Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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18
Mar

The Art of Asking and Listening – Active Listening

In the Sales 101 book that I’ll eventually get around to writing, learning how to shut up may end up being the sole topic of the first chapter. It’s truly shocking to me how often I witness a sales person dominating a conversation with a customer. The less your customer speaks, the less likely it is you’re going to figure what his/her problem is and because of that, the probability that you’ll be able to discoverer an opportunity or address his/her needs will be almost zero. Simple as that.

Successful sales people listen to their customers, making each communication with a customer an opportunity for the customer to say more about themselves, their situation and their needs. As much as we have been taught that listening is a passive activity, good listening is actually an active one. It involves asking questions about what the customer is saying to show that you are, in fact, listening, that you understand what they are saying and that you are interested in learning more. As much as a conversation with a customer should never be about your ego, it should always be about their ego. Make them feel great about what they are saying and show your respect for them by working to understand fully and expressing your interest.

I was just in a meeting where two of the people at the table never said a word. This wasn’t a pecking order or hierarchy thing, they were equal players as far as the sale went. It was clear that their lack of talking had actually led them to be bored and disengaged within a few minutes of the start of the meeting. In this meeting, the sales person was doing all the talking. He never asked a single question of the two people or anyone else for that matter. At this point, I don’t think that sale will ever happen.

Societally, we often think of sales people as the best talkers. In fact, the best sales people are the great listeners.

 March 18th, 2011  
 Will  
 Management, Selling  
   
 2 Comments
11
Oct

Who Should I Hire?

I’ll take a great team over a great idea in business any day of the week (of course, having both is even better). Why is that? Because ideas are often fleeting – markets change, technology evolves, competition is a moving target and customers are, sometimes, fickle. Great teams can adapt and continually innovate. Great ideas without great teams behind them stagnate.

This is even a bigger problem for startups than it is for established companies. In startups, ideas tend to be in more flux than in mature companies because of the limited time and resources startups have to completely understand the customer. While older companies aren’t immune to these challenges, they are generally not subject to the same limitations.

So, how does any organization hire the right people? Well, starting with a great team helps, of course, but understanding what’s important in expanding it is crucial. Here are a few things to ask yourself when trying to identify the next person you’ll add to your team.

  • Is there a cultural fit? Far more important than having the knowledge required for the job is whether the candidate will fit in with the rest of the team and, in fact be a driver and communicator of the culture you want in you company.
  • Is the candidate a risk taker? He/she should be. Why would you want someone who is going to move slowly and cautiously in your organization. The best people are aggressive in their actions and play offense all the time.
  • Does the prospective employee fear change? Hope not. In fact, the candidate should love change and even seek it out. Many people are afraid of change and even fight it in passive ways, slowing the organization down. If you want a hard-driving, fast-moving organization, you need people who love to drive and be involved in change.
  • Can the candidate work as part of a team? Not only are great people more effective as individuals, but when put together as part of a team, they can virtually make miracles happen.
  • Does he/she have the skills you’re hiring for? Duh. You’re probably hiring because you’re either stretched too thin or you need new skills in the organization. It’s good to thoroughly check if the candidate actually has these.

This is far from a complete list. There are going to be criteria specific to your organization and core to your success that you’ll add to it. The key point here is that hiring the right people is as important as it gets when it comes to running a company or managing any group of people. It’s the team you have that will make the difference in the end and having the best team possible should never be sacrificed.

 October 11th, 2010  
 Will  
 Management, Startups  
   
 Comments Off on Who Should I Hire?
31
Mar

Hiring: Learning From the Behavior of Crowds

There are no simple ways to determine if you’re hiring the right person for a job and, in my experience, complex approaches to hiring fail almost as frequently as winging it.  OK, that’s a little extreme, but you get my point. Those who have used regimented hiring methodologies created by behavioral scientists and organizational behavior experts know what I’m talkin’ about. Nothing is better than simply laying down a few basic guidelines, understanding what you’re really looking for, knowing what’s important to you and listening to your gut to maximize your chances of hiring a good person.

The problem is, what if your gut isn’t experienced enough to help you with your decision? You can be logical about it, for sure. You can ask all the right questions, you can have everyone on the team interview, you can even have a checklist to make sure that the candidate meets all the criteria you set out. But how do you know he or she is the right person?

