Warren Bennis Said Leadership is Doing the Right Things – Is Marissa Mayer Right or Wrong?

Want Real Growth in Your Company? It’s About How You Lead. And Sigh. And Learn. And Change.

I heard this story the other day and cringed.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced that employees can’t work from home any longer. First Richard Branson criticized her. Then former employees said that indeed, current employees were taking advantage of the policy. Then the social mediasphere set up positions on either side. So who is right?

Which part of this story made me cringe? Not the change in policy. Not the former employees supporting the current CEO.

It’s the question that this debate is focused on: ‘who is right?’

I’m going to shout now so protect your ears if you don’t like contrary commentary: ‘WHO IS RIGHT’ IS THE WRONG QUESTION TO ASK! IT IS IRRELEVANT TO THE REAL PROBLEM. STOP WASTING YOUR TIME ON THIS RIDICULOUS ARGUMENT.

Without context, we have no idea what problem Melissa Mayer is trying to resolve with this solution ( I hear its about increasing conversation at the water cooler… but how come? That’s a solution, not a problem to solve). So everyone gets to argue about the solution, which is all about satisfying everyone’s desire to feel righteous, rather than focusing on the desired end result. And this scenario is playing itself out in businesses across the country.

Warren Bennis, says “Leaders do the right things.” Bennis is a leadership guru and a University Professor and the Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of California.

He makes a different distinction about Managers “Managers do things right.”

So is Marissa Mayer doing the right things? Who knows. You shouldn’t care. What you should care about is whether you are lulling yourself into a false sense of security with how you manage your business. Are you leading it or managing stuff?

As a Business Owner Are You Focused on Doing the Right Things?

Consider this idea for a minute. As a business owner, how do you make evaluate how you spend your time – are you doing the right things? Or doing things right?

Successful business owners have the ability to look up from what the are working on and self-evaluate.

Using self-coaching questions like “what problem am I solving and is this the right way to think about it?’ Asking this question helps you to get real about what you what you apply your energy to.

As one of our clients likes to tell us, “it sucks big time to discover I should have been working on the big picture instead of some picky detail that anyone could have done… but better to find out now, right.”

Business owners who come to terms with the fact that they and their team are working on something in a way that will never take the company anywhere but here, can then change direction. Without a big guilt trip, blame game or a trip down disappointment alley. Or a mind numbing debate about who is right.

Self-coaching Tips

Here are a few signs that you are not wearing your leadership hat and how to switch:

1. We get asked this question all the time when introducing new practices to business owners. “How do you do this properly?” Bad news for those of you who like to ask this kind of question. That’s the wrong place to focus. Wear your leadership hat. Instead of thinking more about whether things are being done ‘properly’, you want to care more about the result you want out of pursuing the action in the first place. I know, this answer could irritate some people.

Tip: Change your focus from doing something ‘properly’. Instead ask yourself “what result will we get if we do it this way? Is that the result we need?” Example: How should you do a performance evaluation? It all depends on what attitude and action you want your employee to have when they leave the meeting.

2. Driven business owners often get caught in the Time Game Trap. They measure how long something takes against their expectation of when they think their staff should have got it done by.

Without being involved in the planning, this expectation is destructive.

Driven people want the gratification of having that project off their to do list. It’s a zero sum game though: You look around and think, ‘we should have had this done by now’ and start to sweat how long everything is taking. Everyone sees the boss’ irritated look and starts to doubt and second guess themselves. Productivity gets worse. And everything takes even longer.

If you use time as your primary measurement about what is being ‘done’ or ‘not done’, you are setting yourself up (and your employees) for chronic, debilitating disappointment.

Tip: Your top priority should be to ask “is the project we are working what is best for the business”. Example: If you think it’s taking too long, take a deep breath and let go of your disappointment. Your disappointment is your problem to manage, not your team’s.

Now become a good investigator: ask your team using genuinely curious and insightful questions “what problem are you hoping to solve with this project?” Focus your discussion on the impact of this project on the business. Then evaluate how time is being spent. “What resources do you need to move this forward?” Acknowledge what has been achieved. That act will get you what you really want… inspired action and more momentum.

3. What you want to work on is out of sequence with what needs to happen to get the project moving forward. We call this Step Skipping. A former business owner decided to retire. He invested his money by buying franchises. He wanted to demonstrate how fast he could make them profitable. He had some brilliant ideas for how to scale the business. He’d spend his days in the back office writing his business plan, while out front, his new minimum wage employees struggled to run his business. We can all be seduced by the big idea forming on the horizon and forget to handle what’s right in front of us.

Tip: Look at your immediate projects. Each require leadership and management. Example: Using self-coaching, ask yourself the Leadership question first: are we working on the right next step? Then ask your team (or yourself if you don’t have a team yet!) the management question. Are we managing the right things “are we doing the right things to get this next milestone met or keep the operation flowing smoothly?”

Wear the Right Hat Before You Act

To run a business and grow it, always remember to look up and notice what you’re occupying your mind with. Pause. Manage your own reactions to that stream of thought.

Then think with your leadership hat first. Ask yourself ‘what’s best for the business’. Then remove that hat and think with your management hat. Then act.

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