Size matters… doesn’t it? — Are bigger leaders better?

Some CEOs make a lot of money. Their Vice Presidents don’t usually make as much, and the directors, managers, and other leadership positions still further down the organizational food-chain make even less.

I know, I know… you’re thinking “Well duh, Kevin; did you come up with that ‘blinding flash of the obvious’ on your own, or did you have help?”

My question here isn’t about the dinero, per se. And it’s not about relative value among leaders. No, my question is about the absolute value of leadership. Is the absolute value of a senior leader greater than that of a less senior leader to those s/he leads?

I think not. In fact, not just no, but hell no.

Like many of you, I travel frequently, and I thought about this question when I boarded a puddle-jumper for the 51 minute flight from Houston to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It occurred to me then, that the pilot of this 24-passenger prop-job likely made considerably less money than the pilot of the 737 I’m on right now.

But if he screws up, I’m just as dead as if he had made twice the money.

In other words, to the recipient of the leadership behavior, it doesn’t matter that some other leader may make more money, have a bigger office, or have a fancier title.  In our selfish, singular worlds, what matters is how that leader leads… to me. Right now.

Think about it…

  • All leaders must create and leverage relationships to succeed, and
  • All leaders are responsible for developing employees so they can support and succeed at their vision, and
  • All leaders personally and directly affect the total career and employment environment of those they lead.

Just like those pilots, who regardless of the size of their aircraft or wallet, personally and directly affect my safety as a passenger.

In other words, the impact you have on the people you lead, as individual people, doesn’t increase/decrease based on the scope, title or compensation. Or even your place on an org chart.

So, then, if I were to continue my unsavory double entendre approach to this article – all the while you keeping your mind out of the gutter – I might say that it’s not the size of the leader that matters, but what the leader does with that size that really counts.

Yes, I might say that…

(a related article on being courageous as a leader, can be seen on my blog, The Brazen Leader.)

What’s in a Name?

— A rose by any other name…

Synonyms. Don’t you just love ‘em?

Some examples:

Word             Synonym
Bossy               controlling
Fair                  unbiased
Honest            trustworthy
Handsome     kevin
Intelligent      smart
Mean               bad-tempered

We use a lot of words interchangeably. Sometimes we’re accurate, and the different words mean substantially the same thing. Other times, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride: “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

In this brief article, I’ll introduce five word pairs of words that many managers use as synonyms. The problem is, they simply are not synonymous, and the real meanings matter. In some cases, bigly. In future articles, I’ll address each word pair in detail, fleshing out some of the nuances and meanings, and providing examples for relevance and application.

Today, however, I’m just going to give you the word pairs and a teaser description to get you thinking. Plus, it’ll be fun to imagine your head exploding when you disagree with my abbreviated descriptions. More to come…

Let’s start with the big kahuna:

Leadership == Management

In all fairness, I believe the absolute argument between these is largely academic; specifically, however, it’s important to know the difference, if only so we can better understand who does what to whom.

Leadership is about positively influencing others toward a shared vision.

Management is predetermined and repetitive. It’s controlling a process.

Both are necessary, but they aren’t synonyms.

Accountability == Responsibility

This pair is probably the most abused of all. They sound so… so… similar. They must be synonyms, right?

Yeah, no. And the difference is huge.

Accountability is ownership of a specific result. It’s one-deep; no multiple people accountable for the same thing.

Responsibility is accomplishing a task(s) leading to a result. Lots of folks can be responsible for things, only one is accountable.

Empowerment == Delegation

I used to believe these were on the same continuum. I was wrong, they are entirely different, and that difference is significant and important.

Empowerment is bigger, added autonomy in existing work.

Delegation is more, doing someone else’s task or job.

Both are useful, and effective developmental tools. They aren’t synonyms.

Passion == Emotion

These can be confusing, since some errant dictionaries include as synonyms. In leadership parlance, they certainly are not.

Passion is controlled reactions.

Emotions are uncontrolled reactions.

Close, but no cigar.

And finally, Teams == Groups

In all fairness, people don’t often use these interchangeably; they just use them incorrectly, calling something a “Team” when they should be saying a “Group.”

A Team requires trust that another person will contribute to your success.

A Group just requires an org chart.

These two aren’t even on the same planet, yet “Team” is one of the most frequently misused terms in any organization. Most teams, simply put, aren’t. We like the word, but resist the heavy lifting required to make it accurate.

These are just a few, and my descriptions are far from complete, though I believe them to be defensibly accurate. I’ll flesh them out in future editions of At C-Level.

Email me at kevinb@triangleperformance.com with comments; I’ll address one or two of the specific word pairs next month, and it would be interesting to hear your inputs.

Tough Conversations: Have ‘em or avoid ‘em??

Nobody really likes them. Yes, some are better than others in dealing with them, but they are likely not high on our most-favorite interactions list. Tough conversations make us uncomfortable. Maybe we even don’t know what to say or how to say it. We don’t always know how to handle them without either damaging a currently-positive relationship or escalating a crappy one.

Either one, our druthers are to not have to deal with them. Unfortunately, that’s seldom an option. Unlike fine wine, good scotches and well-kept cigars (I’m simply listing my relevant vices), the conflict behind the need for those conversations does not get better with age.

Unfortunately, until AI makes us all obsolete, people are in the mix; if people are in the mix, there will be conflict. If conflict is in the mix, we’ll be having difficult conversations.

