Introducing The Saturday Serial—An Ongoing Management & Leadership Case

A text slide reading: The Saturday Serial: A Management and Leadership Story Delivered One Post at a TimeA note from Art:

I’ve long believed serials are great ways to share stories. Dickens published many of his works in serial format and the dockworkers were reputed to shout from the shore as ships arrived with the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop, “Did little Nell live?” The Golden Age of Science Fiction was filled with stories told one chapter at a time from issue-to-issue and today’s Game of Thrones novels from George R.R. Martin are an excellent example of the serial on steroids, with fans (myself included) waiting impatiently to learn the fate of our favorite characters and hoping that Mr. Martin finishes the story. Who lives? Who dies? Who conquers?

Serials provide readers an opportunity to become invested in a story and the characters, and I believe the approach provides authors an opportunity to think and then create new twists and new approaches to challenge the characters and further engage the readers. As a child and teen I was addicted to the Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries because I appreciated the characters and I loved the ability to try and solve the cases. I’ve added that twist here in the form of discussion questions and I look forward to sharing my ideas and learning how readers might solve these business cases.

Welcome to my intent and attempt to share and cultivate management and leadership lessons beyond the format of a stale blog post and endless lists of “10 ideas to… .” While I love writing the Management Excellence blog and the first 1,025 posts are testament to my commitment, I’ve wanted to experiment with the serial and management fable format here for a long time. I’m emboldened by the reader appreciation for the short, fictional cases around my mythical APEX Corporation, inserted in front of the chapters in my book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership. Those mini-cases and their discussion questions and the author’s take on the cases have been a staple of this book and something many managers have leveraged to stimulate thinking around the issues we all face in growing as leaders. I’m grateful for the appreciation many of you have expressed for those cases.

Lencioni and Goldratt popularized the novelized or fable form of business lessons in their various writings and I understand that some of you love those and others don’t. For those who prefer their business and leadership lessons and questions with a taste of drama, The Saturday Serial is ideal for you.

Beginning with my first episode, “Welcome to ACME John Anderson,” you will meet a growing cast of characters facing a series of very real management, leadership and career challenges in this fictional high-tech, global conglomerate and its various units and divisions.

Yes, the issues are real. I see them every day and I’ve experienced and observed these dilemmas around strategy and execution and learning to lead and learning to manage in many flavors  for 30-years. And while the characters and firms are all fictional, I will wager a fair amount, you will recognize these issues and challenges…and many of you will be dealing with them in real time. Now, you get to see and hear them unfold here in this on-going series of stories and cases, and hopefully, we’ll all engage in sharing some ideas on how to navigate the challenges. After all, the intent of my work and this entire blog is to help those striving to grow their firms and grow in their careers find useful and creative ideas and answers to the vexing challenges we all face during our journeys.

Welcome to The Saturday Serial at Management Excellence I hope you’ll tune in and chime in as the story develops. After all, the beauty of this format is that you can help determine the outcomes. -Art

Check out Episode Number 1.

 All characters and firms are fictional and any resemblance to any person or any firm is purely coincidental. The Saturday Serial is a copyright (2015) of Art Petty, The Art Petty Group and The Management Excellence Blog.

Six Ideas to Help You Have Better Days at Work

Businessman Being Hit with Boxing GloveEveryone has difficult days, however, when every day feels like a slow, painful, stressful march up a rock-strewn path toward certain calamity, it’s time for you to take action. Here are a few ideas to help you re-frame your daily activities and reset your attitude.

Six Ideas to Help You Have Better Days at Work:

1. Shrink your goals and create little victories. View every encounter or task as an opportunity to succeed…and internally acknowledge the successes. This technique is often referenced in the context of the Navy Seals as one that allowed them to survive and succeed one of the most rigorous training programs on the planet. Every successful step during this stressful program places them one step closer to achieving their goal.

Instead of focusing on the less tangible yearly or quarterly goals, spend more time succeeding in the present. Remind yourself that every day offers a host of challenges and encounters ripe for earning victory. Whether it’s taking the burden away from that stressed out customer, sharing challenging news with executives or, making the calls needed to support your sales pipeline build, every step and every encounter offers a chance for you to say, “OK, I succeeded with that one. Next!”  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how acknowledging small victories will improve your attitude and steel your resolve and confidence for solving the bigger challenges.

2. Defuse stressful situations by employing a “seek first to understand” approach.  Instead of arguing with that same character in the other department, ask questions that when answered will help you understand why he is so animated about a change in process or policy. When you encounter squabbles on project teams, take the same approach. This is a classic negotiating technique where striving to uncover shared interests allows the two parties to work towards or design a proper outcome. More often than not, we engage in verbal arm-wrestling over positions and approaches without cultivating a clear view to the real interests of all parties. Questions are your best friend here!

