Saturday, December 29, 2012


Everyone promotes leadership. Companies encourage and even pay for leadership training. Everyone praises and rewards the great "leader", but who actually put Part A into Slot B and delivered the product? The workers did. Not the leaders, the followers.

As the nature of work changes from assembly line to knowledge-based the type of worker changes also. This change in the work and in the worker demand changes in how management and workers interact.

Leadership training attempts to teach managers the actions they should take to interest or engage single individuals or teams of individuals in a goal or process leading to the desired result. Leadership training also teaches how to make group dynamics a supporting element in achieving that result.

OK; you knew all of that, just not in those words. What's the point?

The point is that to be a leader you must have followers. People who, consciously or unconsciously, have agreed to let you make the critical decisions and then follow those decisions by performing the steps necessary to achieve the desired goal.

We've all seen examples of efforts that were less successful than they might have been or were outright failures because of team members who didn't fully support the leader. The tendency is to blame the leader. He/she didn't motivate or engage (or whatever the current buzz word is) the team. But, maybe the team member(s) couldn't or wouldn't follow!

My most recent example occurred while managing a cross-functional project team. The customer contracted the project management to the consulting firm I worked for. As the PM for the consulting firm, I had two direct employees, that is, they worked for the same consulting firm that I did and they reported to me. The other team members were five Project Managers for and/or owners of other consulting firms. Those other consultants were experts in some aspect of the overall project and were to supply the skills and support necessary from their specialties to complete the project.

Each consultant (except for my directs, who worked for the same consulting firm I worked for) approached the project meetings as if they were the Project Manager for the total project and not just their deliverables. Some of them believed they and their company should have been hired to manage the total project. Most just never learned to follow. The problem with team members not meeting goals and working at cross-purposes was a real challenge to the successful completion of the project. We did it, but it was a lot harder than it needed to be.

Teams are really about the division of labor. Most people talk about the concept of the division of labor, but never really understand that it means different things to people at different levels within the organization.

To a worker, division of labor means:
            I do this part of the work, others do something (I may not know what) the product comes out the end and I get paid.

To a bad manager, division of labor means:
            You do this part, you, you, and you do those other parts, product comes out the end, and I look good.

To a leader, division of labor means:
            You do this part, you, you, and you do other parts, I get the obstacles out of your way, the product comes out the end and we all succeed.

Any of the three approaches could work in a factory where the division of labor was obvious and everyone could see and understand the tasks needed to build the product. Even in a complex manufacturing environment the average worker could at least understand the workflow within his or her own area and see how their personal contribution helped.

As the nature of work changes from manufacturing to thought based work the bad manager's approach becomes less and less effective. The leader now has to find a way to make sure that the workers understand their part of the process and how their work supports the entire project or deliverable. All this in an environment where very few of the participants can see the entire process and where team members may be in different time zones or even on different continents, speaking different languages.

Henry Ford is quoted as saying, "Asking ‘who ought to be the boss’ is like asking who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?  Obviously; the man who can sing tenor."  At some point the people doing the work or managing sub-sections of the effort must agree on who "can sing tenor"! The old style boss saying "Because I told you too." no longer works.

Most businesses use a hierarchical model as illustrated in the following organizational chart. In the traditional model, people follow because that's their place in the "chain of command".

 Even in a "horizontal organizations" the structure is the same. The person who evaluates you or signs your time card is “above” you and people you evaluate or sign the time cards for are below you. People try to satisfy their customer and their customer is always the person who pays them. My customer is the person who signs my time card and writes my evaluation.

In the past, workers were considered as non-skilled, skilled, professional, and management. As the nature of work changes and requires higher education, the workers are less likely to fit the non-skilled and skilled class and much more likely fit the professional and management class. I use the word class because in the past, there were sharp divisions between workers (unskilled and skilled), professionals, and managers.

In the new economy, the work demands much more highly educated workers and those workers are likely to understand the complete scope of the work and many of the other job skills used to complete the work. This creates a situation where the worker is testing the leader’s instructions against his or her own knowledge and experience. In most knowledge-based work the person doing the work has the education and experience to understand the effect of their work on the rest of the organization and the organization's effect on their work.