So then, what to do? Books are written and workshops are held to address how best to have these discussions. Various glossy hardbacks are rife with advice on how to conduct these particularly onerous chats. What if, instead of getting better at them, we figured out how to not have them in the first place? Try this instead:

Avoid difficult conversations by having difficult conversations.

Say whaaat? Kevin, your aforementioned vices are causing you to say crazy things… if I don’t like having those conversations to begin with, why the hell would I intentionally create them??

Simply put: brief, preemptive discussions can prevent having to deal with those bigger, difficult conversations.

A story… I was doing a C-level 360 survey recently, and in following up on an earlier comment I asked the person I was interviewing “So, how well does this executive deal with really tough conversations—you know, serious conflict?” The person paused for several seconds, which is usually a precursor to something bad or negative. Instead, he surprised me…

“Actually, he does a really good job of avoiding having to have those difficult conversations.”

Well, I must say that caught me a bit off-guard. “So, he simply avoids having them altogether,” I asked?

“No, he avoids having to have them,” he replied.

Well, I’m just a public-school graduate from south Texas… I told him to please explain. He went on to explain to me, in thoughtful detail, how this executive has the near-term, immediate conversations with others that prevents things from escalating to unhealthy conflict or those dreaded difficult conversations.

“When performance or behavior is off, or some expectation is unmet, this executive deals with it then, while it’s simply feedback. Instead of waiting until things build up and emotions come into play, he just has those simple, brief conversations—positive and negative—on a regular basis.”

In doing so, he seldom must deal with what most people would call a difficult conversation.

He doesn’t avoid having them, per se… he avoids having to have them.

Hmmm, avoiding a problem instead of dealing with it after it’s created? That’s some cutting-edge thinking right there.

And it’s damned good advice for us all.

Hey, this stuff works! — Whouldathunkit??

Apologies for the length. We recently received an email from a junior executive we had worked with for several years. He left the client company about a year ago, and decided it was time to let us know what he thought of us. For those who know us well, you know this could have gone several ways… 🙂

Ed. The tuna reference will just have to remain a mystery… feel free to ask one of us if it’s bothering you to untoward proportions.

The Trilogy: Responsibility, Accountability, and Leadership

I recently had a conversation with some really smart people around Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Read the book, it’s a good one, discussing how intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic almost all the time. If you were expecting me to now give you some detailed book review, you’re about to be disappointed.

As these things often do, we ended up in an extended “bunny trail” conversation around the whole subject of individual responsibility and accountability, and what that really meant from a leadership perspective.

Here’s what we discovered during our lengthy and oft-times pseudo-cerebral discussions:

Responsibility–the easiest part. Responsibility is simply a list of things we do, tasks we perform, jobs we are given. Alan Weiss called this “inputs.” You can be responsible for myriad things, both that you specifically control, and some… well, not so much.

In my world, I’m responsible for coaching, facilitating, consulting, providing proposals, answering emails and calls, responding promptly to clients, etc.

These are all Responsibilities.

Accountability–it’s not the same as “blame,” per se, though there is a certain sect of people who would ascribe such. No, it’s bigger than that, yet infinitely simpler. It’s the outcomes of our responsibilities. It’s the results expected from our inputs.

For me, improved leadership behavior, demonstrably better skills, increased performance of a business, function, or enterprise (that actually follows my consulting or advice!) are all Accountabilities. It’s the results or outcomes of my Responsibilities.

We often confuse these two, yet the differences are both clear and significant. Pay attention to them.

Leadership–heavily influences both Responsibility and Accountability. For instance, we influence–actually determine–what a subordinate’s Responsibilities will be. We tell them what we want them to do, what we expect them to be working on, when to be there, etc. Leaders have, quite literally, 100% control (there’s that word) over employee Responsibilities.

Now Accountability gets a bit fuzzier.

Yes, leadership determines, from a starting level, what results and/or outcomes that an employee will be Accountable for (sorry for the dreaded stranded preposition–couldn’t be helped). But there is also a measure of personal acceptance required for real Accountability to be visible to others–an important component.

An employee can be Accountable “because I said so,” but evidence of that employee actually accepting that Accountability requires a willingness on their part to demonstrate that accountability openly, e.g., “Yes, I did that,” “No, it wasn’t an accident, it was my intent,” “That was my responsibility, and I didn’t do it,” and so on. These demonstrate acceptance of accountability, and that’s something only the individual can do.

Now, leadership clearly influences all of this. Leadership has to make sure that Responsibilities are clear, reasonable, and have value. Leaders must also ensure that an environment exists where accepting Accountability is not necessarily fatal; that demonstrating Accountability is a mark of courage and success, not of weakness and/or failure.

This, of course, is the heavy-lifting part.

The Magic of a Conversation

If you’re not coaching your employees who is?  Chances are it won’t be your best performer!  Not coaching your employees is akin to a football coach choosing to watch the scoreboard as his primary strategy for winning the game.  Unfortunately, that is what many managers do, they use the scoreboard to tell them there are problems (or successes), rather than being in the game itself.

In all of my years “coaching” managers and executives I have heard every excuse in the world for NOT coaching employees. The excuses run the gamut of “not having enough time” to “it won’t do any good.”  The message I want to leave you with today is that coaching matters and to help make sure you understand coaching for what it is and how it occurs. (more…)