3. Try Admitting Your Mistakes…instead of hiding from them. It’s typically not the mistakes that we make that are damaging to our credibility and our immediate environment…it’s what we do once we’ve made them that determines the real impact. How you handle one of your mistakes says a lot about your character and whether people can trust you. With a genuine dose of humility, try a simple, “You were right and I was wrong,” or some variation based on the situation. This approach can prevent emotional boil-overs and help cool simmering slow-burns.

4. Try Offering Your Help. The words, “How can I help?” or, “Here’s how I can help…,” are lifelines for individuals and teams struggling through complex issues, and your support is a great way for you to build professional equity and credibility with your coworkers. Of course, once the offer is made, stand prepared to deliver.

5. Practice Preparing Your Daily Attitude. I’ve referenced this one before and it bears repeating. A participant in one of my workshops offered how she managed to move her attitude from negative to positive with a simple daily ritual. She would arrive at work a few minutes early every morning and use those minutes in her car to begin focusing on how she wanted her day to unfold…from beginning to end. While things have a habit of not going as planned in most workplaces, she offered that the simple adjustment of walking in the door and walking around to greet her team members helped her improve her attitude and set a better tone with her team every morning. As she walked out the door at night, she would think about the achievements of the day (small victories) and how tomorrow offered another great set of opportunities to succeed. The other workshop participants (and the workshop leader) found this approach to be priceless!

6. Ask for Help—Seek Outside Perspectives on Big Issues. While I encouraged you to offer, “How can I help?” above, it’s important for you to recognize that in some circumstances, an objective outside perspective is essential to identifying or evaluating a situation. Instead of stewing and stressing over a big decision on your own, identify someone who is experienced enough to offer valuable perspectives and far away enough from your situation to be objective. While you may own the call and the implications of the call, seeking external input is an important and stress-reducing step we should all take more often in our work.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Creeping negativity is a morale killer in too many workplaces and a potential career killer if you’re the one spreading it. If you’re daily attitude needs a bit of adjusting, you owe it to yourself and your colleagues to take action. And who knows, you might just stimulate some creeping positivity and help make work a better place for everyone around you. For those of you who have some additional ideas and approaches for improving your days at work (and reducing stress), please share. You’ll be doing us all a public service.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter with subscriber-only content! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

Revisiting The 5 Priceless Lessons from Amundsen and Scott

Roald AmundsenNote from Art: given the recent storms and polar-like weather in the Midwest and Northeast, it seems fitting to revisit the priceless management and leadership lessons gleaned from Amundsen and Scott in their race to 90-degrees south. These lessons never grow cold!

In preparation for an upcoming presentation, I’ve become a bit obsessed with studying the 1910 expeditions and race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott to 90-degrees South (the South Pole).  The lessons for leaders and managers practically leap off the pages of this classic example of coping with risk, uncertainty and volatility.

This “Heroic Era” of polar exploration was capped off (really bad pun!) by Amundsen and Scott, in what turned into an adventure where Amundsen beat Scott to the pole and safely returned, crew intact. Sadly, Scott and his crew ultimately perished during their attempted return.

I have Jim Collins to thank for this latest management segue, as he draws upon this same race and the comparison and contrast between Amundsen and Scott in his book with Morten T. Hansen, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck-Why Some Thrive Despite them All. (Note: While Collins hooked me, see my suggestion at the end of the post for much deeper reading on the topic.)

The level of preparation that Amundsen and team put into their polar expedition was both monumental and commendable.

All students of project management and management and leadership in general should study this case.  The comparison and contrast between Amundsen’s approach and Scott’s is fascinating and highly relevant to leading initiatives and organizations in today’s turbulent workplace environment.

For the rest of us, here are a few lessons gleaned from my just-started study of this fascinating event.

At Least 5 Key Lessons Gained from Studying Amundsen and Scott:

1. The Conventional Wisdom Isn’t Always Right.  Amundsen’s selection of a previously uncharted path to 90-degrees South was contrary to all of the conventional wisdom of the time.  Long voiced concerns about the stability of the ice in the area kept prior expeditions from considering Amundsen’s starting point. His own painstaking review of the various logs of prior explorers suggested that the geology hadn’t changed much in decades. He decided to take this risk in return for a straighter, shorter (albeit completely unknown) line to his destination. While his choice introduced an element of risk, he viewed the payoff for success as worth it.

