A Little Something Different

There was a post on Facebook today that caused me to think about a subject I spent a lot of time on in the past.  Because of all the time invested, I wanted to see if I still had a good handle on this.

The topic is the difference between Leaders and Managers.   If you work in a factory, a refinery or in a place where taking care of things, management is what you need most of all to keep things flowing well.  Once you throw in the variances of people, you need to put on your Leadership hat.  If you have an MBA, forget to read this as you will try to manage it into something that can be measured and you too will fail.   

I am not sure where I started down this path but I think it was clear back when I was a Boy Scout.  I had what would have been a rifle squad had we been armed with anything but piss and vinegar.  It was one of the first times I had to make a list of anything.  As a kid, my dad would come home on Friday evening, pass out grocery sacks and announce that we were going to Arkansas.  We had about 15 minutes to get our sacks loaded and into the car.  I don't remember how many times I forgot my toothbrush or clean underwear.  The good news is that as a boy clean underwear wasn't all that high on my list and I just went and had fun.  In the scouts, we had to figure out what to eat for the time we went out and that was mostly what the list was for.  Our Tents and sleeping bags were in the Troop trailer so that wasn't a problem.  Food was.

I had my first exposure to real leadership in the Army.  I was blessed to have SSG Tignor as our Drill Instructor.  He was like a daddy and had all the answers.  Hell, he knew what were most of our questions and at least once a week he would just sit us all down and have a group chat.  One of the first things he said was that a lot of the BS we were being taught wasn't there to help us survive in Vietnam, but it sure as hell wouldn't hurt.  He reinforced that we were learning a skill that just might make a difference when the time came and it just might behoove us to know how to shoot and live.  One day, after a long week of running and marching a lot, I had what felt like a bag of marbles in my Achilles tendon.  I went to him and wondered why I couldn't just have a few aspirin and not have to go on sick call to get them.  He told me that I had bruised the tendon and I needed to put on two pair of boot socks for a couple of days.  Sure enough that worked.  He was the go to man when I needed advice or help. (I also found a bottle of Aspirin on my bunk)

Later on, I went through OCS and ran into what had to be one of the most stubborn and inconsiderate Officers I had ever met.  His inferiority complex was only eclipsed by his inferiority.  He was so short that he had to climb up on a foot locker to talk down to us.   His idea of leadership was to give us things in writing and leave it up to us to figure out what to do.  When I spent most of the first few days helping my classmates get their stuff together, he damn near flunked me in Leadership.  Stupid.

Back to managers.  They study the process and see where they can tweak the system to make it more efficient.  They want to change items in the flow of work and see what makes it better.   They don't think of people as being much more that things in the process.  Give them an award for excellence and they go away happy not knowing or caring how many people they hurt.  I worked at a call center where in three years, they went through about 5,000 people trying to keep 500 people on the phone.  They had at least two classes of trainees going on all the time.  I had the best record of getting people ready and them staying but even then, the system was stacked by having someone with an MBA at Corporate changing the rules without even having an idea what the impact on the people would be.  Clearly these Masters of Manglement had never answered a phone in a call center.  Our people had input with the customers but when it was pretty clear that it was a pretty screwed up system no one cared to listen.  GTE started a project that was what today is called bundling for all of a customer's communications needs.  It was a great idea and way before its time.  They focused on getting a lot of customers into the system because some MBA told them that they needed to have a million customers to make it work.   Somewhere they forgot about the profit.  When we first started having customers, the focus was to give the customers money off on their bill when they called rather than trying to figure out what the heck was broke.   When I would talk to my classmates that went to the floor when I went into the training area, they were frustrated that they would have to take crap, and a lot of it, from customers that hadn't paid their bill for months.  The Corporation was so invested into the keeping a large number of customers that they forgot to look at the dollars being spent or wasted by non paying people.  I spent a lot of time trying to convince our system (a subcontractor) to allow our agents to start looking at the billing system and asking for payment before we tried to fix the phone for people that didn't or wouldn't pay.  Nope, we were to get a million customers and I was told to shut the hell up.

