Kathleen Brush
Kathleen Brush

Global Management and Strategy Consultant

The Power of One: you’re the boss

The Power of One: you’re the boss

Become a Power of One leader

Essential Skills

Soft skill challenged Lester. Lester thought his days as a supervisor were over. He knew he could learn anything, but he was saddled with some behaviors that employees just didn’t like. He felt like another example of the Peter Principle. Lester, though, was wrong. He had not been promoted into a position where he was destined to be incompetent. He simply had to learn some new behaviors. Lester would also have to accept that… he needed to do some unlearning to purge behaviors that were antithetical to being a leader that consistently delivered results.

Hard skill challenged Sergio.  Sophia, Sergio’s boss, pulled him aside. She told Sergio his employees were ready to mutiny, but they had to get behind her because she was pulling rank. She wanted Sergio to tell her why the company’s portfolio of products was weighted toward aging products…

Sergio began pointing fingers everywhere. Marketing promotions weren’t reaching the “right” buyers. IT had saddled him with systems that the employees found counterproductive. Economies in Europe were tanking. There was unrest in the Middle East. The idea for one new product came from a board member, another from the CEO. He assumed that his job was to turn their ideas into products. Then there were the under skilled, lazy employees that never stopped asking him for advice on subjects he knew nothing about.

Sophia stayed calm. She said to Sergio, “Are you telling me you think your terrible performance is anyone’s fault but your own?” Until that moment he actually did.

Essential skills – no department is an island. Sandy enjoyed the training program. It expanded her skills beyond engineering to include relevant concepts from organizational behavior, strategy, finance and accounting, marketing, human resource management, corporate governance, information technology (IT), quality management, and integrity. She had also learned how to leverage the skills of organizational behavior and integrity to develop composite hard skills of knowledge and soft skills of behavior. A mantra in the program was, “skills of knowledge must be applied with the right behaviors to have value.”

The need for global context. Company leaders commonly see their organizations as independent islands filled with internal challenges. The regular arrival of up-close-and-personal internal challenges can be so consuming it can be easy to miss the reality of an organization living in a global archipelago filled with challenge-dispensing industry and environmental forces.

It is important for every manager to accept that no team lives in a protective bubble. Every 10,000-foot industry-related event and every 30,000-foot environmentally related event has the potential to pack dozens of punches at sea level, and the buck stops with the boss. The only protection a team has is a boss who has the skills to manage his responsibilities operating in the world at large.

Organizational Behavior/ Motivation

Work versus home life. Some parents will receive a phone call from a child asking if her bedroom is still free because she was fired for insubordination. You can almost hear the mom saying, “That couldn’t be. What’s wrong with your boss?” The right question is more likely, “What did we do wrong?” When raising children most parents don’t include a lesson on how bosses differ from parents. If they had, they would have taught their children that maintaining employment requires: conforming to certain behaviors, fostering key relationships, meeting deadlines, constraining free will, and accepting an unequal power relationship where a boss has the final say and can terminate an employee on the spot.

Motivation and a leader’s skillsOf all the factors that influence motivation a leader’s skills are the most persuasive. Indeed, there is a direct cause and effect relationship between a leader’s skills and employee motivations. It is the reason why the replacement of a partially skilled leader, who is inevitably a demotivational lightning rod, with a skill-equipped leader yields dramatically different and positive outcomes. It is also the reason why partially skilled leaders, even with a bag of money, can never materially alter employee motivation. The best money can buy, in this case, is the interjection of an occasional burst of productivity.

Bad leader behaviors. A naysayer boss piloting a team with a prophesy of doom is an oxymoron. One primary role of a leader is to guide his team to a brighter future. What does a boss conveying doom and gloom inspire? Being positive for the sake of being pos­itive, however won’t work either. A boss who sees the world through rose-colored glasses won’t inspire employees for long if he guides them on a pitted path with a costly dead-end.