How often do you let the conventional wisdom dictate your approach to a complex problem?

2. Focus Means Focus. Amundsen was solely focused on reaching the South Pole. Everything he did…the months of preparation, the customization of his tools…and everything he had done earlier in his life, including, living with the Inuit, led to his preparation for success in the harsh polar environment. Scott had a mixed agenda of exploration and science, and the complexity of doing both contributed in part to his challenges.

It’s always tempting to tag on goals that seem complementary. Beware the dilution and distraction effect. In another work, Collins describes our tendency to engage in the “undisciplined pursuit of more.” We’re always best served by clarifying and then laser-focusing on the mission at hand.

 3. Luck Happens-It’s What You Do with It that Counts. In Amundsen’s words: “I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”

Scott’s journal was filled with descriptions of bad luck. In reality, the two expeditions faced much of the same lousy weather luck. One succeeded while the other failed. What we do with our luck…good or bad is completely within our control.

 4. Tailor the Tools to the Mission. While Scott and his crew spent the winter months wiling away their time with lectures (to each other) and reading, Amundsen’s team maintained 8-hour days customizing every single piece of equipment to improve their odds of surviving anything. Both expeditions used the same sledges, but Amundsen’s were modified to reduce the weight considerably. Amundsen redesigned his skis and ski bindings, his crates, his critical paraffin containers and everything else with the idea of safety, security, light-weight, ease of use from set-up to stowing all the driving goal. And he took tips from the Inuit on clothing, opting for a style and material that promoted air circulation and helped managed sweating and heat retention/loss.

Too often we expect our technology tools and generic practices to yield great results. Take a page from Amundsen and tailor your tools to the mission in front of you.

 5. Nobility is Nice, but Practicality Wins. Scott and his crew viewed it as noble to man-haul their sledges and gears. Yes, man-haul. Amundsen knew from his time with the Inuit that dogs were superior haulers and that the issue of calories would eventually determine survival or death. Scott grossly miscalculated the calorie burn from man-hauling, and that combined with poor food depot planning (location, contents, fuel) contributed to his team’s demise. It is reported that Amundsen’s team actually gained weight during their successful return trip.

Pride and nobility goeth before the fall. Don’t get caught up in the nobility of your tactics, when there may well be a better, less-elegant approach to save the project, your job or in Scott’s case, his life.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

All of us live and work in a world filled with chaos and turbulence. Our customers feel it, our suppliers know it and our competitors are coping with it as well. As Collins and Hansen suggest in Great by Choice: “It’s what you do before the storm comes that most determines how well you’ll do when the storm comes. Those who fail to plan and prepare for instability, disruption, and chaos in advance tend to suffer more when their environments shift from stability to turbulence.”

While, “Be like Amundsen” doesn’t have that commercial jingle sound to it, we will all be better off if we incorporate this explorer’s constancy of purpose and unrelenting focus into our personal and professional endeavors.

Another great resource on this topic: Race to the End by Ross D. E. MacPhee (hardcover only…a beautiful collector’s book.)

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter with subscriber-only content! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

For a Change, Try Embracing Change at Work

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas, guidance and inspiration for strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

We all know that we live in an era of constant change. Gary Hamel in his excellent video on the reality and near future of management, “Reinventing the Technology of Human Achievement” suggests that even “change is changing.” It impacts our firms, competitors and markets, and of course, change impacts all of us in our jobs.

And more often than not, the thought of change is enough to send us scurrying for cover.

However, hiding or simply allowing fear of the unknown to seize your emotions is the wrong approach in a situation that stands to be both a rich learning experience and an opportunity for you to showcase your value to your managers and your firm.

Organizational Health Demands Learning and Change:

In the McKinsey study summarized in “Beyond Performance” by Keller and Price, the definition of organizational health is one where a firm “aligns, executes and renews faster than competitors.” The align/execute/renew tasks imply the need to be in a constant learning and adapting mode, and that means that firms, teams and individuals must adjust their strategies and approaches to cope or leverage changing market conditions. Naturally, this means our own roles and tasks and teams will change.

The McKinsey study goes so far as to offer a causal relationship between this ability to learn and change and drive financial results. Firms that do this well win and firms that don’t struggle or die. Now, about that new team you are being asked to join or that new set of challenges in front of you and your group… .

