Thursday, September 28, 2017

How to Deal with More Experienced Staff

It's a question that always comes up when I conduct leadership and management training in the Philippines.

It's one of those things that put a dent on the confidence of new managers and frustrates many of them. It happens a lot nowadays that management would hire or promote someone who has less experience than the people they are supervising.  Here are a few examples.

A factory in Bulacan hires Industrial Engineers with a few years of experience as supervisors of employees who have been in the company for so long that they have already named the screws and bolts in the factory and knew if there are problems with the machines just by hearing how they sound.

Another client, a retail company promotes people not based on their seniority but performance and other merits. This makes it likely for them to get promoted so fast that they get supervise people who used to supervise or mentor them.

So the question they ask is how do we deal with them? How do we make them follow our instructions? Here's my answer; respect them, respect their experience, and make them your ally. Having people who have more experience than you in your team should be an asset not a problem.

My age now seldom gives me the opportunity to lead more experienced people, but whenever I can, the first thing I do is express my appreciation that I am with people who can contribute greatly to team output and outcome. I tell them that the team would benefit a lot from their wisdom and advice, and that I wish to share leadership with them. I also tell them that I would get out of the way if I know that they're doing work that I know they can do well. I would also sit with them to discuss rules of engagement for collaboration and decision-making. I try to make it clear that I need their advice for important decisions but make it even more clear that unless I delegate decision-making to them, I make the decisions. We can argue or debate about those decisions, I can assure them that I will listen and will allow my self to change my mind as a result of their suggestions and as i see fit but will make my decision whether they agree with it or not, if i think it is the right thing to do and I expect them to respect my decisions.

New managers need to recognize or maybe even recall how frustrating it is  as well to work under a supervisor who knows less and are unwilling to listen.  Ignorance and stubbornness is a bad combination. As a new manager, we need to be humble enough about our blind spots and be willing enough to be guided in our decision making  by those who are very familiar with the terrain.

There are two important ingredients to teamwork, respect and clear expectations. Respect should be mutual but it's the leader who should show it first. Expectations should be sufficient to guide the behavior of all parties.  It builds trust, and trust helps get things done.

Nunchucks and Leadership

Being appointed for the first time in a role that requires leadership and management skills is like being handed nunchucks, it is both exciting and unsettling.

I remember the time I had my very first nunchucks as a young man. It was my weapon of choice for warding off attacking dogs when I had to accompany my mother to the market at three or four in the morning.  I’ve always fantasized about wielding it. I imagined how cool it was to have one after seeing idol Bruce Lee use it like it’s no body’s business. So. I had one. After a few days, I had tenderness on my arms, a bruised shin and a bump on my forehead.  I quickly realized that nunchucks can be unwieldy.  I could have given up but it’s too cool not to learn how to use it  so I went to the bookstore and looked for a martial arts book that teaches how to use nunchucks. I bought one, and the rest was history filled with some pains and bumps here and there, but I learned. Back then I could boast of some awesome tricks.

Being new to leadership and management is like that. The role and the power can be quite unwieldy when you underestimate its effect on others and on you. Sometimes your intention backfires because you use the tools and the tactics wrong.  Therefore learning is important. Winging it could cause a lot of harm before you actually learn your lesson and put the role and the power to good use.

I think that the important thing to do when  leadership and management is handed to you is to learn as much about it as one would try to learn how to use a nuchucks.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Training My Monkey

There’s a monkey on my back who has a penchant for distracting me from what I need to do. This monkey carries my bag of emotion and tries to control me by bringing out the wrong emotion whenever I need to pursue something or whenever I need to overcome a challenge.  For example, whenever I need to be disciplined about losing weight, it brings out the lazy. Whenever I need to be determined about accomplishing something, it brings out the doubt. When I need to be courageous, it brings out fear. This monkey has distracted me for so long that it hindered me from being my best and bringing out my full potential.  This bag of emotion that it carries, it has a name; it’s called excuses. It never runs out of contents. 

For the longest time, it controlled me. I allowed all the excuses. I came up with all sorts of lame excuses like, I’m not ready, it's  not yet time, I might fail, or deny its urgency. There was no battle between me and the monkey on my back. I was a willing accomplice… until lately.

I’ve decided to train my monkey to bring the wrong emotions back in the bag. It’s not easy. This monkey can be quite insistent.  When there are failures in the office, the monkey brings out the blame and at times I would look for targets of that blame. I am training my monkey (yes present tense) to bring the why out of the bag instead of the who because I realize that if I am to change the outcome, I need to go into problem solving and not blame placing.  For a number of days now, I managed to walk 6 kilometers to exercise and manage my weight. Every morning, when I wake up, my monkey would point out that my legs and muscles hurt, that maybe I should give it a day’s rest and just do it the next day. In the first few days, I would sit for a minute and consider what the monkey is saying then dispute it. 

I’m happy to report that I am learning to ignore the monkey on this issue. I realize that when I dispute what this monkey is telling me, the monkey gets tamer.

Will I ever lose this monkey? Perhaps not. But I want to continue training this monkey so it knows which emotion will help me in getting my stuff done. I will continue training it to shut up when I have to focus on a goal or a task.

We all have monkeys on our back. They want to be in control and derail us by showing us the wrong emotions. Don’t let your monkey take over.