Thursday, March 29, 2007

I was only following orders!

“I was only following orders!” This classic statement has been used by people throughout history to justify immoral and unethical behaviour. The question is whether or not this is a viable excuse in our daily work environment.

Clearly a senior executive has the right to make decisions and to expect those decisions to be followed. I would even say that a senior executive has the right to have wrong decisions followed. Occasionally, I find myself in discussions with colleagues who are frustrated because of a poor decision made by a senior manager. Sometimes my advice to them is simply to implement the decision (after first having done your best to point out the why the decision is a poor one). The fastest way to get some managers to realize that a decision was wrong is to actually do what they say. You might never get that person to see their mistake by arguing, but it will be very clear once the decision is implemented. (Who knows, it might even turn out that the decision was the right one.)

What happens if a senior executive insists that you do something that is either ethically wrong or possibly even illegal? The simple answer is that if you agree to do as this superior says, you are accountable. Morally you are complicit in the action which has been done. You are equally guilty if you see unethical behaviour and do not act to correct it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

2. Listen: No one knows everything! Your job is to lead, not to be an expert on every issue!

Make sure you have the best people in your organization and then listen to them. You cannot win on your own!

In the best of all worlds people get promoted to management positions because they were perceived as being good at their old job. If they perform well in that management position they could get promoted to a higher one. It might not be unreasonable for someone who has been promoted many times and finds themselves in higher management positions to start believing that they are gifted! They might start thinking that the reason they are the boss is because they are better or brighter than the “normal” employees. Nothing is further from the truth. If I where to come to the conclusion that I really was smarter or better than all of my employees I would leave the company! A company where I am the smartest guy is bound to get beaten by its competitors!

I recently spoke at a conference for sales managers and I asked them to raise their hands if they were the best salesman in their company prior to being promoted to sales manager. About 2/3 of the people raised their hands! I would not argue that the best salesman couldn’t be a good sales manager, nor would I argue that a mediocre salesman couldn’t also be a great sales manager. The skill set needed to lead salespeople is not the same skill set that is required to be a great salesman!

Some years ago I got promoted from a marketing manager position to be the president of Whirlpool Corporation’s Swedish sales organization. In the beginning it was very hard for me to keep my nose out of the marketing manager’s job. I really thought I could do his job better than he could and was never really satisfied with his performance. It took some time before I realized that he just did things differently, not worse, than I would have! Even if I acknowledge that sometimes “my way” might have been better than his it was not significantly better. Finally, one day my marketing manager came to me and said that he thought I was a great marketing manager but he wondered who was running the company while I was doing his job?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ten Commandments for Managers: A Closer Look

I have received a number of emails from people who appreciated “The Ten Commandments for Managers” that I published here some weeks ago. Some of them have asked me to elaborate on these commandments, so here comes commandment number one!

1. Be humble: No one is as good as they think they are! (Or as bad either for that matter)

One of the cardinal sins of managers is over confidence. It may very well be the case that you have made it where you are today because of your talent, but you do not know everything. No matter how talented you are, you are going to make mistakes. No matter how wise you are your judgment will fail you. Don’t worry about it, accept it!

Another cardinal sin of managers is lack of confidence. Even if some try to hide their lack of confidence with bold displays of overpowering arrogance, from time to time, every manager feels the burden of inadequacy. In those quiet moments of self-reflection every good manager in every organization realizes that they have failed to meet their own expectations regardless of how much praise they receive from the world around them. The best leaders acknowledge their fears and failures, learn from them and move on.