Leadership vs Managing People (Book Excerpt)

This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of the book,Leading People to Be Highly Motivated and Committed. In this chapter, called “How Should We Manage People?” the theoretical foundation is provided for the cohesive set of leadership skills and tools the author, Ben Simonton, provides. As explained in Chapter 2, the goal of leadership skills is to turn the vast majority of employees into 5Star people. The five attributes of a 5Star person are: well-trained, industrious, strong and independent, successful and proud. Strong means willing to stand up and be counted. Independent means using their own value standards to determine how to do their work rather than following the standards of the workplace. Successful is something controlled by the boss and proud is how they automatically feel only if they have the first four attributes.

Managing people would seem to be just another discipline, just another area in which a body of knowledge, including theory, has been accumulated. This knowledge should form the basis for a set of discrete, definable procedures which if followed should yield the desired results. But “should” never occurs on any day of the week. If it had, there would be no need to write this book.

If you want to become a mechanical engineer and are willing to invest 4 years and $100,000, there are a host of universities and colleges which will eagerly commit themselves to the task. I would say your chances of emerging with useful knowledge, assuming you graduate, are as high as 80 percent. After graduation, if I line up ten of you and direct you to analyze a machine with a problem, at least 6 or 7 will agree on the problem. If I make you all agree on the problem and ask for the fix, I may even get six of you to agree on the same fix.

The above can be done in many disciplines like accounting and nuclear physics, but don’t try it in management of people. From what I have seen, the chance of getting even two of ten bosses to agree on the problem or on the fix is low.

The reason for this inability to agree is that management styles vary considerably and we are encouraged to pick one which suits ourself, our personality or whatever. But who would recommend that the personality or style of the boss be taken down to a machine and used to determine what to do with that machine.

“Hey, don’t pull that stunt. Just get yourself down there and try like hell to determine the problem using these specific tests and then determine the solutions based on this set of defined knowledge. It has nothing to do with you personally.”

But somehow when it comes to dealing with people, we want to superimpose our style and our personality, our likes and dislikes on the process. You dislike Phillips head screwdrivers, but you like flat head screwdrivers. I am certain that those feelings will not help you when you try to turn a Phillips head screw with a flat head screwdriver. The same is true for managing people.

“Your charisma doesn’t seem to be working. I wonder what the problem is?”

The science of managing people is the science of leadership, pure and simple, no more, no less. Whether or not the CEO or boss wants to admit it, the ship is its captain. This is what happens and the boss (CEO or below) has no control over this. He or she can’t stop it, modify it, or wish or order it away. It is a Natural Law which operates inexorably and without regard for the human beings involved. The process which results waits for no one! It just happens day in and day out.

Therefore, no matter what the actions are— the words, facial expressions, body language, verbal or written orders or policies, habits, personality traits, inactions through silence, or other behavior by you, the boss— these are followed by most juniors simply because the great majority of them are Followers. The subordinates become what the boss projects. If the boss works hard, they tend to work hard. If the boss has little knowledge of certain things, they have little knowledge of them. If the boss encourages, they will be encouraged. If the boss cannot bring him/herself to do certain things, they will not either. Followers clearly discern the implied Value Standards and set out to use them in their everyday routine. This sequence is a natural LAW, one which makes the boss either the subordinates’ biggest ally or their greatest enemy or something somewhere in between.

The boss by virtue of appointment becomes the leader, whether great and fearless or tyrannical and unsupportive or whatever. It is the boss who decides how subordinates will act by choosing his or her own actions. The boss can, of course, decide not to decide— take the “what they see is what they get” approach or the “I was the one promoted so I must be OK the way I am” approach. The first quote represents a “to hell with the subordinates” tack, while the second is the height of arrogance. I don’t mean to seem judgmental about this, but my true desire is to make crystal clear that each boss Chooses what their subordinates will be led to be, consciously or unconsciously. That they will Follow the boss’ lead has been preordained!

So, do we really have a choice on how we go about managing people? Do we get to choose a management style of our own? The answer is, the LAW dictates that we have no choice. We can only choose how we make use of the Natural Law and this is a Choice of the Value Standards toward which we lead.

