The Horse and the Groom

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A GROOM used to spend whole days in currycombing and rubbing down his Horse, but at the same time stole his oats and sold them for his own profit. “Alas!” said the Horse, “if you really wish me to be in good condition, you should groom me less, and feed me more.”

This Aesop’s fable describes exactly what happens when someone with poor management skills gets put in charge of an organization. It is easy to create the illusion of care while depriving people of the very things they need to grow and stay strong.

There was an organization that I once worked with where the maintenance department had monthly breakfasts. This involved about 25 employees from the department and was generally handled pretty frugally so the cost per person was fairly low.  Management launched two initiatives. The first was to cut costs and the second was to create a better sense of teamwork in the organization. They did this by cutting the budget for the maintenance department breakfasts and starting monthly team building dinners for the executives.

I don’t know if the team building dinners helped the managers, but I do know that the cost in morale and productivity was much greater than any savings that came by canceling the breakfasts for the maintenance workers.

Great Leadership by Dan

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Great Leadership by Dan is written by Dan McCarthy. Dan work for the University of New Hampshire as the  Director of Executive Development Programs at  Whittemore School of Business and Economics. Dan’s blog is well worth following (atom feed), regularly updated and offers a great perspective on leadership challenges.  Here are some links to interesting entries along with some of my thoughts.

Simple High Performance Model – This is a nice graphic showing the interplay of technical ability and emotional intelligence. I can spot a good quadrant graphic when I instantly start plotting everyone I have every worked with on it. Take a look at it.  Where do your co-workers fall?  More importantly, what point would represent you?

10 Mistakes Every Leader Should Make (and learn from) before they Die – This post could probably make a great tool to interview leaders. Go through the list and ask the prospect to identify when they made that particular mistake and what they learned from it. Experienced leaders will probably have made every mistake at least once and can articulate the consequences and what they learned from the experience.

“Fun” At Work – In this post, Dan looks at some of the things that leaders and managers do to try to create a “fun” workplace and concludes that most of them are simply wasted. He suggests that becoming a genuine, happy person yourself will do more to create a happy working environment than the long list of efforts most of us have experienced. I agree in principle, but think it is important to not simply discount everything on the list, just because they have been used by managers attempting to fake a “fun” environment. For example, he mentions that putting in a air hockey table is a waste of time and makes people feel like slackers while others work.  I can see that happening, but it can also be used carefully. Here is a story from my experience.

I was working as the manager of an IT department with about 11 employees. Over the years we developed a pretty fun work environment. This was something I intentionally tried to foster, but of course much of it was from having a group of people who were fun loving to start with. After a particularly busy week finishing up a large project, I asked the maintenance department to move a hockey table into the center of our shared office space, so when everyone came in that morning, there was this hockey table sitting there. I announced that we were going to have an air hockey tournament at lunch. Office conversation that morning centered around boasting and talking “smack” to each other.  We spent about an hour working through our brackets to find the air hockey champion.

Air Hockey In The Office

In that situation, I think the air hockey table was actually helpful in creating a fun work environment. Here is why:

  1. It was genuinely fun and came at the end of a bunch of very long hours and recognized everyone’s hard work with an hour of diversion.
  2. It was surprising and interesting. No one else in the department knew what was going on. Everyone who came in asked “What is going on?”
  3. It helped my team interact outside of the stress and conflict of the normal work process.
Back to Dan’s post. I think the biggest takeaway is that you can’t fake fun. A table with a bunch of air holes in it, isn’t going to compensate for being a mean grouch. It will flop and people will probably assume it is a trap.  Maybe the people who actually play with it will get fired or something. On the other hand, you shouldn’t completely avoid surprising your team with something unexpected and fun.

Most Important Leadership Traits

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There are five leadership traits that have been identified as the most important thing followers look for in accessing a leader. These traits are:

  1. Honesty
  2. Forward-looking
  3. Intelligence
  4. Competence
  5. Inspiring
5 Leadership Traits That Attract Followers, looks at each of these traits in detail and explores how to develop and display those traits to maximize your “followability.”

Don Clark’s Leadership Training

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Donald Clark has put together a very detailed leadership guide called The Art and Science of Leadership. It is designed to be used as a curriculum for a leadership training course and includes exercises, self-assessments and other activities along with the core content. Best of all, you can use it freely as long as you aren’t selling it and give proper credit.

The curriculum is an excellent resource for self-study. While most of the content is text, there are a number of helpful images, self-assessments and even some videos. Together this makes for an ideal learning experience with enough variation to keep learners engaged.

