Sunday, December 07, 2003
This topic drifts dangerously towards the over-hyped realm of what the popular business & sports press both refer to as "Leadership", away from the realm I try to work with people in: management. "Leadership," far too often is a favorite topic because it's not measurable; if someone claims to be a good leader, can you test their assertion? Possibly. I haven't seen any good testing tools. I know the cluster of aptitudes and practices that pundits call leadership exist and that as components, you can work on them and in many cases become better at them. Overall, though, the hyping of leadership is driven by politically-successful American executives' proclivity for avoiding any shred of accountability.
I do believe this area is important for managers and I have a few practical tools I use. I call it managing, because it is, but to your superiors, it will look like leadership, something you can use to market your success.
The Rangers, The Orioles: Self & Group
One of the vital elements of any successful management recipe is the attitude of your team. In baseball, you can see it if you walk into a clubhouse before or after a game. There are a lot of different societies (some people call these "business cultures"; fewer than 5% of organizations have an actual "culture") in baseball. Some late-70s/early-80s examples I'm familiar with from my baseball reporting days, and you'll recognize them in non-baseball organizations you have worked:
The Late 70s Texas Rangers: Everyone is a free agent (emotionally...many of them were acquired through that mechanism). Like recent employees of healthier tech companies which have outgrown their beer/pizza camaraderie and are now in a cycle of overseas outsourcing and trimming the tangential benefits of line employees, individual Rangers' attitudes seemed pretty uniform: hostile, hard-working, joining together only to conspire against outsiders or authority. Sort of faux-existential posing.
Early 70s to Mid 80's Baltimore Orioles: Everyone is together. If one player has a bad day, it's assumed it's everyone else's responsibility to pick up the slack. If a player is dogging, it's assumed it's everyone's responsibility to apply some pressure for him to concentrate and deliver. The manager will take the heavy-lifting on mistakes and laziness, but all pitch in.
Late 70's Atlanta Braves: We're losers: the team can make money anyway. Let's play within ourselves and do what can be done, but we're not going anywhere. Don't sweat it.
Late 70's San Francisco Giants: I'm like any other worker. I come to work, I go home. As long as I do what's in my job description, I'm doing my job.
There are more models, but this gives you an idea of the range and how closely they parallel non-baseball organizations.
Both in baseball and beyond, all human systems tend to be self-amplifying. The young player (employee) who comes into an organization with a given social norm will tend to gravitate to that norm for acceptance. Those who find the norm unacceptable are, probabilistically, more likely to leave the group. The manager can redirect to some degree, but if she tries to do it too suddenly or with too much force applied, she will trigger what I call "an immune response". There are tools for changing the pattern of a social norm, and I'll approach some of those soon in another entry.
Attitude in workgroups can be a critical component that decides success or failure. The standard "culture of complaint" that is a norm in most big organizations is exemplified by the rapid readiness to talk about what's wrong, a general (not universal) unwillingness to change the subject when solution discussions come up, a sense among the participating individuals that they cannot trigger or contribute to enduring change for the better. If you manage in such a social norm, you can succeed, but it sure is a challenge. I encourage my clients to give some time to attack the status quo while still working with the social norm as it currently is and making sure you get your work done. If you can create an island of healthy attitude, you might be able to transform adjacent workgroups. Might...it's not at all a sure thing, but it certainly is something worth trying.
To use the tools, you first have to have a system of analysis, a filter through which you examine "attitude". In the next entry, I'll give you a solid model you can use. It's the one developed by former A's "performance enhancement counselor" Harvey A. Dorfman, and Karl Kuehl for their book The Mental Game of Baseball. Their system is derived in part from Maslow. I'm not sure it's the very best model, but it's workable, and the important thing is to have a tenable system -- perfection isn't required.
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