Category Archives: Teamwork

When to lead and when to manage

You lead people, yourself included. You manage situations.

Nobody worth their salt likes to be “managed”.  Trying to manage people, that is; using threats of punishment, promises of reward, passive aggressive comments, subtle (or not so subtle) hints, and sundry other insincere “techniques” designed to elicit a change in behavior, borders on sociopathic.  It’s disrespectful and condescending.

It will lose you the best people and the ones that put up with it will be with you for the wrong reasons, making high performance unlikely.

The people you want in your team, I call them thinking followers, are motivated by the opportunity of doing meaningful work that they enjoy, with other people they respect, in an environment that invites and fosters their creativity.

Your role as the boss is to inspire and challenge and support them.

Yes, management is required.  Processes, scheduling, logistics, supply lines, and administration all need to be well managed.  And there are “people situations” that need to be handled – interpersonal conflict, irrational behavior, emotional outbursts, even plain old mistakes.  Just remember that people are people, not things.  This post might help.

I can’t stress this enough:  people should not be managed.  Your job is to provide real leadership.

And above all, your people need to be inspired to take the lead themselves.  That will never happen if they suspect they’re being “managed”.

Why independence doesn’t mean being a lone wolf.


Main Squeeze sent me this a few days ago; said it reminded her of me.  You see I don’t enjoy organizational politics at all (who does?) and I’ve never been much good at kow-towing.

I shared it with my friend and business partner, who wondered if “wolves”, being great at “lone”, might then not be good at playing on a team.  At the time I thought that’s maybe where the analogy breaks down, but in hindsight the comparison of a wolf to an independent man or woman is apt. (Doesn’t that always happen – you think of what to say, but way, way too late.)

Being of independent mind does not mean going it alone.  It means thinking for yourself and deciding when its good to work with others.

Working in a team, even one with a leader, doesn’t mean you need to bow, buckle under, or “perform”.  It means you acknowledge that your interests are aligned with the groups’; that cooperating will get you all further; that you’re hunting in a pack, as it were.

The thing is, if you’re the leader of the pack, remember that your goals, (your own, and the organizations’), will be better served if those on your team are “thinking followers“, not performing animals.  Interact with them accordingly and they’ll stay engaged and motivated.  Treat them like monkeys and the better ones will be gone, and those left will not move unless you say so, or promise them a treat.

Whether you lead only your self, or a team of one hundred, your foundational attribute has to be independence.  That is, you need to choose to stay switched on and focused; you must be willing to think, analyze, judge, and make decisions; and you need the courage, confidence and drive to initiate action.

Sometimes you’ll choose to follow the direction set by someone else, or to take advice, or to work collaboratively.  Never should you jump because your fear a whip or want shiny baubles.







Boss versus Leader – not so clear cut.

Boss vs Leader

No attribution. No copyright infringement intended. Let me know if it’s your work.


Intuitively, the picture resonates.  We’ve all had the petty-tyrant boss; the person who loves the sound of their own voice and is oblivious to the resentment and de-motivation they’re engendering.

And most of us can relate to the manager who loves to roll up his sleeves and jump in on the line.

But don’t be fooled.  There’s a problem with the scenario that this image paints, especially when it comes to larger teams with significant division of labour:

You can’t fly at 40,000 feet and be on the tarmac at the same time.

If you as the organizational leader are always “hands-on”, who’s doing your job?  To belabor the cheap analogies; if the captain is always in the engine room, the ship’s going to run aground.


Don’t “lord it” over your team.  Challenge them, but don’t be a slave-driver.  Be nice, respectful, sincere, and above all, just.  But recognize that their job is not yours.  They need to be accountable for their role, just as you need to be accountable for yours.

In a pinch, get in the trenches and dig.  But if you need to do that regularly, you’re not doing your job properly; you’re just a very overpaid member of the team.

When it comes to that bromide about being “Hands On”, here’s the rule to follow:

Be hands-on as much as necessary, but as little as possible.

And over time, given that a part of your job as “boss” is to develop your reports, you should be hands-on less and less.  That will be easier if you master the art of delegation.

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Apologies for all the links, hope they weren’t distracting and that you find some of the material useful.

Questions or comments – feel free.







Delivering Happiness

When I get time to read again, one of the first books on my list is “Delivering Happiness”, by Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh.  Also on that list will be several of the books in the presentation below.

