I have witnessed some of the best and brightest MBAs crash and burn, like Icarus with his wings of wax,never to again ascend.  They are extraordinarily smart individuals.  They are amazingly articulate.  And damn if they do not know the answers to all matters. These confident and glassy contenders are able to decipher complex business conundrums and possess the facility to deliver sophisticated presentations to corroborate their campaign.  These managers are extremely proficient, cogent, brainy businesspeople. But repeatedly they take off towards the brightness of their ideas only to tumble back to failure.  What is it about their “book smarts” that thwarts their flight from soaring with their strategies?   Street Smart Leaders embrace an imperative truism, the sine qua non: Business is easy – People are hard.

All of the acumen in the world falls short if one does not understand the enigmatic component created once “people” are introduced into the equation.  There are a few exceptional careers where an individual’s solitary efforts are developed in a bubble to produce results.  But in the overwhelming majority of situations, people are necessary if we are to materialize concepts into actions.

So often, I see competent managers charged with a task fail to coalesce their team of people.  They self-sabotage their own brilliance and watch their plan plummet from the sky.  They focus on the plan, disregarding the importance of connecting their strategy to their people.  This snubbing of the human component creates an undercurrent of defiance leading to an imperceptible revolution.  The insurgency occurs because the manager has included “people” as one of the “things” in his plan.  For a Leader to implement a strategy or idea, the Leader must grasp he is asking “people to change”.  His plan’s success is reliant on his ability to mobilize human beings into action and construct change.

People are vital to accomplishing your goals.  They are diverse and complicated.  To be an effective Leader you must focus a significant part of your studies on the behavioral sciences.  What are the motivations of people?  The application of behavioral concepts to real world situations crafts a “business psychology” of people at the “street level”.  The more proficient you are at understanding the personal motivation of each member of your team, the better change agent you will become.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

As a Leader it is your obligation to make change happen.  You are dealing with change issues involving broken and ineffective practices or you are moving your team in a new direction towards a competitive advantage.  Developing the strategies and plans for your program are characteristically a straight forward process.  You can ordinarily figure out what you need to do in business.  Getting people to embrace and carry out your plans is where the Leadership Challenge lies.  So let’s start with a fundamental of business psychology that you need to understand if you are going be successful with moving people to Change.

Fundamental Number One:  People love their misery.  Yes I’ll say that again, people love their misery.  I’m amazed at how often I see people in miserable conditions.  Nothing is going their way, they are frustrated to the extreme and at the brink of emotional (sometimes physical and deadly) breakdowns and yet when you approach them and start to discuss the idea of a change taking place, they seize their misery and clutch it tight to their guts refusing to release it.  What could be so petrifying about change?  They are unconsciously terrified to move from something they know so well, to something having an ambiguous result.  For most human beings this is a very scary proposition.  For them to let go of their misery they must trust that you, as their Leader, have a better place to go.  Many of them have been disappointed throughout their entire careers and they will only let go of the misery when they have no other choice.  A good leader knows how to inspire trust in the plan and emancipate the misery.

As time passes, with some attention to the subject of business psychology, you will get an overall general feel of what you need do as a manager to move people one way or the other.  But if you truly want to excel with the “people” factor of business, it is necessary to get involved with the people.  This means getting down to an individual level with the people on your team and taking the time to think about who they are and what makes them tick.  What makes them happy or excited and when are they skeptical and resistant?   You do not need to have a psychology degree to understand the elementary drivers of an individual’s inspiration.  It is a matter of dedicating generous time and paying close attention to your team.  It entails more than the time in your office with them sitting across the desk.  It necessitates time in their environments where you can listen and hear what is imperative to them. 

Remember it is your people who are going to assassinate your plan, often for reasons they do not even comprehend.  It’s your obligation as a leader to be proactive and stay ahead of them.  Understand what the motivations of each member of the team are.  There are those that have seen it all before.  They feel they have heard of all the changes you describe and invested themselves only to find disappointment.  They would rather hold onto their misery than put themselves out there gain and suffer another disappointment.  Or there are those who hold their misery because they are content with the routine; a daily routine which has become manageable and “easy” for them to navigate.  And there are those who will just refuse to accept someone may have better ideas.  There are thousand, maybe a million, different situations like this, each connecting someone’s resistance to the idea of change.  Regardless of the reasons for their confrontation to change, they are really suffering … miserably suffering. 

To become a strong leader you need to be strong on the people level.  Regardless of your talents, IQ, education, or your planning ability, if you are not able to move people forward, you will fail.

Leading people from misery to change involves three steps.  First, you need to build trust with people.  This comes from having a personal relationship with them.  Someone has to feel they know you and that you understand them before they are going to trust you. Once you have this basic trust established, you are then able to use it to leverage a Change Proposition. The change proposition is quite simple to extend.  The essential element is to remove the risk from the situation.  Your team must understand that the success of the project is their success.  They will have dedicated themselves to an outcome they can be proud of.  But more importantly, they must trust that if they give their comprehensive effort and the projects fails, the accountability will rest squarely on you, their Tough Leader.   It will be your failure.  Think about how many mangers you have seen set up the change proposition 180 degrees from this.  They quickly take the credit for success and blame the team for failure.   This is an anticipated misery far greater than the one they are clutching onto.  The change proposition is victorious when you generate a situation where people have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Next, build a roadmap of your vision to inspire your team.  It is important for them to see your vision of the end result and how much better they will be, but they are not leaving their misery to jump off of a cliff with you.  You must illustrate a piece by piece methodology where they can see realism and success in incremental steps.  Only then will they begin to ease the grip on their misery and grasp change.  By moving them through your change process one successful step at a time, you will find that they begin to take each new step faster and faster.  Eventually you can lead a team to running if they trust you and see the firm ground ahead.

