Tag Archives: Management

Leading vs. Managing: Not Absolutes, but a Continuum

In my recent article “leading with Impact” backing away from the day-to-day, I discuss how difficult it is for many people to make the transition from being a working supervisor of a team to a mid-level manager.  What I am really talking about is the difference between leading and managing.   I hate the idea that we label people as either “leaders” or “managers” (with leaders thought of as being those with higher organizational rank).  I think it is more useful to think less about the nouns, and more about the verbs (manage and lead).   Every supervisor, team leader, department head or executive needs to do some of both. We have the day-to-day challenges that need to be controlled, directed or “managed”.  In addition, we need to think about  establishing priorities, setting a course, providing encouragement and inspiration, developing people and making hard choices, “leading”.

When I speak about the differences between leading and managing, some people have difficulty because they feel it is an either/or proposition.

It is not.  Every team is unique, and has differing levels of demonstrated ability to solve problems and make good decisions.    There are always times when the stakes are so high that any manager needs to roll up their sleeves and wade into the morass.   But when that represents 70 – 85% of what your work week, I would challenge you to step back a bit.

Autocratic vs Delegating ManagerWe need to think about leading and managing as a continuum – as illustrated above.   At the far left there is an autocratic space where the manager dominates decision making.  This is probably appropriate with newly formed teams when you haven’t yet assessed how much latitude to give them.    At the extreme right end of the scale the followers dominate, after having earned your trust, and you are comfortable with their ability to analyze situations and make judgments that are aligned with what you have defined as your main mission and priority.

As your team evolves, your work doesn’t decrease, but it does become different.  You are less needed to manage the tasks and transactional issues faced by your team.   Your energy, instead, is put into developing the relationships within it.   Your focus becomes more about caring for each of your people (coaching, teaching, mentoring, and encouraging each person in the way that they most need at any point in time.)  You become the link between them and the corporation’s grand strategy.   You are the bridge between your team and the other departments within your organization whose help you must enlist to face the challenges in front of you. You run interference, and develop relationships with all other department heads.    Because you are less tied down with the daily tasks and transactions of your department, you should have more time to look outside to see what is happening in the world of your customers, competitors and new technologies.   You probably attend more conferences and travel more than your subordinates and should be able to bring back new ideas, perspectives and ways of thinking that could help your team grow.

Yes,  it is a continuum, and few teams operate at the extreme ends of the spectrum.  They are probably somewhere in between.  But you should be asking yourself not only where on the spectrum you are today, but what are you doing to move your team towards the right?

The hard part is that you need to be willing to let go more than you would like.   You have to trust your team more, even though that can be both risky and scary.   But if you concur that moving your team toward the right side of the grid is beneficial, it may help you to take some inspiration from one of my favorite leadership thinkers, Professor Warren Bennis.

In his foundational book “On Becoming a Leader”, Warren Bennis produced a list of differences between managers and leaders.  Because I dislike those labels, I have edited some of them to be about the verbs:

  • Managing is about administration – having charge of something and directing it, Leading is about innovation – thinking always of the new, better, and improved ways, and influencing events to help the team move ahead with a spirit of excitement
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original – comfortable with who they are, and confident to blaze new trails
  • Managing helps maintain order, the status quo, pressing for efficiency; leading is about developing – people, systems – tools – processes
  • Managing is about stuff, systems and structure; leading is about people
  • Managing relies on control;  leading works through inspiring trust
  • Managing is about the here and now  (a short-range view); leading is about possibilities of what could be (a long-range perspective)
  • Managing is about how and when; leading is about what and why
  • Managing focuses attention on the bottom line; leading requires looking toward the horizon – seeing things before others, and insuring your organization executes course corrections as a result
  • Managing is about eliminating risks – it  imitates; leading accepts prudent levels of risk – it  originates
  • A managing mindset values the status quo; a leading mindset challenges it
  • Managers want to do things right;  leaders care more about doing the right things

So think about it.  Where are you on the spectrum in comparison with where you would like to be?   Now is a good time to begin doing something about it.

