in my car since… I cannot get enough!

Graves provided the vocals for the 1997 release American Psycho and 1999’s Famous Monsters for The Misfits. In 2013, he released a re-visioning of much of this music on The Lost Skeleton Returns, and then followed up with a release of an acoustic version of the entire album. Although the Danzig led music will always be my favorite Misfits fare, it’s a return to a chapter in the Misfits story that is very much worth the time and energy.

That’s it for this time around… go and be intentional.

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Really Effective Meetings

When it comes to “how to” posts that proliferate the inter webs,  recommendations for running effective meetings is all too common. Unfortunately, too much of what I’ve read is utter collaborative bullshit that does nothing to help me really organize effective meetings… and when I say effective meetings, I mean the kind of discussions that people are eager to support. Anything that is worthwhile just doesn’t happen, it takes hard work. So if you’re expecting this week’s entry to involve us holding hands and singing Kumbayah in a circle, then I’m afraid that I will sadly disappoint you this week… it’s time for you to move on.

So here it is. If your meetings or meetings that you attend are not efficient and are not an absolutely “value add” to your day, you have nobody to blame but yourself.  “But it’s not my meeting”, you’re probably muttering under your breath right about now. And I repeat… during any meeting that you host or attend you have a responsibility to drive everybody involved to an efficient discussion. If you truly believe that your time is valuable, and if you really value how you allocate your time, then you need to fight to protect how every singe second of that time during your work day is spent.

So, now that we’ve established the attitude with which we will approach our meetings, let’s get on to Demon’s 6 Meeting Rules.

  1. Who: Okay, this makes common sense, (but i guarantee that we’ve all broken this rule) to only invite those that really need to be part of the discussion. How often have you invited somebody, or copied them on an invite out of courtesy, or because they were the boss, or because it was the “right thing to do”? Often, we are afraid of upsetting someone, but let’s go back to the value proposition… If your time is valuable, then assume that the time of others is as well, and don’t waste it! In the event that you must schedule a meeting without ample notice, make certain that you contact each invitee directly to ensure that they are aware that they are a critical part of the conversation – do not rely on e-mail notifications to do this… if it is key for them to be present, then do them the courtesy of a direct contact.
  2. What: Ensure that attendees understand that they are to come to the meeting prepared. Clearly communicate what is needed prior to the meeting. Hold attendees accountable when they do not and reinforce this behavior consistently… and doing this in the presence of the rest of the group sends a clear message that you’re serious. See Donaldson’s Second Law for a refresher.
  3. Why: Publish an agenda and include it in the meeting invitation. You’ll want to remain flexible enough to allow new items to come into the conversation, but recognize when a discussion heads off target or carries on too long and table the discussion. Make a note and commit to following up later – and ensure that you do follow up later… be consistent in this behavior so that people don’t feel that they are being pushed aside. But first and foremost, drive the meeting to stay to your agenda so that each item receives the coverage that you have intended. If this is your meeting, get done what you need – collaboration is one thing, but if I’m setting the agenda then there are topics that I know I want to get done. These are the priority… period.
  4. When: Start the meeting exactly on time and finish the meeting on time – this is a no brainer, and I see it in every single “best practices” presentation. But far too often, people are wishy washy in how they apply this discipline. If I’m hosting the meeting, and somebody walks in the door 1 minute late and the discussion is in full swing, I will make a point to stop the meeting to ensure that the invidual understands that they are late, and that they are now impacting everybody else in the room. And how do we handle a situation where we are attending a meeting that is long and begins to run into the next scheduled discussion? Quite simply, we stand up and politely excuse ourselves from the meeting, and move on…
  5. Attendance: I’m sure that you take attendance for your meetings, but what do you do with the information that you collect? If you’re going to take the time to do something, then there has to be some payoff at the end… Why else would you be doing it? I suspect that your answer has something to do with documenting who was there and who wasn’t so you can cover your ass later when an exec asks why something was not completed. If this is a recurring meeting, then you should be compiling the attendance and publishing a regular summary to the invitees and their managers as a means of communicating from whom you are regularly receiving support. At mid-point and end of the year this information should factor into the 360 performance reviews that you supply to your fellow managers. If it’s a one time meeting, then attach it to your meeting summary, which brings us to…
  6. Publish: If you do not, then you need to use a note taking software ( I and my staff currently use Microsoft One Note which is shared on a powerpoint server ). During the meeting, use the software to take notes and identify assignments as the discussion occurs. Again, this all comes back to clearly establishing expectations. Share the meetings minutes online so that people can go back and reference previous discussions. This way, there are no excuses for attendees or those who missed the meeting to not be aware of what occurred and what assignments were handed out. If you’re not sharing the minutes in a central location, then ensure that minutes are e-mailed to everybody who was invited. In addition to taking accurate notes, the key item here is ensuring that the nobody has to go hunting for information.

The six rules that we’ve covered here apply to meetings that we host, as well as those that we attend. When you experience a bad meeting, the only way to change that behavior is to share this with others and ask them to be more intentional in how they run their meetings. The risk is that you will continue to stand up and leave their meetings when they run long, and that the organization as a whole will suffer from poor meetings and lack of proper documentation. The benefit is that others will agree with you and begin to modify their behavior – and that others will adopt the behavior.

