Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leadership Is Tough

Morocco. Alone in the sahara desert.
Originally uploaded by marek.wykowski

Leadership is tough. It is tougher in an organization that wouldn't know leadership if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. I work in such a place (not the consulting company, the day job). Here are some of the things I am learning here:

  • People who are not in charge of their own emotions should never be given responsibility for others.
  • Public humiliation is no way to lead OR manage.
  • The golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," applies every day in every interaction.
  • "Old School Managers" are Neanderthals that should be relegated to sad examples of how not to lead.
  • Respect is earned over a long time of consistently right behaviors and lost in a second of bad behavior.
  • Butt smootchers are the same everywhere. Sad, pathetic, and pitiful. A cowardly group all.

My resolve to lead the right way, through correct principles and values, remains strong.

You need to stay strong, especially when your core values are challenged; even when you are criticized for doing what you believe.'s tough. Most things worth doing are.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Everybody, Nobody, Always, and Never

"Why does everybody screw this up?"

"Nobody every gets this right!"

"They always find a way not to perform!"

"He never does what he's supposed to!"

Ever heard these words used over and over and over again? Of all the words I encounter, these are some of my least favorite. They demotivate, demean, and disrespect people. It doesn't matter where or what the situation is, use of these words will often cause people to stop listening to the conversation, especially when they know that, against heavily stacked odds, they did their best.

These are manager words. These are NOT leader words. For one, they omit the "we" factor. Leaders speak in terms of "we," not "they." Leaders speak of "us," not "he" or "you." Leaders take responsibility for everything that does or does not happen on their watch. Managers blame whoever happened to be on-site when the problems occur and seek to explain why someone else failed instead of why the team, including the leader, failed.

Leadership is challenging. It involves a level of service that many managers do not understand. Being a manager is not being a leader. These are two totally different concepts. We all, at one time or another, leader or manager, use the words above. It's hard to avoid them sometimes. It doesn't make us right when we do.

Avoid the absolutes and deal with each problem as unique and governed by its own set of circumstances, players, causes, and solutions. Only then can you hope to motivate and inspire instead of crush, chomp, and destroy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Can You Top This?

Groucho Marx
Originally uploaded by Maine The Way Life Should Be

Groucho once said:

"Years ago, I tried to top everybody, but I don't anymore. I realized it was killing conversation. When you're always trying for a topper you aren't really listening. It ruins communication."

Yes...I quoted Groucho Marx in a blog on leadership. One of the most famous quipsters, Groucho was a voracious reader to make up for his grade school only education. The thoughtfulness of the quote above, from a guy who made a living out-witting others is poetic, I think.

How many times have you had conversations with people who do not listen to you? Instead, you can see it in their body language that they are forming their response rather than listening to what you are saying. Some folks don't even wait for you to respond before talking over you and asserting their position instead. Sometimes, we are that person who does not listen.

Listening gives value to the other person and validates them as an individual. In order to establish effective relationships with others, we must build respect and trust. Our ability to listen actively and reflectively to others can be a powerful way to increase our effectiveness with others.

You've read it here before (loyal readers!) that the golden rule applies as leaders. Think of how good you feel when you are listened to and realize that that feeling can be given to others simply by listening to them.

Try it. Couldn't hurt!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Boy Scouts
Originally uploaded by easement

British philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote:

"In the long run, the best proof of a good character is good actions."

Every day we encounter people who are what they say they are. We also encounter those who are definitely not who they say they are. I submit we value those who live up to their words through their actions more than those who merely preach about themselves.

Our actions speak much louder than our words. Character develops over time, or it does not. Unfortunately, many people will go through their lives not understanding that they are responsible for their character, or lack thereof. They will go along grumpily blaming everything from their heritage to their spouse to their job for their shortcomings. In realty, we all choose who we become as we are the sum total of our choices.

The past need not dictate the future. You can choose at any time to be change. Or not.

Don't like the fact you're overweight? Do something about it. Don't like the fact you don't have a formal education? Go get one. Don't like the way your children behave? Talk to them and be the the parent. Don't like your job? Find a new one.