Don’t Assume the Worst About the Rationale for Change:

While there’s little doubt that change is often mismanaged by those in charge of leading it, and I’ve certainly observed change that was politically motivated rather than motivated by market conditions or opportunities, more often than not, the need to change is based on very legitimate issues. In particular, in those organizations where leadership is critically concerned about serving stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, partners and shareholders) and building or sustaining success, change is essential for prosperity. Markets, technologies, customers and competitors don’t stand still and don’t doubt that your competitors would love to keep you and your team members from earning those bonuses or paying those bills. We’re all in competitive markets and our ability to quickly change and adapt is essential not only for success, but survival.

Adjust Your Attitude and Seize the Golden Opportunity that Change Offers You:

The only people truly nervous about change should be the leaders and managers leading the charge on change. After all, they’re dependent upon everyone else for their success.

Try spending a few minutes walking in your manager’s shoes and you would quickly learn that she’s hoping and looking for someone and some people to step up and help with change. Whether it’s building that new market-focused team or combining two formerly siloed groups into one or taking on a new set of customers or tasks, your willingness to help with the heavy lifting is a priceless opportunity to stand-up, stand-out and enhance your professional equity.

To seize this opportunity, you will need to quell that queasy feeling of, “I’m not certain what this means for me in my work” and adopt the more productive perspective of, “If I jump in, I can help form what this means for me and my team, and I can help my manager and firm.” There’s a profound difference between the two types of thinking and the behaviors and results each one promotes.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

When faced with change, fight your natural instinct to hide or react with outrage. Take a few deep breaths and recognize that you will be dealing with change the rest of your career and you can either make it your friend and an engine for your growth, or, it’s going to be a long, unpleasant career. My vote is for you to jump in and pitch in. Your manager and your firm need your help and your career might just get a boost in the process.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter with subscriber-only content! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

Leadership Caffeine—Humility and the Effective Leader

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

The most effective leaders I know are simultaneously courageous and humble in the face of ambiguity and adversity.

Courage as we all know is essential for facing and making the tough decisions demanded in difficult situations. I referenced this attribute in my recent post, Leading into the Fog.

A healthy grounding of humility serves as a powerful check and balance influence that helps effective leaders fight the pressure to make rash decisions in the drive to be perceived as omniscient.

There’s a very real…and very dangerous pressure in many organizations for those in charge to appear all-knowing and all-confident. This pressure is a catalyst to rash and poor decisions that exacerbate already difficult situations. After all, no CEO wants to appear weak in front of her board and no manager wants to appear as if he doesn’t know what to do in front of his team or boss. The pressure to avoid being perceived as weak or uncertain invites individuals to portray a false sense of confidence and to act around misguided quick-fix thinking.

There are no quick fixes in business. Not for a strategy problem, a revenue problem, a competitive problem, a quality problem or a talent problem. They are sticky, wicked, complicated issues where solutions emerge in iterative fashion of try, fail, learn, improve… . You have nothing to gain by suggesting you have all of the answers.

Please don’t confuse my use of the notion of humility as anything that suggests weakness. Rather, I view the trait of humility as an attribute of a strong leader. Humility allows the leader to clearly understand the situation and to have realistic context for the implications, risks and challenges. It also allows this leader to comfortably seek and accept help.

The effective leader is a realist who understands that he/she is responsible for the choices to move beyond the present circumstances. This leader draws upon the ideas, insights and approaches of the best minds on the team. It takes true inner strength to both acknowledge that you don’t have all of the answers and that you and the team will be better off if you seek and accept input from those around you.

Developing Your Own Leadership Style:

We all cultivate our own leadership styles and approaches over time and based on experience. With the benefit of age and experience, I’ve long concluded that I’m stronger and more effective by drawing upon and engaging others for the most vexing challenges. It’s difficult at times to resist asserting on an issue that seems straightforward or feels familiar. It’s easy to dictate..but it is most often right to hold back and support the discovery and learning of others. Often, the solution the team develops turns out to be superior to the one that worked historically.

At the end of the day, the art of leading and managing effectively is knowing which decisions you can outsource and which you and you alone must be accountable for. Don’t shirk your responsibility to make decisions that enable action. Just don’t confuse this with the need to make all of the decisions.

In situations where the pressure is on from above and below, it’s fine and necessary to portray a strong sense of confidence that you and your team will find the way forward. Those above you want to know that you’re moving forward and those around you want to be part of the work. Just resist the temptation to put it all on your shoulders. That’s not leading, it’s dumb.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Delusional leaders who have worked to convince everyone around them that they have all of the answers have a tendency to begin believing their own dogma. These individuals are dangerous to a firm’s health. Instead of feeling the pressure to act like a superman or superwoman in corporate clothing, try recognizing that the super people around you have the critical pieces to most business puzzles. All you need to do is invite them to get involved with developing the solution.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.