Bosses that crack under pressure are exhibiting yet another irritating boss behavior. When problems surface a boss automatically switches into solution mode. There is no time or place for a manager to even think it’s okay to lose control. A boss never wants one employee whispering to another, look at his armpits; we’re in big trouble.

Leader communications. Shakespeare wrote All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. Today the world’s stage is a globally accessible production. To the bosses of the world take note, there are no mere players. It’s wise to make every communication good theatre.

Employee motivations. When morale is in the abyss, it can ignite a search for motivational silver bullets — a futile search. If only employees were carbon copies complete with identical motivations. Instead, motivations are individually based and they are influenced by many factors. Four very influential factors that guarantee there will be great variations in who is motivated by what, when and where. These include: (1) motivational type; (2) current needs; (3) psychological preferences; and (4) cultural programming.

At ABC Telecom five top-notch employees opened their pay stubs to discover that they had been paid an extra $2,000. The reason? The company’s leaders wanted to motivate them. One employee said, “so they are giving us a reward in advance of an anticipated behavior, that is what? To go shopping? That’s what I’m motivated to do.” Other employees nodded in agreement. These employees were already satisfied with their compensation. What they really wanted was to have company leaders stop communicating half-truths and to present a real strategy.

The uniquely programmed Americans. When it comes to cultural programming, Americans are programmed very differently from the rest of the world. It is so different that many American behaviors can be found offensive. For example, the “I go it alone orientation” goes against the grain of the “we” cultural programming most nations have. America’s high-tolerance for risk is often interpreted by other cultures as reckless.

American leaders have also been known to try to force a quick decision from prospective partners from other countries where orientations toward time are much longer, such as Asia. There have been many stories of the short-term-oriented American leaders offering extra concessions in an effort to conclude a “partnership” agreement rapidly. But these agreements often turned into costly mistakes; foreign mistakes are always costly. Some of the most costly were those that created Asian competitors from former ”partners.”

Introverts and extroverts. Are extroverts or introverts better suited to be the boss? Most will probably guess that extroverts are better leaders. Most will also be surprised that among Fortune 500 CEOs, the mix of extroverts and introverts is 50:50. This makes sense because management positions are filled with tasks that are naturally suited to introverts and extroverts. The most effective leaders have to be amorphous on this BT.

Sources of power.  “I get no respect” Rodney Dangerfield look-alikes are everywhere, and they are all disappointed that their new employees aren’t responding to the magic-manager-fairy-dust that came sprinkled with their title. 

At Galaxy Corp. company leaders were asked to rate their power sources and employees were asked to rate their bosses’ power sources. The latter was important because a leader’s power is conferred through his employees. The outcome? The leaders overrated the strength of almost all of their power sources and significantly. This finding may explain why so many leaders cannot understand why they have trouble motivating their employees.

Strategy

Creating strategies.  Strategies are not born and standalone brainstorming sessions are nothing more than glorified get-togethers. Creating strategies requires strategically-skilled people who know the following: what a strategy process, strategy hierarchy, and strategy are and are not; how to competently create and execute a strategy process; when to build components of a strategy and when to acquire; the implications of environmental and industry forces and lifecycles; and why strategies must have a global context.

An organization’s vision. Company leaders today that that fail to envision how their industries may or are already being affected by things like: aging populations in Japan, China and much of Europe; rising middle classes in big developing countries like China and India; the growing global awareness to environmental degradation; or new formidable developing-country competitors and suppliers could be missing out on big opportunities or creating a set up for a hard landing.

The strategic plan as blueprint.  The blueprint won’t amount to much if execution falters. Schedules cannot slip. One slip runs the risk of causing one to many misconnections with corresponding departmental and interdepartmental initiatives. The execution of a company-wide strategic plan is a task akin to managing traffic at London Heathrow, Beijing Capital, or Atlanta Hartsfield international airports. Everyone involved must be communicating effectively and in step with scheduling because mishaps upset the entire flow, which can leave entire groups up in the air or on the ground waiting. When this happens a plan that cannot lose, can lose.

