Cuernavaca Day 5. With a little discourse on leadership!

We didn’t move much today – 3/4 of us were not feeling that great this morning – first food we have not really prepared ourselves or had our concierge prepare.  The mango margarita we had last night may also have had something to do with it.

Ah well.  Our landlord came by to pick up the rent and give us advice about getting to the airport – Pullman bus which we need to be careful as we will need to leave relatively late on Sunday to get there in time for our 0550 AM flight.  We will book tickets for the bus tomorrow and find out from them when we should be leaving – I am thinking 8 PM myself as there are lots of people wanting to get to Mexico City on Sunday night.

We had quite the conversations this morning about leadership my Father In Law is reading “Indian Ernie” a book by a retired Police Sergeant from Saskatoon who also had experience in the PPCLI and the MP branch of the Canadian Army.  I am reading “It’s Your Ship” by Abrashoff.  Both of these books use common sense to get their message across.  You cannot build a team if you keep them in the dark about what you want to do and just use your position and your authority to order people to do things.  You really need to figure out how your team can become a team and how you will guide them through that process.  Interesting how both these books come at it in slightly different ways but are absolutely critical in their arguments.

This conversation led us to another one regarding how professionals are trained, whether at University, College or just in the job.  Engineers really do get short shrift in how they gain their education.  You can go into most BEng programs with little or no non science or math courses.  Maybe you should have to do a pre Eng course that brings logic, basic psychology and a real first year english course.  I think that would go a long way to assisting in this problem of not being able to understand who your team is, what they need from you to be successful and how you need to listen to what they have to say.

What happens when Mr BEng has to lead a team of non engineers whom he has not had the chance to pick or who understand his point of view on things.  Our normal go to spot is what has worked for us in the past.  Managers/Leaders who do not have an innate ability to get their message across will have a very hard time getting their job done.  The can send a bunch of their resources off on wild goose chases if they don’t at least marginally understand their business and really understand those who do the business at the pointy end – whether that is an infantry battalion, a police car or a public transit bus on the street.

People like to have a goal in mind or be given a goal – like we want to achieve 95% schedule adherence, or we want to respond to calls on the street in under 10 minutes, or we are going to conduct a flanking assault on hill 503 . . .  How do you do this when you cannot communicate the concepts to your team, or don’t understand the concepts around which the team is built and don’t have experience/fortitude in talking to your team and asking for help.  A new guy in a new job will normally be given a lot of support from his team – lots of latitude for making mistakes – provided he/she accepts responsibility for the error. Ordering someone to do something, without asking for any advice, and then taking it out on them when they don’t meet your deadline (which you did not give to them) or when something affects the entire system – like a huge spike in overtime spending – is hugely counterproductive to  your team and your relationship with them.  In some cases that team member becomes the wounded wolf of the pack – the one others start to take on to gain advantage, in others that team members becomes the champion amongst the team when dealing with the boss.  In both of these situations you have really damaged your credibility as a leader but possibly caused irreparable damage to the formerly high functioning team – all of this I might add with the best of intent!!

Sometimes that is all the instruction you have to give, you don’t always have to go into copious amounts of detail – your people know how to do their jobs and you should also let them – this builds their confidence in their abilities and also builds more cooperation into your team.  If you don’t have a relationship with your team, squad mate, those guys out on the road driving a bus how do you understand what is at the bottom of some of the gripes and groans that frequently come to you?  More importantly how do you parse the whines from actual issues that should be fixed or looked into?

Some people just want attention and will bring up any item to you as long as you continue to respond to them and follow through with a knee jerk reaction.  More often than not there is nothing wrong that needs to be fixed in this instance and your mid level managers then have to placate their direct reports and worse!  If you pull a spring out of your fancy swiss watch because you think it isn’t needed or because someone told you it would boost the performance of your watch should you be surprised if it doesn’t work?  Leading a well put together team is like that!  You may think that “it’s only a small change no one will notice” when what it does in the end leads you to a number of group grievances or wasted time explaining why the change – or worse making up the best guess detail about why it was changed as you do not have a solid intent or goal from your leader/manager.

I will get off my soap box now and get back to the sunny climes here in Cuernavaca.  The temperature is wonderful, the house is amazing – did I tell you it has a pool? We will be departing shortly to a BBQ at the Bride’s parents house, I may provide an update on that tomorrow or later tonight – we shall see!

OK, just to be clear – these ideas of managing and leading are not new, not mine – just based on my 36 years of leadership positions in the Canadian Army and a civic government service delivery arm.  The errors are mine, the mistakes in the wording and any dangling participles are mine.  I just want to have my little say about this subject today, that is all.



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