As with most things interpersonal, I think it’s a combination of many factors, many of them barely perceptible. Combined, they make up what our gut feel is. The way someone acts, how they greet you, the amount they talk, the number and kind of questions they ask. I’ve been thinking about the behaviors I look for when hiring and have been noticing something interesting when going out to coffee or a meal with a candidate (which I recommend – it can take them out of their comfort zone). It’s about how they move through crowds.

I lump people’s movement through crowds into four categories:

  1. Those that dive into holes in traffic as soon as any opportunity opens up
  2. Those that wait to see what people around them do
  3. Those that need to plot out their next few moves before making the jump
  4. Those who plow into the crowd without thinking or caring about the people they bowl over

Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s a major amount of generalization going on here and there are usually roles for each type of person in some organization. The question to ask: is what each of these behaviors represents correct for what you’re looking for right now in your organization?

The last group includes people that don’t have the desire or good sense to be part of the crowd or an integral piece of the action. They think about themselves only and likely do the same when they’re at their jobs as well. Sometimes, behavior like this is a positive, but for the most part, these people are just assholes.

The people in the third group put optimization ahead of speed (no, they are not synonymous). Strong process skills are terrific and can add great value to a team. In heavy traffic or with big workloads, however, these people can often get paralyzed though.

The second group is the most problematic for me. These people usually aren’t particularly aggressive or driven – attributes of almost anyone I like to hire. On the other hand, there are clear places for such people.  Think customer-facing roles.

The first group represents the crowd behavior I like to see. Aggressive without being an asshole about it. These are people who can keep the noise going on around them in their peripheral vision in order to get things done. They move quickly, but not recklessly. For these people, moving forward is often the most important thing on their mind.

OK, I’m biased. The real point here is that people’s behavior – in this case, how they work in a crowd – is strongly indicative of how they will work when they’re your employee. Notice the small stuff like this and you’ll get that gut feel you need to hire the right person.

 March 31st, 2010  
 Will  
 Management  
   
 4 Comments
01
Feb

Build Platforms on Platforms

Being a software guy myself, I often find that I dig a little deeper into the successes and failures of the software-oriented startups that I work with than I do with the non-software oriented ones.  When I do, I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised, although I routinely am, at how often I come across some very consistent and basic technical errors that are made by these companies.  Chief among these is the lack of thorough thinking about the architecture of the end product prior to the start of coding.  It’s, of course, natural to start hammering out code as fast as possible in order to get a product to market but, inevitably, the Piper needs to get paid and fundamental problems with the architecture will eventually require a wide-spread rewrite of the system or, even worse, will be a serious resource drain and time sink to in every future release.

You’ve probably read dozens of books that have discussed the importance and value of planning and how time spent in architecting a system is a drop in the bucket compared to the time it saves on the back end.  I neither have the skills nor the eloquence to drive that point home any better.  What I’d like to do, though, is to present a high-level view of how you might think about the architecture of your product so that it provides a framework for you to make rapid changes to the application and makes it easy for others (partners, customers, etc.) to extend the product in ways you may not have considered.

There is nothing revolutionary here.  Let’s just call it a reminder that you will end up rewriting your application or, at least, its framework, in the future if you don’t adopt something like this early on.  You may not see it yet, but like I’ve already said, that rewrite is going to be very expensive and painful and will ultimately cost you customers, competitive advantage and money.

Architecture-3

The idea here is that there are are two programming interfaces.  One separating you’re application from your core libraries or base layer of functions and another separating your application, as well as the lower-level programming interface from the outside world.  The lower level, base programming interface, allows you to build an application virtually independent of the core functionality of the end product.  Architected this way, you can build and test the application and the base code separately and make incremental changes to each part far easier.  In fact, one can be changed without affecting the other as long as the base programming interface remains the same (it needs to be well thought out to start with, of course).

The higher-level programming interface gives you the power to add functionality to your product quickly, using the code in the base programming interface as well as code in the application layer.  Using the application programming interface, you can prototype new functions rapidly and get quick fixes for bugs to users faster.  Perhaps even more importantly, it enables easy access to most of the guts of your system to partners and customers so that they can extend it as they see fit.  This access can be provided without having to publish hooks to the internals of your core system and exposing a boatload of potential problems that foreign calls to those components can create.  If you’d like, though, you can also expose some of that base functionality to the high-level API as is shown in the “optional” architecture slice in the image above.

Simple, yes.  It requires more work up front – both in planning and in coding – but with such an architecture, you’ll be able to roll out new functionality quickly and to fix mistakes as fast as you find them (well, almost).  Ultimately, you’ll get the functionality your customers want into their hands faster than if you hadn’t adopted such a system.  You’ll also be able to continue to roll out enhanced and improved functionality without getting bogged down with thinking about an architecture rewrite or with a huge backlog of nasty bug fixes.

