Skip to content

Are You Numb from the Leadership-Management Debate?

February 17, 2019

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else. (Yogi Berra)

Leadership versus management.

How do you define them?

Are you confused or fed up with the conflicting definitions espoused by the “experts?”

A quick Google search on a few search phrases produced the following:

“Definition of leadership:” 139,700,000 results (double the number when this post first appeared)

“Definition of management:” 602,000,000 results (up from 198,000,000)

“Leadership versus management:” 25,100,000 results (a slight drop from 26,400,000)

It was time to stop Googling and do some writing.

You won’t find a definition of leadership or management in this two-part post because the aim is to provoke your reflection and inquiry. And to assist you, few perspectives are provided from some respected thinkers and practitioners in the field. As a start, Henry Mintzberg (McGill University) argues that organizations have been “under-managed and over-led.” Now there’s something to think about. (We’ll return to Mintzberg in part two of this post).

The ongoing love affair with leadership as a topic is somewhat perplexing. Its pervasiveness extends from community meetings to corporate boardrooms to national politics to military campaigns.

Our hunger for clarity in a sea of global turmoil and unpredictability forces us to look to those we perceive as having the answers. Along the way we engage in conversations and debates on just what our personal views or definitions are of leadership.

U.S. Justice Potter Stewart’s well quoted remark from a 1964 court case dealing with censorship in the movie industry (on “hard-core pornography… I know it when I see it”) has the parallel for effective leadership: we know it when we see it.

Trying to establish a definitive definition of leadership is impossible. Even attempting to create a generally accepted definition would be more difficult than nailing Jello to the wall. That leaves us with what’s becoming a largely redundant conceptual debate, when what really needs to be explored is the inter-relationships between leadership and management; the latter of which has become the poor cousin.

In part two of this post we’ll look at what some of the big thinkers have been saying on leadership and management: their distinct aspects and complementarities.

Stay tuned for Part Two: Are We There Yet? More on the Leadership-Management Debate

Curiosity did not kill this cat.
– Studs Terkel (American author)


10 Ways to Get Your Staff to Respect You

February 10, 2019

Okay folks, a recent post looked at 10 Ways to Get Your Staff to Disrespect You. Today, we’re pulling a 180 and presenting how you, as a manager or leader, can get your staff to respect you. So let’s get rocking.

#10 – Get to know your staff and their families

This doesn’t mean snooping or putting on a false interest, but instead showing genuine interest in those you lead.

#9 – It’s okay to change your mind, but…

If you change direction, make sure that you explain clearly to your team why you did so. But it’s also advisable to involve your team in setting direction, as well as when it needs to be altered. 

#8 – Communicate clearly and regularly

Ensure that your team is up to date on what’s going on in the organization. And the best way to do this is face-to-face. Make judicious use of email. 

#7- Encourage a learning culture within your team

Show leadership by starting with yourself. Lifelong learning is not a 9 to 5 proposition; it’s about how you absorb new experiences at work and through community service, training courses, assignments, reading, travel, etc. It’s a reciprocal process: employers provide opportunities to learn and grow, but employees also need to engage in activities outside of work.

#6 – Maintain a careful balance between work and personal interactions with your staff

As much as it’s good to do some outside socializing with your team, take particular care as manager to never be seen as creating favourites, which can occur through social activities.

#5 – Give regular feedback on performance

Be open and honest. Don’t whitewash performance reviews; this doesn’t help anyone and deludes people (especially newer recruits) into believing that they’re doing a good job. But acknowledge and recognize superior performance. And be sure to link performance reviews to learning activities. Performance and learning go hand-in-hand.

#4 – Make generous use of self-deprecating humoor.

NEVER make fun of others at their expense. This reflects your own insecurity. And don’t tolerate others making fun of those who may be more vulnerable. Lead by example.

#3 – Share the leadership!

Avoid micromanaging your staff. As they gain work experience and grow, keep the tension on by giving more responsibility and leadership opportunities. As manager, park your ego.

#2 – Admit when you screw up and make a point of showing how you’ve learned from the mistake

This is a powerful way to demonstrate your leadership to your team and to underscore that you’re not above them – you’re a human being.

#1 – Stand behind your staff during times of difficulty

When your staff make mistakes or get caught up in organizational politics and are in trouble, don’t abandon them in an attempt to cover your own butt. If you can’t stand behind one of your team members, then you don’t belong in management and you’re certainly not a leader.