Finally, celebrate the successes with your team.  Too many managers fail to become great leaders simply because they do not know how to distinguish their team’s achievements.  Changing is difficult.  Even success can leave a team exasperated and drained.  Without acknowledgment, your goal has been accomplished but the prominent opportunity has been squandered.  Each successful change should propel the next one.  It is important to replenish, re-invigorate, and re-inspire your team for the next challenge.  Celebration doesn’t mean you should throw a party for every small accomplishment.  But it does mean that every small accomplishment should be recognized allowing each person to absorb a moment of pride.

The change proposition is a circular event.  Trust strengthens (both ways) with each success and builds for the next project.  The next roadmap becomes clearer and your team becomes more willing to move forward on faith.  And everyone learns that change is not daunting as they celebrate progress.  With each cycle your team picks up speed, momentum, and efficiency and your pursuits become easier.

People really aren’t so hard, if you begin with the realization that it really is all about people.  Everyone has plans and everyone has ideas.  Everyone has great products and services.  But in reality, nothing changes until people change.  You need to mobilize your team in order to deliver change.  You need to gain their trust, show them the plan, and create a perpetual cycle of success for your team and for yourself.  There are many other business psychology issues you’ll have to learn to become a great Street Smart Leader.  But if you can disentangle the bonds of misery among your team, you will witness a remarkable proliferation in your A-Team’s accomplishments.  Business is easy – People are hard… Until you realize it is the people who take flight that change the world.

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LUKE
Yeah, they sure do make a lot of
cold, hard, noise, Captain.
The Captain feeds his fury staring, then reaches out his
hand and Boss Paul lays the blackjack in it. As the chain
guards finish and stand up, trembling with rage, the Captain
takes a convulsive step forward and brings the sap down behind
Luke’s ear. As Luke tumbles down the littered embankment
toward the men:
CAPTAIN
Don’t you never talk that way to me!
You hear? You hear? Never!
His rage subsides and his voice becomes calm, reasonable.
CAPTAIN
(to the men)
What we got here is failure to
communicate. Some men you can’t reach,
that is they just don’t listen when
you talk reasonable so you get what
we had here last week, which is the
way he wants it, well he gets it,
and I don’t like it any better than
you men.

Click for Movie Clip

Many of you will recognize these famous lines from Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman.  For those of you under the age of 35, you really should check out this classic from Netflix.  Cool Hand Luke is the moving character study of a non-conformist, anti-hero loner who bullheadedly resists authority and the Establishment.  One line of the film’s dialogue from Strother Martin, who plays the prison warden called Captain, is often quoted: “What we’ve got here is…failure to communicate.” Anyone seeing the movie realizes that Luke is very aware of what Captain is communicating; he just doesn’t accept it.

For years there has been a colossal focus around the concept known as a Lack of Communication.  The prevalence of the so-called communication deficiency has become a magnetic reason for which to attract every problem.  The more heed I give to this issue, the more I am convinced there is no such thing as a “lack of communication”.  This vague ambiguous term has been propagated to justify every fault from why the paperclips ran out, to the Strategic Plan’s failure, and the company’s underperformance.  The communication failure movement has become one of the great “cop-outs” of our time.  As a Leader, you must eradicate this excuse from your business.  The elimination of this one term from your business will immediately improve cooperation, attainment of goals, and your overall business performance.

I recognize the implication of my position.  It concludes all of those classes and seminars you have participated in, from all of those communication consultants were an immense waste of time and money.  And even worse, rather than aiding problematic situations, they have been harmful.  Yes, that is exactly my conviction.  Communication facilitators who have come to your company and lectured about listening, personality styles, diversity, the role the sexes, etc., were misguided.  Sure there is value in being a better listener and understanding others perspectives and traits, but the basic premise, that if we just learn to “talk” to each other correctly everything else will work itself out is vastly erroneous.  Communication experts and consultants are today’s business “snake oil” salesman.

Anyone who works with me will hear me refer to the concept of “root cause” analysis. The root cause is the underlying reason a problem exists.  In my article, Creating Great Ideas by Exercising Your Mind, I compare root cause methodology to a four year old asking, “Why?”  If you’ve studied and implemented this concept, you already realize that unless you get to the root cause of situations, you really are just putting impermanent Band-Aids on potentially permanent problems.  You are reacting to fires and creating the subsequent emergency.  The idea or concept of “communication problems” is about as far away from a “root cause” analysis as you can get.  Communication problems are only symptoms at best.  If you are going to be a Street Smart Leader you need to realize that communication is never the problem.  You need to start asking “Why?”

Let me give you an example: Joe and Sally have a project assigned to them.  They both go off and begin to work on the project.  Two weeks later the project is due and after reviewing their work you discover you are completely disappointed with their product.  Their work is inconclusive, incomplete, inaccurate, and you are baffled by their inability to have concluded the assignment properly.  As you expound your frustration to them, they begin to ponder the excuses as to why they should not be held accountable.