The anxiety about getting your product to market will lead you to think that hacking together a system and refining it later is the way to go.  Virtually always, this is a mistake.  Speed is of the essence, but only the speed which you can deliver sustainable, quality product that continuously stays ahead of the competition.  Look before you leap, it’ll make life so much easier.

 February 1st, 2010  
 Will  
 Computers, Management, Software, Startups  
   
 Comments Off on Build Platforms on Platforms
20
Dec

It’s Not the Idea, It’s the Execution

I seem to be running into more and more people who have fallen in love with their idea for a new or improved product or service.  That is, they appear to be so infatuated with it that they think it stands alone and deserves merit because of its strength and uniqueness.  That’s nice . . . and virtually meaningless in a business sense.  Truly great and unique ideas are wonderful things.  Contrary to what many people think, though, they’re just not a prerequisite to starting or running a great or successful company.  Most often, more money and success in the long haul have come from great implementations of ideas (sometimes groups of ideas) than from the ideas themselves.

In fact, many of the most successful products and companies have become successful because of their masterful implementation of the ideas of others.  Did Toyota invent the car?  Microsoft, the operating system?  GE, the jet engine?  Dell, the computer?  Merck, gene therapy (or even erectile dysfunction drugs)?  Apple, the cell phone?  You get the idea (no pun intended).

Your business will, of course, be based on an idea.  My point is that 1. it’s likely not the most important part of the business (unless you’ve found the cure for cancer and even then, it’s questionable as a guarantee of business success) and, 2. the idea doesn’t even have to be yours.  In the end, the idea your building your business on and all of the ideas you come up along the way associated with the actual execution of that business are subordinate to the quality of the execution of those ideas.

I’ll take it one step further.  I might be biased having only had about three unique ideas in my entire life, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that business success is singularly about execution.  I always ran my own companies driven by this belief.  I used to constantly frustrate sales people who worked for me.  They would do everything they could to hide our secret sauce from the competition at trade shows and at user sites.  My view was always to let ’em see what we were doing.  If we couldn’t execute our own ideas better and faster than someone else, then we wouldn’t survive in the first place.  Let’s face it, they’re gonna find out what your product does and they’re probably gonna figure out how it does it.  The important thing is that you can put it all together and deliver it better and faster than anyone else can.

Don’t get me wrong, good, independent ideas are part-and-parcel to great execution.  It’s not that unique ideas are bad things in any way.  It’s just that they’re not worthy as a standalone basis for a business.  They should be building blocks, not the entire foundation.

So, if you’re wondering why venture capitalists are fascinated in hearing you out, but then pass on the deal; why customers aren’t begging you for an audience based on your Powerpoint presentation; why your friends want to know who’s going to actually build this thing; why your mentors are asking you how all the time and not what anymore; it’s probably because you’ve spent too much time making mad, passionate love to your business idea and haven’t considered that in the end, execution is all that really matters.

If my podium was a fortune cookie instead of a blog post, I might say: Luck and fortune favor those who can execute.

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 December 20th, 2009  
 Will  
 General Business, Management  
   
 Comments Off on It’s Not the Idea, It’s the Execution
22
Sep

You Go Where You’re Looking

When beginners attend auto racing or high performance driving school, they are taught that drivers tend to go where they’re looking and, where they look is usually only 10-15 feet in front of their vehicle.  I see this all the time as I’m riding my bike.  While cycling on the right side of a shoulder, a passing car will wonder into the shoulder right where I’m riding even when there’s no oncoming traffic.  I know that the driver is looking at me, even thinking that he/she should avoid me.  Nonetheless, because they’re looking at me, they tend to steer that way (just because you’re paranoid . . . ).  High performance drivers are taught to look much further out and to strategically optimize their driving around a point further ahead and to let their natural tendency to steer where they’re looking take them to where they want to end up, instead of just reacting to what they see directly in front of them.

Things are similar with startups.  It’s often easy to get caught with your head down, focused on near-term problems and opportunities while ignoring the big picture and where the new enterprise should be headed.  As with focusing on what’s happening on the road directly in front of you, when you solely focus on the myriad of short-term problems you have to deal with, they will consume your thoughts, energy and time.  You will be constantly drawn towards them.  Soon, the startup’s strategy will become less strategic and more tactical.