Other Resources:

Leading Versus Managing: Eight Key Differences. by  Marie Peeler, Peeler Associates

What’s the difference of management vs leadership?from the Leadership Toolbox

Or watch this 4 min video clip, by Dr. Brian Wong, the Bedside Trust (patient driven leadership in Health Care)

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Leading with Impact: Backing Away from the Day-to-Day

Talent Survey graphic

Look at the chart on the left.  It is based in a survey I ran on our website asking one simple question.   Do the numbers surprise you?   70% of people responded that they are called on to use “less than half” of what they are capable of, or say that their boss doesn’t “know how to use me”.

This seems like bad news.   Although the GOOD news is that there is a tremendous amount of untapped potential in many of our organizations that exists right under our very noses.

So why aren’t we tapping into it?

In one leadership workshop I facilitate, I often get to work with highly motivated, “high potential” middle managers.   A purpose of the program is to get them to consider their leadership style in the context of what helps produce the best output from their team members.

My observation is that often times high potential managers who are career driven, can act in ways that are self-limiting without realizing it.  They sort of fall into a trap that catches most of us (certainly it caught me during the earlier phase of my career.)

Here is the trap.

High potential middle managers are generally pretty talented.  They got where they are today because of that fact.   They are good problem solvers, comfortable with making decisions and generally possess strong technical skills related to the team, department or division they are charged with running.

They are good.  In fact, they are better than most who surround them.   They not only know it, but TAKE A GREAT DEAL OF PERSONAL PRIDE in it.  These are people who believe they add value to the business by being such effective problem solvers and decision makers.

Now take people like this, and put them in an environment where they are responsible for the performance of a unit.  People are watching the department’s output, and it is clear that the accountability for success ultimately rests on the shoulders of the department head.   This is a formula that promotes micro-managing (even when you don’t see yourself that way.)   People like this often feel that they can solve the problems better and faster than their subordinates, and it is easier and more expedient for them to do so.   In addition, they often talk during this workshop about the fact they can’t see taking the risk to delegate and empower more because failure can have career limiting consequences.

For me, one of the most difficult things to do was to let my subordinates try something their way when I was convinced my idea would likely produce a better outcome.   I always rationalized this by telling myself that the mission was paramount.

This attitude is based on a fallacy.

I have had some program participants tell me that they solve problems every day and often avoid some crisis because of their intervention in the work going on in their departments.   Well that is probably true.   So the fallacy is that if you had not solved that particular problem then a crisis would have certainly occurred.   This is not always true.  Would the problem have remained unsolved, or would someone else have “stepped up” when it was essential, dealing with the situation in a reasonable manner?

I had the pleasure to spend some time learning Marine Corps leadership at Officer Candidate School at Quantico.   One of the Marine officers put it to me this way.  “In battle, any officer may fall at a crucial moment.  I have never seen a case where, when this happened, that someone, some lower ranking Marine, did not step up and lead.  In fact, sometimes it is the person you would not have expected.”

Often I will ask the program participants at this point, what would happen in your company if we were all on a cruise right now and out of cell phone range?  Would they send home all the employees and stop taking orders because you weren’t there to tell people what to do?  No, of course not.   They would make the best decision they could under the circumstances, and either it would have worked or not.   If it worked, then it is worthy of acknowledgement.  If it didn’t, you may have some damage control to do when the boat returns to port, but even in that case, this represents a LEARNING opportunity for your team, and a COACHING opportunity for you.  If you hired good people, they will learn from the experience and be stronger for it.    Helping coach your team to learn from past experiences – isn’t that more what your MAIN job should be?

Three elements of your role.

When your team is small (say 3-5 people) everyone, including you, needs to be involved in the transactions that are the responsibility of your team.    You are more a working supervisor than a manager.   But as the organization grows in size and complexity, your role also needs to grow.   The trouble is – it seems hard to make this transition when you began as a working supervisor.   How do you let go?  When is the time right?  How do you become a manager?  Most of us accomplish this by putting in extra hours.    We have to attend meetings, file reports, do performance appraisals and develop budgets and other managerial stuff.  So, we work 42 hours, then 45, then 50 until we finally reach the point where we can’t stretch ourselves any further.  At that point, we need a new bag of tricks.  (It is a common complaint among the middle managers I encounter, that they are overworked and not managing their own work-life balance very well.)

