“Today, no leader can afford to be indifferent to the challenge of engaging employees in the work of creating the future. Engagement may have been optional in the past, but it's pretty much the whole game today.” ~Gary Hamel
According to a 2014 Gallup poll less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014. While that is up from the previous year and the highest since Gallup began tracking engagement, the flip side is that the majority of employees are not engaged and according to the poll 14.5% were “actively disengaged”.
The Gallup poll went on to say that the highest engagement was amongst managers and executive officers and had increased over 2013 from 34.7% to 38.4%. This means that 61.6% are either not engaged or actively disengaged. So what is the effect of this disengagement on front line employees?
A 2013 survey by recruitment agency Staffbay.com found that 87.2% of employees wanted to leave their current role within 12 months and a study by Harris Interactive indicated that 74% of people would consider leaving their job. While these studies were done in 2013 they are still relevant considering the economy and job market is considerably better now than it was then. It is important to also keep in mind that talented employees are always in demand and those are the ones who will leave first.
Where does manager engagement fit into this picture? If we look at the Staffbay survey, 52.6% of their respondents said they would leave because they did not trust their boss. A CareerBuilder survey said that 37% had poor opinions of their boss, and a recent Gallup study reported that about 50% of the more than 7K surveyed said they left a job “to get away from their manager.” Clearly there is a problem with today’s management, but what is the solution?
Identify & Select
“I think that if you ask what's made us successful, it's because we've been fortunate enough to identify, in a number of cases, great people early. Then we throw all the resources behind them and are aligned with them.” ~Dan Levitan
Poor or bad managers cost companies billions because they directly impact employee engagement and turnover. The first problem is that companies tend to select individuals to manage instead of lead. Anyone can be a manager, but being a leader takes a completely different skillset. Getting the work done and making the numbers are important but they are not the end all be all because those costs are easy to measure. What is harder to measure is the lost potential productivity by employees who are disengaged by their poor manager and the staggering cost of turnover. Instead of selecting managers based solely on their ability to get the work done or make the “numbers”, companies need to define what skills make for good leaders and select based on a mix.
Train & Develop
Once the individual with the right mix of leadership and management skill is identified and hired the work must continue with robust training and development. Too often, after hiring a manager the individual left to their own devices and then senior management wonders why they have so many problems or their great hire failed. It cannot be assumed just because someone knows how to land the sale they know how to lead other people. Leadership is learned and if a person has never had good leadership they can’t be expected to know what it looks like. New managers need to have a structured process to develop them into strong leaders.
“Accountability breeds response-ability.” ~Stephen Covey
It seems simple but it holding people accountable seems to be one of the biggest challenges for organizations because accountability really starts with setting clear expectations. Setting clear expectations involves more than just stating what you want the end result to be, it also involves clarifying the how, when, and what happens if the expectation is not met. Finally it involves actually following through and holding the individual accountable. This should be truer for leaders as they set the example for everyone else.
“Not everything that can be measured matters and not everything that matters can be measured.” ~Einstein
Metrics are important but only if value and action comes from them. Something must be done with the data that is collected. Their tends to be two extremes when it comes to metrics, either nothing is being measured and thus opportunities for improvement and re-alignment are being missed, or everything is being counted but nothing is being done with the data because there is either too much or it has just become an exercise in collection for collections sake.
When it comes to leadership metrics the first step is to define what counts and then separate them from other business metrics like financials etc. The second step is to define how they will be used. Here it is important not to fall in the trap of collecting data for collections sake but actually using it.
All of these things should yield results in the form of employee retention and satisfaction. Those things will in turn result in greater productivity and a better bottom line. It all starts with identifying the right leaders. Develop them so that they are actively engaged. Expect them to set the right example. Establish metrics that count and hold them accountable.
*Image courtesy of cooldesign/freedigitalphotos.net
Many managers believe that it is enough to show up and be seen, but then this is why I refer to them as managers and not leaders. Leadership require more than just showing up, it requires engagement; but if a manager doesn’t know what engagement looks like chances are they are missing opportunities to move from manager to leader.
In a recent GALLUP article by Randall Beck and Jim Harter, they state that only 30% of U.S. employees are engaged and cite managers for being the primary cause. While every manager may not be a great leader it would be remiss to assume they don’t want to be and it is more likely that they don’t know how to be a great leader.
So what is a manager to do? Here are 5 simple things they can start doing right away to be more engaged.
1. Say good morning. When is the last time you walked around and said good morning to all of your employees? It seems simple, and it is, yet many leaders come in and head straight for their office. If you can do it every day great, if not, try for once a week. If you say “Good morning, have a great day.” It will have an amazing effect on your employees.
2. Recognize and Compliment. Don’t assume your employees know they are doing a good job; tell them! Look for opportunities to recognize the contributions your employees make to the organization and not just the big ones, the small ones count too. Remember, no news is not always good news.
3. Meet one on one. If there is one thing you need to start doing if you’re not already is to meet with your employee’s one on one. Have them schedule 15-30 minutes with you weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Make the time about them, not you by always asking questions like: What are you working on; what are your roadblocks, what can I do for you; what should I stop doing.
4. Walk around and ask questions. I don’t mean “what are you working on” or “what the status of X project is”, ask questions to make a personal connection. “How was your weekend ”,“How are your kids/spouse/significant other”. Leaders need to be seen and that lends itself to making personal connections with your employees. As with number one, you may not be able to do it every day but you should do it at least once a week. Put it on your calendar.
5. Listen more, talk less. You cannot speak and listen at the same time, listening takes effort and focus. Apply this to 1-4 and you will be well on your way to better engagement with your employees.
Remember that if you want to have engaged employees you have to be an engaged leader. The more engaged you are with them, the more engaged they will be and the less likely they are to leave you and the organization.
*Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Many managers believe that it is enough to show up and be seen, but then this is why I refer to them as managers and not leaders. Leadership require more than just showing up, it requires engagement; but if a manager doesn’t know what engagement looks like chances are they are missing opportunities to move from manager to leader. In a recentAnthony T. Eaton Articles Employee relations
If you monitored the United States’ presidential election process or the corporate woes of Nokia and Research in Motion as they try to recover what were formerly massive stakes in the cellular phone market, then you realize that worthwhile change, even when planned, is neither simple nor easy; it is complex and difficult. Organizations struggling most with change, therefore, seem to be the ones that also struggle most with innovative thinking. Successful organizational changes are possible – just not as clear-cut and idealistic as some management books and journal articles would lead you to believe. Many readers can likely recall an encounter with an Organizational Development (OD) consultant ending with a forgotten, polished report. Separated by time and distance from the change implementation process, the projects appeared clean and clear recipes for new life. But, just as recipes are ineffective if the proper ingredients are not gathered in the correct measurements, at the right time, and combined by the proper tools, so change-management plans are also ineffective if misdirected and misapplied.
