Monday, February 28, 2011

The Words Many Managers Are Afraid To Say - Linda Hill & Kent Lineback - Harvard Business Review

The Words Many Managers Are Afraid To Say - Linda Hill & Kent Lineback - Harvard Business Review

When is the last time you said words like these to the people who work for you?

"I don't know."
"I was wrong."
"I'm sorry."
"Would you help me?"
"What do you think?"
"What would you do?"
"Could you explain this to me? I'm not sure I get it."

No one, boss or not, likes to admit error or ignorance. But an inability to recognize and admit openly when you lack knowledge or make a mistake will make you less effective as a manager in two ways.

First, it will keep you from learning. If you're in a first-level manager's position, you may know more than your people because you once excelled as an individual in the work they do. But, as you advance, you'll soon rise beyond the level where you can be expert in the work of all those you manage. Sooner or later — probably sooner — you must learn to manage those who know more than you and know they know more.

Linda once worked with someone in a global investment bank who took over a trading desk where he managed a group of experienced traders. At first he tried to give detailed instructions for adopting or closing specific positions or pursuing different trading strategies. The traders, who knew he lacked experience in many of the foreign markets where they were active, resisted his directions and demanded to know his rationale. He interpreted their resistance as a questioning of his authority, and tension grew between them. However, he did know he lacked knowledge of foreign markets, and one day he asked a trader to explain a certain aspect of pricing. The trader gladly spent several minutes on the subject and even volunteered to talk more at the end of the day. The incident, the manager said, provided an important insight. Because of it, he stopped talking all the time, and began to ask questions and to learn. And as he learned, traders stopped questioning his decisions so much, and tension in the group dropped.

The second reason to acknowledge error or ignorance is the issue of trust. The foundation of your ability to influence others is their trust in you as a manager, their belief that you will do the right thing. Pretending you know more than you do, or failing to recognize and draw on the expertise of others, is a good way to keep people from trusting you and your judgment. People know when you don't know something; they know when you're wrong or made a mistake or need help. They're reassured when you know it too and are willing to say so. People expect you to understand the business and how it works and to know enough to make sound judgment calls. But you needn't be the expert-of-experts.

Having said that, let's be clear. This is another of those fine lines that managers must approach but not cross. On one side of it, people respect your ability to recognize your own shortcomings and your willingness to learn. Without those qualities, people are less likely to trust you. On the other side of that line, however, too much expression of weakness, error, and uncertainty will also diminish people's trust in you. In every situation, you must find that line and remain on the positive side. Straying too far from it, one way or the other, will make you less effective.

Friday, February 25, 2011

35 Who Made a Difference: Wendell Berry | People & Places | Smithsonian Magazine

35 Who Made a Difference: Wendell Berry | People & Places | Smithsonian Magazine

35 Who Made a Difference: Wendell Berry

A Kentucky poet draws inspiration from the land that sustains him

  • By Paul Trachtman
  •, November 01, 2005

Wendell Berry, farmer and poet, has lived in sight of the Kentucky River for 40 years, in a landscape where generations of his family have farmed since the early 1800s. The river is probably the only mainstream close to his heart. As a farmer, he has shunned the use of tractors and plowed his land with a team of horses. As a poet, he has stood apart from the categories and controversies of the literary world, writing in language neither modern nor postmodern, making poems that have the straightforward elegance of the Amish furniture in his farmhouse. And in recent decades, he has produced a body of political thought, in a series of essays and speeches, that is so Jeffersonian it seems almost un-American in today's world.

Berry argues that small farms and farm communities are as vital to our liberties now as they were in Jefferson's day. The agribusiness corporations and developers that have all but replaced them, he warns, are eroding our freedom along with our soil. In a recent essay, "Compromise, Hell!" he writes: "We are destroying our country—I mean our country itself, our land....Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us."

At 71, Berry and his wife, Tanya, live on their 125-acre farm, producing almost all the food they eat: table vegetables from the garden, meat from their flock of sheep. They sell some sheep and take firewood from the woodland, and their livestock graze on green pastures. During Berry's years as a writer—he has produced some 40 volumes of poetry, fiction and essays—and a teacher in the English department at the University of Kentucky, the couple has practiced and achieved the respectable degree of self-sufficiency that Berry preaches. They have improved the land, raised a family and seen both of their children take up farming nearby. Their son, Den, and his wife, Billie, raise cattle, corn and hay on a farm five miles away; Den makes furniture to augment the family income. Their daughter, Mary, and her husband, Chuck Smith, ten miles away, have preserved an old farm by turning it into the Smith-Berry winery, while also raising cattle and crops.