Having been a leader for about 30 years when I retired, and having survived in a combat zone for a year of that, I just tried to make sure that the students I trained knew what they would be facing when they went out to the Call Center floor and started dealing with customers.  I did that by talking with my former students (and my son) and making the training experience as real as I could.  By the time my students graduated, they had worked a sales call for every product in our system and for every area we served.  I took the real billing system apart and made the telephone numbers match the addresses I made up and that way the students knew that what the customer wanted matched what the system offered.  When a lot of the instructors would be done at the end of the day, they would let the students sit around and visit.  Me, I had them working on real world stuff until the end of the class.  When I went through the initial training class, I got sick the last week and went through the training for repair but I didn't really know what the hell it was all about.  When I tried to teach it, I just passed out the papers and had the students work through them.  My son Dave was working on the floor in repair.  On one of my days off I went in and sat with Dave until I understood the process and after watching me teach it to the next class, my supervisor had me teach it to all of the instructors.  When we first started, there were no credit checks done on people that ordered Cell Phones.  When I saw that most of the big non paid bills were for cell phone users, I went out to the floor and found out that there was only one person in the call center that even knew how to do credit checks.  On my next day off, I spent the afternoon with Charity learning how to do them.  It cost the company $25.00 each time I taught my class to run one but that was worth a heck of a lot more.   Sure enough after I sent a message up the line about the cell phone bills not being paid, the Center started doing credit checks on the initial Cell Phone orders.  By that time, almost every pod in the center had one of my students and guess who got to teach that process to the instructors.  The reward for good work is always more work.

I used some simple leadership techniques in my job.  First of all, don't take the word from a manager of what's wrong.  Get up off your butt and go see for yourself.  Occasionally they were right but seldom asked the guy that had to doo the job how to fix it.  Talk to the people and make sure they know what you expect and when you expect it.  Be available to help them do it the first time or two but once they do it, let them do it with out micromanagement.  It only took one time to be embarrassed in front of the General to realize that anytime one of my people briefed the General, I wanted them to give me a pre-brief so we could see what they were going to say.  Most of the time they did a good job but on occasion they could design a Camel when they needed a horse. 

In 1987, I was about to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and my name was on the promotion list.  I was called into the General's office and he asked me to wait a year and take on an assignment to help my old Artillery Unit pass an required Army ARTEP.  I would be the S-3 for a year and be assigned as the commander at the end of that year.  I agreed and I crawled over the test results for a week or so.  I went down to the unit and assumed the duty as assigned.

One of my first jobs was to discuss with the commander what the results said and to share was the problems in priority order.  He listened but didn't seem to want to take the initiative to fix the problems.  The biggest problem was the fact that no one had activated the NCO chain and made clear what was expected of them.  Their senior Sergeant was a Command Sergeant Major with about 10 years in that job but rather than being experienced, he had 10 years experience, one year at a time.  His biggest job was to drive the Battalion Commander around and put up the Commander's tent when they were in the field.  He was a hell of an aide but that's not what they needed. 

 I told the Commander that he needed to make the Battery B 1st Sergeant the Sergeant Major and do that quickly.  Instead of thinking about it and talking to me, he went out to his staff car and as they drove to a unit he said to the SGM that I wanted to fire him.   Shit oh dear, his good friend was the Adjutant General  and guess who he called.  The Adjutant General called me into his office and asked me if I had a death wish.  I went back to my office and brought the briefing material I had given to the Battalion Commander and gave him the whole thing.  When I finished I asked him what did he think I should have recommended.  He agreed with my assessment and I thought that was the last I had heard of that.  

 Well, nothing changed and in spite of a years hard work, the unit failed the ARTEP that year.  Had one of my former commanders not stepped in, I probably would not have been made the commander at the next drill.  I did and the first conversation with the Sergeant Major was how soon did he want his retirement party?  I appointed a person that knew what leadership was and sent him on his way to talk leadership to all the NCO's I drove my own damned car to visit the units.  At the end of that year we passed the ARTEP with flying colors.

Study, talk and make sure that the people know what to expect.  Listen to their input but have a line where you make the decision when and where the things need to go.  I don't know how many times I would finally have to say "Watch MY Lips" to end the discussion.  In fact that became the point where someone would put up a set of red lips on the briefing slide when a decision had to be made.  After all, even a leader has to make the hard calls and take the responsibility.  

I want to make sure that if you are ever given the role of a manager, I want you to do your best with managing things but apply leadership to the part of the process where it involves people. 


No comments:

Post a Comment