Organizational leaders, with or without the aid of consultants, are responsible for these spectacular changes or disasters. C-suite leaders are routinely hired and fired with the understanding that they will bring the “magic” that makes change work, resulting in innovation, efficiency, increased brand value and earnings, reduced turnover, and improved talent acquisition. Surely, useful methods for successful change exist and are routinely highlighted by change-management experts. Still, there are also obstacles that hinder change management – some errors of commission, others of omission, and they primarily affect individuals on the receiving end of leaders’ visions for change. Among these obstacles, any which makes or breaks follower buy-in is nonnegotiable. It must be addressed well. When unaccounted for, these organizational booby-traps trip up unaware interventionists and halt progress – to the often repeated rate of 70% failure.
Two coalescing perspectives of the change process have dominated OD: Kurt Lewin’s (1890-1947) three-step approach and, more recently, Chris Argyris’ (1923-) theory of intervention and double-loop learning. For Lewin, change processes consisted of:
1) unfreezing the present condition,
2) changing to a new condition as favorable affections replace affections for the old condition, and
3) refreezing the process by which the new condition becomes established.
Essentially, the need for change is realized, desired, and then consistently pursued after a semblance of acceptance for the change is obtained. Argyris’ theory built upon Lewin’s model by introducing discussion about persistent evaluation. In short, he promoted what is called systems thinking, which examines the foundational issues for why problems arise, promoting change at that level. For instance, in collecting performance data, this would mean not only examining the collected data, but it would also entail critiquing the data collection process i.e. Were the correct data collected and the means of collection proper? The point is that alleviating symptoms is not a long-term strategy for successful OD. Leaders need to address root causes – the metaphorical infection causing the sore throat. Effective leaders manage these change efforts like skirmishes comprising a war campaign. For each, they rally their troops’ morale, negotiate resources and leverage competencies, study the benefits and drawbacks of the environment, and assess costs. Such accounting is needed every step of the way because, if not recognized as an opportunity to be well-prepared, each aspect may become a potential obstacle for followers’ change readiness.
The approach most leaders take, resulting in that dismal 30% success rate, is one of firefighting. They see change as inviting resistance, and so they prepare for resistance and learn to “put out fires” along the way. Their fact-pattern is:
Followers naturally react to change, or the idea of change. It is often a matter of perceived control. Some feel they lose while others feel they can only benefit from the change. Successfully timing change events, therefore, requires leaders to monitor followers’ motivations and evidence of growing dissatisfaction with the present situation and greater affinity for the proposed change (willingness to complete additional work, spend extra time onsite, work jointly in cross-functional teams, etc.). These signs indicate readiness for change. Unilateral action should replace politicking when the coalition in favor of change is strong and vocal.
Leaders do not have to settle for such adversarial change-management scenarios. Those projects will exhaust all factions and exacerbate organizational tensions. Instead, leaders ought to seek improvement in organizational relationships throughout the change-management process. These events bring leader-follower tensions and underlying assumptions to the surface, and so they are prime opportunities to address misalignments and strengthen understanding of the organization’s unifying mission while improving operations. The following list of ingredients for effective change management will increase the likelihood of change “sticking” and the organization improving.
1. Organization assessment
Even novice organizations have endured change efforts, and so leaders can look to history for the strengths and weaknesses evidenced in past events, considering: Are the parties to change the same? What cultural barriers remain or have arisen since? Is this change bigger or smaller in scope than past changes? Is this change necessary? How likely will we survive this change? Are there alternatives?
2. Developed vision
Without guidance, change efforts fail. Leaders are responsible for developing the vision for what change will bring – incorporating the needs and expectations of followers and answering and overcoming their concerns. Visions need to clearly describe the organization’s problem as well as inspire followers in counting the cost of change, concluding what is to come is better and more desirable that what is at hand. Fear is another strong motivator; and, when used honorably, powerful visions of negative consequences for failing to change provide additional motivation.
3. Severed ties
In his seminal work, Reflections on the Revolution in France, British statesman Edmund Burke (1791) wrote, “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” His point was that the reform process recognizes institutions’ need for innovation, but such innovations improve institutions only if they uphold the institutions’ purposes. Strong ties to the past are good when anchoring policy decisions, but they must serve the organizational mission. When they do not do that, leaders must help followers disconnect from former ways of operating. As confusion can overtake and divide followers who may wonder whether leaders are hijacking the organization, leaders must be careful. Consider the strife caused by differences in American churches undergoing changes in worship styles. Research shows that shared resolve to change across diverse groups is yoked to successful change implementation. Thus, the more readily the status quo can be questioned by followers, the sooner the organization can adapt to present circumstances.
In 1949, the infamous Mann Gulch fire took the lives of thirteen smokejumpers. The wildfire was unassuming, until drastic changes in the environment caused it to erupt into an inferno of death. Because of their quick-thinking, three men survived. Organizational leaders must recognize the level of immediacy required not only to motivate change, but also understand and effectively communicate the threshold after which change will no longer be possible without grave consequences (cost-prohibitive, lost market share, lost talent, agreement deadlines, etc.).
5. Strong leadership
Strong leaders effectively motivate followers to change given the particulars of a situation. Such leaders often have know-how related to the change event and are respected by the followers involved in it. They are crucial for gaining followers’ support and preference, meaning that followers give such leaders the benefit of the doubt when judging whether the leaders actually considered followers’ good before recommending and guiding change.
6. Key follower sponsorship
Depending on the size of your organization, the primary leader may need to secure the support of and then charge certain followers to become secondary leaders. The further removed the primary leader is from those immediately involved in the required changes, the more important it becomes to have leaders in closer proximity also actively supporting change. Distance creates uncertainty, which dissolves trust – a key resource leveraged by successful leaders. Leaders closer to the action should be better equipped to secure the necessary commitment. But, such leaders must have strong rapport with their followers, or their involvement will be counterproductive.
7. Clear implementation plan
If followers are persuaded but provided with no details of who is responsible for what tasks and outcomes, when such will take place, and how the effort should proceed, along with clearly defined lines of communication for decision-making and mechanisms for follower-feedback and readjustments midcourse, then they will likely become anxious, disengaged, and frustrated. The best plans generate follower ownership and elicit immediate action, having been co-developed with followers’ input from the beginning.
8. Enabled followers
Smooth change occurs when followers have power commensurate with their responsibility. Have you ever been tasked with a responsibility for which you were not equipped? Such inadequate empowerment results in follower stress. In the United States, stress leads to losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Leaders, therefore, need to support and champion their followers, providing them with the resources and organizational support to achieve reasonable outcomes. It is an unfair – and likely to be opposed – change effort which expects from followers what they are incapable of providing (not having access to reasonable resources, required authorizations, vital information, key contacts, etc.). Early adopters, properly empowered, can prove decisive as to whether change sticks or slips.
