Today's reflections on leadership skills for managers come from guest author, Michael Rowley. Mike's been an incredible friend and colleague through the years, a source of a wealth of knowledge and great insight, and a leading example of team- and culture-building. We're fortunate to welcome him here to share his thoughts on leadership, management, and more. Enjoy!
- David Bohmiller, CEO @ Inevitabl.
So recently a friend asked me to write something, and I gave it a good amount of thought, particularly around why putting anything I think or do onto paper, or in this case laptop screen, would be of any importance or use to anyone.
Not because I don't have some fun stuff to say, it's just that "why me" kept bouncing around in my head.
I'm still unsure that anything that I'm going to say is really all that original, and I'd urge you to call me out if I'm not giving full credit to any of the wonderful teachers I've stolen from (with credit) in my career.
The masters that have given me some of my favorite and most useful lessons will always deserve all the credit I can ever hope to pile up on them.
Now, it turns out that some of the stuff that has helped me bring success to teams I've supported is not always simple to describe, and sometimes maybe my lobbing up of a little interpretation of a learned nuance or sharing a little bit of context can help make the points more approachable, more entertaining (I hope) and maybe even a bit more fun to experience as the reader.
It's sure a nice trip down (sometimes-repressed-) memory lane for me, so I hope it's at least a moderately entertaining trip for you, particularly if these aren't new ideas to you.
I'm hoping this reads more like a folksy retelling of a recognizable fable, or maybe a beginner's unplugged version of an original banger, but if I'm going to be honest, I just hope it's not a waste of time retreading some tires that have long since lost traction past the point of progress for you.
Back to the point of why, since I'm pretty sure I need to start there again: I decided to start sharing out the stuff that people have introduced me to, told me to read, or simply pointed me in the general direction of, particularly accompanied with my own interpretation of the playbook alongside to simply try to help.
Maybe it's like reading an original with my highlights/sticky notes and margin writing, if that's at all helpful?
Since I've seen that there's been a good amount of successes that have come to teams that employ these ideas, I figured the best thing I could possibly do would be to pass them on to help anyone out there that may be looking for some help and not know exactly what the heck to do next.
Like I tell everyone I ever work with, I would never have gotten anywhere if people didn't freely give me chances, ideas, guidelines, guardrails and instructions; and if we're going to continue to grow back our industry post-pandemic, it's going to take a lot of building from shared strength.
I hope to give, to share, and to hopefully help translate some stuff handed to me pretty raw, and maybe shake it up with some new sweeteners to serve you something more my flavor.
Since I decided to begin sharing out some thoughts, ideas, practices and beliefs that have helped me, a few have come to mind that are pretty simple, elegant, and relatable.
I'll start here today with one of the first, and I'll share a little bit about what went right with this one, and how crazy things can get when this dish is served incorrectly.
Time to belly up and chew on one of my favorites.
This is a reasonably dogmatic catchphrase I was taught back in my early days in sales management, it without fail goes something like this, "build in public, break in private."
I loved it then, and I love and use it, for the most part and with very few exceptions to this very day. We'll delve into "build" and "break," but for now, please proceed with the understanding that there is zero actual physical or construction talk in the discussion of "build," and additionally nor is there any reference to fracturing anything or any future or present violence in the workplace in this term "break."
Also, hey, if the term "break" is triggering to you, as it is to me, I apologize, and I'll handle it appropriately in the second half of this conversation.
For now, let's stick to the fun stuff and get to know each other, then we can deal with the interpersonal challenging that "break" actually should probably be interpreted as until we get to the details, ok?
The idea behind this entire thought of both Build/Public & Break/Private was to simply distill a message to new managers describing some basics on how to address their team performances, and how to recognize and course-correct with individuals.
It ultimately gave some pretty widely-applicable guardrails to us more recently-promoted leaders to create environments that build pretty nice cultural feedback and recognition habits.
✳️ To create a positive group dynamic with public recognition of team accomplishments.
✳️ To keep any difficult conversations outside of the professional public arena.
✳️ To highlight and praise positive achievements with appropriate frequency.
✳️ To publicly omit shortfalls, and to focus on "what's going right."
✳️ To establish a cadence of coaching / re-training.
✳️ To help new managers avoid public confrontations and reactions.
First up, the definition of "build" here is to promote an individual, team or working group's successes, and in public refers to simply that, mentioning it to more than just that subject of praise.
When presenting in a public, town hall or even small group meeting, being deliberate about touting the individual successes and team wins for the entire group's benefit.
The thrill of the individual's public recognition is a really nice engagement benefit to plenty of us, myself self-indulgently included. When applied with care, and honest gratitude, the peer-to-peer recognition truly is one of the most powerful motivators for individual contributors and teams to look forward to, again myself totally and without any guilt, included.
This is something that I faithfully still use every workday with honest care, because if done with true care for the recipients and their goals (and done for the right reasons to support the mission), this practice highlights what the leader decides and communicates that are the most important metrics of success, and aligns the groups on those metrics with a gravitational or even magnetic focus.
I'm not going to say it's magic, but I am going to say how refreshing it is to work for a person or a company that truly communicates what's important consistently, and how truly confusing and disengaging it can be when those signals aren't clear.
For more on this, read anything by the great Patrick Lencioni or even Jocko Willink, you'll find much better and more eloquent explanations there and every minute you spend learning from them is worth 10x this moment here.
Building in Public doesn't always hit the mark, particularly if the group you're working with isn't really sure where you're at, what your motivation is, or why you're in their sphere of awareness at all.
I'm going to say that I've been at the ouchy end of hostile group reactions, and I've also been in potentially worse group environments when people were completely silent, unmoved or unmotivated, wind out of their sales before I even walked in the building.
