Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Best and Worst Leaders I've ever seen...

I just accepted a new job offer... I can still here "Movin' on up... to the east side..." replaying in my head. During the interviews, the manager asked an intriguing question. It was so interesting, I thought I'd share it with you.

Q: Without naming names, tell me about the best boss you ever had, and the worst boss you ever had. Tell me what attributes landed them in that category.

This reminded me of two articles written by Michael Hyatt on that topic:


I do not recall exactly how I answered that, but I figured I would take this time to think through my career and highlight the best and worst trends across multiple companies and multiple divisions within those companies.

This list I'm sure is incomplete, but it's what I came up with as I thought about ALL of the experiences I've had. Check out my story after the list for a perfect example of Deaf Leadership.

The Worst Leaders:


  • Too Sudden: Leader comes into a new department and immediately started making changes without taking the time to understand how those changes would affect the customers or the front-line employee. 
  • Counterproductive: Leader made changes that were actually counter-productive and hurt the department, staff, and customers; all because they didn't take the time to understand the problems before trying to fix them. 
  • Insufficient Data #1: Leader made decisions to start something they thought was right; but the data was insufficient to make that decision. They didn't even know what they didn't know. They should have waited to start that project or change.
  • Insufficient Data #2: Leader made decisions to stop something already in motion before they arrived because they knew they had insufficient data to understand why it was being done. By the time they realized their mistake (9 months later) and corrected, the damage was done, irreparably, to morale, production, and output. Many employees left by the time they fixed it.
  • Insufficient Data #3: Leader relies only on the managers reporting to them for information, and never comes directly to the front line employee. The Mid Managers are more interested in looking good, not upsetting the Leader, or any other number of politics, and no REAL information ever gets up to the Leader.
  • Too Slow: Once a new problem (or a problem created by one of the above) is acknowledged, Leader takes months to make a decision that should have taken days (or weeks at most), exacerbating the problem.
  • Deaf/Doesn't Listen: Leader either doesn't accept any feedback at all (hides behind the Ivory Tower office) or makes excuses instead of accepting feedback openly. 
  • Don't Understand (or try to): Leader just "doesn't get it", no matter how you try to explain it. They assume that they are not feeling the pressure, so the front line employee shouldn't either. But that Leader doesn't have to actually bear the burden they put on the employee. They can't feel the burden, so they don't sympathize.
  • Over Promise/Under Deliver: Leader "Vision Casts" about the grand new world they want to create, and they don't come anywhere near delivering on that vision. Hopes raised and dashed hurt morale more than hopes never raised.
  • Changes Too Fast/Asks Too Much: Every change is an "Ask" of the employee/customer. Making too many changes too fast puts a drain on any good will you created or had when you arrived. If all you ever do is ask, ask more, ask more... and you don't give back in equal or greater amounts, you drain the morale. The sentiment is created: "Enough... no more!" or "What have you done for ME lately?"

The thing is, in most cases the poor leadership is not a reflection of the person being a "bad person".

Often times the person is funny, charming, friendly, and a joy to be around... just not to work for.

I've seen some leadership embody all of these at once, or just some.

In one instance a quite a few years ago, a new policy was created that increased call volume for the sales department.

Every last person on the front line could have told the Leader that it was a bad idea, but it was instituted company wide (10,000's of employees) without asking a single one of the people who would take those calls how it would affect them or their customers.

On the first month, the call volume increased as expected, but sales per call plummeted (as the front line expected). Leaders said: "Give it a chance" over and over like a broken record, as we watched the company plummet into madness.

By the end of the first quarter, they had to re-set (read 'lower') the standard just to get people to their bonus (because no-body reached it, even the top performers). Customer satisfaction scores plummeted.

We lost many customer's with high value assets because they were tired of being "tricked" into being transferred to sales, and they went to smaller boutique companies that would treat them like a human and long term relationship (instead of a quick sale).

