Career Management

Be a Gardener, Not a Mechanic - Guest Blog

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What if you could sit down with a group of the top leaders in the world and just listen and learn. What an honor to soak up all of their ideas and experiences. You can! The new book LeaderSHOP by Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan offers incredible insights on the workplace, career, and real life advice from some of the top leaders around. Here is a guest blog from this new gem!

By Rodger Dean Duncan

A first tendency of many business people is to fix things. After all, they’re paid to solve problems, so the metaphor of the mechanic seems natural.

Unfortunately, some leaders then try to “fix” people.

How many of us want to be fixed? Not many. We may be open to persuasion or influence, but we don’t want to be “fixed.”

Rather than adopt the role of mechanic, great leaders adopt the role of gardener.

What does a gardener do?

A gardener creates an environment that encourages growth. An environment full of light and nourishment. An environment with sufficient space for stretching and expanding.

Leadership—and gardening—are all about creating positive change.

Great leaders—and great gardeners –resist the temptation to micromanage. They know that flowers cannot grow if you keep jerking them out of the ground to check the roots.

Great leaders don’t get hung up on position or titles. They invest their energy in creating devotion to a worthy cause. They are more interested in getting a job done than in who gets the credit.

Let me illustrate: I worked with a CEO of an organization that had lost $156 million the previous year. He was brought in from the outside to turn the company around.

On his third day on the job he went out into the employee parking lot behind the headquarters building. There was a row of “privileged” parking spots closest to the building. In front of each parking space was a sign with the name of a senior executive. The CEO took a can of spray paint and sprayed over each name. He knew that many employees were looking out their office windows, likely wondering what the CEO was up to.

After spray-painting over all the signs, the CEO went inside and got on the building intercom. He said he felt like the high school principal making morning announcements.

He began with something like this:

“Some of you saw me spray over the names of our executives in the parking lot. You may be wondering, ‘Is he firing the executives?’ No, I’m not firing the executives. We need ‘em. We need everybody. We’re all in this boat together and we need to row together. Last year this company lost $156 million. We can do better. We must do better.

“Beginning today we’re going to break down all these artificial barriers … we’re going to be less concerned about what title you have and what parking place you have. Beginning tomorrow, if you get here late and it’s raining, you’ll get wet. If you get to work early, you can park anywhere you want. All that matters is what will each of us do to make our team stronger and build our business.” Then he said: “Thanks a lot. Have a great day.”

This CEO was demonstrating what it means to be a gardener and not a mechanic.

He did dozens of things like that. The cumulative effect was that he created an environment where his people felt involved and obligated regarding the needs of each other and the needs of the organization.

He helped his people see themselves in a fresh light. He helped them see each other in a fresh light. He helped them see their marketplace potential in a fresh light.

Rather than smother his people with constraining rules and policies, he gave them elbowroom to try new things and experiment in new directions.

Rather than cut his people down for past poor performance, this great leader chose to lift them up toward future great performance.

He created an atmosphere that had absolutely no tolerance for blaming or any kind of “victim-talk.”

He created an environment full of encouragement, collaboration, and personal accountability.

So what was the result? In only 12 months that company harvested a $207 million improvement in profits. It’s now a case study at the Harvard Business School.

Now, was this guy some sort of flower child? Did he sing “Kumbya” and other camp songs in the employee cafeteria?

No. He’s actually one of the toughest-minded business people I’ve ever known. And he’s one of the most effective leaders I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

Great leaders know that you can rent a person’s back and hands. But you must earn a person’s head and heart.

Great leaders know that organizations are living organisms with many interrelated elements, capable of extinction or growth.

Great leaders invest energy in growing rather than fixing.

They are gardeners. They create a nurturing environment—or culture—and they cultivate with care.

Be a gardener, not a mechanic. Don’t try to “fix” people. Create an environment that affirms and encourages people. An environment that places a premium on solving problems and getting results. An environment where blame is weeded out and people feel free to stretch and grow and produce.

Is this just warm and fuzzy, touchy-feely stuff for “soft” people? Not at all.

It’s the key to the hard realities of high performance in a tough and fast-moving world.

Believe it. Practice it. It makes all the difference.

Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders. Early in his career he served as advisor to cabinet officers in two White House administrations and headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He has coached senior leaders in dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

Eight Reasons Why You Are Still In High School

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I remember years ago when I was in high school my mom telling me numerous times “these are the best years of your life!” Sure, spending day after day dealing with gossip, cliques, homework, disenchanted teachers, including kids who didn’t care much about actually learning was the best right? The sad thing is that many of us are still in high school only we call it work. Sound familiar?

Years ago employees hung out around the water cooler or coffee counter. Open office plans have flipped that practice upside down. Most employees have minimal privacy and are sitting on top of each other. It’s like sitting in a classroom all day working on homework assignments. Ultimately not much has changed since graduation, and you are still in high school.

Eight reasons why you are still in high school

1. Gossip. I think that corporate gossip is worse than in high school, we are just sneakier about it. Back in the old days, we didn’t have social media and smart phones to share what we heard. Technology has exasperated the spread of gossip and adults are savvier about making chatter sound like corporate strategy. These days gossip destroys people and careers. Don’t get wrapped up in its dangers.