9. Communication, collaboration, and credibility
Socrates’ statement, “Speak, that I may know thee,” illustrates the important role of communication in manifesting intent. Followers look to leaders for direction and encouragement. Leaders must honor this relationship where they are yielded influence by providing reliability and demonstrating integrity in how they manage the change process – telling the truth even when it means conveying uncertainty as well as less-than-flattering news about the change process proceedings. Collaborating with key followers in communication efforts will help the truth permeate follower constituencies so that rumors are ineffective. Additionally, it will improve trust between followers and top leaders, as followers will hear confirming information from the secondary leaders. Leaders should embrace dialogue, especially when it permits them the opportunity to strengthen followers’ clarity about the organization’s mission.
By highlighting successes along the way in the change process, leaders can help cement positive attitudes about the change in followers’ minds. Some followers may be skeptical, but they will eventually support the change if they continually see their peers and leaders rewarded (financially, socially, emotionally, etc.) for positive engagement. Since development entails the idea of continuousness, reinforcement should not focus on the change specifics; rather, it should promote the culture recognizing the need for change and proactively engaging to strengthen the organization given environmental particulars.
Ultimately, leaders must think through their organization’s situation with humility, being open to correction and advice. In doing so, they will earn their followers’ trust and mitigate many concerns about what change means for their futures.
The change-management approach described above is akin to culture-management. The ability to successfully change an organization for greater effectiveness depends on the organization’s ethos – the thinking patterns of its people. Consider this: research shows the failure of change leaders to address this critical concern is listed as a major reason why 80% of corporate mergers and acquisitions fail. The unasked questions driving success or failure in change efforts are: Can we adapt, improve, innovate, and lead? If not, can we become an organization that does? The ten ingredients provided acknowledge this organizational need for leaders and followers who yoke themselves to the future, understanding the times and honoring the past by properly addressing present and future circumstances. In so doing, they create more collaborative environments where change processes produce fruit rather than thorns.
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About the author:
David Stehlik is an independent strategy consultant and in Regent University’s doctoral program in strategic leadership. He received his B.A. from Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, MI and MBA from the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, IN.
Removing the Bitter Taste of Change-10 Ingredients for Organizational Transformation You Can Stomach
If you monitored the United States’ presidential election process or the corporate woes of Nokia and Research in Motion as they try to recover what were formerly massive stakes in the cellular phone market, then you realize that worthwhile change, even when planned, is neither simple nor easy; it is complex and difficult. Organizations struggling most with change, therefore, seemDavid Stehlik Articles
Think about Oz and the love you may have for the 1939 movie or the 1900 book portraying the story of the Wizard of Oz. Or, you may have read one or more of the thirteen Oz sequels written by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). But, few realize that there are a set of lessons for developing leadership abilities based on the story’s content and the history, life, and times of the story’s creative and entrepreneurial author—a man who served in roles as actor, breeder of rare chickens, director, gardener, lyricist, merchant, movie producer, philatelist, photographer, playwright, printer and newspaper publisher, salesman, theater manager, window dresser, and, of course, celebrated author. Enter The Way of Oz: A Guide for Wisdom, Heart, and Courage and its roadmap for leadership development and travels down the yellow brick road of life.
Now, imagine the characters of Oz bearing special symbolism for learning, loving, serving, focusing on the future, and humility. You might imagine the associations: the Scarecrow for wisdom and learning, the Tin Woodman for heart or loving, the Cowardly Lion for courage and service, Dorothy for leadership and a focus on the future, and the Wizard for humility and related virtues. For the purposes of this short essay let’s focus on Dorothy and her character as a metaphor for a future focus and leadership. At end we’ll see how a focus on the future and leadership are tied inextricably to the characteristics imbedded of the other major players of the Wizard of Oz masterpiece.
Dorothy in The Way of Oz is the leadership person—the character with a focus on the future—the character who brings out the best in others through understanding, heart and her own courage—all cast in a spirit of kindness and service. And, with Dorothy’s savvy about personal and institutional planning, diversity, sustainability, scientific and political understanding, and personal responsibility—she is a character who makes significant differences in the lives of others—men, women and creatures alike! Dorothy in The Way of Oz also knows how to detect and deter life’s wicked witches, both of the internal (e.g., self-doubt, imposter syndrome) and external (e.g., aggressive, manipulative and envious co-workers, friends or family members) varieties.
Through The Way of Oz, we learn about Dorothy’s approach to personal planning, involving integrated learning and scholarship, personal environmental scanning, selective volunteerism—all while drawing on the wisdom of teachers and mentors, and connecting learning and wisdom through caring and service.
The 21st Century Dorothy also understands institutional strategic planning and its components: vision, mission, environmental context, goals and objectives (directed through implementation strategies and articulated challenges), group oversight and shared understanding, and benchmarking integrated with periodic reporting and results-driven revisions of plans.
In The Way of Oz, Dorothy accentuates the best in colleagues and institutions through her understanding of the mosaic model of diversity and the importance of science and political insight for developing policy and actions related to sustainability. She is also wise in her comprehension of secular democracies and their power to serve our worldwide community.
On the “personal responsibility front,” Dorothy of The Way of Oz is empowered by determination, persistence, priority consciousness, critical thinking, and complex reasoning—all with ethics in the lead. She is also able to manage life’s time—systematically and sensibly.
Our modern Dorothy’s focus on the future is powerful because it is cast through an archetypal story written by a man who, despite his foibles and frailties, knew how to relate to others in unique ways. In other words, Frank Baum made a difference and The Way of Oz can make a difference in many peoples’ lives—particularly in the area of leadership development.
Thus, the Way of Oz approach to leading, involving personal planning, integrated learning and scholarship, personal environmental scanning, and selective volunteerism, fortified by organizational strategic planning, an understanding of diversity, science and political insight to guide decisions about sustainability, and personal responsibility—all with ethics in lead—prepares one for a life of personal and professional fulfillment. These elements of the Way of Oz and the new book of the same name—enriched by the creative graphics of Dusty Higgins and video content portraying leadership roles of students, faculty, and staff in universities as one segment of society—can make a significant difference in lives of seekers and future leaders of our world community. Many have found—in these thoughts—the true magic of The Way of Oz. Consider joining us!
Below are the main characters in The Way of Oz as conceived by Dusty Higgins. See if you can identify them all?
About the author:
Robert V. Smith serves as Provost and Senior Vice President at Texas Tech University (TTU). He has oversight responsibility for fourteen colleges and schools, along with the libraries and several other academically related units and programs.
He is the author or co-author of more than 320 articles and nine books. The Way of Oz: A Guide to Wisdom, Heart, and Courage (Texas Tech University Press, 2012) is available in hard cover, paperback, and electronic versions in all electronic formats. You can find out more about Robert Smith and his book at http://www.thewayofoz.com/index.htm
Think about Oz and the love you may have for the 1939 movie or the 1900 book portraying the story of the Wizard of Oz. Or, you may have read one or more of the thirteen Oz sequels written by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). But, few realize that there are a set of lessons for developing leadership abilities based on the story’s content and the history, life, and times of the story’s creativeRobert V. Smith Articles
Abraham Lincoln had an uncanny ability to predict behavior. For example, when Lincoln was President, he told one of his associates how every member of Congress would vote on a particular bill. To make the point, he wrote down what their votes would be. Sure enough, when the votes were tallied, Lincoln was on target for virtually every vote cast.
