Expert advice on Business Leadership and tips on becoming a more effective Leader.

Managing to Improve: 10 Areas or Emphasis for Workplace Leaders By Bill Blades

About 85 percent of all managers in North America became managers without prior education to become one – I’m sure you can imagine how well that often goes. Time spent away from the office at trade shows offers a good chance to review what makes a good manager. The majority of traits I see in need of improvement usually include the following.

Look in the mirror

The CEO is too easy: Leadership is sometimes hard and sometimes soft, but I find most CEOs are far too lax on the next layer of management down. The various reasons include not being gutsy enough, don’t know how to counsel professionally and even promoting favoritism. Tell them the truth when you should. If you don’t, it’s called conflict avoidance, which may be construed as weakness. Then the executive group might do the same with everyone else. It starts at the top. As Harry Truman said-the buck stops here.

Communication: Whether in our personal or business lives, the first thing that causes divisiveness is a breakdown in communication. Communication either just stops or becomes short and to the point. It comes with no coffee, no sincerity and very little contact with the person. Seven of 10 people lose their jobs due to a lack of communication. It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

If a co-worker stops talking to you, you should immediately visit the person and ask if you’ve done something wrong, and always ask for the truth. Also, remember that people are more relaxed when they’re either lying down or sitting over a beverage or meal. Since you don’t want the person lying down in your office, I suggest you conduct the meeting over coffee. Even Lipton employees have meetings with coffee.

Absolutes: Once a decision has been made, share with your group that “this is an absolute. By that, I mean failure is not an option.” From that day forward, using the word “absolute” -will have a profound effect. From Gen. Eisenhower’s D-Day “We go,” President Kennedy’s “We will place a man on the moon and bring him back safely to Earth” or Gen. Schwartzkopf’s briefing on Iraq, “We will cut its head off,” there was no question as to who was in charge and an all out effort was required by everyone. What’s the one big absolute you need to share with your group-now?

Micro-managing: If you want to kill creativity and enthusiasm, don’t let your group “get on with it” without your approval on every piece of the puzzle. Micro-managing is similar to the newspaper headline that read “Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge.” Oh, the mediocre people won’t mind your meddling, but the really good ones will hate it-and probably leave you twisting in the wind eventually. It’s smart to follow-up, but dumb to control everything carefully.

Make the time to think

Brain challenge: Most of us can do our jobs with one arm. Perhaps even with one arm and one leg. Yet, the No. 1 thing that managers, and their staff, have to offer is their brain. Yet, I hardly ever see anyone really thinking enough? They are too busy just “doing.” And very little creativity comes through high-speed motion. Slow it down by taking at least four hours a week just to think.

I suggest you challenge every person that reports to you to provide a monthly report. It can include the following topics: what am I doing that I shouldn’t be doing, what am I not doing that I should be doing and a minimum of one high quality, creative idea to boost sales, teamwork, morale and whatever else that might be a challenge or priority. Plus, help them implement the suggestions.

One-on-one development: Every person reporting to you can become a minimum of 25 percent more effective. Often, they don’t know how to, so it becomes your responsibility to pinpoint their areas of improvement and arrange for any necessary assistance.

If improvements require an outside resource, they can become either an expense or a great investment. It will be a cost if you don’t hold the individual accountable for acting on the new skills she received. Hold her accountable and it will become a great investment.

Personal growth: I’m talking about you here. Your dedication to personal growth earns you the right to ask others to improve. The first area to conduct an assessment is communication. It’s still the No. I reason why very bright leaders flounder. Ask a few people who will tell you the truth on how well you are communicating.

Then, what’s the next area to assess? What’s after that? Even with you, it’s still called continuous improvement. Even schoolteachers seek improvement according to a recent headline that read: “Sex Education Delayed, Teachers Request Training.”

Time utilization: Time is our real currency and we need to treat it as such. The average executive is interrupted 50 to 80 times daily. Let’s just use 50 and say each interruption is only 5 minutes. That’s four hours that’s lost a day. We’re paid to think and you cannot effectively do so if you don’t block out quiet time. I suggest you pick certain hours where no interruptions are allowed and instead designate it as time just to think.

My best thinking time is when I first wake up in the morning because there’s nothing else to interfere with my thoughts. Here’s an idea: Stay home one day a month just to think and plan. No interruptions. It’s the same as going to the office on Saturday for four hours. You get two days of work done, right?

Taking stock of inventory

Favorites: One of the worst mistakes a manager makes is a bad hiring decision. The error is then compounded by allowing that person to remain on the payroll. This is also bad for overall morale. The only thing worse than employee turnover is when there’s none of it when there should be. I recently suggested an employer discharge an employee for non-performance. He said, “Bill, I would but I am afraid he would go to work for our competitor.” Duh! “That’s where you want him to go,” I replied. Still, the CEO liked him, regardless of performance.

Even Nordstrom’s marks down slow moving merchandise-and does it fast. It doesn’t matter how much they like the outfit. No one else does, so move it at any price.

Culture: Some see this as a fluffy area… an option at best. It’s anything but that. In fact, it’s almost everything. The best culture calls for the business to be the funnest place in town to work. When work becomes fun, teamwork improves, productivity is elevated, turnover is reduced and creativity is unleashed. Of course, sales are also elevated.

Here’s a quick check to perform. is everyone eating, sleeping and breathing your mission statement? I have had more than one CEO in the last few years who couldn’t tell me his mission statement. When the CEO doesn’t embrace greatness, no matter the size of the organization, the deathbed is already being packed for shipment.

Conclusion …

We often use “management” and “leadership” as if they were the same. They are not. For you military veterans, think about the roles of drill sergeant and general. For you non-military veterans, the difference in the two of them is the former barks orders while the other thinks, plans, strategizes and rallies troops. Don’t stop payment on your reality check. I suggest you rate yourself on the above 10 skill sets and figure out which ones you’ll need to address immediately. Plus, don’t forget to be totally honest – another important leadership trait.
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Bill Blades, CMC, CPS
William Blades, LLC
1240 Red Tail Way
Cheyenne, Wyoming 82009
307-635-1989
www.WilliamBlades.com

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