Your job must become less about solving your people’s problems for them, and more about helping define the new problems that you want them to solve (hopefully aligned with company strategy and to the important objectives you have).    Your role must evolve to where these three things represent the principal part of your “day job”.   These are:

  • Set the Agenda – defining a purpose and direction for your team – call it mission and strategy if you wish but you need to assure everyone understands what you are trying to accomplish so that they can see how their role fits into it
  • Build the Team – hiring better, developing, training, coaching, and (the hardest part) dealing with the people who shouldn’t be there
  • Define and Create the Culture – Everyone acknowledges that we are all influenced by the culture within our organization, and it is a more powerful force than most rules, policies, or formal procedures.  So why leave culture to chance?  Be deliberate to create the environment that biases your people in a direction consistent with what you are trying to accomplish.

Think about it.  Wouldn’t everything in your world get better if you did those three things just a little better?    So, help make sure your people understand what you want to accomplish (ideally considering their ideas and input).   Get rid of the 10% of your workforce that should not have been hired in the first place, and help the others learn and grow.   Create an environment that makes it easier to do the “right” things.

Everything will get better.

So why wait?

When I present this model in class, most middle managers will say it seems logical.   However most can’t see themselves moving towards it today because the performance pressure is too intense. They feel if they back away from the daily challenges to work on the other things, then performance will suffer and then who knows what evil will ensue?

This, of course, is a delusion.  The longer you wait to start making the transition, the more you are retarding the ability of your team to learn and grow.   You also will be missing out on the opportunity to really get the best out of your people.



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People Leave Bosses, Not Companies: Thinking About Retention

What percentage of your workforce quits each year?   If you are in the service business (like a quick service restaurant) a 60-70 percent turnover rate would not be unheard of.   For most businesses, a turnover rate of 5-10 percent per year is probably more the norm.

What does this cost?  Estimates, of course, vary but if you factor in recruiting fees, recruitment ads, pre-employment physicals, background checks, time spent on interviewing (exit and new hire), HR exit processing, new employee training, on-boarding and the lesser productivity while new workers are getting up to speed, HR professionals would guess the cost is in the range of 35-60 percent of one year’s base pay.

If your company had 1,000 employees, then you would be discharging, recruiting, hiring and training about 70 people per year.  At an average base wage cost of, say $70,000, that means you could bring an extra  quarter-million dollars of net income to your bottom line – if you could just hold on to your employees.  (Most of my HR colleagues think this estimate is on the low side.)

The retention of good people is an item of financial and strategic importance.   The cost analysis does not take into account the knowledge that leaves with the people who depart your organization, including information you might consider proprietary.

So what do you think the main reason is why people leave?   Consider first of all, that if you outright ask people, you are not always likely to get an honest answer.  People often lie about this if they fear a confrontation or an attempt to persuade them to stay on, especially after they have already made the emotional commitment to their decision to leave.  The easiest thing is to say is that they left for a higher rate of pay, or to have a lower commuting time or because another opportunity was just too good to turn down.

However, according to a Gallup poll of more than a million people, the main reason people leave has nothing to do with these things.  The number one reason (by far) they leave their current position is because of a bad boss.    That’s right, poor management costs big time.

We all know the list of bad-boss behaviors, don’t we?

  • They are over-controlling
  • Their people don’t trust or respect them (based on inconsistencies in what they do vs. what they say)
  • They don’t seem to trust, respect or appreciate their employees
  • They don’t seem to care about  them or their personal growth and development
  • They are just not competent

For all the money the corporate world spends on 360 surveys, or employee attitude surveys, the real question is why don’t we as executives have the courage to make the changes we should?   Sure, some people can improve with some training, coaching and mentoring.   But what about the others?

I am thinking of one manager of mine who was a great person – intelligent, technically skilled and loyal, but lacked key management capability.  He was a controlling, autocratic micro-manager.   We did the 360s, hired an executive coach, mentored him (and put him through immense stress, I think) for a year.   At the end, if you asked his employees did they see some improvement in his leadership, they would have mostly said yes – because they appreciated he had at least made an effort.   However, if you asked was he still a controlling, autocratic micro-manager?   They would have answered that in the affirmative as well.  For all his good traits, this manager was never cut out to be a good leader (at least not the type we were looking for).  The sooner he and I recognized this, and put him into a different role (without cutting his pay), the sooner the organization would improve.