The above ten ways to gain respect from your staff is not the definitive list. What other ways can you suggest to earn the respect of those you lead?

You can and should shape your own future; because if you don’t someone else surely will.
– Joel Barker

11 Ways to Succeed at Work During Turbulent Times

January 27, 2019

The past decade has been characterized by volatility. A near global financial meltdown in 2008, followed by The Great Recession (the worst economic slowdown since The Great Depression) and anemic recoveries in most Western countries, has also seen the longest continuous bull stock market in history, which has lasted for ten years. The U.S. and Canadian economies finally gained traction, driving down unemployment. The housing markets have been strong, benefitting from low interest rates. However, the winds are starting to change.

Major technological advancements in telecommunications, new trading competitors, and rapidly changing geo-political events have contributed to turning the traditional organizational model on its head. That’s not to ignore the virtual disappearance of the sacred employment contract between employers and workers. Job security is now a dinosaur, even in the once-safe public sector. This conflicts with the low (official) unemployment rates, raising concern with central banks (notably Canada) on rising consumer indebtedness.

As the American humorist Will Rogers once said: “It’s not what we don’t know that hurts, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

This aptly applies to our current economic turmoil and the uncertainty of what’s in store for economies around the world in the months and years to come. The forecasts pre-2008 financial meltdown were naive, and those following The Great Recession were ill founded. And in the early stage in 2019, there’s no shortage of opinions and predictions from economists, stock and bond market analysts, bankers, and the like.

In short, no one has a clue, especially economists, whose track records are generally miserable.

There are numerous events of which we have no control over. However, there are things we do control. By focusing on these we’ll be able to improve our performance at work, build better relationships with co-workers, and reduce our stress levels. Take a moment to reflect on the following 11 ways to succeed at work.

1. Tell the truth to superiors, to one another and to ourselves.

2. Live our lives with integrity, being consistent with what we say and do at home, at work, and in our communities.

3. Ignore those who attempt to infect us with their cynicism.

4. Take responsibility for our own learning and personal growth.

5. Initiate change at work for the betterment of our organizations.

6. Persevere in making our organizations better places in which to work.

7. Lead balanced lives between work and home.

8. Be inclusive leaders, actively ensuring that others have the opportunity to lead.

9. Be followers, knowing when it is time to move to the side.

10. Celebrate our accomplishments.

And when you fail at any of these elements, don’t forget the 11th one:
 Don’t give up, keep trying.

What would you also add to this list?

To thrive in a world of change and chaos, we will need to accept chaos as an essential process by which natural systems, including organizations, renew and revitalize themselves.
— Kevin McCarey (Leadership and the New Science)

10 Ways to Get Your Staff to Disrespect You

January 20, 2019

Your faithful correspondent of more than a decade on WordPress was in the workforce 35 years before retiring. During that time, in both the private and public sectors, plenty of bosses were encountered who had their own unique styles of managing. A few were excellent managerial leaders. Unfortunately, most were weak and inconsistent in their leadership roles, with others being downright incompetent.

In this post we’ll look at how to earn the disrespect of your staff (and in a future post on how to earn their respect).

Take a moment to share your suggestions based on your own experiences.

So here we go…

How to Get Your Staff to Disrespect (or even hate) You:

#10 – You’re the boss, and make sure that everyone knows it. Shared leadership is for sissies. Keep that ego well oiled

#9 – Speak to your staff through email; God forbid, don’t talk to them in person. What the heck is “Management by Walking Around?”

#8 – Keep your staff in the dark – keep ‘em guessing since it strengthens your hold on information and power

#7 – Don’t trust your staff’s judgement; you make all the decisions. After all, you’re the boss!

#6 – Constantly change your mind, leaving your staff confused as to what are the priorities

#5 – Have no sense of humour, especially not being able to poke fun at yourself

#4 – Laugh at others misfortunes or mistakes. Losers!

#3 – Micromanage your staff to death; double check everything they do, including rewriting their work reports, etc.

#2 – Assign tasks to staff that you would never consider doing yourself. If it involves, for example, having to deal with a known cranky customer or supplier, better have one of your subordinates do it.

Drumroll please…

#1 – Don’t stand behind your staff, even when they make a mistake; cover your own ass. Hey, people are expendable. What counts is your career advancement.

Okay, let’s have it folks. What’s missing in this top ten?

To change and to improve are two different things.

– German proverb

Instant Pudding Learning and Multitasking: A Leadership Challenge

January 13, 2019

If you’re a young person (in your twenties), what’s your preferred way to learn? How do you engage with older co-workers (mid forties-plus) in the workplace when it comes to learning or asking for advice? Or have you written off older people as has-beens?

