Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Leadership Lessons

What is leadership?

Dwight Eisenhower defined it:

Now I think, speaking roughly, by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it, or your position of authority.

This opens new questions. How do you convince, persuade, influence or cajole someone to do what needs to be done while making him feel that he wants to do it?

Leaders, Eisenhower emphasized, do not give orders to people who are forced to do what they are told to do. If that is your leadership approach, your staff or your troops will quickly become demoralized. They will do as they are told, but without putting much effort into the task. Perfunctory performance will end up as sloppy performance.

When Eisenhower emphasized inspiring others to want to do what needed to be done, he was saying that he wanted his troops and his staff to be thoroughly engaged, to give it their best effort, to take pride in their work.

Recently, Esther Schindler addressed a similar question, as applies to a slightly different context. How do you get colleagues to do what needs to be done when they do not report to you and do not have the option of compelling them to do it.

Schindler is describing these kinds of situations:

For example, you might be working on a new advertising campaign, but you need somebody in Legal to sign off on it. Or you can’t go any further on writing the quarterly report until you get spreadsheets from someone in Accounting and performance statistics from Engineering. You can’t complete your project plan without it.

What do  you do, she asks, when the other person in the other department is not especially motivated to respond to your request. He may be busy; he may have other priorities; he may not especially care about you; he may have had a fight with his teenage daughter that morning.

One thing is certain: whatever reason he has for not doing what you need to have him do, you will not motivate him by telling him to search his soul and discover why he isn’t doing what you want him to do. He will probably just come up with the fact that it isn’t what he really, really wants to do, so why should he?

In other words, therapy is not the answer. It isn’t even the question. It’s insulting. Worse yet, it promotes dysfunction.

In the best of circumstances, Schindler explains, you will have foreseen this contingency and will have cultivated relationships with the people you are now asking to contribute to your enterprise. You will have taken the time and made the effort to get to know the people, to befriend them, to show them some kindnesses and even to do them a favor or two.

If the guy in accounting has never heard of you, does not know who you are, feels that you have slighted him… good luck getting him to send along the information you need promptly.

But, what if you have been slightly derelict in cultivating relationships throughout the organization? Now, what do you do?

First, Schindler says, ask in person. Assuming that the two of you are working in the same building, this is always a good idea. The personal touch makes your colleague feel that you esteem him as a fellow human being. The gesture of respect is likely to elicit an equal and opposite gesture of respect.

If you cannot show up in person, a telephone call is more personal than an email and an email is more personal than a text message.

If your colleague still does not do what is needed, Schindler recommends a follow-up meeting… in person.

She quotes an authoritative friend:

“I would make the request politely,” one friend told me. “Then I would show up in person the next day, with a big grin and happy expectations all over my face. When the person said the task wasn’t done, my smile would collapse. I’d stare at my shoes, look really crestfallen, and plead that I really need it and please can they do it and what can I do to help them get it done. I’d try to get them to say something (anything) that I could do to help them get my request done. If they said something, I’d do it immediately.”

Note the emphasis on politeness. There is no place for anger, testiness, demands, blame, accusations or guilt tripping. If your colleague cannot get the job done, you should ask what you can do to help.

If all else fails, Schindler’s friend continues, ask whether there is someone else who can perform the task.

The next tactic involves reciprocity. Ask not what your colleague can do for you; ask what you can do for your colleague. Offer to help; offer to do a favor; let it be known that once the task is accomplished you will invite the person to lunch or coffee.

Or, less tangibly:

If you offer to share your expertise, area of knowledge, access to resources, the individual will recognize that you’re trying to save her time on her regular tasks; that frees up her time … to devote to you.

Otherwise, you might ask the colleague to provide you with information that will allow you to do it yourself. And don’t forget to explain how this job fits in with the larger scheme of things:

“Approach it as if you are gathering valuable information from them, and you are not asking them to do the work,” advises business and career coachLaura Lee Rose. “Share your current situation, and ask their advice on how to go about accomplishing it. Ask them what they think your next step should be.” People often give their opinions and advice freely, Rose points out; take advantage of this human trait.

Then, Schindler recommends that you appeal to their better natures, their loyalty to the team… the company. You are not asking them to do something for you; you are asking them to contribute to the general good. Don’t make it personal.

