The SuperManager: A Short Story About the Secrets of An Extremely Successful Manager

The SuperManagerIn just under 100 pages, The SuperManager, by Greg Blencoe, delivers a powerful model for effective management and supervisory skills in the form of a concise and engaging short story.

We follow new-manager Andrew as he is mentored by his original super-manager, Leon. By incorporating “The SuperManager’s Seven Principles” into a narrative, Blencoe removes us to the third person, where we feel not lectured, but entertained.

The SuperManager does a great job of incorporating Experiential Learning into an independent-reading book. It’s akin to a simulation – following along with Andrew (he even takes notes for us!) – making it memorable and enjoyable.

Through the story, Blencoe unpacks his “Seven Principles” in conversational language, accompanied by anecdotal examples – emphasizing the accessibility of effective management skills, and placing them in a realistic and specific context.

The SuperManager makes an excellent take-away for any Management or Supervisory Skills training session. With a section for each “Principle”, it’s something to refer back to as a reminder or refresher for new and experienced managers alike.

The SuperManager is available on Amazon.com

For more information on SuperManagers, visit Greg Blencoe’s blog

The Advantage

Some organizations are really smart.  Their structure, marketing, finances, and technology are all at the highest levels.  Does that make them successful?  Well…sometimes smart isn’t enough.  In The Advantage (Jossey-Bass, 2012), Patrick Lencioni (author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting) proposes that organizational health can be just as – if not more – important than technical proficiency.  He points out that both good and bad decision-making can be a product of organizational health, though they are often only attributed to intelligence.  He identifies the signs of a healthy organization as minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity, and low turnover.

So how do we make sure that the health of our organizations is not casting a shadow on its intelligence?  Lencioni sets out the Four Disciplines of Organizational Health:

  1. Build a Cohesive Leadership Team
  2. Create Clarity
  3. Over-Communicate Clarity
  4. Reinforce Clarity

He begins by highlighting the role of leadership as played by a team of leaders, and advises the assessment and recognition of personality styles as a starting point on the path to organizational health – creating a solid, trusting relationship between leadership team members.  Once team members understand each other’s personality styles, they can mitigate or put aside points of stress that stem from personal behaviors.  That, however, is not to say that a lack of conflict is a sign of a healthy team.  Lencioni argues that the avoidance of conflict keeps important issues from being discussed at a level where truths are brought forward, and best solutions are reached.  Reaching not a passive consensus, but commitment through conflict leads to accountability – if a public agreement is reached, everyone feels more comfortable confronting deviant behavior.  This commitment to cohesive behavior within the leadership team translates to the rest of the organization as well.

Once the leadership team is operating as a unit, Lencioni urges them to identify or clarify standards of alignment with the following questions:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. How do we behave?
  3. What do we do?
  4. How will we succeed?
  5. What is most important, right now?
  6. Who must do what?

Providing real-life examples at every step of the way, he guides us through the process of developing a “strategy,” and how this strategy needs to be communicated in order to assure organization-wide alignment.

A great thing about this book is that it doesn’t just hand its readers a strategic plan and push them out of the nest; it explains how organizations change over time, and how leaders can keep them on track through those changes.  The final chapters of The Advantage show how hiring and meeting structure can be keys to maintaining alignment in a healthy organization.  Lencioni provides us with a checklist of all the steps he’s laid out, so that we can see what lies ahead for our soon-to-be healthier organizations at a glance.

The Advantage is, by no means, a guide for only new organizations.  You can teach an old dog new tricks, as long as he’s healthy enough to perform.  Give your organization the advantage of health today!

The Student Leadership Challenge

In The Student Leadership Challenge (Jossey-Bass, 2008), authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner set out the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders.”  They are:

  • Model the Way – determine and clarify values, adhere to them, and communicate them to others in a demonstrative, rather than prescriptive way.
  • Inspire a Shared Vision – communicate an image of the future, encourage others to see the possibility of that future, and highlight the communal benefits of positive change.
  • Challenge the Process – be willing to take risks and experiment, to learn from failure, but commit to possibility.
  • Enable Others to Act – create teams, build trust, and learn to rely on the abilities of others.
  • Encourage the Heart – give positive feedback, celebrate values and victories, and encourage happiness and enthusiasm.

Each value is addressed in its own chapter of the book, after which the reader is offered prompts and writing space for reflection.  The final chapter synthesizes these behaviors into the book’s overarching message: “Leadership is everyone’s business.”

The Student Leadership Challenge is populated with personal accounts, collected through interviewing, that illustrate each of the five practices.  By providing real-life examples, Kouzes and Posner demonstrate that leadership is possible on any scale, in any field – from editing a school yearbook to overseeing a medical fellowship program.

While the theme of the book and the subjects of the accounts within are student leadership, the five practices explored are universal fundamentals that can build and enhance anyone’s ability to lead.  We are all born students – with the ability to learn the essentials of great leadership.  As Kuozes and Posner put it, “Leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities that are available to everyone.”

Use The Student Leadership Challenge to become the leader you want to be.