First, they remember the communication consultant who came to the company last quarter.  And since it was made clear in the classes that communication problems are the “root of all evil”, they quickly go there.  They assert there must have been a communication problem between you and them for the work to be so far off from your expectation. Somehow you didn’t explain the task properly or they took away the wrong information or concept of the task. Now you know better, and although it would be uncomplicated to concur with them, endorsing the communication consultant’s viewpoint, your stomach binds into a knot.  As a leader, you know this isn’t right.  You know they were furnished clear concise directives.  You expected them, with their level of experience and competency, to fill in the blanks and perform; because after all it is not your job to hold their hands through every step of an assignment. You make this clear.

Next, they look at each other and begin to discuss the communication failure they must have had between themselves.  Apparently they didn’t have enough time to meet, or when they did meet couldn’t agree, or maybe they just miss understood what each other’s was going to be doing in terms of completing the task.  Regardless of the excuses, they are trying to avoid accountability on the basis of a communication problem.  As a leader you must crush the notion that communication problems can be used as the excuse for non-performance.

If you want to propel beyond communication problem excuses and solve issues, you must drive down to “root cause” analysis.  Often the root cause is simple; Joe and Sally just don’t like each other and so they can’t work well on a project together.  This is remedied by sitting them down and enlightening them on the realization that their personal disputes are the reason why their communication broke down.  Clarifying how petty differences will not constitute a motive for underperformance in their jobs and that regardless of how they feel about work towards each other, you expect them to leave-it-at-the-door and do their work professionally.  If this reoccurs you need only make it clear that if they cannot perform, irrespective of conflicts, you will find someone else who can.

The root cause of communication difficulty can often be a more complex reason such as the constraints of poor organizational structure or a non-cohesive gravely designed process.

Organizational difficulties can be one of the more impenetrable root causes of poor communication.  Most likely, you do not possess the authority to reorganize the company.  But you can understand where organizational breakdowns are occurring and why.  For example, does your company have a highly compartmentalized structure with different departments pursuing diverse goals and incentives?  Is the structure counterproductive to the pursuit of inter-departmental cooperation?  You may not be able to change the structural drivers that are reinforcing uncooperative behavior, but you are able to reach across those departmental walls and build bridges which heighten your team’s attainment of goals.  Some of those bridges will be from personal bonds with the leaders of other groups, grounded in mutual respect, trust and concern for the mutual welfare of each other.  Some bridges may just be the result of creating win-win situations completely motivated by the self-interests of both people on either side of the wall.  Regardless, you must find a way for your team to succeed with whatever organizational challenges exist.

Let’s take a moment and look at where a process problem is sometimes blamed on communication.  Process improvements and re-engineering efforts are major subjects and there is an abundance of books and expert programs which can be engaged to streamline your company efforts.  One of the simplest and most effective tools to evaluate your processes is a Deployment Chart.  A Deployment Chart is a matrix based flow chart showing the relationships between process participants. Learn to examine how you are asking people to do things to determine where the breakdown is originating.  Evaluating and redefining your processes to ensure a smooth flow can eliminate what may appear to be a communication problem.

There are many other “root causes” that disguise themselves as communication problems.  Some of them are complex and multilayered and require in-depth analysis.  More often than not, they are the progenies of lack of commitment, lack of focus and lack of creativity.  Once you barricade “lack of communication” as an excuse for non-performance and demand to understand the root cause of your team’s failures, you will activate an immediate acceleration in accomplishment. I realize there may be some communication consultants out there, who upon reading this, will conclude that I just do not understand communication issues.  I would contend it is the superficial ideology of these consultants that is at the “root cause” of many communication issues.  I challenge you to think seriously on this subject and dismiss the tide of brainwashing which has overcome us in recent years.

You need to be a Tough Leader and deal with the hard subjects behind your problems.  You need to scrape back the artificial answers such as “lack of communication”, and excavate your genuine challenges.  Only then are you going to discover tangible solutions. Avoid the “feel good’ fallacy of better communication. Deal with the material issues and produce substantial results.  Those real results will be the building blocks for your Winning A-Team.  And one more thing… it is amazing how well a Winning A-team can communicate!

 There are few evils which contend in destroying a Culture’s Soul more than Workplace Drama.  This wicked fiend slithers throughout an organization leaving a trail of overwhelmed, frustrated and resentful people.  Rapidly, processes break down, tasks cease to be completed, and everyone is exhausted.  The fun, the pop, the trust of a team is supplanted with a focus stealing chaos that consumes the team’s lifeblood.  Many managers living with Workplace Drama are easily confounded and can lose faith in their passion.  Their Vision becomes clouded and they begin to give up the cause.

Dealing with Workplace Drama is one of the least rewarding parts of being a Leader. It has the potential to suck the life out of you, and to eradicate your motivation.  Often it leaves mangers wondering: “Why did I choose this career?” “I just don’t get it. What is everyone’s problem? Why can’t they just do their work? It’s like dealing with children.”

Occasionally people need to blow off some steam.  They huddle around the water-cooler sounding off about a particular boss or co-worker.  Mostly it is momentary harmless banter.  The water-cooler tête-à-tête provides an outlet or release which can be healthy venting in measured doses.  But when the line is crossed and your team becomes stirred up, immobilized, upset, unhappy and otherwise dysfunctional, you have a calamity on your hands.    The culprits will begin to withhold information, manipulate situations, steal ideas, or act helpless so that others will come to their aid and give them extra help. Individuals are depicted as fools or villains and all of a sudden, everything is a big deal to the point of exhaustion. Everything is elevated to crisis proportions.  And your boss is looking at you and wondering why you can’t keep your team “under control”.