If you’re an older Baby Boomer, what have you learned recently from Millennials (Gen Y) or Generation X (ages 38-53)?

How do you interact with younger people at work?

The workplace continues to evolve rapidly, driven by an ageing population, technology, and emerging competing countries through globalization. While unemployment in Canada and the United States is officially low, under-employment is still high and many people have withdrawn from the labour force (according to government survey methodologies). In short, Canada and the U.S. face serious long-term issues on competitiveness and standards of living.

One of the key distinguishing traits of organizations that are adaptive to change and where innovation flourishes is learning and knowledge creation. Lots has been written and spoken about on this topic, yet real progress has been stunted. One of the main barriers to progress has been a workforce that spans four, and soon five, generations, each of which has very different values and approaches to learning and work.

Corporate leaders need to understand both their (Baby Boomer) learning styles and those of Gens X and Y (though it’s important to note that Gen X is steadily taking over the management reins). The multi-tasking learning style of Gen Y, based heavily on digital technology, contrasts sharply with Boomers who still depend on traditional methods, such as hardcopy books, print media and bums-in-chairs classroom learning – where the learner is spoken to and not engaged reciprocally.

 Gen X’s learning style is more or less a hybrid of Boomers and Gen Y; call them conflicted, though they orient themselves more to people interaction than Boomers.

As much as it’s laudatory that Gen Y just wants the bottom line, to get things done through their methods, of specific concern is how they’ll cope in a complex, rapidly changing world. We’re not talking here about the use of technology or Gen Y’s superior ability to network and collaborate, compared to Boomers and Gen X. Rather, it’s about depth of knowledge and understanding.

The ability to understand history and context is crucial for tomorrow’s leaders, whether in business or government. An excellent example is the 2008-09 financial melt-down in the United States.

Very, very few of those involved, in business and government, had any grasp on what led to the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression. America and the global financial system escaped disaster by the skin of its teeth. Older Baby Boomers such as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke understood well financial history. The Gen Xers on Wall Street didn’t have a clue.

History matters.

Context matters.

Depth matters.

Instant pudding learning and multitasking don’t cut it in a volatile economy and geo-political world.

The shallowness that accompanies the frivolities of Gen Y’s (and in part Gen X) approach to learning and knowledge creation will undermine their efforts to effectively lead organizations in the 21st Century.

The big challenge of sharing learning and knowledge across a four generational workforce is for people to learn how to understand and respect one another’s approaches to learning. Note the key word – RESPECT, as R&B singer Aretha Franklin sang.

Ranstad USA conducted a survey several years ago to examine the perceptions held by different generations. Three quarters of those 55-plus said they related well to younger co-workers; however, that sentiment was not reciprocated: only 56% stated they related well to older people. And of particular surprise was the finding that 77% of young people did not ask older co-workers for help or advice.

Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation (72 to 85) need to appreciate how their different learning preferences actually possess significant benefits for organizations because of diversity and the different lens through which they see the world.

Younger people have much to gain, however painful as it may appear, from “older” folks. Corporate history matters, especially when learning from past mistakes and blunders. And past successes are equally important.

For older people there’s certainly much we can gain by engaging Gen Y, and not just in the use of digital technology but also in more collaborative approaches to work where trust is key. Baby Boomers have never been big on trust.

Take a moment to share your views or experiences on learning.

I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did. – Yogi Berra

The New Leadership: Fear, Control, Manipulation

January 6, 2019

One of the more insightful leadership practitioners and authors is. She’s been around a long time in her field: some 52 years consulting and travelling globally. While she’s written several excellent books, her Leadership and the New Science is viewed as a landmark book.

In a 2011 Strategy+Business interview Wheatley talks about rising fear in the workplace due to globalization. While the interview was done seven years ago, her insights are just as relevant now in early 2019, perhaps even more relevant given the array of geo-political, economic, and technological events that are significantly affecting society.

In her conversation with S&B’s Art Kleiner, Wheatley says that she’s noticed “new levels of anxiety” among her colleagues, friends and clients during the onset of the 2008-09 financial crisis and ensuing Great Recession. The consequence in a period of increased global competitiveness, combined with financial pressures on business and governments, has been a pullback in participative management practices.