Here are some ideas to consider:

Be willing to face the truth.  Not everyone is boss material.   When you made a bad hiring or promotion decision, be open to the possibility you got it wrong.  And, when you do, confront it!  Faster is better, and your team is counting on you to fix your mistakes.

Be fair with the person you misplaced.   If he or she isn’t performing well as boss, he or she probably already knows it.   This can be hard to admit if you are then seen as a failure.  You lose face.   So be careful how you make a reassignment. Think twice before cutting their pay, and do what you can to demonstrate to the individuals you DO really care about and appreciate them.  In the case of the manager I mentioned above, we gave him a special, newly created staff assignment where he could use his great experience and technical ability.   He saved us a ton of money, and told me later that he was having much more fun solving technical problems rather than managing people.  It was a win-win scenario.  Isn’t this a better solution than subjecting them to a year-long “Performance Improvement Plan”?

Stop teaching management skills.  Some of us want to believe great leaders are made, not born.  We hope that if we provide the right level of training on management skills (how to run a meeting, how to do a performance appraisal, etc.) then we can turn them all into effective leaders.   While these skills are useful can be learned, they don’t always transform people into über-bosses.   Instead, we need to work harder to screen boss candidates for intuitive leadership ability.  Smart people can learn skills,  but we can’t train inspiration, integrity or courage.   Who are your best leaders?  We all know them when we see them.  And, if we are paying attention, we can see it in people even before we promote them to a supervisory or managerial role.

Increase flexibility.  Work harder to design jobs around people rather than the other way around.  Build off of their strengths.  Sometimes a boss has a personality style not well suited to an existing team culture.  Respect the culture, especially when the team was performing well in the past.

Provide attractive non-managerial tracks.  Sometimes people are reticent to turn down a supervisory position because in many organizations, that is the way for pay and benefits advancement.   Why not offer career paths that lead to higher pay for people who are good at what they do and love?  We should value people who bring other attributes to work – creativity, experience, creative problem solving and high technical competence.   These should be worth paying for.  Also, recognize and congratulate your non-managers publicly – so that your employees see that you value them as much as your good managers.   Finally, think about non-cash rewards.  Send your people to a conference, give them time to work on one of their own pet projects, or develop a patent application.  There are many ways to recognize people besides money, a larger office or a premium parking space.

Related Resources

No. 1 Reason People Quit Their Jobs

People Quit Their Boss, Not Their Job

Plan for Handling Bad Bosses: treat them like toddlers


Filed under Leading, Strategy

Bridging the Learning-Doing Gap: Rethinking Corporate Learning and Development

We all remember the concept of the Three R’s, (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic)?  Well in today’s world of corporate learning and development, these have been replaced with the Four C’s, which stand for today’s new survival skills in business:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving (making decisions based on information, and dealing with risk and uncertainty)
  • Communication (both seeking to understand others, as well as improving your own ability to make a persuasive case)
  • Collaboration (cutting across silos, forging alliances and managing diverse groups toward a common goal)
  • Creativity and innovation (understanding problems better –more deeply–and developing better solutions that are unique and potentially “game changing”)

These four have been researched pretty extensively (see the links at the end of this article), and if your corporate learning strategy isn’t targeting these, you may want to ask yourself why.

According to the highly touted AMA survey on critical skills, 75% of executives surveyed feel these are of growing importance today because of the increasing pace of change in business today (91%), the increasing need for global competitiveness (86.5%), the changing nature of how work is accomplished today (77.5%), and the way organizations are structured (66.3%).

It is estimated that we spend approximately $60 billion per year in North America alone, on corporate learning and development, which seems like a lot of money being thrown at the problem.  But what is the impact?  (Perhaps before we criticize the effectiveness of K-12 education, we might ask whether we need a corporate version of “No worker left behind”!).

Curriculum’s are Too Broad, and Too Shallow

I believe a lot of the corporate training is poorly conceived, designed and executed . . . a waste of money.   The way many companies approach this is to come to someplace like the Xavier Leadership Center with a list of topics that came from some form of internal needs assessment.  Then a curriculum is designed to cover all the topics for the amount of budget available, with many topics covered only in a superficial way (say a half day program).   Trying to teach communications or critical thinking skills in a ½-day (or even a 2-day) bucket results in only scratching the surface.