Workplace Drama must be eradicated immediately before its malignancy spreads.  Unimpeded, Workplace Drama will scathe productivity and foster a detrimental effect on accuracy and quality.  It will dissect a Team’s unity and become the focus of their work activities and priorities.  Those directly involved in the drama will take their “eye off of the ball” and induce costly mistakes.  This time waster, founded in bad behavior, prevents everyone from being great.  It reduces everything you are trying to build.  Unless you are prepared and equipped to contend with Workplace Drama, it will draw you into it as well and denigrate your standing as a Leader.  As usual everyone knows the score, and they are waiting.  Waiting to see what you are going to do about it.

Let’s start off by gaining a basic understanding of Workplace Drama.  Believe it or not the Drama is a predictable plot with predefined roles.  The moves of the “Game” are always the same.  In 1968 Stephen Karpman developed the Drama Triangle as a psychological and social model of human interaction in transactional analysis.  Karpman’s Triangle conjectures three habitual role-plays which drama seekers adopt:

● The Victim – The person who is treated or accepts the role of being vulnerable

Victim’s Moto – “I’m Blameless”             Victim’s Need – Love

● The Persecutor – The person who pressures, coerces, or persecutes the Victim

Persecutor’s Moto – “I’m Right”              Persecutor’s Need – Power

● The Rescuer – The person who intervenes; ostensibly wishing to help the situation or underdog

Rescuer’s Moto – “I’m Good”                   Rescuer’s Need – Acceptance

The Victim appears depressed, fearful, needy, having low self-esteem and looking for help or answers from others.  The Victim’s nemesis, the Persecutor, finger points, finds fault, has angry outbursts, a lack of compassion, clams perfection and judges others.    And the Rescuer demonstrates controlling tendencies, giving unwanted advice, over-extending, taking on other people’s problems while trying to be the hero.

Karpman explains a game of “con” and “hook” setting off a “switch” and finally the “payoff”.  The moves continue as the drama progresses.  In this Drama Triangle the players act out an unstable and emotionally competitive “mind game” which generates misery and discomfort for each other.  The covert purpose for each ‘player’ is to get their unspoken (and frequently unconscious) psychological wishes and needs met in a manner they feel justified, without having to acknowledge the broader dysfunction or harm done in the situation as a whole

Important in Karpman’s observations is the occurrence of the players frequently switching roles as the game progresses.  The drama plays out with the protagonist starting off in one of the three main roles: Rescuer, Persecutor, or Victim, with the other principal player (the antagonist) in one of the other roles. As the drama game progresses the two players move around the triangle switching roles, so that for example the victim turns on the rescuer, or the rescuer switches to persecuting.  Perhaps the victim goes on the offensive and begins to persecute the persecutor who then becomes the victim.  And it goes round and round.  That is, until you step up and do something about it.

So now that you realize this is a game with predetermined roles and routines, you can stop the insanity before it demolishes your team.  Your first move is a preemptive strike.  You need to firmly set the expectation in every team member’s mind that you will not tolerate “Drama”.  This should be one of your compulsory attributes for being on the A Team.  It should be discussed in Company Meetings, Team Meetings and Individual Counseling Sessions.  Make it crystal clear that you have a “No Tolerance” policy towards Workplace Drama.  Openly denounce gossip and backstabbing as inexcusable actions.  And let it be known the perpetrators, regardless of the drama role they choose, will be dealt with with severely.

Next identify your Drama Queens (or Kings).  These are those in your organization who reveal a penchant towards adopting one of the three drama roles.  In fact, they may even go further and want or need to play out the roles.  The drama queen may be a neurotic and self-centered perfectionist.  Often they are considered to be exceptionally talented, but this is not always the case.  A drama queen may be jealous or envious of others, which can make any personal failings even more painful and trigger irrational thoughts of revenge.  In a drama queen’s world, people can be either with her or against her; there are no stages in between.  The Drama Queen or King collects followers with similar proclivities and initially holds court to entertain while attempting to pull them into the game.

While a drama queen might find her forceful personality and manipulation skills useful in some situations, her inability to control her emotions and to form meaningful relationships creates a liability for you if left unchecked.  Watch your drama queens and kings for sign of instigation.  Understand the situations that will launch them into action and anticipate their play.  By thinking ahead of these divas, you will be able to control the outbreak when it happens.

In managing a drama situation, begin by ensuring you are not a participant in the drama.  Check yourself against the roles and objectively remove your emotions from game-play.  Karpman’s theory states that if you play one role, you eventually play them all. But here is the biggest eye opener of all. If you are in the midst of interpersonal challenges and you still can’t identify your part, then you are in the middle of the triangle, and that is called denial.  Know that you stand on firm ground as a Tough Leader, and you can act with integrity and authority.

Once the game is on, commence your counter attack by bringing the entire Team together.  They too, have been witness to what is going on and know far more than you about the situation.  In your meeting, treat the group as a whole.  Do not deal with the drama players specifically.  Re-establish your “No Drama” expectations and restate your no tolerance policy.  Show your dissatisfaction with the lack of teamwork in solving the current situation (without going into the details).  Reinforce to everyone that time and money is being wasted with destructive personal agendas.