How did he do this?
No magic or superhuman powers were involved. Lincoln used resources that are within the reach of anyone, and with a bit of practice, you can use them effectively, too.
In general, behavior can be predicted in terms of a person's interests, group identity, character, and unconscious needs. Entire books have been written on this subject, but here's a brief overview:
1. Interests. Interests have to do with one's own benefit or advantage; the focus is on the basic question, "What's in this for me?" If you're trying to predict a person's (or a group's) behavior, evaluate whether they will experience profit or loss, pleasure or pain from the outcome. Lincoln dealt mainly with politicians and lawyers, who habitually make these kinds of calculations. However, this approach is not foolproof because humans are more than human calculators. People sometimes behave irrationally--that is, they do not behave in their own best interests. So, you will have to include more than interests to become good at predictions.
2. Group Identity. What groups do the individuals belong to or identify with? Do they think of themselves as Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, independents, Christians, gang members, labor or management? Sociologists call this "reference-group behavior." Ralph Waldo Emerson, a contemporary of Lincoln whose work Lincoln knew about, wrote: "If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument." Lincoln certainly took political affiliation (i.e. "sect") into the aforementioned calculation. You can see this principle at work by looking at the party affiliation of the votes that are cast for particular bills in Congress. Whenever there is a deviation from sect affiliation, the decision will usually be based on interests.
3. Unconscious Needs. Sigmund Freud discovered that behavior is sometimes neither rational nor irrational, but arational. Lincoln, of course, lived long before Freud, and did not use this concept as such in his predictions. But if you want to become a skillful forecaster, be aware that some behavior will seem to come out of nowhere. The source may be memories of experiences that are buried deep in the individual's unconscious mind--buried, but not dead.
4. Character. Is the individual basically honest or dishonest, industrious or an idler, kind or a bully? An honest man may yield to temptation, but a dishonest man will look for it. An industrious man will take pride in his work. An idler will take pride in avoiding it. A kind man may be unkind, but regret it; a bully will be unkind and enjoy it.
Simply put, character is a blend of genetics and deeply rooted habits. Emerson wrote: "I suppose no man can violate his nature….A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza; read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing."
Lincoln's character was well known. Lincoln was Honest Abe. He got this name because people learned that if you dealt with Lincoln, he would not deceive you or cheat you.
If you want to predict behavior, do what Lincoln did, and observe carefully to see if the person is basically honest or deceitful, a giver or a taker, diligent or careless. Once you understand a person's character, you will seldom be surprised by their behavior.
One quick story about character. Once there was a scorpion that wanted to cross a river. Seeing a frog, the scorpion asked the frog if he could ride on his back across the river.
"I can't do that," replied the frog, "because if you rode on my back, you would sting me and I would die."
"Why would I sting you?" answered the scorpion. "It is not in my best interest to sting you. If I stung you, we would both drown."
"That's true," said the frog, who then allowed the scorpion to climb on his back.
In the middle of the river, the frog felt a sharp sting in his back.
"Why have you stung me," screamed the frog in pain. "It is not in your best interest to sting me."
Replied the scorpion: "Because it is my nature to sting. You knew what I was when you let me ride on your back."
About the author:
Gene Griessman is a professional speaker, executive coach, and author of The Words Lincoln Lived By and co-author of Lincoln Speaks To Leaders: 20 Powerful Lessons From America's 16th President, with Pat Williams and Peggy Matthews Rose. Griessman's website is http://www.presidentlincoln.com.
Abraham Lincoln had an uncanny ability to predict behavior. For example, when Lincoln was President, he told one of his associates how every member of Congress would vote on a particular bill. To make the point, he wrote down what their votes would be. Sure enough, when the votes were tallied, Lincoln was on target for virtually every vote cast.Gene Griessman, Ph.D. Articles
What if servant leadership had not been initially labeled servant leadership? How many times has this been pondered as this value-laden leadership concept evolved? And why does the name itself present an impediment for implementation, empirical researching, and overall comprehension? Could we not argue that the oxymoronic implication the terminology suggests has hindered the spirited and necessary debate within leadership, management and organizational behavioral circles, both academic and anecdotal, to nearly subjugate this important leadership theory to others such as transformational or authentic leadership?
This brief essay is not intended to offer substantiated results of exhaustive research that are based on testing terminologies and definitions in an effort to “poll”, if you will, labels that might be less controversial. But when most – at least in my experience – conversations about servant leadership begin with an obligatory and extensive discussion on the terminology itself rather than on the characteristics of the theory, it causes me to wonder what if our beloved founder, Mr. Greenleaf, had selected another term. Of course one could make the argument that a conversation on the definition of the term aids the overall explanation of the theory. But I will leave that debate for another day.
So what is it specifically about the term servant leadership that creates a barrier to further understanding? I believe that the challenges are primarily three-fold: the contradiction inherent in the term, the religious connotations that are implied and the lack of operational clarity offered by the theory’s title. I offer the suggestion that a slight adjustment to the theory terminology e.g. the name of it could open the door to further acceptance within the wider community.
Servant and its entomological cousin, service, by its very definition imply assuming an inferior position to a master or leader. Those who are either in positions of leadership or those who aggressively seek these offices (which causes its own set of servant leadership implementation issues) are immediately disengaged when they encounter passive terminology. How can one effectively and efficiently lead while taking an inferior posture. Moving past this initial barrier may be accomplished if the individual is able to transform servant into supporting or, better yet, into stewardship rather than focusing on the more stereotypical passive role of a servant.
Issues of faith are complicated within a standard corporate environment. Not only does their exist an intangible quality to one’s belief system that varies greatly across the world but also there are human resource and legal implications that have to be seriously considered which makes the discussion of religion taboo within most situations. The frequent use of the term servant within religious circles as well as the well-used example of Jesus Christ as the pinnacle of servant leadership has given the impression to many that servant leadership is strictly a faith based approach to leadership and may work in those arenas but not in a serious business environment.
Compounding this issue is the servant leadership community itself. There have been many academic programs that have emerged that teach servant leadership and have attempted to define the theory for future research. Many of these “centers” have emerged at faith-based institutions that teach the subject within a biblical context. Certainly there are moral parallels within servant leadership that align well with religious instructions but until the servant leadership community matures past “do these things because they are the right thing to do” and into demonstrating compelling, measurable increases in output; the theory will continue to remain primarily anecdotal.