Learning Seldom Occurs in a Classroom

We can deliver certain concepts in a class.  Heck, with 40 PowerPoint slides and a couple of readings, you can deliver a lot of content.    But most of us LEARN it when we apply the content by ourselves in our own work environment.  If the outcome is favorable, then we may be inclined to try it a second time, and then gradually it becomes an acquired new behavior.   So forget a 1 day communications skills class.    Instead, follow it up with 3-4 days of coaching so people are challenged to actually practice creating and delivering presentations, writing position papers, or making a persuasive argument.    The coaching piece is the key.   When we try something new and fail, our natural instinct is to go back to the old way of doing things.   If a coach can help re-direct, or refocus you, thereby improving your rate of success, then you will be more encouraged to keep at it.

Sure adding 3-4 days of coaching time is more expensive,   but why not cover fewer topic s in your corporate learning curriculum and go deeper?   Your focus should be not on LEARNING OBJECTIVES but on BEHAVIOR OBJECTIVES.   Who cares if you learned the concepts if you can’t successfully apply them?

Consider Nonconventional Learning Strategies

If you accept the idea that a classroom is not the only place learning can take place, you are almost there.   Think about it, from the moment of birth, we instinctively learn by trial and error, observation, curiosity and personal experiences.   So shouldn’t we leverage ALL of these learning mechanisms?   So have you considered things like:

  • Formal mentoring and coaching experiences. Connect less skilled people with other more practiced individuals to help them develop new skills.
  • Job rotation experiences.  Deliberately assign your new talent to new work assignments that will broaden and deepen their experiences.  Put an operations person in a customer service assignment.  Put an engineering person in a sales assignment.  Make designers take an operations job where they must execute what they designed. They will be transformed. (I had a fantastic boss once who insisted I leave the corporate office and take some assignments as a factory supervisor, materials manager, and CFO.  All these were a stretch for me based upon my formal education as an engineer with an MBA.  However, he knew I would throw myself into each assignment with boundless energy.  While I hated some of these assignments at the time, they all taught me a variety of vital lessons that better prepared me for ultimate general management roles I would one day take on.)
  • On-the-job training.  Be willing to throw people into the deep end of the pool – under the eyes of an experienced person to guide them.  Be willing to accept some mistakes.  Learning-by-doing is very effective.
  • Live Projects.    Teach strategy, when people need to create one.   Teach LEAN when you have identified some processes that urgently need re-thinking.   If you want people to learn collaboration, then make them work with an eclectic group of colleagues who bring different skills to the table from different departments.  Then go back and for the between teaching and doing as the participants do real work. It takes a little more planning on your part, but the impact will be greater.  Here again, the key is to have an experienced facilitator to guide them if they start to get off track.

Think Differently About Choosing Your Teachers

There is a difference between teaching (delivering planned content), and facilitating (guiding people in the application of it in an imperfect world).   I have seen many professional “trainers” who consistently receive high marks from participants.   They are engaging, have many great stories, demonstrate enthusiasm, and make learning a vibrant experience.   They have what we call “stage skills.”    While teachers who have these abilities are fantastic at delivering content in effective ways, they may not be experienced in applying the ideas in practice.   Conversely, I have seen some extraordinary facilitators who could coach a group through live project, who are not so impressive in front of a class.   The different skills (teaching and facilitating) are sometimes mutually exclusive.   So my advice is to:

  • Think about what you are trying to accomplish (produce learning or change behavior) and choose our trainer/facilitator wisely.
  • Pay attention to the credentials of the person.   Writing a book about something may demonstrate knowledge, but does not always make you an effective practitioner.   Ask them about their work and consulting experiences and select them in the context of what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Consider that most of us have experiences and knowledge that allow us to teach others.   Sometimes your best teachers/facilitators are not professional educators, but could other employees, managers, or colleagues who bring a wealth of experiences to the table.  Make them a part of your learning and development strategy.