Now pay attention. One of your drama players is going to try and put their issues on the table to justify them.  Your Victim is going to start off with, “Well, I just don’t think its fair when…” or your Persecutor is going to start with a direct attack or your Rescuer is going to try and make peace.  You know the game and you’re ready for it.  They are trying to drag you into it.  Now shut them down hard!  Firmly state that you are not going to get into the details of the situation.  Instead, the Team is going to reaffirm rules of behavior to go forward with.  Make clear the Team’s need for functionality is your priority and not an individual’s claim on righteousness.  Then lead the Team in developing “Rules of Engagement” for the Team.  Write them on the board for everyone to see.  Facilitate a healthy outcome by focusing on principles of respect and honesty.   Specifically discuss and agree as to how conflict situations will be handled going forward.  Starting now!  Usually they determine to first try and work out a problem directly between themselves and then elevate to management if this does not work.  You need to make sure the result is that they talk with the person they are having the problem with or they talk to you.  They are not allowed to talk to anyone else regarding their complaint.  Stress this rule!

You would think in our current world of tolerance, collaboration, and “can’t we all just get along” philosophy that this would be the end of it all and everyone would go back to work and progress.  Not even close.  In fact, I don’t ever remember one of these meetings working out.  So why did you go through all of that?  Because, remember, it is game and you are playing.  The meeting was you move to set up the final play.  Your winning play!  You didn’t take sides, you didn’t mediate, you didn’t get emotional, and most importantly you didn’t join the drama game.  All you did was establish proper standards for conduct.  After all, the issue at hand is distinct from the bad conduct of Workplace Drama.  Now sit back and watch for a few weeks.  One of your drama players will recidivate.

It is time for you to pounce into action.  Now you set up a meeting with the offender.  Get ready.  They will come armed to plead their case on the merits.  As they embark on their reasoning, let them know you are aware of the situation and you are handling it.  But this is not the purpose of the meeting.  You want to talk to them about their unacceptable conduct.  They are disregarding the company’s “No Drama” policy, they are breaking the Team “Rules of Engagement”, and they are a problem to you.  Acknowledge the difficulties they are having with the situation or the person, but reiterate the proper way to deal with those problems is not through divisive backroom games.

Look them straight in the eye.  Are you ready to win this game they want to play?  Tell them directly and honestly that they will lose their job if they do not put an end to the drama.  Let them know that if they continue to threaten the culture, productivity, and teamwork of your Team you are going to fire them.  Explain this is not a time sensitive issue and you expect their attitude and behavior to change starting tomorrow.  End your session by reinforcing their value to the organization and your hope that they will take your honest warning seriously.  Check Mate!  Whatever path they choose to take, you have eliminated them as a drama player.  And everyone else watched you fortify a key value of the company.

Workplace Drama can steal your company’s soul and dishearten your personal drive.  It damages everyone associated with it and renders poor performance results.  In the end it drives a stake through the culture and any ability to have fun.  A Street Smart Leader shuts down the drama game, sets the tone of personal accountability, respect, choice, and principled behavior in the organization and work culture.  He protects the value of trust which allows people to grow and excel.

I entered management believing that as long as I was able to develop my department’s performance and meet company goals, I was doing my job and the rest would take care of itself.  So I did my job and waited for my career to move forward.  And of course it did, but not always as quickly as some of my contemporaries who didn’t appear to have my list of accomplishments.  It took me a few exasperating years to study their advancements and realize they were doing more than taking care of their jobs.  They were taking care of their careers.    

If you are to develop a successful career plan you must constantly concentrate your efforts in a three pronged attack.  Just doing your job well will only result in being able to do it for a very long time.  Eventually the mundane will take root and either you or your boss will tire of it and execution will diminish.  Inevitably your goal must be to advance stronger and faster than those surrounding you. You are in a race against time for success and the longer it takes to move up the chain of command the more unmanageable and improbable it becomes.  Launching a comprehensive campaign that showcases your talents and accomplishments will set you on the road to advancement. 

You must learn to manage three different entities every day with efficacy.  They are: 1) The Others you work with, 2) Yourself and 3) Your Boss.  Your ability to concurrently contend with the challenges of these three competing interests is essential. 

MANAGING OTHERS

We naturally imagine our subordinates when thinking of managing Others.  But just as importantly are our peers, staff members, and those in the company who are postured to observe our performance.  It is crucial to have this group’s Respect!

The easiest way to gain the respect of Others is to Win.  People love winners and thrive on the opportunity to be connected with triumph.  Focus your efforts on being a Tough Leader who accomplishes problematic strategic issues.  Do not be concerned with “being liked”.  Victory is more important.  Others will notice who is winning and who is losing.  Your success builds influence and influence in turn creates cooperation.  With the cooperation of Others, you are armed to take on your next challenge with momentum.

Gaining cohesive long-term cooperation depends on being an advocate of Others’ needs.  Support your team and your peers with passion.  Too many managers make the mistake here of keeping score and waiting until they owe someone a favor before throwing in.  This egocentric approach only diminishes your short term effectiveness and slows your own progress.  Gain the respect and cooperation of Others around you by “paying it forward” when it comes to support.  Acquire a deep understanding of what they need to win and contribute everything you can to their success.  They will not overlook it and you will have increased your own power-base.

If you win and are supportive, you will gain Others’ admiration, but you really need their respect.  This requires bonding with them.  You cannot expect someone to run through walls for you if you do not have any bond with them.  Get to know the people around you.  Know their interests and passions.  Understand what makes them tick.  Care about them!  Running into them a few times a week in meetings is a disingenuous attempt at a relationship.  Relationships are of consequence and they matter.  Build them with the people around you.  Enrich your team’s and coworkers’ daily experience with a giving and caring atmosphere.

