Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Rush, Less Speed: A Manager's Lesson in Accountability

It's often amusing to me to realize how many business philosophies were first taught to me as life lessons in my early school years. I've been a long time fan of the author Robert Fulghum who among other books wrote the best seller entitled All I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. But where Fulghum learned his lessons in his earliest school years, I often draw on my experiences in grades six and seven. It was in grade seven that I had a wonderful teacher, Mr Squire, who often went above and beyond the standard school curriculum to try to impart some wisdom to enhance our lives. It was this teacher that taught me the phrase "More rush, less speed." He taught us that often by taking shortcuts or by ignoring the tasks that many others in our position couldn't be "bothered" to do, we would inevitably create more work for ourselves and others. Time and again I have found this adage proven true in both my personal and professional life.

As I fast forward a number of years to a communications conference I attended in my mid-thirties, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear a powerful speaker named Patrick Lencioni. Patrick is a professional management consultant and founder of The Table Group whose link I provide to the right of my articles. Patrick has also written some of the most powerful guides to business and management that I have ever read and that I recommend as a must read to any manager or senior executive. In one of these guides, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators, Patrick addresses the importance of embracing accountability. He briefly refers to an experience when a "chief executive claimed 'I don't have time for that' when someone suggested that he tell one of his direct reports to stop spreading unfounded rumors about his own promotion to president of the company." During the conference Patrick elaborated on this brief description, offering a tale that is all too familiar in my own experience as well. Here, as best as I can do it justice, is that tale...

It seems that there was a company where the president had decided he was going to step down from his role. However, being appropriately concerned for the well-being of the company he was very diligent in his search for a successor. After determining that the right candidate would not be an existing internal employee he decided to take some time off to search outside of the company. It was during this time that one of the senior executives who was not particularly respected because of his power trips and ineffective management styles, we'll call him Bob, started spreading rumors throughout the company that he was going to be promoted to the position of the president. This caused an increasing wave of dissent and discontent and finally one of the other senior executives called the president. As Patrick relates this tale, he acts out the conversation as follows...

VP: Hello sir...sorry to bother you. Just had a couple of quick questions for you. Are you aware that Bob is telling everyone in the company that he's going to be the next president.
President: Why, no. I had no idea.
VP: Okay, second question... Is he going to be the next president?
President: Well, no. To be candid I don't think Bob is qualified which is why I decided to look for a replacement outside of the company.
VP: All right. Final question... Are you going to TELL Bob any of this before more problems are created.
President: No. I don't really have the time or energy to deal with that sort of thing.

And there's the rub. A leader who doesn't have the "time" to deal with open dissent and discontent caused by a direct report. It was at this point of the conference that Patrick voiced his confusion at the "no time or energy" concept that so many chief executives cling to in avoiding conflict and professional accountability. His response was that the whole situation could have been diffused with the following phone call from the president...

"Hi Bob? It's the president. I understand you're telling people that you're going to be my replacement. Just wanted to clear that up and let you know that's not the case. Please stop telling people otherwise or else bad things might happen. Thanks Bob. Have a great day."

That's it. A 30 second conversation that addresses and solves the problem, preventing a greater loss of morale or confidence within the senior team that may even trickle down into other levels. Doesn't even require more energy than it takes to pick up a phone.

Time and again I have seen this type of scenario played out in one company after another. Somehow the concept of a promotion to higher levels of leadership has become twisted over the years. You see, even to our children we teach that there should be a balance between rights and responsibilities. If we want our rights and privileges to increase, we have to understand that our responsibilities to the welfare of the company and our charges must increase as well. Instead too many executives seem to believe that the increase of salary and status means that their responsibilities to the welfare of the company are lessened. Or perhaps to be fairer, they simply more innocently lose perspective of how to protect that welfare looking solely at the financial charts and reports. But as a businessman who has been responsible for preparing many of those reports I can confirm they only give you a part of the projection towards a company's success or failure. Even companies that experience the greatest financial success because of a new innovation or industry placement can be inevitably sunk if the relationship components are ignored. The willingness to invest the time to consider the whole picture and engage with your direct reports honestly and openly can prevent a costly amount of time and finances if the trusted and experienced members of your team leave because of avoidable professional dissatisfaction or stress.

As true as it was in seventh grade so is it true in the corporate landscape. As we rise up the ladder of success, the more shortcuts we take the longer the journey will take. Or in the simple words of Mr. Squire... More rush, less speed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its a very commendable write up ....you were very incisive in the way you portrayed how things are handled...and how it could have been handled .....Kudos keep up the great work