Lifecycles and skill requirements. Unlike Geoffrey Moore, Ted Leavitt saw three  chasms that had to be crossed for continuous success.  He saw the skills that were needed to succeed in the introductory, growth, mature, and decline phases as all different. Not coincidentally these changing skill requirements bear an uncanny resemblance to the skills needed to execute the right product strategies in each lifecycle phase.

The need for global strategies. The challenges present in foreign markets are so numerous and complex it might seem like they present a darn good excuse for sticking to a domestic strategy. It’s just too risky. Unfortunately, if the goal is to create a strategy that cannot lose that option is no longer available. Every organization, large and small, has to consider relevant non-domestic industry and environmental forces to fully understand the O&Ts that their organization’s face, or may face. Leaders have to accept that they cannot control, for example: what competi­tors do, where they hail from, who supplies them, whom they target as customers or whom customers buy from. They also have to accept that in a world of interconnected economies, what happens in Vegas politically, economically, or social culturally rarely stays in Vegas. Remember the euro crisis!

Other Skills

Financial skills.  At the top of the financial essential skills list would be knowing the difference between cash and income and knowing when an organization has income but does not have cash. To gain this knowledge a manager needs to understand some basics about the P&L, the statement of cash flows, and the balance sheet.

Spiderweb Inc. popped the cork on a bottle of champagne; they had just recorded their first million-dollar month of revenue. Mind you the General Manager personally paid for the champagne because the company’s bank balance was in the red. Two months later, the celebration seemed hollow. Two of their suppliers had put them on credit hold. Meanwhile they sat in suspense wondering when two big customer checks that were “in the mail” would arrive.

Economics.  Financial accounting reports offer their readers a detailed and rear view mirror of organizational performance. Economic reports offer a windshield-type 30,000-foot view of the economic environments exerting an influence on an organization.

Economic development.  When evaluating target markets it’s important to know which are developed and which are developing. Consider some different characteristics of the two. Countries that are developed are built on diverse industries and world-class infrastructures. Average per capita income is over $20,000. Their populations are educated, not just literate, life expectancies are over seventy-five, and their people take freedoms and equality for granted. In almost all developed countries economic growth rates will be low for years to come due to high levels of government debt, and negative population growth that is being driven by low birthrates and aging populations.

In developing countries it’s likely that corruption will be common and rule of law weak, life expectancies will be in the forties, fifties and sixties, and per capital incomes outside of some oil-producing nations will be lower than $20,000. In 132 nations in 2012 it was less than $10,000. In 70 of the 132 it was less than $5,000. Growing populations, lack of debt, and rising middle classes are expected to drive economic growth at rates higher than that expected in developed countries for years.

Marketing skills

 Product prices. Product prices can start out on target and yield a healthy profit. If, however, insufficient attention is given to changes in industry forces, like new competitors, who have lower prices and costs, a company can find itself uncompetitive.

When doing business in many developing countries it will be necessary to add an extra step in order to develop a product’s price. This step accommodates getting paid. In developed countries it’s pretty simple to run credit cards or credit checks to assess a customers ability to pay. In many developing countries these are not options. Both credit reporting agencies and credit cards are often not widely available. This leaves the non-alternative of rolling the dice or the alternative of conducting business on a cash basis. But, what if products are being shipped to a customer rather than picked up?

Product positioning. When a product’s competitive position is known, its current chances of succeeding are also known, so are alternative superior (less contested) positions, and the strengths and vulnerabilities of competitors.

Laws and Regulations

If the countries of the world were unified under one government rather than comprised of 194 sovereign nations including many with federated structures, conducting business would be much simpler. There would be a single set of regulations, one legal system, one tax system, one licensing system, one set of standards, and a common policy on enforcing and interpreting the law. Alas, the world is a kaleidoscope of all of the above and there are no short cuts to understanding the relevant legal aspects of doing business in any target country. Understanding them is though a must. Failing to do so will lead to unnecessary surprises.