Because of the complex nature of knowledge-based work, the worker may have a significantly deeper understanding of the details of the work they are performing than their manager. The higher a manager is within an organization, the less likely they are to maintain any real expertise in all of the tasks that create the product or deliverable. The manager is relying on the team as a group or on a single team expert for that level of understanding in any single area.

When the team members are managers in their own right, turf wars and in some cases fights for outright control of the project can occur. Some those fights may happen because the team member truly believes that the decision being made by the team or team leader is wrong. Some times it's just a fight for personal advancement. Whatever the reason, the team member has either never been taught to follow or never accepted that, sometimes, it's part of their job to follow.

Followership consists of giving your boss the best of your thinking on every subject and then executing her decisions with your full support. Part of leadership is accepting your team member’s advice and not giving directions that conflict with that advice.

Of course, sometimes the advice is $10,000 and the budget is $5,000 and good leadership demands a clear explanation to the team. When this happens, the team may not be able to deliver and the project may not be viable. Thankfully, obstacles like that will be rare, since that’s caused by a poor cost analysis during the planning phase.

Followership is like being a passenger in an automobile. You accept that someone else is driving and agree not to grab the steering wheel. As passengers, we do get to advise the driver about a faster route and dangers we see, but we trust the driver to make the right decisions.

All right, you get it but how do you teach and practice followership? In four easy steps!

  1. Include the people who actually have to do the work in developing clearly stated goals. Getting willing participants means giving ownership of the ideas and goals to each team member. Nothing helps you develop a sense of ownership like deciding the goal and your team members feel the same way. As a passenger, you won't even get into a car unless you’re sure that it's going where you want to go.

  1. Show that you believe in your team members by listing to and following their advice. When you don't, you OWE the team, or at least that member, an explanation. Hold that image of the passengers in a car in you thoughts. How many times would you ride with someone if they don't get you where you want to go or scare you in the process? Why should you expect your team to feel any differently than you do?

  1. Give the same support to your team that you want from your boss. Give the same support to your boss that you want from your team. It's just that simple - Why would you support someone who doesn't support you? This doesn't mean that you can't cut a problem team member. Cutting nonproductive members is good for the team. The people doing the work know who isn’t pulling their weight and resent carrying non-productive team members. Just like teenagers joy riding, everyone puts in for gas. Nobody rides for free!

  1. Failure is yours but success belongs to the team. You don't really work very hard for someone who blames you for failure but claims all the credit for success. Neither will your team. Maybe I'm straining the travel analogy, but the driver, the navigator and the people sitting in the back of the car all get to the destination at the same time. When you drive alone, you can say, “I arrived”. When you have a car full, you can only say “We arrived”.

OK, so far we’ve looked at the things a leader has to do to but what about those supposed followers? What should they be doing to support the team?

First and foremost each and every team member must accept that they are followers. Going back to that Henry Ford quote – each team member has to make a conscious decision that the team leader “can sing tenor”! Trying to wrest control from the team leader destroys the team and ensure that the project will fail. Just as the passengers agree not to try and fight the driver for control, team members must follow the directions of the team leader.

Second, the team members must agree to support each other. Team members have to accept that they are one of the people in the car and that all the passengers will get there at the same time. Trying to make yourself the hero will only distract from getting the project completed on time and on budget.

Practicing these two simple principals is much easier when you are an individual contributor. Much harder to subordinate yourself when you are a team leader in your own right. Picture a team consisting of a team of programmers, marketing people, and teachers developing training software. The programmers may be pushing for a less complex product, the marketing folks for a more full featured product while the teachers want a snazzy user interface.

At some point each of these competing requirements may come into conflict. By fighting for control so they can get their favorite features a single team member may sacrifice the entire project for parochial interests. While the team leader should explain why the compromises are necessary, at some point the followers must accept that the team leader has the best interest of the entire project in mind and is weighing the trade-offs and making decisions that keep the project on track and with in budget.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

You can’t break the law to change the law

The call for gun control in the United States seems to pit those who believe that each citizen has the unfettered right to own and carry firearms against those who fear that unregulated firearms inevitably lead to murder and mayhem.

