Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Who’s in Charge Here?

As a coach, I get paid to ask people questions. I don’t have to have all of the answers. But I do need to be able to identify the most important questions to ask, including the questions that the client may be avoiding answering themselves. This aspect of my job gives me a unique perspective on questions as I am always listening for good questions from others. And, I figured out long ago that the best questions are not the most complicated questions or the one’s that seem to show deep, thoughtful knowledge on a topic. The best questions are often the simplest questions.

I was recently talking about leadership with a friend and he asked me about the most important aspect of leadership. Now, that’s not really a great question for a couple of reasons. First, it’s hard to narrow down THE most important aspect. And, what I think is important may not match what someone else thinks is important for a variety of good reasons. Second, so many aspects of leadership are intertwined that trying to break them out individually and rank them in order of importance leads to circular thinking. After all, what good is being a great communicator (a must for a leader) if you have nothing worth communicating? What good is your ability to build trust and relationships if you really don’t maximize the strengths of others on your team.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

After a few minutes, my friend reworded the question. “Was there a time in your life when you believed that you were failing as a leader?”

That question made me pause and think. Certainly I had my share of leadership challenges along the way; times where I hit stumbling blocks that slowed my progress, but failure?

In 1984, I took over the MIS department for Garfinkels Department stores in Washington, DC. Garfinkels was a very high-end retailer where only the elite shopped. I was hired because of the challenges they were facing in both system development and the Computer Operations Department. And, while my passions lay in fixing and updating their systems, the more immediate problems were with Computer Operations. So I tackled those problems first; diving in from day one to identify bottlenecks, work through the processes, and move my team down the path to success.

Except for one thing.

I was alone.

No one was following me. Oh sure, I had a team of 15 people. But the truth was that they weren’t listening to me. They pretended to. They did what I told them to, sort of. But that was just on the surface. They were doing just enough to show progress and nothing more. I was a captain without a crew, a shepherd without sheep, a leader without followers. In short, I really wasn’t a leader at all because no one was following me.

It took me a few weeks of thought and insights before I realized the source of the problem. It seems that while I was the guy with the title, I was not the guy with the influence. And leadership means influence. While I had the title, there was actually a computer operator about 3 levels down the management chain that held influence over the entire organization. And she was not about to let some yuppie, college educated, suit-wearing weenie tell her or her people what to do. So, while I tried to lead the team in one direction, she silently led them in another.

This was actually a scenario that played itself out over and over again later in my career. Discovering that the person with the title was not necessarily the person with the power was a bit of a shock for me.

I’ll talk more about identifying who really has the power in the organization and how to get it back in next week’s blog.

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• Your Company Culture
• The Leadership Styles of your key managers
• The Expectations of your Employees

When these 3 factors are aligned, you create an energy in your company that improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, increases creativity, and positively impacts your bottom line. Contact ECI Learning Systems LLC today to get your free Workplace Evaluation.

Until next time....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

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