Leadership Caffeine™—Are You Driving Your Team Bananas?

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveFair warning—watch out ahead for excessive use of alliteration and the massacre of more than a few innocent metaphors.

What I really wanted to call this post was, “Quit Acting Like a Hyper-Rooster.” It’s much more visual, and after all, does anyone really want to look or act like a hyper-rooster? Yet, that’s exactly what too many managers act and look like, as they simultaneously strut and flit around the office or plant, moving from activity to activity, focusing on everything and nothing and making their colleagues dizzy and disoriented in the process.

These over-caffeinated and self-anointed drivers of productivity falsely believe that constant pushing and oversight followed by more pushing are all essential. They subscribe to an old model of motivation—one that depended upon unwavering immersion in the act of “supervising” the work of others. The underlying belief is that people who are watched and/or, who are constantly goaded into action actually outperform those left to their own designs.

There’s the un-trusting, “you’re likely screwing off if I’m not here, so I’m going to incessantly look over your shoulder,” form of this “hyper-rooster syndrome.” And then there’s the falsely noble but every bit as destructive form of constantly “touching base” or “checking in” which fools no one. A third incarnation is the manager who resets priorities every time the wind changes direction, creating a maelstrom of motion but killing any chance of productive performance. I’ve encountered a few managers who regularly hit the trifecta in displaying these horrendous habits.

While it might work for ensuring calm in prison populations, this style of management—death by oversight and over-involvement—doesn’t work for any audience on the other side of the barbed wire. Our brains are wired to respond differently depending upon whether external stimuli are sending us forward (with interest) or pushing us away from something (out of fear). The habits of the hyper-rooster manager induce anxiety and ambiguity and drive us squarely into the fight or flight camp. Unless we’re being challenged for “who’s going to be dinner?” by a sabre-tooth tiger, the fight or flight trigger offers no benefit in the workplace. Quit invoking it, dammit!

Your job…our job, is to form and frame an environment where we’re able to simplify complexity, stimulate creativity and foster collaboration in pursuit of their work and the team’s or firm’s goals. While sounding a bit like the inside of a Hallmark Management Card (do they have that category?!) it’s true. The short form tag-line might be (in a tribute to Deming): “Get the fear out!”

image of a hand holding a mirrorSpeaking of fear, if you fear that you resemble the hyper-rooster, even a little bit, why not try an experiment or three. (If you’re not sure, find someone willing to give you frank feedback and ask them about what works and what doesn’t work with your style.) Spend more time up front clarifying goals and direction and then back off and let people show you what you can do. If you’re courageous, confess to your team that you are working on becoming more effective as their manager and part of it is trusting more and overseeing less. While no one will believe you until you prove it, at least you won’t leave them confused, waiting for the hyper-rooster to jump in the middle of their work.

Try issuing fewer orders and instead, ask more questions. Aim for a 10:1 ratio—10 questions for every order. Keep a tally.

Encourage people to reach out to you to bounce ideas around or to alert you of potential problems and potential solutions to problems. Don’t fall back into old habits and start solving every problem for everyone who walks through your office door. Your new favorite question should be, “I don’t know, what do YOU think YOU should do?”

Offer positive feedback. A lot of positive feedback. You’ll be amazed how people respond once they get over the shock.

Take the time to sit down with team members and work with them on developmental ideas or directions. Where needed, offer that critical constructive input. Try feed-forward. Instead of criticism, talk about great behaviors and approaches looking forward.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While the list of good behaviors can go on indefinitely, changing our behaviors is incredibly difficult. Look in the mirror and if you see a hyper-rooster, accept that you need to change and do it incrementally. Move too fast on your own positive change and people will think you’re dying. Of course, if you keep up your old habits, they might not mind.

See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Leadership Caffeine™—Seeing and Observing

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeve

The Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

A dialog between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

“The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”


“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

The famous author Saul Bellow coined the phrase, “first class noticer” and the late Warren Bennis as well as Harvard’s Max Bazerman both implore(d) us to strengthen our powers of noticing.

”I’ve never seen the world before. Now I was seeing it, and it’s a beautiful, marvelous gift. Enchanting reality! –Saul Bellow

In my discussions with senior leaders, I ask a few simple but not simplistic questions:

  • What’s new that will change everything for your firm?
  • Who are the people on your team that see the future?
  • What are you doing to change the game for the better for your customers?

As you might imagine, the answers to all three of the questions are often…light.

Too many of us view our world through glasses that both narrow the vision and shrink the focal point to a point just a short distance (and time) from the here and now.

We spend an incredible amount of time immersed in a world of our own fabrication—the world as it feels and looks and acts from inside our organization’s walls. It’s not the culture that will kill you, it’s the view. It’s time to change it.

Take off the blinders and look up and out further. Extend your focal point.

Changing the View and Becoming First Class Noticers:

A marketing executive I hold in high regard did this with her team.

She had grown tired of the endless debates about what to do and where to go that were anchored firmly by the view and biases of the people in her firm.

