Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advice From My Mentor - Make Me Look Good

When I think about the advice I have received from my various mentors one of the earliest was from a first line supervisor at Kraft Foods back in 1972. This is one of those words of advice that I still follow today. His name was Dick and he would tell me every chance he got:

“Your main job at this company is to make me look good.”

I used to laugh at him and continue doing my job, not paying much attention to him. Over time I begin to realize what a golden nugget these words of advice were. I have tried to apply them to every company I have worked for and every position I have held in those companies. No matter how you apply this advice, your job will be made easier and your chances of success improved.

I apply this rule in both directions of the hierarchical chain of command by equally trying to make my boss look good to his boss and making the employees who work for me look good. By applying the rule in both directions I am the one who ultimately looks good.

There are many benefits to be earned by making your boss look good. The most obvious is if your boss looks good to his superiors then he is more likely to get promoted out of your way and you can take his job. Another benefit of this approach is that your boss’s boss may notice your hard work and realize you are carrying the operation and again promote you in recognition of your effort. I have successfully used both of these tactics to gain a promotion on several occasions.

When applying the rule in the other direction to those who report to you and making your direct reports look good there is nothing but positives to be gained. One of the first positive results are that you develop a sense of trust and respect among your employees. Having the trust and respect of your employees is an extremely important aspect of achieving success. I have seen good managers fail by not earning the respect and support of their employees. They can make your life miserable and sabotage all your efforts if they do not feel you support them.

There are many ways to make your employees look good and they are easy to apply. One of the best is to offer training in all aspects of the job and helping prepare them for the next position or level by sharing your knowledge and expertise. Encourage them to share their ideas and motivate them to learn all they can about the operations. Most importantly give your employees the recognition they have earned for their efforts and share it with their fellow workers and to your superiors. Not only do you win the support of the employee being recognized but of all the other members of the team.

Once you make your employees look good your superiors will notice and therefore you look good in their eyes. You will develop a reputation among your superiors as a good trainer and leader. Your employees will work hard to ensure you meet your goals when they know you are supporting them. One of my greatest achievements that I look back on, is the employees that I have helped encourage, train and develop for promotion.

In both of the situations described I have helped create a positive leadership environment for the entire team. By making your boss look good, you look good which makes for a win-win situation. By making your employees look good, they will work to make you look good and once again you have created a win-win situation. This is a sign of true leadership; when all parties can achieve their goals and meet the companies goals together.

Even as I write this advice I am following the words of my mentor because my goal as a leader is to “make you look good.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advice From My Mentor – Problems vs. Opportunities

As I continue to reflect on the advice and sayings of various people who have mentored to me over the years I can’t help but notice how their words have helped shape and mold my leadership skills and life in general into what it is today. Tony, the Plant Manager of the Kraft Foods plant I worked at, was one of my earlier mentors I find myself quoting often. One of his favorite sayings was:

“There is no such thing as a problem, only an unsolved opportunity.”

When I would come to him with a problem I can still clearing remember him saying, “Now Larry, you know there is no such thing as a problem only an unsolved opportunity.” Then he would say “What we need to do is work on this opportunity.”

I can remember getting so frustrated with him that one day, in a management meeting, I fired back at him; “No Sir, This is a DAMN problem” He looked at me and said we would deal with it later and continued with the meeting. After the meeting was over he called me to his office and we dealt with it.

Tony was the kind of mentor that you really learned to appreciate. Every moment to him was a teaching moment and his calm demeanor would put you at ease and in a frame of mind to learn. Once again he proceeded to explain to me what he meant by problems vs. opportunities.

A problem is something or someone who presents a difficulty or obstacle for you to overcome. It has a negative connotation and tends to direct your actions to a negative response. Most often this also leads to less than desirable results.

An opportunity offers you a chance to achieve or excel in accomplishing a task. By defining the “problem” as an opportunity you change it from a negative to a positive and you begin to approach the solutions from this positive point of view. Usually this will result in a positive and successful outcome.

So how do you change a problem to an opportunity? As always the first step is to define the issue. You need to break it down to it’s fundamental parts and clearly state each one. This is an important step because you do not want to focus all your efforts solving the symptoms while failing to identify and address the root cause of the issue.

Once you have defined the issues you need to identify the opportunities that are associated with them. By changing your focus from problem solving to opportunity capitalization you change the goal from a negative to a positive solution. Granted, this is not always an easy exercise. This is one of the times when you may need the help of a peer, supervisor, or a mentor. I have often found another person’s viewpoint and/or questions will help me come up with the best course of action.

Once you have developed a plan of action then implement it, emphasizing the positive aspects and outcomes. This can turn what was a “problem” into an opportunity to excel and achieve your goals. If the issue is employee related then you both have the opportunity to grow and achieve by turning a potential win-lose situation into a win-win victory.

This was Tony’s goal in making his problem vs. opportunity statements when you came to him with a “problem”. His plan was to make you dig for the opportunities in every issue and work toward solving them. He was always there with thought provoking questions and directions to help you work through any issue.

This is how I have tried to approach issues throughout my career in management. Usually I have been very successful at turning negatives into positives with the results being recognized as achievements and accomplished goals. As a manager I have tried to apply these same principles when I am working with my team attempting to overcome an obstacle. By teaching them to view “problems” as opportunities they can achieve their goals with a lot less stress and a lot more success.

By focusing on the positive you can easily see how “There is no such thing as a problem, only an unsolved opportunity.”