Maybe there’s a few here for you too.  I’ve only read some of these, so can’t vouch for them all, but anyone who is as obsessed with team and customer happiness as Tony seems to be, must be at least a better-than-average judge of on-topic reading material.


4 Indispensable Principles for Good Leadership

PEOPLE TALK ABOUT having “principles”, but few seem to be guided by their principles consistently, because it’s just too easy to make exceptions.  The thing is, if you don’t follow your principles in every case, they’re not principles.

Understood and accepted as non-violable, your principles become your “rock” – a steadfast guide to action even when circumstances are difficult, conflicting, or hard to discern.  Good leaders, and good people, understand this; they know that sticking to the right principles is indispensable to success, and therefore also to happiness.

Here’s four principles that all good leaders, (and good people, for that matter,) stick to.

#1 My Judgement Rules
Good leaders (and good people) know that they are always fully accountable for what they do, so they never relinquish judgement to others.  Sure, they listen, take advice, learn from others, and consult.  What they don’t do, however, is take another’s word, opinion, dictate, or judgement as given.  Never.  To put it another way:  “The buck stops here, so you better @#$%-well know the real buck inside and out”.

Example:  Steve Jobs in any number or situations springs to mind.

#2 Good Relationships Depend on Justice
Good leaders (and good people) understand that only relationships based on justice will thrive.  To deal with people justly means to always and only give (and accept) what is deserved.  To withhold praise and reward from those who add value is just as bad as bestowing the same on those who do not, or on those who, even worse, destroy value.

The latter is called “spoiling”, and as Rand once pointed out, there’s no quicker and surer way to destroy a human soul than to give it more than it deserves.  Conversely, withhold  reward from those who’ve rightly earned it, and they’ll not be around for long.  They’ll go where their talent is recognized and valued, and righty so.

Example:  The “brain drain” from any number of politically stifling (and unjust) nations to the freer countries in “The West”.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s dispel a couple of widely held (and very unjust) bromides (anti-principles, if you will):  “Unconditional Love” and “Universal Forgiveness“.

Good leaders (and good people) understand that those who demand “unconditional love” are asking you to commit fraud.  Love is simply one end of the scale that measures how you value something or someone (hate → dislike → ambivalence → like → love).  Your emotional response to anything or anyone needs to be just, that is, needs to be in keeping with how much you value (or disvalue) the thing or person.  To give love “unconditionally”, is to disregard justice.  Do so at your own peril.

Forgiveness has it’s place, of course, but also needs to be just.  The guilty must earn forgiveness.  How?  Three things:  They must show sincere contrition (simply saying “sorry” is not enough), they need to make good on the damage they did, and they should make a binding commitment to doing better from now on.  Forgiving someone, “just because”, is unfair on, and bad for, both of you.

Now, back to organizational leadership…

Organizations, by definition, rely on relationships, so its critical that justice is the principle that drives the relationships.  So many organizations founder because dysfunctional (unjust) relationships tie them in knots.  Jealousy, envy, favoritism, obsequiousness, sociopathy, and a host of other organization ills thrive because justice is absent.  Incompetents with connections wield power, talent languishes or leaves, obsequious sycophants who look good in a suit keep the corner offices warm, and fraudsters with acting skills line their pockets.  Absent justice, relationships are based on all manner of pretense.  In that kind of culture, all sorts of crap can grow.

Example:  Too many to mention.  How about Enron?  Bear Stearns?  Penn State?

#3 Learning Never Stops and Comes From Anywhere and Everywhere
With this principle firmly understood and integrated, you’re open to expanding your horizons every day, every hour, every minute.Learning is Joy

Yet, how many managers, bosses, parents, or acquaintances do you know who seem to think that they know everything already?  Ugh, the dreaded “know it all”….deal with that kind as little as you can, they’re a vexation to your soul!

Example?  I bet you have a dozen such people in your life.  Name one.

#4 Be Passionate
Whatever you do, give it 100% of your attention and effort.  If you can’t, or worse, won’t, don’t do it.

Passion does not mean “loving” what you do.  It means “valuing” what you do.  Hopefully, most of the time it is about love and enjoyment, but don’t forget that some things that are not fun still need 100% or your focus and your best effort; because they’re worth it.  George Washington no doubt hated that winter at Valley Forge, but his passion for the fledgling America held strong, guiding him through times and circumstances that would have driven a non-principled, dispassionate man to give up.