And don’t take a delay personally:

If the person works at the same company as you do (as opposed to, say, an outside contractor), at some level he should be aware that the organization benefits (in revenue or some other measure) by the successful completion of this project. That is, establish the value to the individual of what you are doing. Ultimately, your project should result in financial gain for the company in some way; communicate that as something valuable to the co-worker.

Naturally, flattery is often an excellent motivator. Make the person feel like an expert who can contribute something valuable. Surely, he will not do his best work if you treat him as a cog in the machine:

Tell the individual why he’s the expert you need, with appreciation and respect. “The goal is to approach your colleague with patience and understanding, and a little bit of flattery,” says freelance journalist Danny Groner. “Don’t make them feel like they are being manipulated, however. Something like, ‘I wanted to call on your expert eye for graphic design for a project I’m working on. Do you have a moment?’” Then the individual won’t feel like he’s doing you a favor; rather, he’ll recognize that he is the best person to chime in the subject at hand.


Anonymous said...

Advice like this has value, but there is a downside. It's about manipulating people and that's not always so good.

Ideally, we should be candid and upfront about things. Of course, there are times when we resort to other means.

Anyway, manipulation should be the last resort, not the preferred way of doing things.

David Foster said...

An important subject; I may write a more substantial comment on it later. Largely missing from the article is that the internal service providers you are asking to do work for you...the lawyer or the graphics artist or the programmer...aren't otherwise usually working on their OWN work; they're working on other projects that other people have asked them to do. The issue is one of priorities. The right approach to relationship-building and request-phrasing can make a difference in many cases, but organizational design is very, very important here. If you have 3 graphics artists and 30 engineers working for centralized graphics and engineering departments, the problem of getting something done will be quite different from in a value-stream or federally-decentralized organization in which individual graphics artists and engineers are assigned to a particular product initiative, either on a temporary project basis or on an ongoing basis.

Ares Olympus said...

Good topic, and lots of room for learning.

I see there may be some (lost) virtue in the "authoritarian approach", especially to get someone to try something new, that is to say, if you wait until someone feels confident in a new task, they may never want to try it, so you need to help them get over the hump. So if I say "do this", I'm also say "I'm taking responsibility for your success, you just need to try." and some fraction of the time that can work.

I consider this especially in regards to physical skills that take practice, thus the ideal of "coaching" arises, someone who can give you an explicit set of steps to reach a goal, whether your goal, or a task assigned to you. And I remember reading somewhere that it takes a certain number of repetitions to learn a new task.

But the second side of that is you often don't want tasks done purely mechanically, just following rigid procedures, but want adaptability also, and that requires freedom to use autonomy in how tasks are performed, as long as the needed results are created.

I also remember there were studies that said money was a motivator to some point at least for work that requires creativity, that is the point where you don't need to worry about money, BUT also not more than that, where high-performance for high-rewards produces worse results than ordinary rewards.

Anyway, the biggest issue for me might be a "freedom to fail" or freedom to make mistakes, so any situation where I have to learn to do something new and perform perfectly, I'm going to basically error on the side of being too slow, and if you call me out on being too slow, I'll give up, unless I can see its okay to make mistakes.

I think of speed-chess, which I absolutely hated, but once I accepted it was possible to lose a game in 5 minutes rather than an hour, I found it fun, since I had more chances to start over when I made mistakes.

But back to leadership, it does seem to me that managers I've known, those who haven't been professionally trained, always error on being too soft, too lenient on solid standards or calling out failure.

I think of the Four Agreements as a good step for leaders or followers.
1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
2. Don't Take Anything Personally
3. Don't Make Assumptions
4. Always Do Your Best

A leader who is unpredictable or inconsistent won't be trusted. A leader who sees your mistakes as a stain on them, will overreact to mistakes. A leader who fails to communicate clearly and verify agreements will cause stress. And a leader who is afraid to show his own mistakes will teach others to hide theirs as well.

I like the idea that leaders set standards, and work to help everyone bridge the gaps between intention and result, and thus requires being a good mirror, showing what you see without distortion. But on the other side, confidence is needed, and so some manipulation or coercion can be useful to help people try something new, and so a leader has to be willing to carry some negative projections a while.

I've paid attention and seen more than I've had courage and success in my little efforts. But seeing things from a leader's point of view also helps give sympathy when someone is bossing you around too! :)