Quality management

Perennially healthy companies do not happen by accident or luck, they happen by process. They are process-driven organizations led by process-oriented leaders who are walking talking role models for continuous process improvement. This means that a boss who despises chaos, dislikes the status quo, and strives for motivating his team towards continuous improvements will be demonstrating the positive power of one. A boss with antithetical behaviors, like a boss who enjoys taking charge of a crisis of her own making, demonstrates the negative power of one.

Corporate governance

What is it? The roles of corporate governance and the board of directors are often wrongly recognized by the senior executives they are meant to oversee, other managers, employees, and the stakeholders they are meant to protect. At times, even the directors themselves. Consider the mistaken references to a board of directors as the super management layer, or an insurance policy against partially skilled executives. Perhaps these references are marks of wishful thinking.

Integrity

Managers engage in actions everyday that lack integrity. It often occurs because they are confused about the definition of integrity. Go ahead; ask a manager, “Do you lead with integrity?” The response will almost certainly be yes. But what do they mean by integrity? Is it that they don’t see themselves as unordinary liars, cheaters, or thieves? They might engage in a little harmless stuff like expensing a dinner with their spouse, enjoying a bottle of expensive cognac from a potential business supplier, making a quick edit to alter a deadline, or playing a round of golf while pretending to be sick. Lacking in integrity? Too ordinary for that.

Should a boss get an integrity pass because their behaviors are ordinary? How about employees following in their footsteps? Do they get an integrity pass too? In the book, The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty Duke University professor, Dan Ariely, notes that people are more likely to cheat or lie if others are cheating or lying. The boss as the role model is a perfect trendsetter for lying and cheating. Well, then the employees have to get an integrity pass, and so do the one’s that are inspired by their colleagues lying and cheating. Holy negative power of one; let’s just apply a torch to that Power of One Charter.

Or we could just say, so be it. It’s just another ordinary boss leaving a trail of waste, delays, uninformed bad decisions, marginally motivated employees, and encouraging more of the same. Just another boss that has occasion to conjure up an excuse or execute a cover-up. Nothing terribly unordinary. Maybe a few unspoken truths, a little number fudging, and some finger pointing, with the natural outcome of encouraging more of the same.

But, what if an excuse or cover up ends up masking something that causes other problems, for example, a need to correct and reissue financial statements, a tax audit, a product being recalled, violating Rule #1 – running out of cash, or an employee being a victim of gang related violence while working at a foreign office.

A cascade of events, from an ordinary partially skilled boss is actually pretty common. First a little skill deficiency results in making a decision that is suboptimal or maybe it’s something that inspires a what-was-I-thinking moment. This ends up inspiring a little cover up, maybe a fib, an edit here or there, some finger pointing, or telling others to hush up. Others innocently, or for reasons of self-preservation, are now engaging in the cover up. The cover-up masks issues that end up becoming bigger issues for an organization.

It really is so simple. Behaviors that are viewed as ordinary, albeit lacking in integrity, can seamlessly trigger an ordinary cascade of events that triggers extraordinary problems for an organization’s integrity. I like to think of this as the incendiary integrity-3 problem; just one little skill deficiency, inspires a personal integrity breach that ends up igniting an organizational forest fire. Sayonara Power of One Charter.

Parting thoughts

What companies will be tomorrow’s winners? That’s easy. The companies that become industry leaders, globally, regionally, or on a country basis will be the ones with managers focused on achieving the Power of One Charter. These are the managers who are passionate about their roles as motivational machines guiding their teams to cater to the most attractive markets with market-oriented products that are continuously being improved upon through ongoing innovation and lower prices from improvements in productivity.

These managers are motivated by the power they have to provide employees with an enjoyable place to work that is a source of fulfillment and a paycheck, and by knowing that they are making a visible difference in the lives of their employees, customers, investors, communities, and even their country. These managers stand tall and sleep well knowing that each and every day they are role models for the Power of One.