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Hero Manager

How to Transition from Hero Syndrome to Distributed Leadership

With 4 Leadership Skills for Managers Making the Transition

Carl, a very seasoned and capable production manager recently shared, “I’m going to retire early because I can’t take the stress anymore.” Business volume and complexity had overrun Carl’s traditional top-down management approach. When I pressed Carl for why he feels like he must make all the decisions his answer was revealing, “I’ve always been the go-to guy and senior management expects me to solve every problem.”

Carl suffers, in part, from hero syndrome, the strong need to be right, to be Mr. fix-it, to be chief firefighter. Additionally, a traditional control management structure reinforces team members to be order-takers, not co-owners of accountability and outcomes.

“All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation.”

–Max McKeown

Distributed leadership, as opposed to a control management style, is partially defined as, “Leadership activity as a whole is stretched, or distributed, across many people.”

Accountability for results, quality, and decision-making gets distributed to team members. Through its 14 Lean Management Principles, Toyota embodies distributed leadership by empowering teams to solve problems, accept accountability, and make localized decisions.

4 Skills for Building a Distributed Leadership Structure

  1. Build Shared Cognition. This is a vision + mission statement on steroids. Team members must clearly understand, internalize, and commit to a renewed way of working. Leadership communicates the Why and What but not the How. Team members will learn to accept greater accountability for decision making, with formal leadership serving as guidance. CRM (crew resource management) offers a blueprint for transitioning from a command structure to a distributed leadership matrix.
  2. Clarify Expectations. This includes new team structure – roles, responsibilities and agreed upon approach to achieving results. Example: Beginning Monday morning we will have daily huddle-ups. The first 10 minutes will be business status updates, the second 10 minutes we will surface issues or challenges and create action plans with individual accountability distributed among team members.
  3. Continuous Improvement. Conduct on-going After-Action-Reviews or PDCA (lean manufacturing) cycles. The guiding adage – never confuse ceaseless activity with progress – instructs leaders and her teams to engage in regular reflection and learning loops. The opposite is a culture that hides its problems, rejects fresh ideas, and slowly stagnates.
  4. Psychological Safety. Trust does not exist without agreements and agreements do not exist without trust. The backbone of a distributed leadership structure is strong, positive, and committed relationships. Gifted leaders pay equal attention to relationships as they do tasks.

“A successful company is one that can learn effectively.”

–Ariel de Geus

Managers who suffer from hero syndrome will also quickly suffer from burnout. A single person can’t possibly put out all fires. That’s why firefighters come in teams. By following a distributed leadership structure, the hero-manager can help shape a hero-team, which lessens the burden on any one individual.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring! -Steve

As always, check out my other blog posts for even more great manager-coaching tips!

Active Listening

Active Listening: One of the Most Important Manager Skills

With 4 Great Tips on How to Improve Active Listening Skills

Listening is the simplest “soft” skill that a manager can have, but it may have the most impact. Workplace communication is the key to understanding your people and your organization. Often, the difference between success and failure will be determined by if your employees feel comfortable talking to you and if you listen to what they say. To ensure that your employees communicate, be an active listener.

“The human brain discloses information in layers, therefore our questions should match this biology.”

The Science of Selling by David Hoffeld

4 Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

  1. Ask Questions. Questions are a fantastic way to show people that you’re listening. When you ask a question, people see you as engaged in the conversation. Ask “what” and “how” questions to expand the conversation and get at the root of the topic. But be careful to never ask a question that the person has already addressed. And, try to avoid “why” questions unless absolutely necessary. People get defensive when they are asked to justify something.
  2. Maintain Eye Contact and Positive Posture. Eye contact is essential to show that you’re actively listening. According to Michigan State University, eye contact shows that you’re alert and interested in the conversation. Body posture is just as important. Sit up straight, keep your hands uncrossed, and don’t fidget.
  3. Use Visual and Verbal Cues. In addition to the cues you give with proper eye contact and body posture, don’t forget to be active in the conversation. Positive visual cues include nodding your head and smiling. They’ll put the speaker at ease and assure them that you’re listening. Likewise, use simple phrases like “right” and “go on” to encourage the person to keep talking.
  4. Paraphrase, Summarize, and Clarify. Paraphrasing and summarization are perfect to show that you’ve been listening after the speaker is done with a particular point. Something like, “What I’m hearing you say is…” shows the speaker that you’ve processed their information and gives them a chance to clarify their meaning. But, clarification goes both ways. If you aren’t quite sure about what the speaker means, then get some clarification by using Tip #1! Asking questions is the best way to make sure you understand everything.

