Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘observation

Don’t Push Out Figures When Facts Are Going in the Opposite Direction

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Admiral Hyman Rickover, USN

Admiral Hyman Rickover, USN

In addition to investigating new possibilities, effective leaders tend to possess an investigative mindset. Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) stated,

“Sit down before the facts with an open mind. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you learn nothing. Don’t push out figures when facts are going in the opposite direction.”

Peter Drucker described Alfred Sloan (General Motors) in The Effective Executive. “Sloan, was anything but an ‘intuitive’ decision-maker. He always emphasized the need to test opinions against facts and the need to make absolutely sure that one did not start out with the conclusion and then look for the facts that would support it. But he knew that the right decision demands adequate disagreement.”

Meg Whitman (eBay) noted, “My job was to uncover what was going well. I think sometimes when a new senior executive comes into a company, the instinctive thing to do is to find out what’s wrong and fix it. That doesn’t actually work very well.

People are very proud of what they’ve created, and it just feels like you are second-guessing them all the time. You are much more successful coming in and finding out what’s going right and nurturing that. Along the way, you’ll find out what’s going wrong and fix that.”

Other effective leaders used other specific techniques that were extremely beneficial and fruitful, including probing for answers. Irwin Miller (Cummins) was noted for this attribute. “He was a teacher, not by providing answers, but by asking tough questions.

On many occasions his question ‘Ten years from now, what will you wish you had done differently today?’ caused business colleagues, community leaders, friends, and family members to reassess their points of view and reach for higher goals. If you came to tell him what you had already done, he always simply asked, ‘Did you do the right thing?’ ”

Andy Grove (Intel) was also a tough questioner, with an equally strong purpose behind it. “Andy will test his staff endlessly… If someone makes a suggestion, he’ll ask, ‘How would you do that?’ Andy wants answers that are well thought out. Gut feel doesn’t cut it with him. His test is: ‘How would you implement it?’ . . . And he challenges his staff to convince him that a particular direction is the right way to go.’

In some organizations, taking such a rigorous approach and insisting that people be prepared to thoroughly defend their ideas might discourage timid subordinates from offering suggestions – and thus stifle creative thinking. But Grove insists that isn’t really an issue.

‘If it discourages you,’ he says, ‘then you probably had a poor idea that you didn’t have much confidence in – or you are the kind of person who wouldn’t execute the idea anyway. If you can’t be expected to fill out the details of your concept, how can you be expected to execute it? It is almost a test:

‘Do you really believe in your idea well enough to defend it? And, if you are given a go-ahead, will you have enough devotion to it – a serious enough commitment to it – to make it happen?’

Clearly, Andy Grove understands how to make things happen, which helps to explain why Intel has played such a major role in shaping the digital world of the future.’ ”

William Blackie (Caterpillar) used his own power of observation to investigate the facts prior to making key decisions. During the post-Second World War years, replete with growth opportunities for Caterpillar,

“Blackie didn’t make his decisions in some comfortable office. He went out in the field to see for himself and advised others to do the same – even though doing so in the postwar years wasn’t comfortable.

‘Seeing the changes and their effects creates more conviction than being told about it or reading about it,’ he told Iron Age. ‘Therefore, one of the first things I urge any interested or skeptical U.S. businessman to do is to go abroad himself to see what’s going on.’”

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Interaction is a Necessary Component of a Vibrant Workplace

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Astute leaders guide and direct from the front lines of the company. Leaders are continually present and interacting with their employees in order to see what is slowly transforming and changing and what is causing unit frustrations. Frontline guiding and directing is a necessary process enabling leaders to apply their abilities to moving the organization forward.

There is a critical difference between the roles of a manager and a leader. While many managers are considered leaders, some not totally committed to sound leadership principles choose to direct from behind their desks. This results in relinquishing the advantage gained by immediate, firsthand knowledge of their organization’s daily activities, progress or frustrating hindrances.

Related: Four Primary Leadership Roles and Responsibilities

Ongoing interaction with employees is the active practice of visible leadership. Leaders cannot lead from their office. They must continually be in the midst of their employees, seeing for themselves what is happening and what is holding their unit back.