The real augment for or against gun control by the federal government centers on the 2nd amendment to the United States Constitution which states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Reasonable people differ about exactly what the writers meant by this unclear passage. Did they mean that only the members of the militia should have the right to “keep and bear arms” or did they mean that each citizen has the unregulated right to keep and carry firearms?

If we were to accept the more limited view that the right to keep and bear arms is limited to the militia, then we must ask who is a member of the militia? The following quote from the debate at the time the original 10 amendments were being considered might add some clarity: "I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for few public officials." Stated George Mason, of the Virginia delegation.

If we accept the view that the 2nd amendment limits the right to keep and bear arms to that militia then George Mason’s statement still forces us to accept that the right belongs to each person individually.

We do hear arguments that we cannot know at this late date what the founders intended by this amendment. Only the intellectually lazy advance this argument since there is a huge body of writing available from the framers recommending the ratification of the original 10 amendments.

"If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens."  Alexander Hamilton

"The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation." James Madison

“No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect them selves against tyranny in government.” Thomas Jefferson

These quotes from the founders clearly state that their intent was to ensure that the people always have the ability to say “NO” to their government if it oversteps it’s bounds.

For those who say that this is paranoid thinking since we have a 200-year history of the government not exceeding it’s constitutional authority, think on how former President Richard Nixon might have misused his power had he not been raised to believe that the citizens have not only the right to say no to the government but the means enforce their decision.

While the constitution, in my opinion, clearly bars the government from interfering with any citizen’s right to own or carry a weapon I also believe that we do have the right to amend the language of the constitution.

Most often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, the quote that "The Constitution is not a suicide pact" is a phrase in American political and legal discourse. The phrase expresses the belief that constitutional restrictions on governmental power must be balanced against the need for survival of the nation and its people.

No less than Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

These writings by one of the founders who was later the 3rd president and Lincoln, the 16th president, who lead the fight to preserve the union are often cited to support the view that the constitution is a living document. It is indeed a living document but the method of change is limited and clear.

Article V of the constitution clearly states the method of breathing life into the document.

Article. V.

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

The real argument is not over any limitations on gun ownership, it is rather over congress’ authority to enact those limits through legislation.

Congress has no authority to pass any laws that violate the constitution. Any constitutional scholar will agree that the prime purpose of the constitution is to limit the powers of the government. In fact the founders were so concerned about this point that the tenth amendment addresses this point directly.

Amendment [X.]

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

As I said at the beginning of this opinion piece, reasonable people may differ about if we should change or limit the current constitutional unfettered access to guns. That is a different discussion than the one in this article.

For me the key point is the method used to enact those changes. Since reasonable people may differ on the meaning of the 2nd amendment then a constitutional amendment is necessary to clarify it’s meaning in todays vastly different world from that of the founders.

I would like to see a real and open debate on the subject with the clear understanding and acceptance by all the people engaging in the discussion: the only way to change the current state of free access to guns by American citizens is through a constitutional amendment.

I have not stated my opinion on gun ownership since my purpose is not to sway anyone to my point of view. My hope is to convince my readers that the constitution cannot be changed or limited by legislation, only by amendment. The more ambiguous the original language the more necessary is open debate on the topic and the more necessary a constitutional amendment to clarify that language.

If we allow the government itself to abridge the constitution by illegal legislation because we are afraid, then we give tacit approval to the abridgment of any of the other rights enumerated in the bill of rights and those limits on the government are our single best protection from a government that thinks it controls the people rather than the people controlling it!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Leading the curve

I guess I'm going to have to change the name of my blog since the mainstream media has not started reporting what I've been writing for the last 5 years. Well, I've really been saying this for a lot longer but this blog has only existed for that long.

Here is a sample of the kind of things I'm finding on an almost daily basis for the last couple of weeks.