Finally, the term does not provide implicit instructions on how to implement the style. Authentic leadership means to lead authentically. Transformational leadership means to lead by transforming. When our hypothetical corporate leader stumbles across servant leadership, although those of us within the subculture know that it means to lead by serving, to the CEO this immediately brings up connotations of inferiority which brings us back to square one of this essay. What if servant leadership was not called servant leadership?
I ask this question merely to generate conversation on a clear hindrance to the development of this wonderful leadership concept. Is it possible to alter the labeling terminology to open up the concept to further research or is the fact that the term “servant” being in the definition give the theory strength and separation from other value-laden leadership approaches? What other terms could be applied to allow the theory to gain more widespread recognition?
About the author:
JJ Musgrove is currently the Director of Donor Services, Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley in Columbus, Georgia. He joined the community foundation’s staff in April of 2011 after serving for six and a half years as the executive director of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in the same city. He has a bachelor of arts in theatre from Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, and a masters of arts in theatre from the University of Central Missouri. He is currently enrolled in the masters of organizational leadership, servant leadership track at Columbus State University. He is a featured speaker on arts administration, nonprofit leadership and fundraising, and value-laden leadership theories. He is a member of the Greenleaf Center on servant leadership and serves on the panels of the Columbus Cultural Arts Alliance and the Georgia Council for the Arts.
What if servant leadership had not been initially labeled servant leadership? How many times has this been pondered as this value-laden leadership concept evolved? And why does the name itself present an impediment for implementation, empirical researching, and overall comprehension? Could we not argue that the oxymoronic implication the terminology suggests has hinderJJ Musgrove Articles
"Great moments are born from great opportunities," said the late Herb Brooks, one of the world's most famous hockey coaches.
Brooks certainly seized opportunity during his career. He agreed to coach the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that beat the "unbeatable" Soviet Union in Lake Placid, New York during the famous "Miracle on Ice" game on the way to winning the gold medal. It was a modern-day "David vs. Goliath" matchup. Many coaches would refuse such an overwhelmingly difficult job. In fact, several did.
But Brooks saw opportunity in the monumental challenge of leading a bunch of young, amateur, college all-stars against the essentially professional players of the Soviet Union and other European hockey powers.
That opportunity paid off, to say the least.
Whether you're talking about sports, business or any other subject matter, seeking, finding and capitalizing on opportunity are among the most important things a professional must do.
There's one big problem with opportunity, however. It is often hard to find and even harder to harness.
"We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations," said Charles Swindoll, an American religious author.
I agree wholeheartedly with Swindoll's characterization. The best opportunities are often hidden. They are often located in places we least expect to find them and are presented by people we least expect to provide them.
That reminds me of the old story that sales managers like to share with their young trainees: "On his way back from a three-day fishing trip, a multi-millionaire visits the showroom of an upscale, luxury car dealer. The salespersons, seeing an unshaven, disheveled, poorly dressed man, essentially ignore him. Offended, the multi-millionaire buys a top-of-the-line model the next day from a direct competitor." There are a lot of ways to tell that classic missed-sales-opportunity story, but they all sound something like that.
If opportunity is so important to our success, and so difficult to find and recognize, we need to focus more of our energy on it. Unless you're naturally good at it, finding and capitalizing on opportunity needs to be a deliberate focus:
Open your eyes and ears - we can no longer afford to be indifferent, or even worse, oblivious to the world around us. Be on the lookout for ideas that could lead to new opportunities. Even more important than eyes and ears, keep your mind open too. Many of us miss opportunities, because they don't fit into our pre-existing paradigms.
Remember that all people count - sometimes we get so obsessed with the "right" people, we miss out on valuable opportunities from people, who on the surface, can do seemingly nothing for us.
Fight through the fear - one of the biggest reasons we miss out on extraordinary opportunities is because we are too afraid to leap. Herb Brooks wasn't too afraid to leap; we shouldn't be either.
Let your creative juices flow - the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Albert Szent-Gyorgi once said, "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought." The more creative you are, the more opportunity you will discover. See the world in a different way, and doing things like nobody else, and just watch the opportunities that manifest.
Take risks - As the old saying goes, "nothing risked, nothing gained." Unless you take a chance and do something new, you'll keep running into the same old opportunities.
Work really hard - "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work," said the great inventor Thomas Edison.
Set meaningful goals - make those goals specific too. The more you clarify what you really want, the quicker you will recognize it when it shows up.
Find quiet time - many people have found great opportunities, because they prayed for them or spent time meditating about them. Such activity creates focus in your mind, and a focused mind is a powerful mind.
Believe - visualize success and tell yourself that good things will come. A positive mind is more receptive to hidden opportunity.
Prepare - as the old Boy Scout motto says, "be prepared." You never know when the perfect opportunity will open up. If you're not prepared, you might not act on it quickly enough. In his autobiography, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he believes in "relentless preparation." He constantly prepares for crisis, so he will perform properly. Same thing applies to opportunity.
About the author:
Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques.You can learn more and follow his "Business Motivation Blog" at www.JeffBeals.com
"Great moments are born from great opportunities," said the late Herb Brooks, one of the world's most famous hockey coaches. Brooks certainly seized opportunity during his career. He agreed to coach the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that beat the "unbeatable" Soviet Union in Lake Placid, New York during the famous "Miracle on Ice" game on the way to winning theJeff Beals Articles
It was a warm summer day in the 1930’s and one of the greatest American baseball players of all time was at bat. The quiet, gentle man was Lou Gehrig, one of the best hitters ever to wear the uniform of the New York Yankees. His durability as a first baseman and consistent hitter earned him the nickname of the “Iron Horse”. During this day Gehrig would do something totally out of character. As the first pitch came at him, he swung and missed. “Strike One” bellowed the umpire. Then came the next pitch.
Again, the “Iron Horse” swung and missed. “Strike Two” intoned the umpire once again. On the third pitch Gehrig stood by and watched the ball pass by him without even an attempted swing. “Strike Three…your out!” the umpire shouted. Then something unusual happened! Lou Gehrig, one of the classiest men ever to play baseball and a solid gentleman slammed down his bat in disgust and was seen having a few words with the umpire. After the game, a shocked media reporter asked him what he was complaining to the umpire about. “Oh…I didn’t complain,” stated Gehrig. “I simply told him that I would give one thousand dollars for a chance at that last ball again!” Within this story is a powerful lesson for leaders to consider. Constructive accomplishment requires decision. For a leader to rely on chance or luck to be a deciding factor is to court disaster. Sometimes, the only risk is not taking one.
It is understandable that we should want to avoid making decisions for a number of reasons. First of all, it is often risky. Risk is defined as the possibility of suffering harm, loss or danger. We tend to be comfortable in our patterns and expectations. Often times making a decision means we must step out of our “comfort zone” into the unknown. Through past experience we know that even a slight shift in our course can have dramatic effects on what our lives will be. Secondly, leaders often make decisions while they are slightly ahead of the prevailing group or culture. It is often a lonely, thankless experience with little visible support. This situation is compounded when the leader has not taken the time and energy to build a strong consensus among others. Even on a personal level, we may avoid or delay making decisions about our family, careers or finances because of an aversion to risk and fear of failure.