Frontline guiding and directing is a critical concept for leaders to understand and apply. In order for employees to be comfortable with change and transformation within their organization and the constant risk taking that goes with it, leaders must be ever present to train, direct, and reassure each individual member. They must be there to cheer every accomplishment, no matter how small. This can only be done successfully when leaders are continually involved in their employees’ daily activities.

Practical leadership demands that leaders have an active, ongoing presence within their organizational units. This presence creates a visible strength achieved through openly and consistently interacting with all employees. When leaders develop an interactive presence and work to achieve active visibility, they have the ability to fully apply their leadership skills and capabilities. Effective interaction allows leaders to:

Understand Frustrations

Only when leaders are constantly interacting with their employees can they fully understand the daily frustrations they are experiencing individually and as a group. While often minor, these frustrations serve as mini-barriers to productivity and efficiency.

Frustrations are often not known about unless a leader takes the time to observe what is actually occurring. They may be considered minor parts of the work process that employees fail to mention due to their insignificance. However, when considered collectively and cumulatively, smaller frustrations have the power to hemorrhage an organization’s productivity.

Related: The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

Observe Firsthand What Is Occurring

Reports and meetings cannot take the place of the leader personally observing what is happening within their division or unit. A casual walkthrough does not provide sufficient opportunity to clearly observe and internalize what is actually occurring at any one point in time.

Close observation allows leaders to identify certain occurrences that produce either a positive or negative impact upon the organization. Only when leaders practice visible leadership and openly interact with their employees will a true picture of the organizational unit’s overall progression and advancement emerge. Without this firsthand insight and knowledge, leaders cannot effectually move any part of their organization forward.

Encourage Open Communication

Visible leadership and open interactivity brings leaders out of their comfort zones and away from their desks. Being an interactive leader puts them on an equal plane with their employees, which makes them much more accessible and approachable. When this occurs, employees feel more comfortable to talk about frustrations, concerns, problems and issues that may not otherwise be disclosed. This open communication directly drives the free-flow of knowledge and information that leaders need to be successful.

Related: Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

Provide Insight into Solutions

When leaders become fully interactive, and observe and communicate with their employees, they gain insights into existing problems. Leaders use these insights to much more easily reach solutions to the immediate and pressing problems facing their employees. Minor frustrations are quickly remedied and eliminated to minimize productivity losses.

Change transformations in any organization entail countless daily decisions. Open interaction facilitates the decision making process by encouraging employees to make cooperative or independent judgments in the name of reaching objectives and eliminating needless frustrations.

Provide Insights into Problems and Opportunities

Leaders typically have the advantage of the “macro view” of their organization. Sometimes they are focused on this larger picture to the extent that they forget they can—and should—look for and watch what is actually transpiring in their front lines. While this field of vision will vary by the level occupied in the organization, leaders do have the advantage of obtaining increased knowledge through a wider perspective that is not available to their employees.

Leaders who are active and visible in their organizations have the ability to witness what is happening and can identify potential problems and opportunities because of it. Their position often allows them to act on this knowledge to either eliminate a potential problem or tap an opportunity. In either case a frontline perspective helps leaders and employees save their company money. The only sure way to accomplish any of the above is to take full advantage of applying all the available knowledge obtained from a more “micro view” of the organization.

Related: Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Share in Successes and Failures

An essential role for leaders is to act as a motivator and cheerleader. While corporate leaders may not like to think of themselves as cheerleaders, the meaning goes beyond the term to the bottom line. When leaders are actively present and daily interacting with and encouraging their employees, they are in the best position to motivate and inspire them to achieve beyond expectations.

As their presence creates an impact on the organizational unit, leaders are able to share in the successes and failures of their employees as they test new ideas and concepts and help their organization adapt in the face of change. Doing this creates a bond of loyalty between leaders and employees as it steadily and securely increases the organizational unit’s cohesiveness.