She sent her team out into the field to attend industry events and talk with customers. They parroted what they heard: “faster horses” (more of the same…incremental changes) from the customers, and the same tired industry gossip and scuttlebutt about new features, functions and releases from competitors. She had long been convinced that the only thing that changed at the annual industry trade-shows were the company names on the badges of the same people.

She did something her team viewed initially as odd. She cut the budgets for travel to industry events and she signed people up and sent them out to events and conferences and summits in markets and for technologies far removed from her firm’s industry.

The team was confused.

She sent them out with bewildered looks on their faces, armed with two requirements:

  1. Listen and observe. Pay attention to this environment. What’s happening? What’s new? What’s driving and changing everything? How are the change leaders impacting the incumbents?
  2. Be prepared to come home and share your ideas (no matter how wild) on how what you observed might apply to our industry and customers?

While people were tentative at first, they quickly embraced the idea of listening and learning and observing in these very foreign environments. They met with industry leaders. They lingered at the booths of unfamiliar companies and asked questions. They asked a lot of questions. And then they returned home to share.

Some of their ideas connecting developments two or three degrees away from their industry sounded like science fiction. She was pleased.

They logged the ideas and made them visible in open space area. She encouraged people to return to them and refine and jump and build on the ideas…on their own or in small groups. She encouraged people who developed a belief in a vector to research and experiment. They did.

Over the two years following the start of this program, the company added two of the ideas from this adventure to their long range investment horizon. Two other ideas translated to near-term revenues based on new partnerships uncovered in these pursuits. Her team is now talking with their customers about opportunities to grow and adapt and partner in new ways with new technologies and ideas.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The team in this example extended and broadened their view of the world to their firm’s benefit. They became “first-class noticers” who translated what they observed into ideas and in some cases actions. If your firm is preoccupied in the world that exists inside the walls of your firm, it’s time to push out and open your collective eyes and look around and notice. There’s a lot going on out there. As Bellow says, “Enchanting Reality!”

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.



Just One Thing—Think Big(ger)

Just One ThingI confess to having cultivated a strong affinity for Big Thinkers in my advancing years as an executive. The flip-side of this growing affinity is my creeping impatience and dismissal of small thinkers. Given the scale and scope of the challenges in our world and in our industries and firms, small thinkers are a drag on the drive to change. And yes, life and our careers are too short to think small.

Big Thinkers see unlimited opportunities presented over a stream of endless tomorrows. They are unencumbered by the shackles of the status quo and the narrowness of their own experience.

In prior generations, the Big Thinkers would have been arctic or sea-faring explorers or inventors challenging the boundaries of dogma and human experience. In our time, they’re the ones found rethinking everything in a world where the pace of technological change enables everything to be rethought. They’re app developers solutions architects and entrepreneurs and researchers and the business professionals stomping all over the philosophy of: “But we’ve always done it this way.”

And while ideas without actions just take up empty space in the universe, the Big Thinkers I admire revel in the view to the future while promoting actions in the here and now. They are Big Thinkers and Big Doers. Consider:

  • There’s the senior product manager who watches his customers run their operations and identifies an opportunity to save tremendous amounts of time and money by adapting off-the-shelf technology in a way never envisioned by the technology’s creators.
  • There’s the sales manager who sees the market declining over the next few years and immediately begins building an all new (to the firm) approach that will open up new customer segments.
  • There’s the engineer who takes on the de-facto industry standard technology for high value applications with a radically different and dramatically less expensive approach. But it wasn’t just the technology, it was the established dogma and the ecosystem surrounding the old technology that had to change. He won the market.
  • There’s the senior manager who tires of the price and feature battles with competitors and reinvents the firm as a systems integrator. When he presented the idea to his Board, they laughed. They’re not laughing now–they’re too busy helping govern a growing firm.
  • And there’s the customer service manager who grew tired of what she describe as, “managing reduced expectations,” and built a team that rethought what it really meant to “serve customers.” She changed the fate of the firm in the process.

In each of the examples, these Big Thinkers stared down complacency, overcame the powerful gravitational pull of the status quo and convinced others to try something new and different and even frightening. They looked up from their desks, pushed their view beyond the one from the conference room window and embraced the philosophy of: “What If? and Why Not?”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The real leadership issue of our time is to find and engage and help the Big Thinkers who are Big Doers. If you’re a dreamer and a doer, you’re in the right place at the right time. Small thinkers need not apply.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Assessing Power and Politics in Your Organization

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsMuch of the writing about leadership leaves out two of the most critical topics: power and politics. That’s a problem, because the political environment defines the playing field and those with the power dominate the organization’s agenda. Ignoring these facts of organizational life is a formula for futility.

I’ve encountered more than a few great professionals who were uncertain over why they had plateaued in their climb up the corporate ladder. Upon closer review, they discovered that either ignoring or being ignorant of the political environment in their organizations was part of the problem.

Just to make certain you’re thinking through these issues, here’s a checklist of questions to ask and answer about your own workplace. The best way to answer these questions is to become a careful observer of “how things happen” in your workplace.

A Checklist to Help You Assess Politics and Power in Your Workplace:


1. How did the people you perceive as the most powerful get into their current roles? Seriously, what is it they did to arrive at their current lofty levels? Did it emerge from being problem solvers? Did they take and succeed with big risks? Were the rewarded for loyalty or longevity?