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Principles are not for “now and then”.  And they are not just for titled-leaders.  It is not a coincidence that the fundamental principles that make for good organizational leaders also make for good human beings.  That’s why Method Leadership is based on them, and why they’re on our masthead.

Think.  Engage.  Learn.  Value.

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Michael Paul Jährling

Brief Book Review: The Southwest Airlines Way – Jody Hoffer Gittell

The-Southwest-Airlines-Way-Gittell-Jody-Hoffer-9780071458276THIS IS ARGUABLY the most important text on how teams can and should be managed so as to deliver great customer service.

Author Jody Hoffer Gittell does a good job of explaining the specific practices Southwest has developed and maintains in order to consistently deliver an airline experience that’s way better than its competitors, and creates profit in an industry renown for delivering losses.  The work is detailed, almost scholarly (yet very readable), and provides a blueprint for other organizations wishing to emulate Southwest’s success.  I also found it a fascinating insight into the complexities of running an airline.

Don’t think for a moment, though, that by reading this book and implementing a few changes you’ll have your organization swinging.  As you would expect, creating the exceptional requires more than a quick fix.  If you have the will though, and the authority to implement change, I highly recommend developing a plan based on the ten principles outlined in the book, and listed below:

Ten Practices for Building High Performance Relationships:

Lead with credibility and caring

Invest in frontline leadership

Hire and train for relational competence

Use conflicts to build relationships

Bridge the work/family divide

Create boundary spanners

Measure performance broadly

Keep jobs flexible at the boundries

Make unions your partners, not adversaries

Build relationships with your suppliers

If you’ve never flown Southwest, or heard about their brand of what I call “real” service, here’s a couple videos to whet your appetite:

A great TV commercial (1 min) :

A Southwest flight attendant singing a custom version of Jingle Bells (45 sec):

An interview (10 min) with Rita Bailey, erstwhile director of Southwest’s “University for People”:

Get the book here:        Paperback         Kindle

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More good reading on the Resources Page.

Interpersonal conflict in your team? You need good advice, and a “list post” won’t cut it!

THERE IS A lot of leadership advice out there.  Hundreds of books, thousands of websites; some helpful, most not.  Much of it ignores fundamentals; instead offering adhoc, graft-on, band-aid, random, and arbitrary “solutions” with no foundation, little context and no integration. 

How are you supposed to remember, internalize, and successfully use “The 21 Immutable Laws of Leadership”, for example.   If you haven’t first mastered yourself – your independent thinking capabilities and your people skills especially – learning “rules” will not be much help.

And then there’s the “5 Steps to X”, “8 Ways to Y”, and “47 Rules of Z”; as though good leadership (and life, for that matter), could be reduced to a set of “Tab A into Slot A” instruction sheets.  These are popular because the human mind craves order, and lists are nothing if not ordered.  We love “step-by-step” instructions, but life is not a lego set.

What good leadership and successful living require is not so much in the way of instructions, nor even a map.  What is needed are fundamental skills; skills that give you the ability to make your own instructions, your own maps, depending on where you want to go and what you want to achieve.

Leadership advice that ignores these fundamentals is like trying to build a house without foundations.

Here’s a point in case.

[As a proviso, I mean no disrespect.  This is from Dan Rockwell‘s “Leadership Freak” blog, which is worth a look, and by Steven M.R. Covey, whose book “The Crisis of Trust” I’ve not yet read, but whose father Steven R. Covey authored the wildly popular “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.]

It’s a post entitled:  10 Steps to Solve Tension Between Team Mates

After the intro, (which admonishes you never to ask “Why is this happening?”!!), you are instructed to invite the conflicting team mates to:

A bridge building conversation:

  1. Invite them to a “work on your work relationship” meeting.
  2. Explain your high hopes.
  3. Clarify: you aren’t fixing their relationship. (Essential)
  4. Question one: How satisfying is your work relationship, 1 to 10?
  5. Question two: How important is improving your work relationship, 1-10?
  6. Question three: What satisfaction number would make your work relationship fulfilling, 1-10?
  7. Question four: How would you describe great work relationships? (Ask each person for three expressions.)
  8. Question five: What’s essential to building great work relationships? (Ask for three things from each.)
  9. Explore one response from each person. Bob, you said, “Great work relationships are supportive.” What does support look like to you? Search for observable behaviors.
  10. Use responses to questions four and five to determine one or two things each person will do to build a great work relationship.
  11. And if they don’t shake hands at the end of the meeting, make them sit in opposite corners wearing dunce caps.