It STILL took over 12 months (one year) for the company to realize what a total disaster the program was, and despite that, it still took an executive at the highest level to see that we were literally "wasting" (because it was producing nothing positive in the way of results) 7 million dollars of overtime (in six months) before someone finally said... "Hm... maybe this isn't working after all..."

Any one of the 10,000's of employees affected could have told them that (and tried to) before it even started.

The thing is... the best characteristics are essentially the opposite of the worst list.

Best Leaders:


  • Take Time: Leader comes into a new department and takes time (a lot of time) with each level of employee (front line and Managers) to understand things. Not just a day, or week, but multiple weeks/months. 
  • Solicit Ideas and Feedback: They do open forums, email suggestions, one-on-ones, and they ask, ask, ask, ask, ask for ideas, concerns, problems.... They gather information. They don't evaluate or respond yet, they just gather. 
  • Productive: Leader then uses a long dissection process to evaluate and ask some more and evaluate... Then they ca make informed decisions that will be productive for everyone involved.
  • Morale: Having made the entire staff part of the process, they earned the right to make changes, and make big asks of the team. 
  • Announce when ready: Leader only announces a change when it's firm, final, all kinks are already worked out and it's sure. This eliminates the need to say: "Oh... Um... But not yet."
  • Sufficient Data #1: Leader made decisions with all the right data, so the decision was effective the first time. They knew that they knew what they knew.
  • Sufficient Data #2: Leader let decisions already in motion play out, making just as sure to gather information before stopping something, as the did before starting something. People already in need of those resources would not be frustrated without them for months. 
  • Sufficient Data #3: Leader relies NOT only on the managers reporting to them for information, and but actively and frequently seeks out information from ALL front line employees. Nothing is hidden from them through politicking, and they get REAL and practical information.
  • Act Fast: Once a new problem (or a problem created by the New Leader) is acknowledged, Leader acts fast, knowing that employees are actually MORE inportant that customers, attorney's, or agencies. If the employee is not taken care of, they won't in turn take care of the customer. Problems are then prevented, or lessened. However, less of these occur, because of the prior steps.
  • Listen: Leader actively requests (not just at the start, but on an on-going basis) any and all feedback from the team. Constantly "spot checking" to see if we're on track. Front line employees know about problems miles before their direct managers fully understand it and push it up the chain.
  • Understands (or tries to): Leader understands that they don't have to have that customer on their phone, and and talk them off the ledge, while pushing those buttons. They understand that the pressure they feel is less than the Front Line (at least less urgent). They do everything they can to "really get it". They check for feedback, "I hear you saying... Is that right?"
  • Under Promise/Over Deliver: Leader "Vision Casts" about the grand new world they want to create, ONLY after they have crossed all T's and dotted all I's. Until then, they are asking for ideas and feedback, but it's not time to Vision Cast. Once the vision is cast, they deliver before time and under budget, and with bigger bells and whistles than previously promised.
  • Jab, Jab Jab... Right Hook (affiliate link): As Gary Vaynerchuk so elequently taught us in his book so titled, anyone who asks all the time eventually becomes noise in the background, ignored, or actively avoided. You have to give 10 times for every ask. For the Leader, that means a constant flow, flood, tsunami of praise, celebrations, thank you's (big and small), "what can I do for YOU's?"... ONLY when the floor is full of people who feel like the Leader would walk in front of a train for them, will they they turn around and walk in front of a train for the Leader. 
Political side note: This is why I could never in good conscience vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in November 2016. They both scream the bad leader characteristics. It's all about them... their plan, their ego... nothing collaborative about their tone. I'll be voting for Gary Johnson. I hope he wins, but even if he doesn't I can go into 2017 voting for liberty instead of tyranny.
I'm sure this list is no-where near complete. So let me turn the tables and you can comment below::

Q: Without naming names, tell me about the best boss you ever had, and the worst boss you ever had. Tell me what attributes landed them in that category.
Answer in the comments... 

Darrell

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