Here are a few short-term issues that I see grabbing the attention of startups all the time:

  • features, features and more features – yeah, you have to add features to your product, you simply can’t (and don’t want to) add every requested feature all at once.  There are two problems that come to mind here, one is that if you don’t step back and ask yourself if the feature moves you toward your strategic goal before implementing it, you run the risk of wasting very precious time and, two, if you focus all your attention on features at the expense of architecture, you can build a house of cards that will fail miserably later.  Each feature should be weighed in the context of the product’s goals before time is spent on it.
  • reaction versus response – when a startup has only a handful of customers, it’s easy for it to get distracted by the feedback it gets from any one of them.  It’s easy to react to every call, email and tweet regarding the product and to try to address the needs or wants of the few people who seem to be paying attention.  It’s important that the startup keep in mind, as with features, spending time with early users is valuable inasmuch as the feedback is taken in perspective.  Is the customer the target customer, for example?  If not, you may spend your time reacting to feedback that doesn’t help you land the kind of customers you’re trying to get.
  • the technology itself – loads of startups end up getting caught in the vortex of the underlying technology at the expense of marketing or gathering customer input.  Often, because that’s what the founders really know well.  The product is required, of course, but is just not sufficient.  Simply put, it is highly unlikely you can engineer a perfect product that will dazzle your customers and meet their needs on its first pass.  Product development is much more than technology development and needs to include data from the market and from potential customers.  Only when you have a complete package of technology, target customer input and market information do you have a real shot at delivering a successful product.

There are many more factors that cause startups to eschew strategy for tactics.  A founding team needs to set a course based on a point reasonably far ahead and not optimize around what is happening now.  That, of course, doesn’t mean that it can ignore what is taking place near-term.  A good driver uses his/her peripheral vision to observe what’s happening close to the vehicle.  Similarly, a startup needs to treat short-term tactics seriously, but only within the scope of the longer-term strategy.  Longer term isn’t 10 years.  That’s just not reasonable or even possible.  But a year or two is reasonable with even a few brain cells reserved for thinking out even further.

Keep in mind, you steer where you’re looking.  Steer the company toward a point in the reasonable future while keeping an eye on what’s happening today and you’ll find that you will encounter fewer mistakes, less rework and a smoother path to success.

 September 22nd, 2009  
 Will  
 General Business, Leadership, Management  
   
 10 Comments
19
Aug

Can Your Organization Handle A Top Notch Employee?

[Danger: football analogies used with abandon in this post.]

As the 2009 NFL season opened, Michael Vick, ex-Atlanta Falcons star quarterback and infamous dog torturer/killer, was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles after spending a short time (too short) in prison.  In my opinion, this situation is proof, once again, that truth is far stranger than fiction.  That the NFL would allow this guy to play again is one thing.  That any team would pick him up is another, incredibly absurd, one.  Of course, NFL teams conveniently ignore wife beating, late-night stabbings in bars and the carrying of unlicensed weapons so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  Alas, this is all fodder for a post on another subject.  For now, I want to discuss the related challenges of the hiring and management of top-notch employees who often know they’re the best, make it perfectly clear to everyone else that they are the best and expect to be subject to a different set of rules just because they’re the best.

Once in a while, you run across people who are not only among the smartest, most capable, and hardest working people you’ve ever met, but they’re also quiet, humble, selfless and unpretentious.  Totally phenomenal.  Think Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots or Payton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts.  In a business context, you hire those people in a minute – whether or not you can afford them.  They add incredible value not only through the specific work they do, but through their actions, reactions, leadership and participation as well.  They have a positive impact on the performance of everyone around them.

Sometimes, though, when you find a person with such talents, they can be arrogant, egotistical and, let’s face it, an asshole.  Do you hire those people as quickly?  Do you sacrifice what your gut is screaming at you to get that level of ability and talent into your company?  My short answer is no, it’s just not worth it (see my previous post, When To Get Rid Of The “Best” People Who Work For You).

But what if you’re in dire straights.  You absolutely, positively need some serious ammunition in the fight against failure.  Do you hire a famous bad boy like Terrell Owens (T.O.) or Randy Moss?  Do you convince yourself that you’re the best manager around and you can handle the wildcat or maybe even tame them?  Can you do what others have not?  Survey says . . . probably not, try to find someone else.

If, however, you are a strong leader and manager and you understand the positives and negatives of what strong individuals can bring to a team, you may have a shot.  Further, if you’ve already built a team that follows your lead and sticks together under the culture you’ve built, it may even be a slam-dunk.