Twenty-five years ago, Berry wrote in Smithsonian about the hard work of reclaiming land that had been neglected and abused, of learning how to properly cultivate and care for it. When I visited the farm recently, he was pleased to show me how the land has responded. "Tanya and I just got back from a sheep sale," he remarked, "and I drove up the creek and thought, this is so beautiful, completely beautiful. You don't know how beautiful it is unless you see it every day. You may forget about it in the frustrations and heartbreak of farming and your life, but then it'll come to you again, you'll see it again."

Berry has criticized the environmental movement for separating wilderness from farmland in its conservation campaigns. Showing me around the place, he said, "This is the front line of the conservation struggle too. I don't think people realize how much work, actual physical work, would be involved in restoring this country to some kind of health. My experience over the last 25 years has been that not many people speak, or can think, from the point of view of the land. As soon as the conversation shifts from issues actually affecting the land, to 'the environment,' then you're done for. People think of it as something different from themselves, and of course it isn't."

No less critical of the agricultural establishment, Berry gained considerable public attention 30 years ago with his book The Unsettling of America, a manifesto against the government's advice to farmers: get big or get out. "I suppose the main misfortune in my life," he says, "is that the public situations I've tried to address haven't changed very much. I thought that book was a way of taking part in a public conversation, and the public conversation hasn't happened—not, for sure, in the capitols or in the mainstream media."

Berry has been joined by a growing community of allies, however, in pressing Jefferson's claim that "The small landholders are the most precious part of a state." And the public, for its part, has been showing an increased interest in farmers' markets, locally grown organic produce, and consumer co-ops that offer healthier foods—all signs that small farms, after decades of decline, could someday make a comeback. The greatest obstacle, Berry worries, is a lack of people to work the land. "How are you going to get these people?" he wonders. "And how are you going to keep them at it once you've got them, past the inevitable disillusionment and the weariness in the hot sun?" When I remind him of an old popular song about farm boys returning from World War I—"How're you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?"—he responds: "How are you going to shut up that voice that's now in every American mind, "I'm too good for this kind of work'? That is the most insidious voice of all."

As a young man, Berry thought he would have to leave his native place and way of life. "In high school my teachers were telling me, you can't amount to anything and stay where you're from. So when I left here I assumed I would be an academic wanderer perhaps, that I'd be going with my 'talent' from one university to another, so I could amount to something. When I decided to come back here, a lot of people I respected thought I was deliberately achieving my ruin." Now his life, and his poetry, belong to the place he came back to. "I realize every day how extremely fortunate I've been as a writer to live where my imagination took root," he says. In his poetry he often gives thanks for his surroundings. He seeks to write, he says in a recent poem, in "a tongue set free from fashionable lies."

35 Who Made a Difference: Wendell Berry

A Kentucky poet draws inspiration from the land that sustains him

  • By Paul Trachtman
  •, November 01, 2005

(Page 2 of 2)

I ask if he sometimes feels like an Old Testament prophet, a voice in the wilderness. He can't afford such thoughts, he says. He is determined to have hope. "Part of the reason for writing all these essays is my struggle never to quit, to never utter those awful words 'it's inevitable.'" His writing has sometimes been called radical, but he thinks of himself as a conservative, conserving what is most human in our landscape and ourselves. "You know," he says, laughing, "if you subtracted the Gospels and the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence from my work, there wouldn't be very much left.”

Read more:

On Leadership and Bureaucracy « Linked 2 Leadership

On Leadership and Bureaucracy « Linked 2 Leadership

On Leadership and Bureaucracy


The Anathema of Bureaucracy: Dealing with its Fate & On Embracing its Inverse

According to Wikipedia, the word “bureaucracy” is clearly defined as this:

bu·reauc·ra·cy /byʊ rɒk rə si/

“The collective organizational structure, procedures, protocols and set of regulations in place to manage activity, usually in large organizations and government.”

In other words, it’s a frustrating, rigid, process driven, and snail-paced institution. This shouldn’t exist in democratic countries and ought to be controlled by developing nations if they are to effortlessly succeed.

Not doing so, bureaucracy will become increasingly self-serving, complacent, andbreed corruption rather than properly serve society as its intention.

Compare and Contrast

In the private sector, if people don’t work productively, their businesses will go bankrupt. But, in the public sector, seniority trumps performance regardless of employee efficiency or lack thereof.

Faceless BureacracyCompetence in an organization is directly linked with its organizational system. In bureaucracy the hierarchy is typically overy complex with many levels providing a highly differentiated structure of authority.

