“The management of self is critical. Without it, leaders may do more harm than good. Like incompetent physicians, incompetent managers make people sicker and less vital.” — Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders (in a chapter entitled “Leading Others, Managing Yourself”)
Too many managers who aspire to lead and develop others haven’t learned how to lead and develop themselves. They are trying to build organizations or provide services that are different than they are. These well-intentioned managers are trying to improve their teams or organizations without improving themselves. Many seem to be living along the lines of Mark Twain’s observation, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”
Here are some examples of these all too common disconnects between organization and personal performance:
Pessimistic managers push their companies to be market and industry leaders while blaming external factors like the economy for their poor performance.
Managers with stunted personal growth set strategies to build a “Learning Organization.”
Managers produce team and organization vision, values, and mission statements without having clarified and aligned their own personal preferred future, principles, and purpose.
A major program to improve customer service is initiated by managers who boss, direct, and control rather than serve their organization’s servers.
Managers with weak levels of continuous personal improvement implement change and improvement programs — for others.
Strict Technomanagers (bureaucratic or technical experts) oversee rigid systems and processes while trying to encourage risk taking and innovation.
Management groups comprised of turf protecting departmental managers, fighting like three kids in the back seat on a long hot drive, try to get others to build stronger teams.
Disorganized managers with poor time management habits are setting goals, priorities, and disciplined processes for everyone else.
Although they have no personal improvement plan, process, or habits, managers develop extensive organization transformation and improvement plans.
While avoiding (and shooting messengers of) personal feedback, managers construct extensive performance appraisal systems and talk about the importance of accountability — for everyone else.
A Team or Organization Can’t Rise Above the Level of Its Leadership
“Organizational change begins with leaders who walk the talk by transforming themselves.” — Stratford Sherman, “Leaders Learn to Heed the Voice Within,” Fortune
It just doesn’t work. We can’t build a team or organization that’s different from us. We can’t make them into something we’re not. But I’ve watched countless managers and management teams try. There are two major reasons that this disconnected approach doesn’t work. First, unless you’re a superb actor, you can’t be a split personality and teach or lead others to do something that’s out of basic alignment with your own habits, skills, and characteristics.
Second, everyone’s “phoniness radar” or “BS meters” are getting ever more sensitive (from overuse). We’re getting fed up with sanctimonious church leaders charged with sexual abuse, fat doctors telling us to get into shape, politicians giving retractable promises to get elected, executives drawing big salaries and bonuses while their company’s financial value declines, municipal transit managers who don’t take their own buses to work, training and consulting companies who don’t practice what they teach, and the like.
I once wrote a scathing note (which was never answered) and quit a speakers’ association because I kept hearing “the old pros” telling people who wanted to get on speaking platforms and tell others how to be successful to “fake it ’til you make it.” (The personal and organization improvement field has its share of aspiring speakers and consultants who don’t practice what they preach). One of those speakers also asked me to provide a jacket quote endorsement for a “motivational book” he bragged he’d written “on a six-hour airplane flight.” And that’s about how much research and thought the warmed-over platitudes, old jokes, and generalities he’d pieced together obviously had. I declined his invitation.
We loathe phoniness and crave genuineness in our leaders. If I aspire to be a leader, the authenticity (being the real thing) that stems from aligning who I am with where I am trying to take my team or organization will inspire trust, cooperation, and forgiveness in the people who’ll help take me there. Nobody expects us to be the perfect role model. But they do expect to see a close connection between who we are and the direction we’re pointing the team or organization toward.
Or they at least need to see that we recognize our shortcomings and we are working hard to improve ourselves so we can close the organization-personal performance gap. Otherwise they’ll shrug off all our team and organization improvement rhetoric and planning with a sense that this is just Kidney Stone Management — it will hurt for awhile, but this too shall pass. “Watch out, he/she has been off to another seminar (or read another book). If we lay low long enough, he/she will move on to the next fad.”
Successful team or organization leadership begins with successful self-leadership. The first step in improving my team or organization is improving me.