Tuesday, May 25, 2004

When Problems Raise Their Ugly Heads

The trouble is, sooner or later, there's always trouble of one kind or another. What I will suggest as a hypothesis is that it's how we deal with trouble that defines who we are as individuals and as teams.

Say you're the cause of the issue. Stop causing trouble. 'Nuff said for now, 'kay? Just like I don't care for whiners, I'm not overly thrilled with people who cause trouble for the sake of trouble. If you're doing it for other reasons, we'll try to get back to you another time.

Say you're just an "innocent bystander" - Did you speak up? If no, then maybe you should have. If yes, did you speak up soon enough? Did you make yourself willing and open to helping find a solution that worked well for as many people as possible or were you whining? If people are ignoring your good insights, maybe they don't deserve you. That's less likely to be the real issue, though, isn't it?

If you're the leader, what's your excuse? If your answer is you didn't know about it, then I might have to come kick some butt. It all comes down to what I think is the real reason why several of the candidates on The Apprentice didn't get the job. Trump never really addressed this one on air (maybe they figured they'd have to bleep out too much foul language) but he should have. I'll save you the trouble of asking him what he thought about it and share with you my own thoughts on the subject.

The first is to ask a favor first... please help me understand why you didn't know. Can you do it and still prove yourself a good leader. Quite frankly, I'm not sure it can be done unless you also harbor a willingness to work on it.

In the case of the wanna-be leader of the guys (it turns out he wasn't - he just was the one who acted like he was the whole time; for the real leader who didn't act much like it, well, that's a different issue) when they lost the contest to the women at Planet Hollywood, he didn't know what was going on out front because he was stuck in the back. If there was ever a good reason for managers not to get stuck doing, that's it. You build good credibility by being able to do and you should always be willing to step in and help out with whatever you're expecting your staff to do... but don't forget - your first responsibility to the success of the team is to lead. The moment you get stuck, heads-down, on doing the work to the point where you can't pop up from time to time to get a good read on matters, you're no longer effective as a leader because how can you know what's going on out front if you're in the back the whole time?

Of course, the same is true if you're stuck in your office the whole time. Or in meetings, or on Capitol Hill. Get out, walk around, see what's happening. Talk with people; more importantly, let them talk with you. If you really listen, they'll let you know what's up.

That leads me to the second most common excuse I hear - "No one ever told me." Excuse me, did I hear that right? I have more questions for you on that one. Did you ask? Was it in a way that led people to believe you really wanted the truth? Do you make it safe for them to give you real information? Most importantly, would your staff answer it the same way? If not, then go back in read the posts about the environment.

It's one thing to see these kinds of mistakes happening on The Apprentice. Sure, these are folks who were supposed to be a cut above the rest but basically they're still kids in a lot of ways. And besides, you know at least part of the reason they were picked was because it makes for entertaining television. I can live with that, even if I don't personally find it all that entertaining.

When I see this stuff move from the entertainment hour on TV to the news hour, it's a little more disturbing. Face it, I really wasn't a manager all that long. And there were plenty of things I did or didn't do that I'm sure people disagreed with. This one feels so very basic, though, that I feel pretty passionate that anyone spending any time at all in a leadership role should have this one down cold. That includes anyone who acts in any kind of capacity as an "unofficial leader" or is hoping to move into management or any other role involving some kind of leadership. If I can convince even one or two people that it's a worthwhile competency to develop, I'll feel like I've accomplished an important task.

I hope you'll send an email to me at techsurvivor@soaringmountain.com and share with me your examples, horror stories, or disagreements. As always, I'm interested in your point of view.

Do you know enough - how could you know more?