From the Business Insider I found this article titled "We Need To Stop Maximizing Profit And Start Maximizing Value" which echoes all the same things I have been saying. Primarily that to many business have been hyper focused on a single measure of business success. The result of that misplaced hyper focus is the destruction of the long term health of those same businesses.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Measuring inflation

Inflation is caused when a one-ounce coin of pure silver is diluted and is now made with 50 per cent silver and 50 per cent nickel. That same size coin now contains half as much silver and, if known to the person accepting the coin, it should be worth half as much as the pure coin. Buyers would need to pay two diluted coins for the same product that one coin bought before the dilution.

This is the classic definition of inflation and while other theories exist, this has been accepted as holy writ since money started being made from intrinsically valuable materials. The theory continued when gold backed paper currency; then each unit of paper currency is worth some known percentage of one ounce of gold. Print more paper and each paper unit can now be redeemed for some percentage less in real gold.

That definition has been outmoded since US dollar stopped being backed by gold, since without that gold, only someone’s opinion of what that paper is worth sets the value. In 1971 then President Richard Nixon eliminated the fixed gold price for US currency.

I’d like to challenge that classic definition. I believe a better measure of inflation is when my hour of labor, how ever paid – silver, gold, or paper dollars – buys me less of the same goods. If I have to work 15 minutes to by a quart of milk today but have to work 16 minutes tomorrow, then the cost of a quart of milk is inflated by 1 minute of my time.

Why reduce it to hours of labor? First; because that’s the product that most of us sell, our time, and I only have so many hours I can sell. Before you start shouting that you are paid for your skill, how is your paycheck calculated? If you’re expected to work 40 hours and your boss will get upset if you only show up for 30 hours, you are really selling time. Commission sales is not tied to the number of hours worked but directly to results. While those exist and some jobs have a mix of hourly rate and commission or piecework schemes, the vast majority of workers get paid for showing up for a fixed number of hours.

Secondly; because if the price of the products I need goes up and I can’t pass that on to my employer in real time, I will have to absorb the cost increase by reducing what I buy or by working more hours.

My theory is that the general population will always be the financial losers in any financial system that doesn’t holed their labor as the measure of economic health.

Current financial theory includes the “rising tide lifts all boats” concept, where any increase in the economy will result in an increase for the majority of individuals. This rising tide theory fails to include the rope tying the boat to the anchor dug into the mud on the sea bottom. The rope represents your salary, and if the rope doesn’t get longer to allow the tide to lift your boat, the bow gets pulled under and that rising tide swamps and sinks your boat. As the tide rises the rope must get longer - in other words, your salary must increase.
Whether your income increases from an individual raise or a general cost of living allowance (COLA) your salary must keep pace with costs or you get sucked under.

If you buy that, whose wage do we use as a standard; the president of General Motors, the national average of all wages, or the official minimum wage? The extreme high and low wage represent outliers while the average by its nature incorporates those extremes, but if the high is too far from the low the average gets distorted. Even the mean wage is distorted if the high is too many multiples of the lowest wage.  The official minimum wage would be a fair measure of salaries in general since there is a direct link between the minimum and the higher wages for harder to find skills.

One complaint against raising the minimum wage is that it drives up all wages. As the minimum wage goes up, then the cost of goods and services created by the minimum wage worker go up and everyone pays more for those goods. That in turn drives up the rest of the salaries to account for those costs increases.

If the theory of spiraling costs caused by raising minimum wages is real; then the buying power of the minimum wage would be a better measure of inflation than the arbitrary value of a US dollar estimated against other currencies by a limited number of currency traders.

Changing the measurement of inflation will help display what the economy is actually doing with greater clarity and precision, supporting better decision-making by planers. It will also create a more obvious link between effort and reward, between labor and purchasing power.

A bold statement you say? If your theory is correct, that changing the minimum wage really does change prices and labor costs across the economy, then using my idea of the ratio of minimum wage to the cost of goods you buy daily will display those changes more closely to real time. The closer our measures are to cause and effect and in real time, the more quickly we can identify and respond to economic changes.