Remember: We Are All Born with the Ability to Learn

It is automatic and instinctive.  So why isn’t learning and development as much about helping design experiences for individuals and fostering interactions among colleagues that produce deep learning, as it is about organizing an array of classes?  We all learn differently, and learning should acknowledge that fact.   The choice is not  about the difference between on-line and in-classroom, but about bridging the learning-doing gap.

Other Resources

Workers of the Future will Need Different Skills than In the Past, by Lisa Quast, Forbes online

Critical Skills for the New Workforce, by Leslie Allan, Toolbox.com

AMA Critical Skills Survey, American Management Association

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Mind the (Innovation) Gap: Making Sure You Don’t Fall Short

I had a conversation with a colleague (VP of Operations) from a successful global pharma company a few days ago about what keeps him awake at night.  I was expecting him to speak about government regulations, instability of his global supply chain, or run-away costs. But, his response took me aback.

“The growing innovation gap,” he said quickly.

This kind of surprised me, but upon further looking, I found one analysis reporting that “the number of new drugs approved per billion US dollars spent on R&D has halved roughly every 9 years since 1950, falling around 80-fold in inflation-adjusted terms.”    Yikes!  No wonder he was focused on this problem.

According to my colleague, he felt that it was a pervasive problem going far beyond the R&D labs.   “How are we going to get good at developing game-changing ideas when we spend most of our time fixing what’s already broken?” he said in frustration.   He is not alone.

Another person I met with (an internal innovation consultant in another large corporation) said to me, “The increasing pressure for achieving near-term financial metrics is making it harder for anyone in my company to look past this year.”   He went on to say that from his experience, “The innovation teams I see are almost always capable of dreaming big and bold ideas, but when they take them back to senior managers, the ideas too often get killed.”

Despite innovation lagging behind, it is nevertheless perceived as integral, if not, vital to business growth and health. A 2010 McKinsey CEO Survey (that I have written about previously) found that 84 percent of global executives said they believed innovation is extremely important to their growth strategies, and 94 percent said they were unsatisfied with their innovation performance.  Another research effort by The Brookings Institution concluded that “the pace of American innovation has slowed during the past four decades,” even taking into account the advent of the PC, the Internet, Web 2.0, mobile technology and social media.

I can’t help but feel that we do know a lot about innovation, and about how to generate creative ideas.  But driving these through to successful implementation is where many companies fall through the cracks.  The corporation and its bureaucracy seem to get in the way.

That is a conclusion also reached in a recent study conducted by Forbes Magazine (aided by IPSOS and ACCA) called Nurturing Europe’s Spirit Of Enterprise: How Entrepreneurial Executives Mobilize Organizations To InnovateIPSOS  sent out a survey to 1,245 business executives across Europe, and then analyzed the results.   Whether you look at Europe or North America, I suspect the challenges are similar.
The study suggests that leadership behaviors and resulting company cultures greatly impact the effectiveness of innovation.   Let’s look first at the leadership styles.

Based on the responses, they categorized the executives and senior managers in the survey according to these five basic personality styles.  They are summarized in the table below.  As you might expect, some of these styles help encourage successful innovation, while others are more likely to get in the way.   I highlighted in yellow the personality types most nurturing of innovation.



As you can see, more than 60% of the managers and execs in this study are problematic.

Here are some of the overall conclusions to which these researchers came.

• Ideas are easier than execution. Not everyone is good at generating ideas, but generally there are few internal roadblocks to creative idea generation.  Execution, however, is a different problem.  With regard to execution, two personality types (Controllers and Hangers-on—see table) are obstacles to successful implementation of innovations.  “Corporate Management” was the single most commonly cited reason why innovations are blocked.

• Diversity of skills helps. Personality traits that are valuable in the conception of ideas may be irrelevant, or even a hindrance, when it comes to implementation.  So we need to forge diverse partnerships within our organizations to get even our best ideas to the finish line.  Sometimes those who may be the least creative during idea generations can offer the most help during implementation.  Innovation and the enterprise therefore benefit strongly from a diverse set of workforce skills.

• Small may be better. When it comes to innovation, bigger is not better. Organizations with 100 to 249 employees were best at generating innovative ideas. Those with revenues between $5 million and $100 million were best at executing them. Turning an idea into a product or process requires a certain level of scale and internal resources. But at some point size begets bureaucracy, which can interfere with successful execution.

