Alexandra Levit had a great post today about How To Be More Visible At Work. I hope her readers take her advice to heart and turn it into action – especially the task-oriented ones, like me! Those of us who tend to be more oriented toward information and doing the work than relationships, incorrectly assume that our knowledge or productivity will speak for itself letting us off the hook for speaking for ourselves. Rather than seeing talking about ourselves as shameless self-promotion, we need to start seeing it as our responsibility. We have a responsibility to let team members and decision makers know what we have to offer, how we can contribute and how we are making things better. We are always happy when we find out about a product or service that is “just what we need.” How are we going to find out about these things if someone, somewhere isn’t deliberately working on letting us know about them? Similarly how can we expect our bosses to find out about what we have to offer if we aren’t letting them know? So in the spirit of the holiday season, let’s all go out and give the gift of US!!!
I read an article recently by Steve Tobak titled “The Problem with Know It All Managers“. The issue that Tobak presents is that often when people become managers, they start acting like they have all the answers. These managers stop asking questions and start telling everyone what the answers are. Tobak’s conclusion is that this is bad for employees and bad for the organization and bad for business. I agree but I have to ask myself what motivates people to become “know it all” managers? It could be arrogance or it could be an organizational culture that implies that value is linked to one’s ability to always have the answer. It is not uncommon for compensation and promotion decisions to be based if not explicity then implicitly on one’s reputation for always having the answers. Conversely and unfortunately, managers are often devalued by senior management and stakeholders when they are seen to ask a lot of questions, openly consider many alternatives, and rely on their subordinates for up to date subject matter expertise. As we transition from do-ers to leaders, our value to the organization needs to come from our ability to elicit knowledge, ideas, issues, and possible solutions from the workforce and then to use that information to develop and execute strategies that achieve differentiating business goals. Answers based on the experience of many are more valuable than answers based on the experience of one person. One of our challenges is to help our senior management and stakeholders recognize and appreciate the value to the business of this sort of higher order, leadership behavior.
Have you read the pithy one page article entitled “The Ten Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders” in the June 2009 Harvard Business review? I quickly skimmed the flaws to see if I had any of them. At first I was relieved. While I can be pretty hard on myself, I didn’t think I had any of these flaws. But the authors’ closing comments caused me to reconsider. “But the ineffective leaders we studied were often unaware that they exhibited any of these behaviors. In fact those who were rated most negatively rated themselves substantially more positively. Leaders should take a very hard look at themselves and ask for candid feedback on performance in these specific areas. Their jobs may depend on it.” Denial is a dangerous thing.
I read the ten flaws a bit more thoughtfully and my conclusions the second time were sobering. For each behavior, I took the time to think about things I had done or had not done in the last two weeks that a third party might view as examples of “flawed” leadership behavior. I was able to recall at least one example for each of the ten flaws. While this doesn’t necessarily mean I am a hopelessly flawed leader, it made me own up to the fact that I regularly exhibit sub optimal leadership behavior. This exercise made me realize that seemingly small transgressions that I excuse because I am busy (and a leader – see the Toxic Tandem in the same issue of HBR), when seen objectively, are powerful examples of poor leadership and they add up. Maybe going through this exercise will help you identify some areas in which you could raise your game and improve your image as a manager and a leader!
The Ten Fatal Flaws by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
- Lack of energy and enthusiasm
- Accept their own mediocre performance
- Lack clear vision
- Have poor judgement
- Don’t collaborate
- Don’t walk the talk
- Resist new ideas
- Don’t learn from mistakes
- Lack interpersonal skills
- Fail to develop others
An article in the April 2009 Harvard Business Review by Julia Adler-Milstein describes research that suggests that organizations need to make changes to how they are organized and how they operate in order to enjoy the benefits of new technologies they introduce. The article cites a study by MIT Sloan School’s Erik Brynjolfsson and others that finds that the following specific operating model changes were required for successful implementation of new technologies:
- increased training
- increased individual decision making authority
- flattened hierarchies
- greater use of skilled resources
- decentralized teams
- incentives for team performance
Organizations that didn’t make these changes fared worse than they would have had they not introduced the technologies in the first place. The article focuses on adoption of electronic health records but the findings apply across the board.
One thing we can take away from this is that successful change that brings value and is sustainable is multi dimensional. We need to take time to think deliberately about the whole system into which we are introducing a change (people, the processes, physical assests and the organization structure). We need to think openly and strategically about what other parts of the system need to be changed to create the conditions for success and to minimize the conditions for failure.
As managers we may find that “we don’t have time” to think about all of this or that the prospect of thinking about it all is daunting – like confronting a multi dimensional chess game. We often find that our management just wants the change to happen and doesn’t want to get bogged down in considerations and activities that might increase cost and slow down delivery. You can use this HBR article and the underlying research to make your case!