Related: Motivation Is More Than Money

Excerpt: Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Use These Seven Strategies to Respond to Change

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It is difficult to predict leaders’ responses to change, as they must continually be on guard for unpredictable occurrences and forces, and in some cases immediately respond to a series of unknown and unanticipated events and circumstances. The only certainty is that change will occur, and leaders must be at the forefront of the process regardless of circumstances and apprehensions.

Change undoubtedly poses a challenge to every leader. This is because it can be anticipated only to the degree that it is predictable. Long-term changes and trends can be generally anticipated, but these changes are often complicated by numerous factors and elements continually altering and transforming themselves at varying rates of speed.

The concept of change also demands that leaders embrace stability and instability within the organization as it transforms itself. Several strategies that leaders need to employ during periods of change include:

Being Visible

The very nature of leadership demands that leaders be actively involved in their organizational unit. Leadership does not emanate from behind a desk or within an office. Leaders must be active and visible in the front lines of their business. Only when leaders are out and about among their employees can they see and feel the pace of progress, and witness firsthand the problems their employees are encountering.

Testing

Paces of change and organizational transformations demand that countless ideas be constantly generated and experimented with at all levels. Undoubtedly, some ideas will fail and some will succeed. The only way leaders can sort out the winners from the losers is by constantly applying new ideas and concepts on the line to test for feasibility and adaptability to their organization.

Listening

As leaders become increasingly visible, it is important that they simultaneously begin to develop listening forums where everyone within their organizational unit is sharing new ideas, celebrating minor successes and learning from small failures. This increases the synergy between employees, builds and solidifies team bonds, and enhances overall organizational cohesiveness.

Appreciating Failure

As aforementioned, an organization’s response to change as it transforms itself implies countless new ideas and concepts are being experimented with on a regular basis. Leaders know that constant experimentation means that they must test concepts, ideas and strategies rapidly—fail or succeed fast—and adjust quickly.

Active leaders must immediately discard bad ideas and learn from their failures. However, no idea can be deemed good or bad unless it has been adequately tested. The key is to learn from the failures and quickly move on to the next idea, building knowledge and expertise from a continual string of ineffective results, failures and shortcomings.

Taking Action

Leaders in the fast pace of change must be proactive rather than reactive. They cannot let the organizational bureaucracy interfere with the progress of their organizational unit. At times they must actively work against this bureaucracy when it regulates or inhibits the testing and experimentation of new ideas and concepts.

Effective leaders do not only involve their frontline employees in concept, idea and method experimentation, they encourage the participation of multi-functional teams as well, and work to get them fully involved in the process.

Learning from Customers

Leaders have learned that the external influence of the customer is a stabilizing factor in the midst of change. Successful leaders interact with their customers, and encourage employees at all levels to do the same. This can be accomplished through scheduled customer visits to the organization for discussions, observations and feedback, and by sending representatives out to the customer’s business. Once there, their job is to objectively observe exactly how specific products and services are being used and applied. They also interpret what problems occur and why, as well as each one’s impact on various time factors.

This allows leaders to cross-pollinate ideas and concepts throughout the organization so that all involved have mutual goals and objectives, increasing the overall quality of the product and its value to the customer.

Additionally, employee exposure to their customers makes daily tasks and assignments more tangible. Employees are able to see how the product they produce is used. This increases empowerment and overall responsibility toward the customer.

Making It Fun

The concept of change and accompanying process of organizational transformation are stressful. Most leaders have learned that they can ease stress by making certain elements of the process “fun.” This is not to say that leaders create a jovial and joking atmosphere, but that there is pleasure and enjoyment in accomplishing something together as a team and sharing interesting failures and mistakes in a non-critical atmosphere. It means keeping things light, celebrating the little successes, and using them to build on others to the accomplishment of mutual goals and objectives.

Change will throw many curves at an organization. It takes large doses of flexibility and participation to adapt to these trials. It also helps if leaders and employees lighten up at times where stress is at its highest, which helps to reduce the urge to take things far too seriously.

Excerpt: Facilitating Change – Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 17.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about techniques to facilitate change, refer to Facilitating Change – Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

July 28, 2011 at 11:54 am

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