Let’s take a look at the aforementioned cases of Terrell Owens, previously an out of control trouble-maker with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers and Randy Moss, now with the New England Patriots, but previously a problem child with the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings.  Both T.O. and Moss are among the best receivers in the NFL.  They both know it and believe they deserve recognition for it.  They both have a history of playing for themselves before playing for their team and being trouble-makers on and off the field.

T.O. was treated like the team savior at both S.F. and Philadelphia.  He was kowtowed to, given visibility and his demands were met.  Moss had similar experiences at Minnesota and Oakland.  Big babies who were given a free run because of their incredible talent.  What happened next is enlightening.  T.O. went on to play with the Dallas Cowboys where the owner continued the tradition of putting T.O. on a public pedestal and giving the crying baby what he wanted and Moss went to New England, where the owner and coach told him that he was just another cog in the wheel and treated him like everyone else.

Further, and maybe even more importantly, the Cowboys as a team accepted T.O.’s antics where the Patriots, as a team, wouldn’t put up with Moss’s bullshit.  The result is that Moss became a part of the Patriot team and organization, winning a Super Bowl and breaking the NFL receptions record.  T.O., well, T.O. remained T.O. and was unconditionally released (that means kicked out), once again, and was picked up by another NFL team – the Buffalo Bills.  We’ll see how that goes.

The leaders of the Patriots recognized the cost of bringing an egotistical, loudmouth, crybaby onto the team and made it clear to him through words and actions that it wouldn’t be tolerated.  You step out of line and you will be docked pay and put on the bench.  The team comes before you . . . always.  But the Patriots had an even stronger tool, the team itself.  Apparently, the already tight and focused team wouldn’t put up with any crap.  When there is no support for bad behavior and no ears to listen to out of line complaints or demands, even prima donnas get lonely pretty fast.  The team’s leaders (primarily head coach Bill Belichick) had instilled a culture in the team that was a strong bonding element.  Outsiders have to adopt the culture or the team, itself, will force them out.

So, the questions you need to ask yourself before hiring a notorious super-contributor/bad-boy(girl) are whether you’re a strong enough leader and have you built a strong enough (culturally aligned) team.  If you are and you have, you can probably bring anyone you choose in as a contributor.  If you aren’t (yet) or you haven’t, bringing such a person in will lead to big problems.  If you decide to anyway, you may want to line up that trade ahead of time.

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 August 19th, 2009  
 Will  
 Leadership, Management  
   
 8 Comments
18
Mar

No. Don’t Do It. The Co-CEO Thing Won’t Work

I’ve been getting involved with more raw startups lately and I’m being reminded daily about the difficulty many teams have in establishing any form of decision-making hierarchy.  “We’re equal partners in this enterprise.”  “We started it together, we’re going to run it together.”  “We both [all] provide equal value so should have equal input.”  Yeah, I think I’ve heard it all and, at times, said and believed it all myself.  Let me try to put it as succinctly as possible . . . it doesn’t work.

Sure, when things are going well and life is good, almost any organizational structure will be somewhat effective.  It’s when the road gets bumpy, which it inevitably does, that the wheels of the multi-headed vehicle come off.  Decision-making is tough when things are tight and as much as you would like to believe that two or more people can reasonably make an informed final decision, a hundred thousand years of human nature stands against you.  This is why, by the way, when you’re out looking for VC funding, investors will simply laugh you out of the room when you say that the partners are co-CEOs.

Just because one person should be chosen as the final arbiter of decisions doesn’t mean that the entire founding team doesn’t remain active in strategy, tactics and corporate philosophy, it simply means that a single person is responsible for ending the conversation and making the decision on which path to take.  There is also no reason for differences in compensation or company ownership, if that’s what you’d like (although I’ve met VCs that get heartburn when this happens).  In the end, it’s simply about a single person being in charge; a go-to person (as viewed from inside the company and outside of it).  In all other ways, the founding team can remain equal.

Far be it from me to plug my own blog posts, but I wrote about this a couple of years ago and I urge you to read about it before throwing yourself into the abyss.

Hope it helps.

 March 18th, 2009  
 Will  
 Management, Startups  
   
 1 Comment
21
Feb

When “We” Are “They”

I’m always surprised and a bit taken aback when I hear an employee of any company use the term "they" instead of "we" when referring to the company they work for.  It makes me wonder exactly what it is about the relationship between the company and the employee that prevents that employee from feeling part of the whole – a spoke in the wheel, an integral cog in the machine.  Of course, it’s not only a company-wide phenomenon.  The same thing can happen in smaller groups within the company or, in fact, within any size organization.  Certainly, there are some people who have an aversion to belonging to a group, but I have to believe that, most often, this happens because the leadership and management of the company has failed to create the type of bond that leads to "we."