Freedom of choice is a gift we all have. Use it. Be who you want to be.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Our Site is Live!

Just a quick note today to say check out the consulting company site for the business I have started with two colleagues!

Thanks to Sam Hamdy for the site design.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Guidelines for Effective Leadership

Originally uploaded by rebeccaregnier

Much of my initial training in leadership came at The United Stated Military Academy at West Point. As a young New Cadet on July 1st, 1983, I was issued a book called "Bugle Notes." The cover featured a silver profile of the statue of the man in profile above, General Douglas MacArthur. "Bugle Notes" is published once a year for each incoming plebe class and contains the history of West Point and its legends and traditions. It is a New Cadet's first exposure to the awesome history of that hallowed place.

I keep this book on my desk, some 25 years later, and refer to it from time to time. Today, I revisited a favorite touchstone on page 63 entitled: Guidelines for Effective Military Leadership. In the title of this post, I have deleted the word "military" because I believe, and have proven repeatedly, that these guidelines apply to all leaders, military or civilian. They are universal. Here they are:

  • Set the example (appearance, conduct, soldierly habit)
  • Know your personnel (background, interests, problems, strengths)
  • Be concerned for their welfare (basic, personal, family)
  • Keep them informed (get the word to the individual who does the job)
  • Be consistent (and fair in your dealings with all)
  • Be loyal to those above and below (loyalty is a two-way street)
  • Unselfishness (your subordinates come first)
  • Develop teamwork (work together toward common goals)
  • Learn to inspect (anything not inspected may be neglected)
  • Take notes (aid memory; insure your subordinates get all info)
  • Be yourself (recognize limitations; constantly work to improve)
  • Give orders in your own name

As I reflect on these guidelines, I thank God to have had the privilege to learn the foundation of leadership in such an incredible place.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I actually heard the following statement in a meeting:

We're assuming our original assumptions will work out to be true.


We've all heard the old adage "to assume is to make an "ass" our of "u" and "me."" The quote I heard above must double that effect! Certainly we sometimes have to deduce, from the data at our disposal, a position or conclusion. More often though, assumptions are used as weak shortcuts for the lazy or incompetent.

With all the time constraints we have on our day, how do we actually determine a proper course of action when called on to do so? The answer is simple. One word.


You've heard it before: "Failing to plan is planning to fail." If you don't plan at least weekly, with a start of the day review of your plan, you will, more than likely, be controlled by events and circumstances instead of controlling your own destiny. Any planning calendar ( I use a Franklin Covey planner) will work.

List your tasks and prioritize them. List all the known meetings and such. Block out time that is yours to work on your top priorities. Be sure to set aside time for the unexpected. This simple planning will establish a framework within which to work; to control your time. Plenty of unexpected things will come up, but you'll know where (and if) you can fit them in.

Without a plan, you'll be stuck "assuming" you know what's going on.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When You Ask for Honest Feedback, be Prepared to Honestly Receive it

Today, I sat through a discussion that had real potential. It was heartening for me to hear feedback that was, for the most part, being listened to. There was some honest give and take. There was some straightforward, constructive criticism, genuinely delivered and, most importantly, positively received.

This type of discussion where the guys who do the toughest job in the operation of directly supervising the workforce, get a chance to tell their boss and their boss' boss how they did, what obstacles they face, and how they plan to overcome those obstacles, is great in a moderate to high trust environment. (don't even think about one of these in a low trust environment....the "bus" will roll back and forth over many bodies in a low trust environment...).

If you do have a meeting like this, remember a few key points:
  • Keep it focused and brief
  • Listen more and talk less
  • Find a positive for every negative and address the positive first.
  • Say "Thank You!"

Your best information will always come from those closest to the problems you face.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Micro-Managing Is Dysfuntional

You gotta love that guy who feels like since he's "in charge," he has to have the answer to every problem, issue, concern, etc. He's the guy who has an "uncanny grasp of the intuitively obvious." He's the guy who, even when the issue is obvious and the response even more obvious, (because everyone is actually working on the obvious solution!) will write a three page e-mail rant detailing his frustration that no one is doing anything about the problem. In reality, that's usually not the case.