As always, be intentional…

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Do you have what it takes?

This week, we’re going to talk about project management. In any complex series of applications, you’re going to find project managers behind the scenes ensuring that tasks get done on time and on budget. You’ll find them in architectural projects, health care, automotive engineering, medicine and consumer electronics.Like any profession, you’ll find project managers that possess a great amount of skill as well as those who seem to simply warm a chair.  If you’ve had to interface with a project manager, then I’m certain that you have encountered good and bad and as a result have established your own opinion on the value that they have brought to the team. Despite  very clear criteria for what a project manager does, the title has been bastardized and mis-used so often, that people (in general) don’t appreciate the value of an effective project manager. I can’t say that I blame them.

My expectations for organizational leaders are:

  • they embrace the responsibility of being CEO of their project; comfortable with leading and communicating with their team, the customer, and senior management
  • they are adept at managing the complete financial status of the program, a complex and diverse timeline for the entire organization, and handling quality related issues from a number of different sources
  • they have vision to lead a team and have the ability to identify risks to the program success long before others

A significant part of what I do each day is developing effective teams – interviewing & selecting members, defining and refining tools, fostering an effective culture. During the short time that I afford myself to evaluate whether this person is going to be capable and a good fit for the company, I have a list of questions that I tailor to the individual based on their resume, and which is later refined as the interview proceeds.

Take a look at the video provided by Jennifer Witt at Afterwards, we’ll discuss each of the points that Jennifer makes during her presentation and see how they align to my personal expectations.
Okay, let’s get to it.
    1. Professional Development / Credentials: I’m less impressed with PMP (and other professional certifications) as I’ve run into far too many accredited PM’s that couldn’t manage themselves out of a parking lot, let alone the twists and turns that a $500M program is going to throw at them. I will agree on the topic of constant learning and self improvement. The best professionals never stop striving to make themselves better, and this should be some thing that comes through loud and clear during an interview.
    2. Conscious and Aware: Awareness of self and others is something that I would agree with. The ability to honestly understand what motivates your self and others will allow you to effectively manage the team.
    3. Mentorship: I’ve had some pretty phenomenal mentors during my career, and they have had a profound impact in who I am. The fact that somebody recognizes the importance of reaching out to others regularly is a good sign. That they now are taking on the responsibility to mentor others is a step towards being the leader that you’ll need them to be.
    4. Relationships: Witt goes on concerning the ability to build and maintain relationships. From a management perspective, you’re going to rely on others each and every day to reach your goals. Finding, cultivating, and supporting those relationships is central to your own future success, not to mention the success of the organization.
    5. Social – Interaction with others, both online and offline – blah, blah, blah. Either you have it or you don’t. We don’t need to waste any more time here.
    6. Mobility – In this age of phone & e-mail, I shouldn’t be surprised that I encounter so many executives who feel that they can manage from behind a desk. During an interview, I’ll ask what the candidates preferred means of communication is (e-mail or phone)… if they don’t correct me that there is a third option (face to face) then it’s a big strike against them and they’ll quickly be walking out the door. Get off your ass and engage people face to face!
    7. Available / Responsive – Being available is not as difficult as the being responsive portion of this item. During an interview, I’ll focus on specific examples of how the candidate is responsive to others… What I’m looking for is that the individual is able to establish boundaries, displays a penchant for accountability, and helps others to gain the answers that they need as opposed to solving the problem themselves.
    8. Collaborative – I agree with Witt that understanding the perspectives of others is a desirable skill. As a leader, what I’m looking for is an ability for building consensus amongst a diverse group, and an ability to be the catalyst that helps move things “off center” when the team hits a roadblock. This goes hand in hand with the next item.
    9. Decisiveness – Ultimately, I’m not just looking for the ability to make a decision, but to ensure that all factors have been considered and that the team has made a decision. More importantly, the PM should be driving the team towards implementation of the solution. Far too often, people will re-think the decision or be hesitant to pull the trigger on the solution to a tough problem… The successful leader is the person that can instill confidence in the team that the correct decision has been made and implement the solution immediately without dissension.
    10. Resolute – I’m not sure if I understand where Witt is heading with this item. And based on that, I would disagree somewhat. Certainly, the leader should be expecting that the decision has been made and is final, but not at the expense of the team feeling that a decision will not be reversed if data comes to light that could impact the success of the program.
    11. Communicate effectively – Again, I would not put this item on the list as I expect that this is the cost of entry for the position.
    12. Delegate – Again, the successful leader will know when and how to do this effectively or they they will either a). Burn Out, or (more likely) b). lose support of their team. See last week’s blog concerning setting expectations, and then drive the team to deliver on the tasks that are specific to them.
    13. Lead Teams / Manage Projects – The question that I normally ask a candidate is to define the tools that they use to manage projects. I’ve met my fair share of people that are able to bullshit their way through the standard “give me an example” type of question. In the end, I’m looking for details of how they manage cost,quality & time, and how they lead people. It’s easy to expect this item from any leader, but far more difficult to discern from a resume and short discussion.


Food for thought – go be intentional!

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