I submit that current economic theory is clinging to outdated theories to measure economic health. Just as checking the oil on your car tells you nothing about the condition of the brakes, using this outdated measure of economic health tells us little about the economy. If you check the oil and think that reports the brakes as good, you are much more likely to have brake failure. In the same way, looking at the wrong economic indicators means that you are much more likely to be caught by surprise and make the wrong decisions.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Hero’s Journey

Wikipedia defines the hero’s journey as:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

I’ve read several articles recently expressing the viewpoint that we should view our live and how we live it as a “hero’s journey”. In that view we begin our journey and encounter various obstacles that we must overcome. In overcoming those obstacles we grow and become more competent giving us the resources to overcome even greater obstacles.

While this may be a great metaphor for teaching us to persevere in the face of adversity there is a counter unspoken message that since life is a never ending struggle, why try to overcome those obstacles?

In reading those articles I am reminded of the little boy who went to his first day of school and when ask by his father at the end of the day “How did it go?” Answered, “Not very well, I have to go back tomorrow!”

While amusing, this child’s eye view of their world can be instructive. After some period of time you just get tired of striving and look for a lower level of stress. Even an army is pulled off the line and sent to rest and recuperate after extended periods of combat.

At the same time, just cruising through life without a challenge gets boring. The key is to strike a balance between the obstacle-laden path of the hero’s journey and the clear sailing of an open road. For business the trick is to challenge your employees with difficult work and yet give them some less challenging times to allow that period rest and recovery.

What was the end of Ulysses journey nn the hero’s journey described in The Odyssey by Homer? He went home to Penelope and his son and became a gentleman farmer again.

What the most common explanations of the hero’s journey don’t tell you is that it has an end and that in most cases the end is not 30 or 40 years away. Even Ulysses journey was limited to a few years; remember his son was still a child when he returned.

You can’t view your entire career as a hero’s journey. It must be viewed by both you and by your boss as a series of heroic sprints separated by periods of normal living. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Knowledge is not enough

Knowledge is not enough

I just finished a book called Proving You’re Qualified and a book called Training Yourself: the 21st Century Credential, both by Charles D. Hayes, and found a huge gap in his premise. I looked into a website called Zero Tuition College and another one called UnCollege and found that both suffer from the same missing element as Mister Hayes’ books.

A credential is important not just for the knowledge it supposedly represents, but for the person you are talking to. Only a small percentage of the work force will end up starting their own business and following in the footsteps of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to succeed without a degree. Most will end up working for large companies.

While everyone may aspire to start their own business or work for that super startup, big companies have lots of employees so that is where the bulk of the jobs are. HR departments in big companies are swamped with applicants and are scared to death of making a mistake and recommending a “bad” candidate.

That being true, the poor HR clerk reviewing applicants is looking for a quick and safe way to wade through that mountain of resumes. The first thing they can do that is fast and safe is to screen for an accredited degree. What can be safer than saying to your boss, “She must know how to do the work, she has a degree in that very thing from XYZ College.”

If you pursue self-education as recommended in both books, how do you prove to perspective employers that you really can do the work? While a portfolio (even as an online website) works well for designers, photographers or artists this non-traditional approach really doesn’t work very well for engineers or mangers.

While Mr. Hayes is absolutely correct in his ascertain that everyone will have to invest significant time and energy in continuing their professional education, even that must come with some kind of recognized credential. Why? Because when it comes time to assign work or look for the worker ready for promotion, your boss is going to look for that same safe and easy differentiator as he or she does when hiring a new candidate.

A qualification that they can point to so that when their boss asks why they picked that that person, they have some recognized “thing” to point to; something beyond the selector’s opinion that this is the right applicant.

While there is much to support the position that far too many people graduating from college today have memorized facts that they forget as soon as the test is over, no one has yet come up with a better way to prove that people can do what they say they can do.

Yes, a person’s demonstrated experience could be used. But remember that the screener is looking for a fast, safe way to select candidates. Reading resumes is not fast; you can’t really read a resume in the time it takes to scan for a degree. It’s not safe; the screener has to make a judgment call as to which experience is relevant and how complete the experience seems to be.

Before the current system can be replaced, someone is going to have to come up with something to replace it that will validate experience gained outside the current formal classrooms.