2. Who sets the agenda? Typically you’ll have to look below the C-level to find the individual(s) responsible for deciding what gets done and in what order. This individual parses top management goals and objectives and brings them to life. This individual is a power broker. Along with deciding what gets done, they often decide who is involved.

3. How are decisions made? Contrary to popular belief, most decisions take place somewhere below the senior management level. Study the processes of the informal decision-making culture in your firm. Who has a voice? Who has a vote? Who’s consulted? What are the criteria for moving forward on issues? Who can block issues?

4. Who’s working on the most strategic initiatives? Study the make-up and leadership of teams responsible for executing on key projects. How do people become attached to these initiatives?

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development words5. Who’s rising and who’s falling? Who’s gaining responsibility and who’s losing it? Power is typically a zero-sum game in an organization. For someone to ascend, someone else has to fall…or leave. Harsh, but most often true. Play close attention to the behaviors being rewarded and there are always lessons to be gained from those being edged or pushed out.

6. Who has the ear of top management? I particularly like the idea of observing who makes up the CEO’s “kitchen cabinet” …that informal group of advisors he/she draws upon when faced with critical issues. Surprisingly, this group often comes from the ranks below the CEO’s senior management team.

7. Who does everyone want to work for? Ambitious professionals strive to attach themselves to people they perceive can help them advance in their careers. In many organizations, there’s a senior manager who has developed a reputation as a career-maker. This individual is leading the big initiatives and the closer you are to him/her, the more likely it is that you will be selected for one of these high visibility programs.

8. How toxic is your environment? Gauging organizational toxicity is an imperfect science. I advise people to look at the strength (or absence) of the organization’s values in key decisions. Look at how people are treated. Watch top management closely to see how they behave in their roles. Does their do match their tell? This is one area in particular, where careful observation of the behaviors and approaches of those in charge and those striving to be in charge over a period of time will generate an increasingly accurate reading.

9. How powerful is your boss? In gauging your own power situation, it’s good to look at your boss and understand how she fits in the bigger picture. Is your boss involved in the big issues or part of the CEO’s “kitchen cabinet?” Is she active in both supporting and drawing upon resources and initiatives from other groups? Is she a rising star or a manager who has topped out at her current level?

10. When “It” hits the fan, who comes to the rescue? Is there a go-to person or team that is called upon for tough situations?

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Anywhere people gather, a political environment emerges with some individuals slightly more equal than others when it comes to making choices and gathering and dispensing resources. Instead of ignoring or assuming you are above the fray of these topics, work to strengthen your Political I.Q. by carefully observing how things happen in your workplace. Of course, the difficult issue is to move from observer to participant in a manner where you are engaged in a manner that doesn’t challenge you to compromise your ethics and values. That’s another topic for another day. For now, start paying attention! What you learn might just make your life in your organization a bit more rewarding.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Leadership Caffeine™—The Power of Simple Gestures

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

There’s the factory manager who walked around the plant every morning greeting co-workers by name in his non-native language.

And the CEO who visited the production facilities in a foreign country twice in one year. During his second trip, he walked around the office and factory and greeted the 40 employees by name. He’s still a legend in that facility.

In my own case, it was the senior executive who would meet with me once a quarter over an early breakfast at Bob Evans near the office. I was three years removed from college and his care and feeding of my enthusiasm for my work and his support of my education and development set an early example for me. I’ve tried to repay his gift to me by mentoring others for the past three decades.

It’s the manager who took a chance and hired or promoted you into a role that you were arguably too inexperienced to occupy. Chances are you moved mountains to repay this belief in you.

There was the manager who when learning of a spouse’s medical challenges, provided extraordinary schedule flexibility. In a true act of selflessness, he picked up the slack himself instead of distributing the burden across other team members.

Another manager, concerned over how hard she was pushing her team, sent gift cards for weekend getaways to the spouses/significant others. She understood the critical importance of our support network and she went to the source.

There was the airline flight attendant who learned of an individual flying home after his retirement party. She gathered some quick facts and made an announcement to the entire plane. The applause brought tears to the new retiree’s eyes.

And while airlines get a bad rap, there was the pilot who personally briefed the passengers every twenty minutes on the progress of mechanical repairs. As lunchtime approached, he grabbed a few crew members and purchased sandwiches in the terminal for the entire plane.

There’s every manager who takes the time to listen and observe and then coach an employee. This shouldn’t be the exception in our world, but sadly, it appears to be the case. These managers are worth their weight in platinum.

There are literally dozens of opportunities every day for you to make a difference. From the fundamental act of paying focused attention to a coworker, to offering a personal morning greeting or engaging in the acts of management such as: providing encouragement or delivering respectful, constructive feedback, these simple gestures have a big impact on the people and environment.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Too many managers spend a small fortune attending leadership classes and untold hours consuming the latest and greatest books looking for ideas that will give them an edge. In reality, the answer is in front of you. Put down your device, push away from the keyboard and offer your attention and courtesy and support and wisdom one encounter at a time.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.