MANAGING YOURSELF

I have seen managers who are utterly out of control when it comes to managing themselves.  It is a spectacle they are even making it through the day.  They storm through what should be normal daily activities as if they were drowning.  If you are habitually disorientated, people will mistrust your capacity.

Managing yourself is a principal of Quality.  You must grasp the concept that Quality is not a part time thing and it must permeate all you do.  You cannot ask for or demonstrate quality in some things and ignore others.  Quality is a Value.  Episodic deviation from the value of Quality only creates hypocrisy when you try and enforce standards on others.  A commitment to quality elevates the game and demonstrates to others the expectations you command in all things – all of the time.  

Start with your personal organization.  Are you together?   Are you prepared?  Have you thought issues through?  You must become impeccable with your time management.  Know where you are supposed to be and know what needs to be done and when.   Meeting deadlines should be a “no sweat” routine with which you never falter.  Look at your personal presentation, your office, your briefcase, and your organizational system.  Do they tell people you are devoted to Quality?  Clean-up any chaos.  Think about how you are perceived in meetings, how you order lunch.  Make sure you are a self-reliant, prepared, and poised Leader.  No one will want to follow you if you can’t even find your keys.  Simply put… be professional!

Although a large part of your responsibilities revolve around the work of others, inevitably, you have work of your own to produce.  The production of your work should be skilled and precise.  The quality of anything leaving your desk must be first rate, accurate and presentable.   Believe everything you create will be posted on the bulletin board in the lunchroom or your boss’s door.  Set a goal to produce the preeminent work within the company.   Anything less lowers the bar for everyone and questions your credibility.  This is a tangible opportunity to create career distance between you and your peers.

As a professional producing striking work product, your next self-management focus is to demonstrate the attributes and values you require in others.  If you expect a strong work ethic, demand one of yourself.  If you desire positive attitudes, mandate yourself to be upbeat in the worst of times.  As your career expands, you leave behind the ability to “do everything you ask your employees to do”.  But you always retain the obligation to exhibit how to comport oneself in difficult situations and to ensure your organization’s Values are alive and well every day.   

MANAGING YOUR BOSS

This essential concept is often a surprise to many.  After all, isn’t my boss beholden to manage me?  Isn’t he answerable for me in the same way I am responsible for my subordinates?  The answer is, “No”. We just discussed how you were responsible to manage yourself.  If you want your career to thrive, you need to own it and not be complacent with anyone else having accountability for your success.  Managing your boss safeguards your accomplishments and profiles them before the organization’s executives.  Here is where your career takes flight.

You need to become your boss’s Star; his “Go To” person.  This originates with understanding and being proactive to his needs.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  It is not his job to make your duties easier for you. It is your job to make his life easier for him.  Think about that for a second.  What does he need?  What is important to him?  What are the organizational goals he is focused on?  You want to be the first one to the table with real deliverable solutions to make him successful.  Forget the idea that he is there to care for you.  Your goal is to ultimately assume his position.  Start to think of yourself already in his job.  Who is going to take care of you then?  If you understnd my point, you realize relying on your boss for your needs is a self–limiting proposition.  Get out in front of helplessness and stay there.  Also, it isn’t your priority to change your boss.  All bosses have their quirks and difficulties.  Accept them, for if you don’t already, you will have your own challenges for others coming soon.  It is your duty to lead your team to success despite any shortcoming of your boss.  Waiting for a change in his habits is only placing your career on suspension.  Learn to make your system work around his imperfections.      

To become his “Go To” person, you must have ideas; well thought out ideas that can be put into action with winning results.  You need to be able to discover the methods and means for improving your organization.  Your team must produce “standout” performance.  When an initiative of your boss is meeting resistance in other parts of the company, show how your team can break through the barriers and make it happen.  As you create innovative ideas and your team outperforms the norm, your accomplishments will be noticed.  But don’t be surprised when your boss gets a certain amount of credit for this.  After all, you are on his team.  Don’t get stuck here; just keep moving forward and your star will continue to rise and shine.

Too many managers never learn how to “Get to Yes” with their boss.  They think of an idea and throw it up.  They run into their boss’s office on Monday morning and excitedly spew out, “I have an idea. I need people.  I need money.  And then I can do so and so.”  Usually their boss impatiently listens for about 15 minutes and then says something like, “We’ll see.”  Doesn’t this sound familiarly like our Parent’s response when we were ten years old?  It should, because these managers are acting like ten year olds.  If you have a well thought out winning idea, then you need to guarantee it will get approval.  It is your responsibility to get the “Yes”.  Managers who sit around complaining that “nothing ever changes around here” have failed.  They are incapable of putting forth a compelling and unquestionable argument to get a “Yes”.  Commit to yourself that you will never receive a “No” from your boss again.  “Yes” isn’t just about being right.  It is about timing, presentation, and competing interests for resources.  It is about ROI, Values, and your Boss’s agenda.  If you’re not ready to win on all of the fronts, don’t pitch your idea.  Once an idea is pitched and denied, it usually dies.  Be patient, properly prep your idea, wait for alignment, and wait for your boss to be ready to say “Yes”.  Only then should you go for it and present.  If you can acquire this skill you will be among the few who can say, “My boss never says “No” to me.”  And your boss will learn to trust in the strength of your ideas and your abilities.  He will be able to count on you as a solid thinker and contributor.