But here is an important fact about decision-making and risk. We will frequently come to a crossroads in life or business where an important decision mustbe made. We have a choice to make. Either we make the decision, or “time and chance” will decide for us what we were unwilling to decide for ourselves! Either way, a decision will be made. The question is, will we take charge and assume greater control of the outcome, or will we allow luck or fate to determine the outcome for us? There is an old story about two men drifting on a raft traveling down the Niagara River toward the ominous Niagara Falls. They began to argue about how far they were from the falls and when they should go ashore. The argument continued…far too long. While they delayed making a decision, time made the decision for them, with unfortunate results.
An example of this situation can be seen in the recent terrorist event experienced in the United States. For many years, one event after another warned American leaders that terrorism was at our shore. The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing was a “wake up call” to a sheltered nation about the real threat of terrorism. Six people died in the blast, which caused an estimated $600 million in property and other economic damage. Trials that followed convicted six people of carrying out the attack. In 1995, an American citizen bombed a Federal Building in Oklahoma City causing the death of 168 people and injuring more than 500, making it the deadliest terrorist attack at that time in the United States. Other attacks again Americans included hijackings, embassy bombings, and assaults against American ships in harbor. It was time for leadership, and the courage to make some difficult decisions. American leaders did what democratic leaders often do in this kind of a situation. In 1996, the American Congress passed, and the President signed antiterrorism legislation to strengthen the power of the federal government to respond to both international and domestic terrorism. It was weak legislation intended to show citizens that something was being done. But it should have been time for decisive action and commitment. It would have required an enormous investment in resources and greater government scrutiny. Political leaders were unwilling to make the tough decisions. On September 11th, 2001 time decided for us what we were unwilling to decide for ourselves.
The purpose of this article is not to encourage you to lurch into ill-advised or poor decision making. Leaders should seek the facts, get advice, do the research and build support whenever possible. But there does come a time when a decision…the decision must be made. It has been said that former American President and World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower once commented, “A wrong decision is better than indecision”. Think about why a military General would have made this comment. A wrong decision is at least a choice, and if that choice is wrong there if often enough time to retrench, regroup and alter the course. However, indecision only erodes precious time and often removes the option of real choice from the decision maker. Again, sometimes the only risk is not taking one. As author and educator Gary Dessler states, “Very few decisions are forever; there is more “give” in most decisions than we realize. While many major strategic decisions are hard to reverse, most poor decisions won’t mean the end of the world for you, so don’t become frozen in the finality of your decision”. Even Lou Gehrig got a chance to bat again the very next day!
At the heart and core of leadership is also the willingness to take personal responsibility for a difficult decision. On June 6, 1944, in World War II, General Eisenhower agonized over a difficult decision to allow Allied forces to land in Normandy, France. The weather had been poor and threatened to derail the Allied assault. A window of opportunity was closing and it was time for decisive action. Eisenhower gave approval for the landing. However, he also took the time to write an announcement to be broadcast in case the landing failed and the Allies were unable to secure a beachhead. In the handwritten announcement, Eisenhower accepted full responsibility for the failure. Thankfully, it was never needed!
Many experts in management believe that not all decisions are the same. They differentiate between what they call programmed and nonprogrammeddecisions. Programmed decisions are defined as ones that are repetitive and can typically be resolved through rational analysis and mechanical procedures. It is believed that the overwhelming majority of decisions we make are programmed decisions. Standard rules of deduction can be applied to these decision types. Of course this is easier said than done! This assumes one’s thinking is rational and that the “standard rules of deduction” are sound and valid. On the other hand, nonprogrammed decisions are defined as novel and unique in nature. This includes crisis situations or when we are at a personal crossroad in life. These decisions rely heavily on our judgment and values rather than clear-cut analysis. They are typically more urgent and require greater focus. These are the tough agonizing decisions that may need to be based on incomplete information and unknown criteria. Sometimes there is no clear choice of what is right or wrong. There may be little “black and white” and mostly shades of gray. This is where we need to muster all the creativity and intuition we can find deep within ourselves. Because these nonprogrammed decisions are usually strategic, the risk and consequences can be greater.
Here are a few tips to improve your decision-making ability. Recognize the facts as they really are and not how you want to see them. It is easy to ignore or reinterpret the facts because we are looking to support a conclusion we desire. For example, those who study theology often fall prey to a problem called proof-texting. This is where the theologian first comes to aconclusion, and then looks for scriptures to support a preconceived belief. Maintain your objectivity so your decision is based on an intelligent analysis of the actual facts and not a preconceived decision. Don’t be afraid to use your intuition. This is where you unconsciously make a decision based on accumulated experience and knowledge. Having firm personal values and strong ethics add to the benefit of good intuition. Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud stated,
“When making a decision of minor importance I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of our personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”
Obviously if the deep inner needs of our nature are based on a foundation of integrity and genuine concern for others, our intuition will serve us well. Another decision-making tip is to be careful not to use shortcuts to save time. A common shortcut is called heuristics. This is used to speed up decision-making by applying “rules of thumb” to quickly reach a conclusion. For example, a senior manager may say, “I only want individuals with advanced degrees to apply for this position”. This may speed up the selection process, but may also mean the bestqualified individual is rejected. The final tip I offer is to avoid anchoring. The trait of anchoring is where we give too much credence to the first information or set of facts that we hear. This first bit of information then becomes the benchmark by which the decision will be made and later information that is contrary is minimized.
The next time you are confronted with the need to make a decision, I hope you will remember the story of Lou Gerhig. It is better to choose your own course and perhaps even go down “swinging” than to sit idly by and allow luck or chance to make the decision for you. A leader’s calling is to make the hard decisions when they are needed. Yes, there is a risk to decision-making, but there is often a greater risk when we do nothing and allow fate to decide for us. So be sure you gather the facts, get sound advice, do the necessary research and try to build support from others. Then make the decision, because sometimes the only risk is not taking one!