Active listening can go a long way to help your business run smoothly. Not only will your team members trust you to communicate, but active listening will trickle down your organization. In due time, you’ll find that your team will actively listen to customers more. And, customers love to be listened to!

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring! -Steve

As always, check out my other blog posts for even more great manager-coaching tips!

Disengaged and Frustrated

5 Steps for Engaging a Disconnected Employee

Engaging a disengaged team member can be one of the more vexing manager challenges. And, the associated symptoms can be costly:

Gallup pegs the cost of lost productivity due to absence, illness and stress-related work problems in excess of $350 billion per year nationwide.

-Forbes


Disengaged narratives run the gamut but here are a few common themes:

  • Management has allowed a steady A/B player to be left alone to do her job but the business has outgrown her. Compounding the issue is that management has failed to provide employee any real performance feedback and coaching, leaving employee with a false sense of ability.
  • Personal issues have distracted and drained a usually stellar team member’s passion, focus and accountability.
  • The team member was never a great fit from day one but management tolerated sub-par performance hoping they’d turn the corner.
  • A team member was passed over for a promotion, received a tough performance evaluation, or possible workload increase without additional compensation.

“You manage things; you lead people.”

                   -Grace Murray Hopper, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral

While the root causes for employee disengagement are varied, reflective managers must confront the brutal fact that they may be co-responsible for the current situation. In the spirit of self-development, a few diagnostic questions can help understand the problem:

  • Where did I disengage with this team member?
  • Where did I fail to develop a trusting and effective work relationship?
  • How have I contributed to this current dynamic?
  • How have I failed this employee?

“Management has always gotten what it models and tolerates.”

-Anonymous

Following candid self-reflection, here are 5 Steps for re-setting the relationship, gaining alignment on work expectations, and establishing milestones and measurements:

Step 1: Take part ownership, if necessary, of the situation and be direct with team member. It might sound like, “I apologize for not being more candid in the past, however, your current work contributions are below expectations.” The objective is to re-calibrate an effective work partnership, not be liked.

Step 2: Establish regular, structured and substantive one-on-one meetings. It’s common to hear managers say, “I stopped having one-on-ones with this employee because they ceased to be productive.” Well structured, focused one-on-ones is a trusted process for charting a new path forward with disengaged employees.

Step 3: Present facts and examples where the team member is falling short of performance expectations. Present a written list of non-negotiable work expectations. Establish clear consequences for not meeting the expectations and gain agreement from the team member. Building trust begins with making professional agreements.

Step 4: Set up the team member for success. You are not crafting an HR performance improvement plan (PIP), yet. You might have to if the team member doesn’t make forward, measured progress. First, establish clear, incremental steps for immediate action. In other words…

“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

-Lord Kelvin

Step 5: Inspect what you expect. Monitoring, evaluating and providing regular feedback on progress are the heavy lifting of good management. Remember, your (or your predecessor’s) historical hands-off management style have enabled the employee to work in a silo. The antidote is an over correction – a very hands-on style that could last several months. These situations rarely develop overnight and neither will the solutions.

The source of many employee disengagement scenarios is often a disengaged manager. At some point the manager failed to commit to the 5 steps above. If you fell off the management horse, get up, dust yourself off, and recommit to engaging your people.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring.