In 1991, the movie “What about Bob?” was released. The movie featured Bill Murray as Bob Wiley. Bob was an emotional and social train wreck who was overwhelmed with his fear of leaving his apartment in New York City. The other main character was played by Richard Dreyfuss as Bob’s psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin. Dr. Marvin leaves New York for peaceful New Hampshire for a month long vacation. Bob manages to follow his doctor and family to New Hampshire. The rest of the movie deals with Dr. Marvin’s frustration with his patient as Bob becomes the best friend to all of the family and simultaneously drives the doctor crazy!
So how does this relate to this topic? We all have at least one Bob in our organization! Bob has many different names, but no matter how small your operation is, there will always be at least one Bob. That is the person who challenges you at least once a week on some item. He or she is the person who manages to break the rules; forgets to do something important, or is just your everyday challenge. They are the person on who you have the biggest file and where you seem to spend the majority of your time watching, working on or cleaning up behind!
There is a management principle called the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule. This rule basically says that 20 percent of your staff causes 80 percent of the challenges. Answers.com describes this principle as follows: “A principle, named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, (1848-1923) in his Manual of Political Economy that was published in 1906, that specifies an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs. The principle states that, for many phenomena, 20 percent of invested input is responsible for 80 percent of the results obtained. Put another way, 80 percent of consequences stem from 20 percent of the causes.” What happens is you spend 80 percent of your time focusing on 20 percent of your staff. This is simply not to the benefit of your organization!
While growing up we had beef cattle on our small farm. My father raised Herford cattle and spent a lot of time fixing fences and chasing them down. This was typically due to a single rogue cow who always seemed to be the leader of the pack wherever trouble was! His solution was a simple one. He would sell off the troublemaker the first chance he had in the spring! For an organization, life is not that simple as selling off the people in our life who cause the most challenges.
So the question at the center of this article must focus on how do you be a better leader to the people who challenge you? From my experience and numerous readings I can best summarize it in 10 steps.
1. Approach All Things in Small Bites
I have often tried to bite into the big issue and usually end up choking. It’s natural to try to get your arms around the issue and try to fix it in one big move. Reality, however, shows it’s better to subdivide the issue into smaller bites. One project I am working on involved me looking at a lot of numbers to help define the issue. Over the time of three months I have gotten short printouts of data on the subject. It has allowed me to compare different data that sometimes conflicts with other data sets. By taking the issue in small bites you get a different perspective each time and you are able to get a more intelligent view of things.
2. Take Issues on a Day-at-a-Time Basis
There is an old saying that says some days you are the windshield and some days you are the bug! We all have bad days and some of us have experienced bad years! I know that I often find days that are just bad from start to finish. You must take each day as a new start. A fresh approach to the new day gives you a chance to put things in perspective and not overreact to the garbage you found the day before. We have all had times when it all seems to be doom and gloom. The best way is to give things a few days and approach them from a fresh angle where you might be able to put things in balance. What is pretty bad today may be a little more tolerable in a few days.
3. The Devil is Always in the Details
No matter what the scale or scope of the issue we face, it’s the little things that matter. If you do a presentation, people will remember the errors and misspellings more than what you said. If you oversee a major project, they always seem to remember the three tiny things that went wrong instead of the hundreds of things that went right. It’s mostly human nature, but people always seem to remember what went wrong in things rather than what went right. Remember the last situation you had where the other person complained about all the things you did wrong? Ever wondered if they ever remember all the things you did right AFTER the relationship was over? Sad, but that’s what seems to happen. As best you can, focus on the little details in your plans, your projects, your presentations and your papers! Develop a checklist to make sure you hit all the points and make all the corrections and edits you need.
4. Check Your Decision to Insure it Passes All the Tests
Ah, the tests! You know exactly what I am talking about. They include the morality test, the ethical test, the money test, the “right-thing-to-do” test, the “front page of the paper” test, the “what would your worst enemy think” test and the “what would the Lone Ranger do” test! No matter what you want to call them, the question you must answer is will you be proud of this decision and be willing to stand up and defend it at all costs. Many times you see politicians and other leaders having to back down from a statement or a position because they did not apply these tests to their decision. First, it may take a while to test your decision before you announce it, but this step must be completed. Take your time to “test” your decision and don’t always rush to judgment and tell the world what you think on an issue until you have considered all the sides.
5. Avoid Pouncing
We all jump on people about things too quickly. We do it out of frustration, or as a reaction to something that sets you off. It’s easy to do and I admit to doing it too often. What I have learned is that you must take a extremely deep breath and then let it out slowly to keep from letting loose a primal scream! People push you in strange ways and your job is to not to lose it. The first thing to do is not to pounce on people and release your frustrations. It’s not easy to pull this off. The best way is put yourself in the head of the person about to be pounced on and think about how it would make you feel. Not too good is my guess! Instead, take your time. Try not to release your own frustration, but get some facts together before you jump too hard and land too quick.
6. Jerks Are Everywhere
If you have ever supervised anyone for any length of time, you know this is true. The larger the organization the more likely you will find more jerks. These are people who just never seem to be happy with any rules; people who always complain over any gift horse that comes their way. They may be unhappy due to past events or past disagreements they have had with management. They may think the world should be their way. Regardless of the reason, they are part of your reality. You must learn to accept these types of people and find ways to utilize them in a positive manner. I learned to take my biggest complainer and use that person as a sounding board for ideas. I would approach this person first with new ideas. Typically they had some comments and suggestions that make the idea better. Sometimes they were still not happy with the idea that I had to implement. At the same time, they seemed to appreciate the fact that someone valued their opinion. To me, the key thing you must do is simply listen to these people. For whatever reason, they have a bone to pick with management and your job is to keep the door open and listen. These are the times you get tired of listening, but that’s when you need to listen harder.
7. Never Stop Learning
When was the last time you took a class or read a book? Believe it or not, when you get to the top when you should read and study even harder. It does not always have to be a class related to your work. It can be something as simple as a hobby or something you have always just had a curiosity about! Taking a class keeps your brain working. It should challenge you and make you want to know more about a subject. My father used to tell me that you should never stop learning and I have found that it is still true.
Having been in the education business most of my life has made this a reality. Going back to class is a good thing. You must plan and take the time to learn. Reading a book is always a good way to learn something new. Libraries are in every town and books are now downloadable in a few seconds online. Grab a book and keep reading.
8. Challenges are Opportunities — Eventually
The challenge of being in a leadership position in any organization is the many things that get thrown at you each day. You come to the office with a clean desk and a plan but it’s typically out the window before 8a.m. You should try to take each new problem as an opportunity to learn and gain from the event. I have been faced by a new problem that seemed at first to be overwhelming and insurmountable. If you take the long view you will often find out that these problems do become opportunities with time. They are opportunities to learn, to grow, to gain new insight and to get a new perspective.
9. We Live In a Strange New World
The world of 2010 has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. We now live in a world of instant access, instant information and instant demands. The world of mobile phones, Twitter, YouTube and Face Book barely existed just a few years ago. This world of sharing and open exchange has continued to grow and modify the way we live. The ability to record an event and send it to all your friends in a few seconds have resulted in embarrassment, pain and emotional suffering for both the people who were captured, and the people who may have been affected. There has been a long list of events where people have lost jobs, careers and even lives over a short 30 second clip of video. Today’s world is full of information that is both good and bad. There is a need to be selective and careful in what you share with your friends and the world, especially in a professional work environment. The internet and social networking is not going away. You need to learn to live with it and understand its impact on everyone’s life.
10. Balance Must Be Your Guide and Companion
The last and most important thing is to find a balance in your life between crisis and calmness. If your day is full of drama and last minute rushes, then you need to gain some control and balance over your life. I was told never to carry anything to an extreme. That applies to life also. Do not be fanatical about any one thing, be it a good thing or a bad thing! Balance is what keeps you centered. Balance is the key to your life. One example is to draw out your life into a Wheel of Life (http://mindtools.com) to see where you currently invest your time and energy. If you are spending too much time on one side of the wheel, you are ignoring something else. Before long, that area of your life you have ignored will reach up and grab your full attention. That area could be your children, your spouse or your work, as examples. Balance is a key to keeping your life under control.
Oh, I guess you are still wondering what about Bob? Well, when all else fails, you can consider calling on Bob for advice. Who is Bob? Bob is “Bring Out the Bat!” I would never condone or support violence but at least by bringing out the bat, people will realize you mean business! You can just pull it out to let people know you are tired of foolishness and excuses and the time has come for things to begin to move and stop all the whining! Please don’t use it on anyone but at least it might get some attention!