 Managing Others, Yourself and Your Boss may seem like too many balls to keep up in the air.  It requires careful forethought, diligent planning, and unswerving implementation.  It entails an awareness of the priorities going on around you which you may not necessarily be involved in.  But most of all, it requires a commitment to being the best manager you can be in all areas of your working life.  If you’re not up for the challenge, you might continue to succeed at your job.  But if you want to be a Street Smart Leader, you will keep an active focus on these three priorities and vault past your contemporaries for that next promotion.

At some point in a career every manager has his authority challenged.  Typically the challenge comes towards the beginning of a new relationship with an employee.  But if it is not successfully dealt with, it can last for years. These encounters come in different forms and with varied methods.   Such contests are completely demoralizing and can leave many managers with self-doubt and asking themselves why they are in management in the first place.  Learning to deal with the undermining of these challengers is a survival skill of a Street Smart Leader.

First, let’s define when a challenge is a problem.  It is perfectly acceptable for people to challenge your ideas and methods in a professional and respectful way.  You should promote an open atmosphere which encourages vigorous and passionate debate regarding the best strategies and practices for your business. Healthy combative interaction in the arena of ideas makes them stronger and increases the likelihood of their success. A good Leader will learn to facilitate these discussions with astuteness and confidence in order to get the most out of a high performing team.  We are also not talking about someone who just makes a mistake and is out of line.  A good leader takes the higher road here.  He pauses the conversation or activity, creates an uncomfortable moment, then continues and let’s this one pass. 

When someone questions your authority on an ongoing basis, they are purposefully sabotaging your existence. They are rebuffing your ideas on the basis of rejecting your rightfulness to oversee them.  For whatever reasons they have decided, “You are not the boss of me.”  But you are and they just don’t like it.  Maybe they believe they should be the boss or maybe they want you to prove yourself or maybe they just have psychological blocks. Regardless of the reason, they are planning to undermine your effectiveness.  You are in Street Fight!

Their number one weapon in this battle is your inaction.  They are counting on the presumption that they are too clever, or that you will avoid confrontation, or that they can build an unassailable coalition.  They plan to diminish your power by ignoring your authority. They are counting on you forfeiting your power and allowing them to subsist.  Power is not lost it is relinquished. 

This point was driven home to me years ago while I was attending a charity dinner event.  The draw that evening was that business leaders were able to enjoy dinner with Professional Athletes at the table while we watched the program.  I am not one who is easily star struck, but still I attended as a part of our Executive Team.  Not knowing who he was, I found myself sitting next to Pete Vuckovich.  I quickly read the program and realized he had been a Cy Young Award winning baseball pitcher who had played in the World Series.  As I saw those at my table engaged in lively conversations with these sport’s idols, I wondered what I could say to Mr. Vuckovich.  I was far from a baseball fan and not really interested in his celebrity.  However, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity with a real Pro who was once at the top of his game. 

After some awkward silence as dinner was being served, I finally leaned over and asked, “Pete, do you mind if I ask you a question?”  He graciously smiled and replied, “Sure. Go ahead.”  I continued, “Have you ever stood on the pitching mound … against such a formidable opponent, who was on such a hot hitting streak, that you didn’t want to throw the ball?”  Mr. Vuckovich began to transform in front of my eyes.  As he lunged to within four inches from my face, his 6’4″, 220 lb frame and full Fu Manchu moustache took on an intimidating and intense bearing.  His eyes were penetrating and his posture was snarling like a charging bull on the brink of losing self-control.   Seconds seemed an eternity. He almost began shaking when he grabbed my arm and squeezed.  Then without raising his voice, almost in a whisper, he bursted, “Why would I be afraid.  I’m the one with the f—ing ball!”  Later I learned how Pete Vuckovich was famous for his intensity and competitiveness.  That night I learned what it meant to not resign your power.

Not if, but when, you find yourself in this predicament there are a couple of overall guidelines to follow.  Most importantly, you must remain “cool-headed”.  You cannot become emotionally reactive and let the perpetrator push your buttons.  You are in a battle for credibility and the fastest way to lose it is to over-react to a situation.  Be committed to defeating your challenger, but make sure you let them escalate each level of the interaction.  It is never long before such a contest enters the public square, so your boss will be evaluating your actions.  He will be watching to see if you are in any way “going after” the employee to settle your own grudge.  It is important for you to demonstrate the truth of your reluctance to participant in this conflict.  Make sure you are on solid ground. 

When someone is continually challenging your authority they provide many opportunities to make themselves look bad.  You don’t have to take them on at each one.  Wait for the battles where you are on firm unquestionable ground.  Be patient and be right – chose winning conflicts with which to discredit your opponent.  In truth, it is difficult not to be emotional when under this kind of attack.  It is personal but your emotions will work against you.  This is a time to “out-think” your opponent.

Usually their tactics fall into one of two general buckets: Direct Confrontation or Indirect Manipulations.  If you are to defend against these tactics, you must be able to recognize them and counter attack with veracious action.

Direct confrontations take several forms.  They include obvious hostile behaviors such as rudeness, inappropriate complaining, sarcasm, and insubordination.  Less visible, but just as aggressive, are the plots of backstabbing and gossip which are designed to build a collective resistance.  Direct confrontations are usually exploited by the arrogant.  They believe they are either “untouchable” or that they will gather support from others which will corroborate their bad behavior and disentangle you.  They are bullies and they are counting on you to avoid the confrontation.

As a Leader, you need to meet this confrontation head-on.  The trick is to do it in a way that is non-confrontational.  They are baiting you with their bad behavior and setting the trap.  The mistake many managers make in this situation is to react and take the bait.  They make a spectacle of the situation drawing the attention to their own behavior.  The over-reaction replaces the bad behavior as the topic among employees, peers and their boss.  Instead, you must have a plan thought out and be ready to execute it in an ultra-professional way.