This "Build in Public" principle wasn't touted as a perfect-in-any-scenario guarantee, but again more of a guardrail to follow to buttress a new team environment with some oftentimes overlooked but remarkably useful tactical instruction.
My current working definition of "break" that I'm now referring to is any type of help, fix, or even expectation shortfall that needs to be addressed.
This is more of a daily "can you help me understand what happened here" conversations that can highlight where improvements are necessary.
It's important to note that this is aside or perhaps a precursor to any formal documentation, although it should absolutely go without saying those deserve privacy, and not public acknowledgement.
I'm happy to talk more about how to optimize these in another conversation (if asked to opine again at some point I'd be happy to), but I can define it through a couple more lenses that could provide a bit of that nuance that I've absorbed from walking through these prickly paths and emerging with a bit more respect for the process each time:
1️⃣ The first is thinking of the term "break" as a way for a leader to press pause, and potentially break a bad habit from starting to form.
2️⃣ Another potentially better way to view this would be for a leader to help break someone's falling effort, skill or motivation before they tumble any further off the intended path towards achieving their next goal.
Ok, that fun defining exercise aside, let's also talk about what Breaking is not. First off, the term "breaking" has unfortunately very little to do with breakdancing, although 3rd Grade me would be psyched to know that I mentioned it.
Yes, before diving back in, and now that we've gotten to know each other a little, it's time to outline explicitly what "break in private" absolutely and seriously is freakin' NOT.
The aforementioned approach of humane, understanding conversation I've detailed so far isn't anything remotely close to the first interpretation of this that I was given...
Let's take it back to '79... Just kidding. I was 1. Let's head to Spring, 2002, in a dark mini-corporate office in the basement of a bank in the area of the southern outskirts of Metro Boston. I was a leader of a smaller group of door-to-door sales athletes, and it was my first training ground for any sort of leadership role. When handed the second half of this phrase, the understanding "break in private" was reasonably and undeniably brutal.
I was told literally to bring someone into a side-room, and truly break them down, break down their fault or their lack of effort, berate them for their lack of execution, and exhibit some of the most classically horrific sales management practices that still give me significant nightmares -- and due to having zero sales skills, having been on the receiving end of the breaks enough times to know they weren't fun.
And, then having been "broken" again as a leader when I'd refused to be a practitioner of the same practices -- I just never saw the point of yelling at someone at all, nevermind in a small intimidating office designed for that, but that's what the initial "break" that I was taught was.
Honestly, looking back it was a way to let the "break-er" feel better by getting the frustration off their chest, and perhaps to demonstrate authority without any human connection or awareness. It was a blunt instrument used to force compliance.
As you may be able to discern, I took a pretty hard turn at this intersection and ghosted the scene when I realized that breaking was a requirement, yet I knew that somewhere, somehow, that specific sentiment of pulling people aside to course correct probably had some good DNA in it, and the fact that it had mutated to the boiler room execution it existed in at that point wasn't the intended outcome at all.
So I decided that I'd try to corral and hug it back to a more useful, human, caring, and individual-respecting term, that I'm probably going to need some help with renaming at some point to be less self-triggering (feel free to reach out, I read my email.)
What I'm in favor of when I'm working with any producer or leader, is asking them to start carving out some one-on-one time for a chat or a sit-downs.
These much less public interactions are excellent for creating the ideal opportunity to call out some optimal coaching opportunities, mutual acceptance of prior effort deficits, and potentially even performance improvement planning.
These, done out of the public eye, and without the crowd-based embarrassment that nightmares could be made of, became quite the ideal moment to develop my own coaching skills, and it made perfect sense to me early on.
While it may seem obvious to folks who have had great examples of leadership so far in their careers, it wasn't even close to my understanding until I had a guy like Gary Kendig help point me in the right direction.
So, for the newbies and for the folks who are still working on their craft, hope you like these easy-to-follow instructions.
These easy-to-follow instructions are what I'd refer to as a "fast lane" approach to leading teams, particularly as a new manager.
I found, as with all management-speak passed around early on in careers, that nuance and application with understanding the room can enhance the message. I also learned which medium found the most purchase in achieving the intended decorum with the most efficient effects, and which people could benefit from these (and which ones decidedly did not.)
I have been extremely fortunate to experience being part of teams that celebrate an awareness that proper balance in messaging creates an amazing outcome, and that by putting ego and emotion aside, even if it's just in daily chats with your teams, you can truly help elevate leaders to higher team performance capacities in both short- and long-term scenarios.
Once a good pattern of positive communication is celebrated throughout a team, and the trust and understanding that coaching will remain private, caring and fact-based, then a significant amount of success can be achieved with ongoing practice.
Once a team understands that good stuff is shouted out and you appreciate them, that's when they can start to really appreciate their work. Give it a shot, let me know if it works.
Well some questions that may be useful to you as you begin to consider a new way of setting up this type of culture:
❓ What media do you choose to communicate through?
❓ When is the last time you praised someone in public?
❓ Is it ok for someone on your team to be more praised than you?
❓ How do you handle your tough conversations, and how often do you have them?
❓ How do you react in public forums when emotion is involved? Do you respond or react?
❓ How ok is it for you, in certain situations, to let emotion show?
Let me know what you think, and let Dave know how you like his insights.
I have my answers, and I'm happy to share more if you'd like to hear them. I'm considering sharing more in talks, videos and maybe even some sort of blog. Again, let Dave know, follow his company, success for him is 100% Inevitabl.
Mike Rowley is a team support specialist, care leader, and alignment coach.
His professional interests include leadership, team building, health and fitness. When not engaged in the support of team members, you'll find him putting on a show in the highly-competitive ICL (Intergalactic Clarts League) Super-Elite Division.
For more from Mike, and to connect, follow him on LinkedIn.
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