The site also provides an excellent foundation to use in training.  It is pretty indepth and detailed, so you’ll probably want to customize it for your organization by selecting the modules and activities that are most relevant to the particular needs of your class.

The Art and Science of Leadership is probably one of the best free leadership resources available on the Internet today and well worth spending some time studying. Also check out Don’s list of leadership links.

Truman Leadership Quote

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Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.
~Harry S Truman

Leadership means not waiting for history to happen.  It means taking the steps of shaping events toward a desired end. This leadership quote is an important reminder that progress comes from leaders taking action and making history.

Management Quotes

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Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out. ~ Stephen Covey

This management quote illustrates the symbiotic relationship between leadership and management. It isn’t enough to lead–you must have management to bring the correct actions.

If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings—and put compensation as a carrier behind it—you almost don’t have to manage them. ~ Jack Welch

This management quote illustrates that much of what we call management is simply trying to fight the fact that we aren’t treating people the way we’d like to be treated.

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work. ~ Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker’s management quote is in a similar vein to Welch’s. This is often the result of putting a freshly minted MBA with no real work experience in charge of managing people. The natural tendencies of someone with a bunch of management classes and no real leadership experience is often counter productive.

Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny. ~ Kin Hubbard

While this quote is about management, the same thing can be said about most areas of life. If you aren’t getting the results you want, it probably means you are doing something wrong. Don’t blame it on destiny because that will keep you from finding the problem.

Leadership Quote by Lincoln

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Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
~ Abraham Lincoln

This leadership quote by Abraham Lincoln is one of the first things that comes to mind when a a high flying leader is brought to their knees by some sort of scandal. Positions of leadership and power set humans up to fail and as Lincoln points out, are the ultimate test of one’s character.

It is easy to have morals and character when you don’t think you can get away with anything else, but power and high leadership positions create a situation where people must rely on their real internal character instead of simply conforming to socially acceptable morals.

Management Definition

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When it comes to management, asking 5 managers for their definition of management is probably going to give you five different answers. The way each person defines management reflects their personal management style and personality. A discussion of different definitions is not only interesting to get a broad view of different perspectives, but also gives you a good deal of insight into the different types of people who often end up in a management role.

The guidance and control of action required to execute a program. Also, the individuals charged with the responsibility of conducting a program.

the role of conducting and supervising a business.

The process of planning, leading, organizing and controlling people within a group in order to achieve goals; also used to mean the group of people who do this.

Leadership Qualities

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Leadership qualities are one of the most important things an aspiring leader can get. Obviously a leader must have skills and competency in the field where they want to work, but their character determines whether or not they will be able to get anyone to follow them. Simply being competent doesn’t make people want to follow you. Qualities are more difficult to acquire than skill because they have to do with one’s character–it touches on who you are as a person.  This doesn’t mean that it can’t be learned, but it is very different than trying to learn chemistry or accounting.

Most of our character was learned early on in life.  In fact, it can often be traced back to what our parents taught us at a young age.  You can change your character, but you will be working against years of ingrained behavior and early childhood training. It is worth it, but it is difficult.

One of the more effective ways to cultivate specific character traits is to follow Benjamin Franklin’s example.  He had a note book with a list of all the qualities he valued.  Every evening, he would note which traits he succeeded in displaying and which ones he failed.  Then he would journal some thought son his success or failure. This approach is brilliant because it forces you to continually evaluate your progress and rate your success.  The journal aspect forces you to say specifically what worked well and what was a failure and lay out a course of action to improve the areas where you fell short. (This type of improvement process using a journal is valuable in a number of different self education pursuits.)

Of all the potential qualities of a leader, here are the top five.  These are the traits that people say they look for in their leaders, so they should correspond to how likely it is that someone will follow you:

  • Intelligent
  • Competent
  • Forward-looking
  • Honest
  • Inspiring

Intentional effort into displaying these qualities in your professional life will help you become the type of leader that people want to follow. Displaying the opposite of these leadership qualities will help make sure that no one wants to follow you.

Leadership Quote From Truman

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To be able to lead others, a man must be willing to go forward alone.
~Harry Truman

This is one of my favorite leadership quotes. It really shows what is lacking is modern leaders.  Most want people to do their bidding, but they aren’t interested in pursuing  their goals unless other people are doing the work.  A true leader is someone motivated by a greater calling than simply having people follow them. This comes down to having a leadership purpose–something that goes beyond simply a desire to be important.

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