Does it even matter?  I think so.  If employees feel that they are outsiders, they’re less likely to feel ownership for the success or failure of the organization.  They, most likely, will do their job and go home at the end of the day satisfied that they did what they were assigned.  A person who feels bound to the organization and a critical component of it will likely, however, be focused not only on their own success, but the success of the organization as a whole.  When everyone in a group feels this way, the entire group is more productive, is easier to manage and is more innovative.

It’s easy to blame the employee for not feeling like they are part of the team, but as I said before, the employee’s feeling like an outsider is almost always the fault of his/her management.  And, the onus is on management to fix the problem in order to optimize the performance of the group.  This, obviously, starts with the manager making sure the employee feels like an integral part of a team using simple management techniques involving buy in, delegation, responsibility and trust.

The manager shouldn’t simply dole out tasks to be completed but, instead, he/she should get the members of the team involved in the planning of the tasks required and then hold them responsible and accountable for their deliverables.  Let them come up with the plan, specifications and dates, question them to test that the details meet all constraints and are aligned with the abilities of the group, then let the members of the group execute according to their plan (always remembering that management style needs to change for each person being managed – see It’s OK to Micromanage . . . Sometimes).  That way, success or failure is theirs, not management’s.  This creates buy-in and ownership and, ultimately, a team environment in which each person feels like an important part.

That should cover the “we” related to project ownership.  Here are some other tools to help the employee feel part of the bigger picture:

  • Recognize people for their individual contributions privately and for their group contributions publicly.  That way, others see the implicit reward in working together.
  • Ask for input from people on projects that they aren’t even working on.  Get them thinking about the bigger picture and expand their scope outside their day-to-day focus.
  • Have people teach others – there’s no responsibility or ownership of the outcome quite like that of a teacher’s.
  • Give those with less of a team-focus the responsibility of representing the team to outside groups (OK, maybe not customers at first).  Most people will step up when they are responsible for representing others.

When an employee refers to their group or company as “they,” it’s a sure signal that they don’t have any ownership of the success or failure of the organization.  Nothing good can come of this.  It’s the manager’s responsibility to fix the situation by getting the employee more involved and to feel that the progress of the group/team/company is directly tied to them and that their efforts are valuable because they are a piece of a bigger picture – they are less valuable and less significant if they stand alone.

 February 21st, 2009  
 Will  
 Leadership, Management  
   
 2 Comments
04
Feb

Don’t Be a Deadfoot Manager

Poland road sign A-23. Danger upward slope.

Image via Wikipedia

A “deadfoot” driver is one who keeps the accelerator pedal at the same position regardless of the slope or condition of the road they are on.  As such, they often climb hills at 40mph and descend them at 80mph.  They also tend to be the people lying with the shiny side of the car facing down just beyond a slick patch of pavement.  You get the idea and you know who I’m talking about.

This deadfoot phenomena actually happens more frequently in management than on the road.  Managers adopt a single style and apply it no matter who is being managed or what the situation is.  The results are the same, though.  Deadfoot managers crash and burn more frequently.

Sometimes, this is because the manager doesn’t know any better – management is management, right?  And at other times, when people are stressed, they tend to fall back on what they know and on what has worked before.  For individual performers, this may work.  For someone responsible for a group of people, it almost never does.

Not only does managerial style need to change for each individual being managed (see It’s OK to Micromanage . . . Sometimes), but it needs to be further adjusted situationally.  At times, a different style is needed to address the then current performance of an employee and at times because the macro-environment has changed, creating new or different demands on the group or its members.

As I’ve spoken about before, managers are the cornerstone of success – they have more leverage over the performance of an organization than any individual performer can ever have.  Successful managers learn to adjust their management style for every person they manage and according to the situation that the group and the individual are in. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the actual changes to style are often subtle – the frequency of meetings or reviews; the amount of teaching and hand-holding versus delegating; and the percentage of time spent guiding versus simply checking in.

Managers who constantly adapt to their situation and to the particular needs of each of their employees will avoid becoming a deadfoot manager and, ultimately, be well equipped to lead the highest performance teams.

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 February 4th, 2009  
 Will  
 Management, Stuff with a Motor  
   
 6 Comments