This type of manager is an "O.D." : an Organization Destroyer. He or she de-motivates with such consistency and ease that they don't realize until it's too late, just how their actions destroy morale, creativity, intrinsic motivation, joy in our work, a sense of accomplishment, etc. They do not really listen, even when they get feedback. They just use that feedback to further their beliefs that they are the only ones with an answer to the problem, any problem, all problems....

The real disappointing thing is most ODs will go about crushing the life out of an organization unintentionally. They don't even realize they are doing it. They have never learned any other way. And until they hit a watershed moment where someone important to them tells them "you're not wearing any pants," (yes, it's a metaphor), they will go happily (or grumpily) about their business, crushing, killing, destroying.

What can you as a leader do about it? Have courage and speak up. This means you must find a way (if you care enough) to talk to this person in charge and help them understand where they are hurting the organization. It's hard to do because these ODs aren't usually very approachable. If you find an unguarded moment, use it. Ask for some time to discuss "stuff." Be creative and take action.

If you don't feel you can approach the individual, then do damage control on the areas or things you have responsibility for and set a leadership example to be followed. Build what you are responsible for through leadership, compassion, respect, consideration, allowing people to make mistakes and learn from them, etc.

Leaders define what's expected, determine who best to meet the expectation, then ask if they can do it and what help do they need. Then it's about accountability and respect...not telling everyone every step they must do to do the job "right."

Leaders manage the mission and the desired outcomes, not the methods used to get there.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What a Great Mother's Day Weekend!

Leadership in your family is about taking time to be a family.

This weekend was a great family weekend in honor of the mother of my children, Terri.

Saturday started with Matthew's team winning 22-2 on the baseball field. Go Matt!
Terri wanted dirt for her raised garden beds. 5 yds of dirt were delivered Saturday afternoon. The kids did a lot of work to move the dirt where mom wanted it... Go Pollhein kids!We ended the evening roasting marshmallows over an open fire in the yard.

Sunday started with breakfast in bed for mom (and dad!) and Jimmy singing in the children's choir for Mother's Day mass.

Cap it all off with dad burning meat on the grill, and you have a great family weekend!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

What Risks do you Take?

Do you drive a bit too fast? Do you drink a little to much? Do you sometimes mix the two? Do you ride a motorcycle? Do you neglect to wear adequate safety equipment when you engage in certain activities?

Looking back, as a much younger man, I smoked, drank a bit too much, jumped out of airplanes, rappelled from helicopters, drove way too fast for way too long. More recently, I have flown small airplanes as a student pilot and convinced my wife to let me get a motorcycle (maybe next year, honey). So, yes, I still engage in risky behavior.

As my oldest son turned 17, I have been listening to him talk about what he plans to do this summer and see a lot of my own 17-year old self in him.

As leaders at work and in our families, Dads and Moms often attempt to warn our charges and our children of the consequences of risky behavior. We've often "been there, done that, got a T-shirt." It is often frustrating when it seems no one is listening.

Keep teaching. Keep asking folks to be safer. Keep talking to your kids about risky behavior. They may not be listening with their full attention, but the message is usually getting through.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

In Memoriam

Today I attended a funeral that was very sobering.

A young woman died too soon. She was only 37 and she left behind a husband and 3 small children. I did not know her personally, but I do know her husband. He works in my department.

Today, I would just like to say my prayers are with him and his family and ask for your prayers for them as well.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Leadership and Faith

When you drive down a 2-lane road, do you think of it as an act of faith?

After all, what is faith? One definition of faith is "a set of strongly held beliefs." We gather many strongly held beliefs from our experiences over time. On that dark and winding 2-lane blacktop, we have different levels of faith (based on the speed at which we drive!) that the other drivers will stay on their side of the yellow lines. It's a simple example of faith in our daily lives. Secular and mundane, but it illustrates the point.