Let’s look at a few examples of the Direct Confronter:

1.)    Take the person who challenges your authority in a meeting with sarcasm or anger.  You are sure this is no mistake and you have been waiting for it.  Instead of taking the bait, you stop the meeting with silence and allow that uncomfortable moment to sit with everyone and then continue the meeting.  Just before the meeting adjourns, while everyone is still seated, you look directly at your offender and calmly say, “Dennis, I’d like you to stay for a few minutes.” Be prepared, for he will most likely tell you how he can’t because he has something urgent to do.  With your eyes focused on his, tell him this will only take a moment and to please sit down. Watch everyone’s faces as they get up leaving Dennis sitting in the room.  Then you handle Dennis’s misconduct in an ultra-professional manner.  With no emotion, you point out how his behavior was unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated in the future.  Let him know if it does happen again, he will be asked to leave the room immediately.  If this happens again, you are on very firm ground and can begin replacing Dennis.

2.)   Having successfully shut Dennis down in a way that curbs his public grandstanding, you can next expect Dennis to concentrate on building his collective through backstabbing and gossip.  Backstabbing is most effectively put into play by going around you to your boss and complaining.  Nothing can be as upsetting as when you realize this is going on and your boss is listening to your adversary behind closed doors.  In today’s world of “open door” policies this is a predictable route for them to take.  Well since it is predictable, you will have a plan.  Whether or not your boss initiates a discussion with you, let him know you think it would be good for the three of you to get together and discuss Dennis’s unhappiness.  Dennis might relish the opportunity to “take you on” with the boss.  But you have chosen you battles carefully and you are going to focus the conversation on the indefensible – Dennis’s behavior and not on your ideas or style which he disagrees with.  Through your preparation, you make certain this meeting is about him.

After a few such interactions the Direct Confronter will lose credibility and will recognize your authority and the personal cost of challenging it.

CHALLENGING AUTHORITY

Those who use Indirect Manipulation characteristically rely on “Passive Aggressive” tactics.  These tactics will usually manifest themselves as helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, bitterness, moodiness, or deliberate and repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is responsible.  They do not disagree or confront you.  Instead they wear you down with friction and attitude.  They wage their war with deliberate actions of resistance which, individually do not justify a response from you.  With these employees you find yourself terribly frustrated and insecure.  The good ones are masters at making you think there is something wrong with you as a manager.  They accomplish their jobs proficiently enough to make any application of your management over them seem trivial and as if you are picking on them. 

Learn to recognize the manipulations of the Passive Aggressive employee and prepare yourself to again deal directly with them.  Let’s look at some passive aggressive situations:

1.)    Many passive aggressive employees constantly test your will by not following policies and procedures, but still get the job done.  They don’t agree with the rules and they are not going to follow them.  When you call it to their attention, they’ll say they forgot, or they will try and improve, or they don’t see why it is such a big deal, but okay.  Just like their confrontational counterparts, they are baiting a trap for you.  They have set you up for a false choice.  You either become upset with them and appear completely irrational by making a big deal over such a small thing or you let them off the hook not wanting to deal with it.  They are very good at knowing where the line is drawn and running right up to it.  As a Leader you must take on the passive aggressive with a deliberate, constant, non-wavering campaign.  You need to move the line back.  Keep your responses proportional and do not over react.  This doesn’t mean you let things slide.  You risk looking aggressive if you go after everything at once.  So again, pick your battles and fight them.  Concentrate on policies that are already being followed by everyone else without a problem.  This eliminates any controversy on the right and wrong of the matter.  Find several areas that you are going to enforce “every day”, from everyone, even if it kills you.  Set deadlines and follow-up on them.  You must “break” your passive aggressive employee methodically, consistently and relentlessly. Without any emotion, excitement, or drama. 

2.)   Once they lose this battle your passive aggressive will most likely fight back with a bad attitude.  Since they are passive in their choice of weapon they will not be openly disgruntled.  Instead they will choose moodiness, sulkiness, irritability or the like.  Even worse they may try apathy or setting up others for failure.  All of these are unacceptable and should be dealt with immediately.  A serious conversation in your office with them will fix it for a week.  They will be dismissive and defensive and they will again test your will.  Do not let them get away with it.  As uncomfortable and upsetting as these meetings are for you, rest assured, they are hell for the passive aggressive.  If they persist in forcing you to meet with them again and again, begin taking notes of the conversations right in front of them.  Make it clear that you would rather not escalate the situation, but if they insist on it, you are prepared to win.

If you are constantly dealing with authority challenges, you need to take a strong deep look at yourself and ask if you are the problem.  Otherwise, you must be prepared to take on the occasional Underminer.  They are dangerous to you, your team and your company.  They focus attention on themselves and detract from the goals your team is working so hard to accomplish.   Take notice, everyone is aware that the game is on and they are watching how you deal with it.  They are evaluating your Leadership capability in these situations.  If you can conquer adversity without becoming emotional and reactionary, your team will respect you.  Take your victories with grace and silence.  There is no need to showboat or strut.  Everyone has noticed what just transpired.  Remember no one wants to follow a Leader who can’t stand up for himself when he is right and win!  Play it Street Smart and as Pete Vuckovich taught me – don’t relinquish your power.  You’ve got the Ball – KEEP IT!