In response to the question on why perseverance is so important now, she explains:

“Because so many innovative leaders are struggling to do good, meaningful work in a time of overbearing bureaucracy and failing solutions. Everyone is working harder, and in most cases, in greater isolation. The current pace of work and life, along with increasing fear and anxiety, make it more difficult to have the energy and enthusiasm to keep going. Years of effort have been swept away by events beyond anyone’s control, such as the economic crisis or the natural disasters of the past decade….decisions made by politicians and senior executives have been very damaging to those long-term efforts….It is a very difficult time for innovative leaders.” 

How true. Especially as we begin to close this year the second decade of the 21st Century.

Wheatley continues by noting how little time people now give to taking time to reflect on what they’ve learned from their efforts. As a society we’re frantically racing faster and faster, with the big consequence being the loss of community, where people have traditionally come together to share and learn. And as she bluntly states, community is getting harder to find in organizations.

My long-time special interest has been working at the interface between globalization and its effects on organizations in how leadership is perceived and practiced. One of Canada’s and America’s principal competitive strengths has been well educated populations with strong capacities for creative thinking and innovation. However, this capacity has been shrivelling up in recent years due to repressive management practices in both business and government.

Canada’s federal public service (where I worked for three decades) experienced over a decade the stern crackdown by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ruling government. Creative thinking, risk-taking and speaking truth to power all dried up as public servants kept their collective head down for fear of being punished. This was a travesty, considering that Canada was once viewed as having one of the most effective and non-partisan civil services in the world. Since the election of Justin Trudeau in 2015, the financial and political restraints have been loosed. However, the Public Service of Canada still has not re-engaged itself sufficiently with the needs and aspirations of Canadian society.

In a time like this, of economic and emotional distress, every organization needs leaders who can help people regain their capacity, energy, and desire to contribute. And this is only accomplished when people work together in community, not in isolation. But community is hard to find in most organizations. (M. Wheatley)

Any taxpayer, regardless of country, who scoffs at the idea of civil servants being squeezed under a prime minister’s or president’s thumb, with the idea of who cares, should give his or her head a firm shake. The enormous pressures facing national and local governments worldwide, where they compete with one another to attract businesses and jobs, demand public sector organizations whose employees are not cowering in fear.

Wheatley states that when leaders resort to fear to motivate employees, the result is people shutting down their brains. This in turn creates the conditions for failure.

Managing and leading in a turbulent, volatile, and unpredictable environment produces a crisis mentality. However, crisis leadership brings out the worst in human beings, spawning fear, control and the manipulation of people. In turn people retrench, looking out just for themselves, abandoning collaboration and becoming exclusively task-focused. This has huge implications for creativity and innovation in business and government, with the long-term outcome being weakened industrial competitiveness and inefficient public services.

We do have a choice when it comes to how people are led. Unfortunately, as a human species we tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. There’s a lot at stake. Meg Wheatley talks about people stepping up to today’s challenges, provided “…they are led with encouragement and support, and trusted to contribute.”

What’s your solution?

We are at a turning point. Either we continue to descend into incompetence or we see new ways of thinking and acting. — Margaret Wheatley

Resolution-Free Leadership in 2019: Follow Six GLOCO Principles

December 30, 2018

Another year has come to a close. It was a world of ups and downs, whether in the stock market, with geo-political events, or in technology.

It’s easy to feel lost in a sea of change, where we have little or no control over the events that affect our daily lives.

Well, there’s a better way to how we lead our lives in a chaotic and unpredictable world. It’s about separating what we cannot control (external events) from what we, as individuals, are able to control. It’s about self-empowerment in action. 

In the past I’ve talked about GLOCO: think Global, Act Local. Here are six GLOCO principles for your reflection—and potential action— as we enter 2019.

1) Lead your life with integrity—align your words with your actions.

2) Be a promise-keeper. If you don’t want to do something, just say No.

3) Lend a helping hand—even if it’s assisting an old lady across the street.

4) Treat people as how you like to be treated–with respect.

5) Fill an empty space—and leave a positive mark.

6) We’re on Planet Earth for a nano-second of time—look after Her.

Take a moment to reflect on this Sanskrit quotation. It fits well with our entry into a new year.

Yesterday is but a dream, tomorrow but a vision. But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day. Such is the salutation to the dawn.

So before you go racing off into the unknown of unrestrained activity—work, pleasure, community, home—consider the above quotation and what it means to you.

Let’s work together to make 2019 one of positive change.

He who breaks a resolution is a weakling; he who makes one is a fool. — F.M. Knowles (Canadian painter, 1859-1932)