• Resources matter.  Innovation is not cheap, let alone free; and it is more often firms themselves, rather than external finance providers, that fail to allocate resources to it. If strategic plans do not allow for the resources to pursue serendipitous innovation, then they can stifle it altogether.

• Corporate management can be an innovation killer.  Senior managers’ failure to buy into innovations was cited by survey participants as the biggest reason that innovations fail.

• Eyes on the big picture, ear of the C-suite. The function most strongly connected with successful execution of innovation is the corporate strategy office.  In many organizations, the strategy office may be seen as having both industry understanding and the a sense of objectivity that gives them more internal credibility with the CEO.

• Fear of death is a powerful incentive. The industry most likely to witness successful execution in this study by far was media.   Researches hypothesize that more than most sectors, the media industry has undergone a near-death experience—an “innovate or die” situation—over the past 15 years.   So, they seem to “get it” more than many of their colleagues in other markets or industries.

• Ideas from those without influence can lead to creativity without results.  Arguably, the corporateR&D department is the unit most capable of generating new ideas.  But engineers and scientists may lack the abilities to persuade, communicate and politically manuever to see their ideas through to commercialization.  Building alliances between R&D and others seems important.   Finding effective influential sponsors early on can greatly increase chances of success.

Other resources:

The Five Personalities of Innovators: Which One Are You?

The 8 Essentials of Innovation

The One Innovation Personality You Must Have On Board

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Managing or Leading. Who Cares? Let’s do Both.

The debate rages over leadership vs. management.  Those who lead are supposed to be both  inspiring and capable of strategic or “big picture” thinking.   Those who manage are expected to operate more in the trenches  and be more anal and detailed-oriented.  As a consequence most of us respond to a call to be leaders rather than managers, because leading seems more important and even less boring.

A common mistake is for us to perceive leaders as the people at the top of the organizational pyramid, while managers are in the middle of the organization where all accountability lies – driven by mountains of performance and financial data.

We believe that rather than focusing on the nouns (leader or manager) it is better to focus on the verbs – to lead or to manage.   Leading and managing are action items that EVERYONE in the organization must do.  Even if you are a first line supervisor, part of your role is to provide your people with a sense of purpose and direction.  Isn’t this leading?

When it comes to executing success, we all need to pay attention to details, collecting and analyzing information, and taking corrective steps when it seems we are drifting off course.   This is as true if you are a CEO and tracking the performance of a new acquisition as it is for a team leader trying to launch a new computer system somewhere in the bowels of the enterprise.

Whatever rung of the pyramid you inhabit, you need to draw on leading and managing skills which are BOTH vital and integral to each other.  We should think about it more as a pendulum where we swing back and forth between inspiring and controlling, challenging and monitoring, planning and problem solving.  This has to do only with the situations we face, not our job description.

In a recent article, Ericka Anderson, author and consultant, argues that to be effective in life, we all need to have leadership skills, that is, skills that tell others who we are and what we stand for,  such that those who see us deem us worthy of being followed.  Her list of key attributes is:

  • Far-Sighted (Means seeing beyond the moment to what’s coming up ahead, and recognizing the likely consequences of today’s actions.)
  • Passionate (It is not enough to be going through the motions doing what your boss commanded.  Our enthusiasm is infectious and builds momentum – particularly when the goal is worthwhile.)
  • Courageous (Who wants to follow someone who will “wimp out” at the first sign of adversity?  We admire bosses who have our back, will “go to bat” for us and speak truth to power.)
  • Wise (Being a nice person is not enough, when your ideas are “half-baked.”   We expect our leaders to do their homework, think deeply about what they are doing and making resulting good decisions, learn from their past triumphs and failures, and gets it right most of the time.)
  • Generous (We will recoil from leaders who appear to be all about themselves.   We desire those who will serve us, no matter how tired they are or how scare their resources may be.  They care about all of us even more than they do themselves.

These are described in detail in her related article: Leading Now and Always.   It is hard to argue with this list which to me adds up to building a sense of trustworthiness.