As a leader of others, creating strong beliefs in others about your ability to lead and your worthiness of the mantle of leadership can be a daunting task. There are so many aspects to every interaction with every one of your charges. Some people like to talk about "Situational Leadership" as a type of leadership. In my view, it is the only type of leadership!

Leaders must adapt to and be aware of all types of factors that could impact the faith that others have in them. Consistent behaviors, that is behaviors consistent with right principles, are the only way to gain the trust of those you lead. And it is very hard....because we're human.

That is also why not everyone is cut out to lead. Too many want the benefits of a leadership position, but are incapable or unwilling to do the hard work to set the right example every minute of every day in every interaction.

Remember, to lead you must always serve. If your first thought as a leader is not "how do I serve these people?," then you're not ready to lead. Find something easier to do or learn how to serve.

If you don't, you will never instill faith, a strong belief, in your leadership.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Stop Making Excuses!

"It wasn't my fault! I didn't know that would happen!"

"I can't get anything done! Everyone keeps interrupting me!"

"If these darn kids would just listen, they'd learn something!"

"What do you mean I screwed up? You're the screw up!"

Any of these sound familiar? These are excuses for our behavior, our inability to plan, our inability to communicate, and our inability to admit mistakes.
When I was a Plebe at the academy, we were only allowed to answer any question from an upperclassman with one of four answers: "Yes, Sir!" "No, Sir!" "No Excuse, Sir!" and "Sir, I do not understand!" What this discipline taught us was that if we were thinking of making some lame excuse for our behavior, forget it! Excuses were quickly relegated to the forbidden zone.
Instead, we were taught to take responsibility for our actions, regardless of the outcome, regardless of the reasons behind them. This was because we were being trained to lead soldiers. We were going to be entrusted with America's youth and we were not to make excuses. We were to consider all the information at our disposal and make informed, responsible decisions we would have to live with, good or bad.
How many people do you interact with everyday that always have a reason (excuse) for anything that goes wrong in their areas of responsibility? How many people seek to make sure you always take the lion's share of the blame so they or their cronies do not have to answer for the problems they created? It really is a cancer in some organizations.
We Pareto (chart problems in terms of frequency of each cause) until the cows come home, yet some people only look at the data when it fits their paradigm. They filter the data so that they only have to hear what they want to.
Don't like the budget? Okay, boss, we'll change it and call it "task." (we'll still miss the new numbers because the first pass is always the purest, but a least the boss will get to hear what he wants to hear!) Want to know why we failed? Only if we don't blame anyone else or cite an "uncomfortable" reason that causes someone to answer for their failure.
Listen folks. The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters! Step up and accept responsibility for your own behavior. It's the only honest thing to do. If you're a political player, you're probably a lost cause. Politics usually leads to "half-truths" and "sugar-coating" the information so you don't look bad. Remember this?: "I did not have sex with that woman!"
Is that how you want to be remembered?
Is that how you want your son to see you?
Step up and stop making excuses.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tough Lessons

This morning, my 9 year old daughter came downstairs crying. In her hands was the lifeless remains of one parakeet. I took the deceased budgy from her and held her for a moment while she cried. I asked her if she would like to put on her shoes and go to the angel statue in the backyard (our "Potter's Field" for deceased critters) and bury her parakeet. She sobbed a tearful "yes," and went to get her shoes while I sought out the spade. After the deceased was gingerly placed in the grave, I held her again as she cried and reminded her that death was a part of life.

Been there, have you? Sad, isn't it? Sadly necessary that we learn about mortality when we're little by the loss of a treasured pet. Later in life, the losses seem to increase in pain.

I still cannot sit at a mass and hear the hymn "On Eagle's Wings," without openly crying. I sang this to my grandmother on her deathbed as we stood watch over her last days in hospice. It was one of my favorites and she did so love to hear her grandson sing. I shared this talent with her because it was all I had to give her as she prepared to depart this life. Who knows what one hears or doesn't as they lay on their deathbed, preparing to meet their God? I imagine she left this world, on eagle's wings, for the glory of heaven, and I find comfort.

Miss you, Grandma.