Comments to: email@example.com
About the author:
Greg has over 20 years of sales and marketing experience within the electrical distribution industry. Some of his positions have included being a National Sales Manager, National Marketing Manager and for the past 9 years that of Regional Sales Manager. He also has extensive experience in public speaking and has written articles for various publications. Greg has a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University where he presently serves as an adjunct faculty member teaching courses in management. Greg is also the president and founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
Dessler, Gary. Management – Leading People and Organizations in the 21st Century. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001
Fitzgerald, Ernest A. Keeping Pace: Inspirations In The Air. Greensboro, North Carolina: Pace Communications, Inc., 1988
Heilbroner, Robert. How To Make an Intelligent Decision. Think, December 1990, pp. 2-4
It was a warm summer day in the 1930’s and one of the greatest American baseball players of all time was at bat. The quiet, gentle man was Lou Gehrig, one of the best hitters ever to wear the uniform of the New York Yankees. His durability as a first baseman and consistent hitter earned him the nickname of the “Iron Horse”. During this day Gehrig would do something totallyGreg L. Thomas Articles
This is not your typical book on management or leadership. If you are familiar with the previous works of these two authors you will know they intended it to be dramatically different. They succeeded well with Freedom and Accountability at Work. Peter Block starts this journey by writing the introduction. His task is to create a context by which his colleague’s writings can be used to understand the dynamics of the modern workplace. Many of the concepts and ideas found in Freedom and Accountability at Work are taken from two previous books written by Koestenbaum. Both The Vitality of Death and The New Image of the Person were written by Koestenbaum in the ‘70s. These two philosophical books are at the heart of this new publication. This book is written on the premise that it is time to bring philosophy into the world of business by helping others find answers to their questions about the real purpose of work. It includes ways to bring ethical and spiritual values into the workplace.
Block encapsulates this thought when he writes, “Philosophy is really about a universal form of leadership and the possibility open to each person to shape or create an environment that supports the pursuit of meaning and purpose, rather than our current obsession with financial security and material wealth.” Freedom and Accountability at Work provides discerning and near tangible ideas about anxiety, freedom, suffering and death. The authors maintain that viewing the purpose of work from the lens of a philosopher can provide a unique shift in mental perception. They believe that by rising above the mental traps that typically ensnare us, we can make our work places more humane and experience the accountability and real freedom we all want. The authors also provide potential solutions to those whose are presently struggling with personal suffering and depression. They encourage the reader to engage in this profound degree of change that will help one to overcome the cynicism that comes from superficial change. It is their contention that leaders need to ask these deeper philosophical questions to become better role models today and to acquire the enabling vision to lead tomorrow.
Freedom and Accountability at Work
Applying Philosophical Insight to the Real World
Jossey Bass-Pfeiffer, San Francisco, 2001 (439 pages in hardback)
Authors Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block
weLEAD rating recommended
This is not your typical book on management or leadership. If you are familiar with the previous works of these two authors you will know they intended it to be dramatically different. They succeeded well with Freedom and Accountability at Work. Peter Block starts this journey by writing the introduction. His task is to create a contextGreg L.Thomas Book Review Other
Have you heard the story about a truck that got stuck under a bridge? It is said that a box truck was attempting to pass under a large bridge. As the truck driver approached the structure he felt there was enough room to clear the bottom of the steel and concrete deck of the bridge. But as he was passing under, he suddenly hear a loud screeching noise! The screech turned in to a grind and the lurching truck came to a dead stop! It was now locked under the bridge and could go neither forward or backward. Putting the transmission in reverse, or one of the forward gears was to no avail as the vehicle was now firmly lodged directly under the bridge. Traffic came to a complete standstill and naturally the local authorities were called out to examine the situation. How would they get the truck out from under the bridge?
A tow truck was sent out to try to pull the vehicle free. A county engineer arrived to examine this difficult situation. There were deep discussions and many measurements were made. Various calculations were performed to determine how much of the truck or bridge would be destroyed if the vehicle was simply yanked or pulled out! If too much of the bridge’s concrete was broken in the process, it might cause the bridge to become unsafe. What if road equipment was brought in to cut a grove into the road under the vehicle tires to lower it? What if heavy equipment was brought in to lift the bridge just a few inches? Traffic continued to back up and discussions raged on as frustrated workers and authorities pondered this difficult problem. A crowd also gathered around the scene to watch all the exciting activity and hubbub. Then something funny happened as a worker was walking by part of the crowd and surveying the situation. A little boy who had previously been riding his bicycle, and had stopped to glare, said to the man, “Why not let the air out of the tires?” “What?”, stated the worker in incredulous shock! “What did you say?” The boy repeated, “Why not let the air out of the tires?” From this simple observation and statement, an easy and effective solution was found to a difficult problem that had confounded some very bright and energetic people!
What the little boy demonstrated is what every effective leader needs to achieve personal success! The boy had imagination. Within his mind, he dug deep for a creative solution and envisioned the vehicle becoming shorter because the tires would lower the vehicle when air was removed from them. It was this imagination that gave the boy the resourcefulness to solve a serious problem. Sadly, most researchers tell us that we lose a part of our creativity as we age. The innovative skills we learned at play as a child become lost as we enter adulthood. However, many solutions to difficult problems are easily solved if we learn to use our imagination and mentally step outside our comfort zone. This is a common problem in business today. Many managers believe that it takes millions of dollars, and a severe culture shock to solve large problems in their organizations. Like in the example above, when mountains are made out of molehills, problem solving can become more difficult and costly than it really needs to be.
As a leader, there will be many times when emergencies, unexpected circumstances or complications arise to block the path to our goals. There will also be times when rational and analytical thinking isn’t good enough to make the right or best decision! This is where we need to use our imagination as a resource to remove or to go around the obstacle. Remember that during these kinds of demanding situations we should never panic. We need a clear head and calm emotions to think logically and rapidly. In addition, we also need to maintain our composure in order for our imagination to be most effective and help us to arrive at a wise decision. The time for passion will arise later on when we act on the decision we have made, and make it happen!
Earlier in our series on The Twelve Principles of Personal Leadership we spoke about the essential need for vision. It is a compelling vision that feeds our desire to accomplish great things in life. Remember that our personal vision is the mental picture we have that inspires us to establish, and seek our goals during good times and bad! In this principle we will discuss the ability to once again tap into ourimagination to solve the many problems that threaten to block us in achieving our goals. This can be especially difficult for leaders who have a “black or white” view of the world. If we define every person, event or activity as “good or bad” or “right or wrong” we greatly limit our ability to solve problems creatively. The truth is that some things are indeed “good or bad”, but most things are neutral unless they are misused. To have a healthy creative imagination to solve problems requires us to be open-minded and look for the good in others and events, not the worse.
Obviously, to solve a problem requires that we keep going forward and not quit. Imagination is the resource that helps us to plow through an obstacle! Some folks have a good vivid imagination naturally and have a reputation as an “idea person”. But most of us need to do some research, seek advice and perform some analysis to “prime the pump” of our imagination. It often requires us to think differently than we normally do. Asking a series of “what if…” questions can often spark innovative solutions. Organizations have found that the imagination generated during “brainstorming” sessions can be very productive. However, the potential solutions we ponder should always be legal, ethical and not intended to harm others. Sadly, our prisons are populated with some very creative and imaginative individuals. They allowed their imagination to be used selfishly and to harm other people.
It is also important to realize that there is usually more than one solution to most problems. Even though it is desirable to find the best solution, it is not always practical. When this occurs, be open-minded, and don’t delay making a critical decision because you are searching for the perfect answer. Some managers even use this as an excuse not to make the important decisions that need to be made. When you have faced a difficult challenge and used your imagination as a resource to discover a solution, don’t stop there!