The faceless bureaucracy also exists in the private sector. Employees there get frustrated when they can’t perform their work in a wholesome way because of restrictive yet superfluous rules set by their organization. Add to thatcorporate politics and it’s not hard to see why there are high levels of employee exodus/turnover due to their discontent.

There are organizations which thrive on their ability to allow individuals to remain faceless. It permits them to act badly which is not in the best interest of their customers.

Bureaucracy in Action (or rather… “Inaction”)

When it comes to shipping packages, I despise doing so at the post office because every time I go, their employees look for a reason not to ship my package.

I hear either “Too much tape!” or “Not enough tape!”

On the other hand, I really enjoy bring my packages to FedEx or The UPS store. The folks there have a totally different approach as they’re not looking for a reason to say “no” but rather for an opportunity to say “yes.”

“Here’s some tape, we’ll just add it right here…”

The obvious reason for the difference in treatment to the customer is that the person at the post office has no incentive to make a sale. He/she knows that whether I’m well served or not this person will still collect his/her paycheck, benefits and keep their job, likely until retirement age.

If a company or government institution is in the service domain, then its people should look for ways to say “yes” at every interaction, provided they are not doing anything illegal or losing substantial amounts of money for their employer.

Embrace Change, Not Be Paralyzed By It

Organizations with a large bureaucracy struggle making fast decisions. Bureaucracy creates a climate in which the customer is not as important as the management and the company’s other employees. It also kills the organization’s competitive spirit.

As Jack Welch, former CEO of the industrial powerhouse, GE, has stated this:

Bureaucracy is the enemy – it means waste, slow decision-making and unnecessary approvals.”

Welch felt that ridding the company of wasteful bureaucracy was everyone’s job. He urged all his employees to fight it. “Disdaining bureaucracy” became an important part of GE’s shared values.

At Google, the role of the manager is that of an aggregator of viewpoints, not the dictator of decisions.

Creative Solutions

For an organization to avoid the complacency and bureaucratic trap, it should encourage creative thinking, consider making innovation its foundation, as well as cut-out layers of the its bloated management structure for a leaner decision-making process. Innovation is what a business should be carrying-out as often as it’s required for its long-term existence.

in·no·va·tion noun \ˌi-nə-ˈvā-shən\

The term “innovation” is widely described as: “Leading to significant organizational improvements in relation to enhanced or new business products, services, or internal processes.”

This involves acting on creative ideas to make some specific and tangible difference in the domain in which the innovation occurs. The old adage that goes something like “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” is a model which doesn’t sit well today with forward -thinking companies that thrive on practical improvements.

Nothing wrong with change if done to enhance or replace the status quo. It’s part of collective progress.

For this to work everyone, from the top brass down to the low labor employee, must embrace continuous change, and not resist it. That may be easier said than done due to typical resistance emerging from people due to fear of the unknown. It should be up to management to persuade their subordinates of the mutual benefits of change.

Creating an Adhocracy

The following are five recommendations for managing creative employees.

1. Accommodate:

Have an open door policy and offer an element of flexibility with employee schedules

2. Stimulate:

Encourage creative thinking not simply with words but also with rewards

3. Recognize:

Reward with greater autonomy and praise in front of peers

4. Direct lightly:

Avoid micromanaging and offer feedback

5. Progressive environment:

Avert unnecessarily restrictive rules and bureaucracy within the organization

Organizational Greenhouse: Adhocracy as the accepted wisdom for organizations to flourish

Author and expert on management issues, Robert H. Waterman, Jr., definesadhocracy as “any form of organization that cuts across normal bureaucratic lines to capture opportunities, solve problems, and get results.” For Henry Mintzberg, a management guru, an adhocracy is a complex and dynamic organizational form.

An adhocracy is different from bureaucracy and considers bureaucracy a thing of the past. Mintzberg considers an adhocracy a thing of the future since it’s very good at problem solving and innovations and it thrives in a changing environment.

That said, a company that works under a bureaucracy is very structured in its rules and hierarchy with mediocrity prevailing. Everyone knows their specific role, they specialize in that role, and know nothing, or very little, about the roles of their co-workers.

On the other hand, a company that functions as an adhocracy experiences an organic structure where hierarchy barely exists. As a result, all members of such an organization have the authority to make decisions and to take actions affecting its future.

So how would you describe the type of environment where you work? How are you contributing to its structural support? Are you more apt to gravitate toward a bureacratic approach or to a more adhocracy? Which doe you feel furthers organizational health? I would love to hear your thoughts!

James D. Roumeliotis is Marketing & Entrepreneurial Advisor at Affluence Marketing
He helps clients increase client market presence, profile and bottom line performance
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