(Okay, I added point #11, but I think it fits…)

If you work with 8-year-olds, this approach might help.  For a day or two.  For anyone else, it’s worse than useless.  It’s condescending, puerile, demotivating, and will likely make Bob, and Bob’s colleague, think you’re a prat.   Seriously, a “work on your work relationship meeting“?

Perhaps this explains why, despite decades of research on management and leadership, 1000’s of books, and untold millions spent on leadership development, there’s still such a dearth of good leaders in all areas of our culture.  If this is what the “leaders” in the field of leadership offer, it’s no wonder good leaders are so few and far between.

Good leadership is not about holding people’s hands; it’s about showing them how to walk on their own, how to lead themselves.

Treat people like children and you’ll get one of two responses:

…the meeker and more compliant types will act like children, or, more correctly, will act immaturely; and the more independent types will rebel.  Either way, you’ll not be getting engaged, thinking, followers.  For that, you need to treat people as mature individuals; rationally.

If you have two or more people not getting along to such a degree that you need to intervene, that’s a symptom of a deeper, more fundamental problem; namely, you recruited poorly, your work processes are inefficient, and/or your team-building efforts are not working.

Good teams don’t bicker.

Creative conflict, yes; antagonism, rudeness, spite, defensiveness, finger-pointing, and all those schoolyard behaviors, no.

Let’s revisit Bob and his colleague (we’ll call him Joe).  If the two of them can’t get along, it’s because one or both of them are behaving irrationally, which translates to, behaving immaturely.  It’s not about whether they like each other or not;  that’s irrelevant.

Before you intervene, there’s a few questions you need to answer:

1.  What’s the negative impact on the team, on productivity, on progress towards organizational objectives?  If there really is none, then don’t fix what isn’t broken.  Everybody does not have to love everybody else.

2. Do both Bob and Joe add value – that is, are they earning their keep?  If one of them is not, then that’s the problem that needs addressing.

3.  Is either Bob or Joe at fault for the lack of civility or cooperation, for the “tension“?  Maybe Bob’s a bully.  Perhaps Joe is homophobic and Bob is gay.  Who knows?  If you don’t know the cause, you’re not the umpire, you’re the “third man in”, and deserve a trip to the penalty box.  If you do know, then treating the problem as “tension” between two equals is unfair. If the root of the problem is one of them, fix that.

If they both contribute equally to the team effort, are both at fault for the “tension” between them (which is unlikely, but let’s assume it for the sake of the exercise), and their poor relationship IS having a negative impact on aspects of the organization’s functions, then you’ll need to intervene (assuming they’re your direct reports.  If they’re not, then their direct supervisor should be handling the matter, with your assistance if needed).

There is no cookie-cutter approach, because situations and people are different.  Principles, however, can and should be applied.  The first principle of managing people is: reason.  The second is justice.  Everyone deserves to be treated rationally and fairly.

Talk to them.  Calmly and as adults.  Separately, if you suspect one of them is the cause of the issue or if you judge that one or both of them will “tune out” if they’re in a discussion with you together (and if it’s that bad, you really do have much bigger issues to deal with).

Ask them what the problem is.  Make them aware of the negative impact.  Remind them of their commitments to the team and especially to team norms:  no finger pointing, no excuses, no blame, one for all and all for one, together we stand, divided we fall – though you may want to avoid those cliched formulations  :-).

What you say and how you say it will depend on the individuals involved, your relationship with them, and the issues at hand.  Again, there is no “list of steps”.  These are people, not robots.  If you are not capable of having an adhoc conversation of this nature, you should question whether you are ready to be in an organizational leadership role.  These are fundamental people skills – communication, negotiation, delegation – and are prerequisite for a titled leadership role.

And while we’re on you…

…have you considered that you might be the cause of the issue?

If you behave irrationally, are unpredictable, play favorites, or in any way set a poor example, chances are you’re the root cause of any tensions or interpersonal conflicts in the team.  It is your team, after all.  Managing a team successfully starts with managing yourself.  Managing yourself starts with honest introspection and an ability to modify your own habitual behavior – in essence, to create yourself.  If you haven’t or don’t lay this foundation, no amount of “how to” lists will help.

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Related reading:  If you really need a slightly more structured approach, here is some additional good advice:  Kate Nasser: Teamwork #Peopleskills: Leaders, When Do You Intervene?