It is not enough to have imagination as a resource if you are unwilling to make the hard decisions. Possessing the right answer without the strength or will to implement it will not solve difficult problems. Some folks are good at finding solutions, but struggle to make decisions. It is easy to understand why many leaders want to avoid making decisions. There are a number of valid reasons. First of all, it is often risky! Risk is defined as the possibility of suffering harm, loss or danger. We tend to be comfortable in our patterns and expectations. Often times making a decision means we must step out of our “comfort zone” and into the unknown. Past experiences teach us that even a slight shift in our course can have dramatic effects on an outcome. On a personal level, we may have the right answersbut avoid making decisions about our family, careers or finances because of an aversion to risk and fear of failure. Secondly, leaders often make decisions while they are slightly ahead of the prevailing group or culture. It is often a lonely, thankless experience with little visible support. This situation is often compounded greatly when the leader has not taken the time and energy to build a strong consensus among others.
But here is an important point about decision-making and risk. We will frequently come to a crossroads in life or business where an important decision must be made. Then… we have a choice to make. Either we make the decision, or “time and chance” will decide for us what we were unwilling to decide for ourselves! Either way, a decision will be made. The question is, will we take charge and assume greater control of the outcome, or will we allow luck, chance or fate to determine the outcome for us? There is an old story about two men drifting on a raft traveling down the Niagara River toward the ominous Niagara Falls. They began to argue about how far they were from the falls and when they should go ashore. The argument continued and went on and on. While they haggled and delayed making a decision, time made the decision for them, with unfortunate results.
I am not suggesting that you to lurch into ill-advised or poor decision-making. Leaders should seek the facts, get advice, do the research and resourcefully find an answer. But there does come a time when a decision…the decision must be made! It has been said that former American President and World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower once commented, “A wrong decision is better than indecision”. Think about why a military General would have made this comment. A wrong decision is at least a choice, and if that choice is wrong there if often enough time to retrench, regroup and alter the course. Creativity is flexible and can be modified early in the decision process. However, indecision only erodes precious time and often removes the option of an alternative choice from the decision maker. Sometimes the real risk is not taking one. As author and educator Gary Dessler states, “Very few decisions are forever; there is more “give” in most decisions than we realize. While many major strategic decisions are hard to reverse, most poor decisions won’t mean the end of the world for you, so don’t become frozen in the finality of your decision”.
At the heart and core of leadership is also the willingness to take personal responsibility for a difficult decision. On June 6, 1944, during World War II, General Eisenhower agonized over a difficult decision to allow Allied forces to land on the beaches of Normandy, France. The weather had been poor and threatened to derail the Allied assault. A window of opportunity was closing and it was time for decisive action. Eisenhower finally gave approval for the landing. However, he also took the time to write an “official statement” to the media in case the landing failed and the Allies were unable to secure a beachhead. In his handwritten announcement, Eisenhower accepted full responsibility for the failure. Thankfully, it was never needed!
Many experts in management believe that not all decisions are the same. They differentiate between what they call programmed and nonprogrammed decisions. Programmed decisions are defined as ones that are repetitive and can typically be resolved through rational analysis and mechanical procedures. It is believed that the overwhelming majority of decisions we make are programmeddecisions. Standard rules of deduction can be applied to these decision types. These kinds of decisions do not require a great degree of imagination.
On the other hand, nonprogrammed decisions are defined as unique in nature. These include crisis situations or when we have arrived at a personal crossroad in our life. Nonprogrammed decisions rely heavily on our judgment and values rather than clear-cut analysis. They are typically more urgent and require greater focus. We all must eventually face them… the tough agonizing decisions that often need to be based on incomplete information and unknown criteria! Sometimes there is no clear choice of what or who is absolutely right or wrong. There may be little “black and white”, but rather shades of gray. Using our positive ethics and deep-seated values as a guide, we will need to muster all the creativity and intuition we can find deep within ourselves for a solution. Because these nonprogrammed decisions are usually critical, the risk and consequences can be great, but don’t let that stop you from taking action when required!
Here are a few tips to improve your decision-making ability. Recognize the facts as they really are and not how you want to see them. It is easy to ignore or distort the truth because we already desire to support a particular answer . For example, those who study theology often fall prey to a problem called proof-texting. This is where the theologian first comes to a personal conclusion, and then looks for scriptures to support a preconceived belief. Many scientists are also guilty of the same problem. Maintain your objectivity so your decision is based on an intelligent analysis of the actual facts and not a preconceived decision. Along with analysis, don’t be afraid to use your heart as long as it is not blinded by raw emotion! A balanced decision is one that is made from both the head and the heart. This is where you make a decision based on accumulated experience, knowledge and intuition. Remember, having firm personal values and strong ethics is the foundation of good intuition. Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud stated,
“When making a decision of minor importance I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of our personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”
Obviously if the deep inner needs of our nature are centered on integrity and genuine concern for others, our intuition will serve us well. Another decision-making tip is to be careful not to useshortcuts to save time. A common shortcut is called heuristics. This is used to speed up decision-making by applying “rules of thumb” to quickly reach a conclusion. For example, a senior manager may say, “I only want individuals with advanced degrees to apply for this position”. Yes, this may speed up the selection process, but may also mean the best qualified or most talented individual is not even considered for the position. The final tip I offer is to avoid anchoring. The trait of anchoring is where we give too much credence to the first communication or set of facts that we hear. This first bit of information then becomes the benchmark by which the decision will be made and later information that is contrary to it is dismissed or minimized.
So the next time you are confronted with the need to make a decision, remember the little boy gazing at the truck stuck under a bridge. The best answer will require using your imagination as a resource. Challenge yourself to think differently and from a fresh perspective. When you have made a decision and an answer is at hand, don’t stop there! A leader’s calling is to make the hard decisions when they are needed. No one said the job is easy! Yes, there is a risk to decision-making, but there is often a greater risk when we do nothing and allow fate to decide for us. So be sure you gather the facts, get sound advice, and do the necessary research. Then make the decision. If you get stuck… maybe you need to just step back and look at things differently. Perhaps you will even need to let some of the air out!
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About the author:
Greg has over 20 years of sales and marketing experience within the electrical distribution industry. Some of his positions have included being a National Sales Manager, National Marketing Manager and for the past 13 years that of Regional Sales Manager. He also has extensive experience in public speaking and has written articles for various publications. Greg has a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University where he presently serves as an adjunct professor teaching courses in business management and leadership. He is also the president and founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
Have you heard the story about a truck that got stuck under a bridge? It is said that a box truck was attempting to pass under a large bridge. As the truck driver approached the structure he felt there was enough room to clear the bottom of the steel and concrete deck of the bridge. But as he was passing under, he suddenly hear a loud screeching noise! The screech turned in to a grind and the lGreg L. Thomas Articles
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