2. Bullying. Adults can be cruel. Bullying takes place every day in the form of intimidation, sabotage, belittling, and even subtle threats. Not long ago, I had a manager that was smooth one day and the next day would micromanage and throw out threats with a smile on his face. We would all do a double take to try and understand his game.

3. Cliques: We were all in a group in high school whether we realized it or not. Nothing has changed. You are in a circle at work. Look around you. Higher level managers stay in their corner; the interns hang together all day. The IT folks have their spot. These cliques often meet after work for “team building”.

4. Lackadaisical Coworkers: My twins love school. Fortunately, they are bright and motivated to learn. They also complain weekly about being in classes with kids who could care less about learning or growing. It brings them down and at times, interrupts their learning. We all work with people who don’t care. They don’t want to learn. They don’t care about growing and strengthening the team. They just show up.

5. Competition: The magical word. In high school, we see competition in every sport, and it permeates throughout the system. Most of the time it’s healthy, but not always. Competition encouraged with negative intent can impact lives. You know where the competition is and who owns it in your area. You have probably seen how a competitive team can thrive and accomplish. You have also been on the receiving end of spiteful and negative competition. I have seen people pay with their jobs from malicious competition.

6. Teachers: I remember some of my best teachers. They were passionate about my learning and growth and cared about preparing me for success. I also remember the poor teachers. They had tenure and just showed up every day for a paycheck. Managers are not much different. Some leaders thrive on growing and mentoring teams. Others don’t care and like a tenured teacher, just show up.

7. The Principal: I’m guessing that you either loved or hated your high school Principal. It probably depended on how much trouble that you created! You still have a Principal – your top leadership including the CEO. The Principal is the one that manages the culture of the company, makes or breaks your future in the company and can make your job easy or challenge you. They probably don’t know you well unless you are a troublemaker or….a suck up. Beware of the Principal.

8. School Board: The school board oversees the entire system and has no idea about the inner working of the company nor do they care how you function on a daily basis. They only know what they are told and generally go along with what they hear. They don’t tend to dig deep into the company culture or care about employee well being or team challenges. Making cuts, moving employees, cutting departments is all in a day’s work for them.

Hopefully, you loved high school and have positive memories. You may also be in the minority. I was eager to move on after high school and grow through my college years. As you read this and if you are at work, look around you, and I bet you will whisper to yourself “I AM still in high school!”

Humble Leadership

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A Case of an Admiral's Humble Leadership by Ed and Peter Schein

Luckily, the hammer approach to leadership has been changing, albeit slowly, over the years. Leaders are becoming more personal, understanding, learning to be servant leaders, and humble. The new book The Future of Leadership by Edgar and Peter Schein offers insight into how leaders need to work smart and be humble. They tackle issues like the power of relationships, openness, and trust. Here is a story of humbleness from a place you wouldn't expect - the military.

We were recently told a memorable story by a retired US Navy admiral that illustrated how “collapsing” the hierarchy and opening the door to Level 2 relationships can sometimes be done quickly and decisively. The admiral, at the time, was in command of a nuclear-powered US Navy aircraft carrier. Effectively, he was the CEO of a 5000-person co-located organization for whom safety and high-quality performance would be top priorities. As a nuclear scientist and naval aviator, his background, experience, and hands-on knowledge suited him exceptionally well for the technical aspects of his mission, yet his instincts as a leader are what this story is about.


There was an incident on the flight deck in which an error in chocks and chains handling, a critical part of aircraft operations, could have endangered lives or caused the loss of very valuable naval aircraft. The error resulted from mishandling by one of the flight deck handlers (a “blue jersey” in aircraft carrier parlance) who reported up to an aircraft handling
officer (a “yellow jersey”).


Given normal Naval hierarchy and protocol, this error would have been recorded, post-mortem debriefed and corrected, and there would have been some degree of reprimand and disciplinary consequences for the blue jersey. The admiral told us that this was not outside of the normal course of aircraft carrier flight deck operations. Complicated things happen, and the US Navy has a few hundred years of organizational knowledge to deal with such incidents. That is, the commanding officer could have let the hierarchy work the problem and the solution, but that is not what happened.


Instead, he invited the blue jersey to the bridge to discuss the incident, just the two of them. One can hardly imagine how that junior chocks and chains handler must have felt, getting called up to the bridge, presumably to get reprimanded directly by the commanding officer. Knowing how critical these intricate details of deck and aircraft handling are to the safety and to the mission of an aircraft carrier, the commanding officer, a pilot himself, wanted to hear directly from the deck what had happened, perhaps why, and certainly how and why it would not happen again. At a deeper level, he cared more about the truth and the process, and far less about the discipline to be applied. The system would take care of that. 


What must that meeting have been like? Was the blue jersey terrified, mortified, contrite, and reconciled? If all of those feelings were present, how would the commanding officer get to the truth of what happened? The admiral told us how he managed to quickly create what we would describe as psychological safety for the deckhand by focusing the conversation on his own curiosity of what had happened and why, making it clear that this meeting was not about punishment but about exploration. The shared goal was for that junior seaman to walk away from the meeting with a dedication to doing it better, not a reprimand for doing it wrong. 