Developing and practicing these attributes requires reflection, self-evaluation, and a true connection with a value system that drives your own behaviors day in and out.  These come from within you and only work when you find your own trigger that gives you the resolve to live your life in accordance with what you believe to be true.

Managing skills, however, are more learnable, like becoming a good carpenter or chef.  And, with practice, you can become proficient.   There are tools, templates, methodologies you can learn about running meetings, managing projects, analyzing processes, controlling budgets and so forth.

I said earlier that managing and leading are integrated skills.   Here is one way they overlap.  Again, Anderson suggests that when we are acting more in a leading or a managing capacity, great leaders and great managers:

  • listen well,
  • are curious,
  • manage their self-talk, and
  • hold themselves accountable for moving the business forward

These things are at the intersection between leading and managing.  Leaders can craft compelling visions that inspire.  Managers can analyze situations and plot course corrections.  But these four behaviors define how you will interact with the people on whom you depend to make things happen.

So forget about your job title.   All of this needs to be in your job description.  It’s not someone else’s job, but yours.   Be both a great leader AND a solid manager.

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Recognizing Employees Reveals More About Ourselves

I had an interesting conversation this week with a colleague of mine from Procter and Gamble. We were discussing how hard it is for organizations to make good decisions.   Often times, information is filtered from below (either because people are advocating for a particular viewpoint, or they would like to hide information that does not reflect well upon them or their department.)

Consider a case in which we do an initial test market and some of the data is unclear or conflicting . . . so rather than share all the data in the interest of transparency, we often will filter it, presenting what best supports our desired outcome.  Of course, the filtered data may be misleading and may bias others to make the wrong decision.  Oops.

We talked on about why people have a tendency to filter information in such a way.   Our conclusion was that we as leaders send strong messages by what we pay attention to and what we choose to recognize.  Our people quickly interpret these things and the conclusions they draw become broadly embraced.  These conclusions become the unwritten arbiters of how they expect us to behave.

We, as leaders, need to be cognizant of the fact that our actions and words (even our subtle signals like body language) are being scrutinized closely by our employees. If we aren’t careful, we can send out unintended signals.

Case Example

Here is one case in point.   In one company (not P&G), there was a major new project to launch an appliance product.   There were two important new technical innovations associated with this launch.  One had to do with a new painting system that had never been tried, and the other had to do with a new type of drive system that was expected to be cheaper, quieter and more reliable.   As the project went on, the paint system failed in all of its performance requirements.   The problems seemed to be compounding, and the launch date was threatened.   The team responsible for the paint process dug in, and put forth an amazing 11th hour effort that ultimately solved the problems and the launch deadline was met.

Management was so thrilled by the accomplishment and the successful ultimate product launch, that they felt it appropriate to recognize the paint system team for their herculean effort.   I am sure the paint folks appreciated the recognition, but what about the drive system team?   Their part of the project was completed the first time, and without a single technical “glitch”.  They were on time, and under budget, and yet did not merit even an honorable mention.  We can all, I think, relate to what that felt like.

My point here is not that the paint team was not worthy of praise. They were.   It is not that the drive team did their job only because they were anticipating recognition.  They weren’t.  My point is simply that by our actions as leaders, we send countless signals and micro-messages about what we think, value, and appreciate.    In fact, by our very actions, we are defining our organizational culture.

People pay a lot of attention to

  • Who we hire, and fire . . . or not.
  • Who we promote, demote . . . or not
  • Who we reward and recognize . . .  or not
  • And how we act in the case that something does not go right.

These are the things that define our culture, and WILL drive employee actions – for better or worse.


A great book that explores the topic of sending unintended messages was written by Stephen Young, called Micro-Messaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words.    So, should you sweat the small stuff?

“Absolutely”, says Stephen Young, “especially when it comes to those critical behaviors that can make or break performance. The reason is simple: no matter what you think you’re saying, your words, gestures, and tone of voice can actually communicate something entirely different. Too often, negative micro-messages undermine morale, business opportunities, and ultimately your organization.”

Micro-messaging examines the nuanced behaviors that we all blindly use and react to in our dealings with others. Yet as Young points out, these micro-messages can reveal a lot about our own-and our superiors’ biases and preconceived notions. Learning how to constructively address these behaviors can bring about positive change.

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