Leadership? What About It?

If we walk into a race track and the horses are in the middle of the race, I am certain we will all be able to agree on which horse is in the lead. It will always be the horse in front of the other horses, the leader. The other horses are following the leader. So leading implies being in a position Followers will try to attain. Two questions emerge.

1. In what does the boss (CEO or supervisor) lead?

2. What do subordinates look to Follow in a workplace?

Fortunately for us, these two questions are merely different sides of the same coin. The name of the coin is Values. From the boss’ view it is his/her leadership, while from the subordinates view it is what they Follow. It makes no difference which we analyze, both end up on values.

Following or Leading?

Recall that ninety percent or more of all subordinates are Followers— people looking to produce their behavior through copying that of others. This copying process is applied to Values as well as to actions. In the workplace, people want to find out as quickly as possible what is expected of them so they can meet those Standards and thus keep down the hassle, avert possible censure and keep the paychecks coming to feed themselves and their families. Conforming to peer pressure is also a part of this process. None of these are surprising revelations.

Remaining with the subordinates, how do they find out what’s expected of them, what the Standards are for the different Values? The process is the same one used during childhood, the one which absorbs everything around them. After soaking up everything which is available, the brain’s computer is used to sort out the “Do as I Say Not as I Do” events, consequences presented by management or peers, and other nuances.

Through this process, new employees can very quickly get to act like all the other employees. They check what is happening to others and what is happening on-the-job in terms of normal Values: attitude, cleanliness, industriousness, honesty, integrity, admission of error, knowledge, perseverance, fairness and all of the other ones. Their brain automatically performs computations and suddenly they know what the Standards are for each. They have, in effect, translated actual conditions into Value Standards.

So equipped, they begin to use these Standards to perform their work, STANDARDS for precisely the same VALUES all of us have. This is the Natural LAW. Recall that the Followers do not use their own Value Standards to produce behavior in the workplace. Only Five-Star people do that!

Now we know that employees detect the Value Standards of the workplace and use those to decide how to carry out their work. If these Standards are high, we fly with the eagles, beat the competition most of the time and love our workplace. If these Standards are low or toward Bad Values, we walk with the turkeys, lose to the competition and generally dislike coming to work. Can the boss afford to leave this situation to the whims of chance? Can the boss take a chance on which Good or Bad Values and their Standards are utilized in the conduct of work?

The leader’s only recourse is to commit to frequently and clearly communicating only very high Value Standards through the normal management actions of supporting, directing and developing. Actions speak far louder than words and the real truth is no one listens to words! As children we didn’t understand the language of words and could only learn through the language of action, through what people do and their tone of voice and body language. This develops into a habit and is carried into adult life. Communicating Values is thus an action oriented process in which each boss must be proficient.

The boss’ actions range from one-on-one discussions to group meetings, from providing tools to training and benefits, from discipline to promotions and rewards, and from action or inaction when it’s their day in the barrel to termination for cause. Both actions and inactions transmit Value Standards, the latter often being the loudest. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, these actions and inactions must repeatedly reflect 8-10 Standards for all Good Values if we expect to have EXCELLENCE in the workplace.

Carefully note the wide range of actions from which Followers extract Value Standards to use in performing their work. For high level bosses, what they personally say and do may constitute a very small part of a subordinate’s sources. The leadership Value messages received by a person consists not only of the personal actions of their immediate boss, but also of what other people do to this person. Others includes staff, other bosses, peers and the rumor mill. Over the past week, a person may have received 200 messages on fairness, 100 on quality, 50 on industriousness and only 2 on humility, very few of which came directly from the immediate boss. The person computes a new Standard for fairness using past data combined with the latest 200 messages and repeats this for each Value. If these Standards are low or reflect Bad Values, the bosses are in real trouble.

End of Book Excerpt
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Ben Simonton

Ben Simonton Managed diverse groups for 34+ years, including as an executive in charge of a 1,300 person unionized organization. He made all the managing mistakes one can make, then devised solutions for 99.9% of people management issues. His mission is to take you beyond great to exceptional.