A reprimand would certainly reinforce a commitment to the hierarchy. As commanding officer the admiral wanted commitment to the task, to safety, and to quality performance. With the gesture of calling this meeting, and focusing the dialogue on the person and the truth, he reinforced his commitment to improving the processes that save (or could cost) lives on an aircraft carrier. The visible, personal two-way dialogue demonstrated a commitment to a process that the most senior leaders and the most junior sailors could identify with and learn from.


Stepping back from this case, small acts of Humble Leadership by the admiral may well have been a matter of course in his organization, a culture set by a senior leader that existed before and after this incident. This does not change the story except to amplify the truth that this admiral had a clear sense for the importance of personization, establishing openness and trust, even in a 5000-person hierarchical organization.


LESSON
What is most striking to us about this story is that the existence of a steep and formal hierarchy does not require the persons at the top of that hierarchy to behave in a transactional Level 1 manner. They can choose to personize at any time and at any level, thereby very visibly reinforcing some of the central values that they wish to highlight.


About Authors
Edgar H. Schein is Professor Emeritus from the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. He’s a pioneer in organizational studies, organizational culture and leadership, process consulting, career development. Ed’s contributions to the practice of O.D. date back to the early 1960s and continue with the recent publication of Organizational Culture and Leadership 5th edition and now Humble Leadership, co-authored with Peter A. Schein, co-founder of OCLI.org who brings 30 years of hands-on experience in large and small companies leading growth initiatives in Silicon Valley.

Is This The End? By Dr. Dawn Graham

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Fewer of us are staying at our jobs for decades like our parents. People are less likely to tolerate toxic work cultures, no advancement, poor leadership, and want more out of life than just work. Are you ready for a change? Pick up Dr. Dawn Graham's book Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers - and Seize Success. Here is some advice or perhaps the kick in the behind that you may have been needing to make changes in your own career. 

While it’s not unusual to have bad days at work (and some that even lead to dreams of quitting and retiring to a sunny island), deciding to actually resign is a big deal. How can you tell if you’re just going through a tough phase in your job or if it’s time to explore new opportunities? Consider these:

1.    Identify the root of the problem: Is the boss hindering your professional growth or maybe the culture isn’t a great match? Is your work environment toxic or maybe your daily commute or travel schedule is slowly killing you? Some things can be changed. Other problems will follow you. Either way, when you can pinpoint the major hurdle, you’ll be more equipped to overcome it.

2.    Craft an experiment: If the company is interested in retaining you and the root of your problem is boredom, they may be open to you taking on special projects or transitioning to a different department to learn a new function. Think about your longer-term career goals and identify skill gaps you’d like to close. Even if you plan to leave the company down the road, you can use your remaining time wisely by building up your resume and relationships.

3.    Know where you’re going:  You’ll always be more successful when you run TOWARD an exciting opportunity versus running AWAY from a bad situation. Once you identify the problem (see #1), next map out what your ideal situation looks like so that you can aim for that target. Even the least skilled interviewers can recognize the difference between motivation and desperation, so clarify your goal and communicate why you’re excited about it.

4.    Evaluate the landscape: If it’s been a while since you’ve changed roles, the market and skill sets may have shifted. Take time to understand your current value in the industry you’re targeting and be able to relay how the problems you solve contribute positively to a company’s bottom line. Reconnect with your network and get feedback on your candidacy. Also, get up to speed on the latest hiring trends. You don’t want to be blindsided by a request for a one-way video interview or miss a job opening because you’re not on social media.

5.    Look before you leap:  Unemployment bias is real, therefore, it’s easier to land a new role while still employed since you’ll seem more attractive as a candidate. Sometimes a workplace is so toxic that it’s not possible to stay a moment longer, but if that’s not the case, continue to deliver your best work while engaging in a stealth job search after hours.

6.    Get creative: If you’re not able to change jobs now or the job search is taking longer than anticipated, keep your energy and motivation high by finding career fulfillment in other ways. Join a nonprofit board, take on a mentee, or enroll in continuing education courses. A positive attitude will be your best friend in an interview, so avoid feeling “stuck” by taking action. Bonus: These actions are great for networking, which may ultimately lead to your next opportunity!

7.    Don’t look back. Trust your gut to tell you when it’s time to move on. Most jobs have difficult periods, but if you constantly feel stressed, are getting physically ill (e.g., headaches, etc.), or if your relationships are suffering, it’s time to go.

Happy hunting!

Dr. Dawn Graham, PhD is one of the nation's leading career coaches. She is the Career Director for the MBA Program for Executives at The Wharton School, where she counsels business leaders on making strategic career choices. A licensed psychologist and former corporate recruiter, she hosts SiriusXM Radio's popular weekly call-in show Career Talk and is a regular contributor to Forbes.

Her latest book, Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers - and Seize Success is written specifically for people thinking about changing career paths. Packed with psychological insights, practical exercises, and inspiring success stories, Switchers helps these individuals leap over obstacles and into a whole new field.