The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life

In the Three Laws of Performance, Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan call out three truths of performance:

  1.  How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.
  2. How a situation occurs arises in language.
  3. Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people.

The purpose of pointing to these three laws is to determine what, exactly, a leader must do in order to maintain the high performance of their team – the Leadership Corollaries (because of Law 1, a leader must…)

The laws and their corollaries acknowledge that subjectivity plays a large part of both the perception and quantification of performance.  They set the leader’s role as someone who takes that subjectivity into account, works toward common understanding, and guides his team’s idea of the future.

The idea of discussing performance in the frame of a desired future is a key message presented by Zaffron and Logan.  Through a collection of real-life stories, they show readers that performance and leadership breakthroughs are possible and that, by understanding the elements of a desired outcome, one can determine the approach needed to reach it.

Zaffron and Logan’s stories serve not only as illustrations of the Three Laws and Leadership Corollaries, but as models for leadership behavior and organizational transformation.  The Three Laws of Performance is a testimonial of possibilities – encouraging leaders to see a bright and better future for their teams, and to help them achieve their full potential.

Hiring for Attitude

In Hiring for Attitude (McGraw-Hill 2012), Mark Murphy discusses qualitative performance as a hiring, rather than management, issue.  He argues that compatibility with company values is what determines and drives employee performance, and that this compatibility can be recognized during the recruitment and hiring process to select for high performers.

Murphy begins by setting out the results of a study:  In their first 18 months on the job, 46% of 20,000 new hires failed.  He defines failure as termination, poor performance reviews, or write-ups.  A 46% failure rate suggests that there must be some other factor involved than the ability to do the job.  After all, were 9,200 people really hired despite lacking adequate skills for their position?  Probably not, right?

So what was the problem, then?  The performance of employees is judged against the standards and values of the hiring company.  If an employee’s personal idea of high performance does not match the standard against which they are being evaluated, regardless of their skill level, they will not be reviewed positively.  Hiring for Attitude takes readers through the process of identifying those standards, recruiting and hiring to fit them, and keeping them visible to ensure high performance.

Mark Murphy guides readers through the interviewing process with the end goal of a high performer in mind (a person with both high skill value and a good attitude).  He warns against some very common (but ineffective) behavioral questions, and their lack of ability to meaningfully differentiate candidates.  But, not to leave us hanging, he suggests formulas for questions that really will determine an interviewee’s fit with a company.  He provides plenty of example answers and what information can be gleaned from them about the attitude of the respondent.  And although he does provide his personal opinions on these answers, he offers statistics on specific language choices of high and low performers to reinforce those opinions.

Beyond just the interviewing part of the hiring process, Murphy gives advice on tailoring your recruiting efforts to attract high performers that match the culture and values of your company.  He points out that the better your set of potential hires, the higher your standards will be for your final decision.  But, Murphy stresses, the work of the company doesn’t stop with that decision.  He highlights the importance of company values’ visibility – clearly communicating standards and measures to employees – to ensure a strong company culture that encourages high performance and a unified team.

Overall, Hiring for Attitude is a guide for establishing and preserving the culture of your company to create a strong, high performing team.  While you, individually, may play only a small part in this kind of decision-making for your team, it is extremely helpful to understand this critical and considerate process in order to actively participate in the function and growth of your organization.

The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results

The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning  (by Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, and Andrew Jefferson, Pfeiffer 2012) sets out to legitimize and solidify the role of training by ensuring that it goes through the necessary processes to generate real results.  It argues that you must:

  1. Define business outcomes
  2. Design the complete experience
  3. Deliver for application
  4. Drive learning transfer
  5. Deploy performance report
  6. Document results

By viewing training through a wider lens, the authors offer context for the content that trainers deliver.  Rather than speaking to a c-level decision-maker or any other employee in praise or endorsement of training in general, The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning serves as a manual specifically for trainers.  With case studies and diagrams to illustrate each discipline, the book is thorough and in-depth, without losing sight of its core message – that training can and should achieve measurable business results.

“We urge you to take to heart the disciplines in this book. When you define, design, deliver, drive, deploy, and document, you’ll see the results that come from disciplined work.”

~Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

Make sure your training is getting the results you need with The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning.

True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership

In True North (Jossey-Bass, 2007), Bill George proposes that the only secret to success is the most obvious thing of all – your most authentic self.  George encourages his reader to identify and follow their cardinal principles.

In everyday matters, what George is asking has to do with organizational values and leadership behaviors.  He believes that leadership is about developing relationships and building a culture of character in an organization – from hiring to performance management.

To help readers find their true north, George first tells the real-life stories of many successful leaders, and how their leadership behavior and style have taken shape.  He then urges readers to take stock of their own behavior.

Finding the right role, increasing self-confidence, being consistent, and connecting with others are learnable behaviors that will ensure alignment in and out of the workplace.  The real message behind True North is value-based living – informing one’s actions with fundamental values at every opportunity, and extending those values to others.

As a final take-away, George encourages his newly-calibrated reader to empower others to lead by sharing stories, raising expectations, and opening dialogs – helping them find their true north. Find yours today!