Bettye

When I took over the business unit, the Teamsters were trying to organize a union in the Operations area. I met Bettye when I held the small group sessions in Operations. Our first impressions of one another were not positive. The Teamsters were organizing a union in her department, and my job was to defeat the union. I suspected her of being one of the leaders of the union effort.

The people who worked with Bettye were led poorly. The organizing effort was their cry for help. I began to understand Bettye. She was unhappy, and she worked in a demoralized department. Changes were being forced upon employees that made no sense to them, and the employees were not being listened to.

I got to know Bettye. She was a stately black woman with a loud voice and a great sense of humor. Bettye was down-to-earth, and she asked tough questions. She cared about people and was not intimidated by me. Soon my first impressions changed; I liked her.

After several months, the Teamsters gave up. Bettye’s department—Field Services—was redesigned, delayered, downsized, and the people operated as a self-managed team. The people in Bettye’s department, who led the organizing drive, were now leaders in our move to employee involvement and were involved in all aspects of these changes.

I asked Bettye to be part of a presentation on employee involvement to a small group of senior managers that would be held at a local hotel. When it was Bettye’s turn to speak, she stood up and said, “My name is Bettye, and my knees are shaking.” Five minutes later she was in total control of the room. I think this shift happened when she asked Bruce Gensmer what he did all day long. He was startled and began to laugh. Bettye voice grew stronger and her confidence grew. She began to have fun.

Over the next few months, Bettye and I developed a good relationship. One day I invited her to lunch and told her about some problem I had with my plan for a vacation. This vacation problem was the big issue in my life at the time. She listened with interest and then told me how she was raising four children without a father in south Minneapolis. She described how she tried to protect her children from gang influence and how she raised them to value work, education, and concern for others. I felt about two inches tall. How could I work one hundred and fifty feet from someone and have no idea what her life was like? How could I assume that she could relate to my vacation problem or that I could relate to her life? How could I be so oblivious to the challenges my co-workers faced?

Several months later at Christmas time, Bettye and I went to lunch again. She told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that she and her children had a monthly roundtable where they discussed issues and made decisions. The discussion that past month was whether to use their available money to either get their car fixed or to buy Christmas presents. The younger kids wanted Christmas presents. The older kids realized the importance of a car in the wintertime and reminded the younger ones of how cold winter was. The consensus was to get the car fixed.

Bettye described how the last time the car broke down she had traveled by bus to take the kids to the babysitter and to get to work. That reminded me of the story of a senior executive who rushed into a 9:00 a.m. meeting, out of breath, and exclaimed, “I’m sorry I’m late. The nanny was sick, and I had to get the kids ready for school.” He realized his audience, looked up and said, “I’m sorry, all of you have to do that every day.”

I was paid four or five times more than Bettye. David Cox was paid five or six times more than me. I sat about one hundred and fifty feet from Bettye. David Cox sat about one hundred and fifty feet above me. I wondered if his world was as far away from mine as mine was from Bettye’s. I wondered if he was as unaware of the differences between his life and mine as I was of Bettye’s and mine.

This is excerpted from my e-book, Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation available at Amazon.com

William Faulkner on Writing

Ninety-nine percent talent . . . ninety-nine percent discipline . . . ninety-nine percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.

 Brain Pickings.

The ROC’s

I led a transformational change process that changed my life forever. Fifteen teams were located in offices through the Primary Market Area of the Star Tribune newspaper. Each team had a secretary. The secretaries came to be called ROC’S: regional office coordinators.

We created role groups around specific elements of work. We hoped the groups would be the structure we could use to institutionalize learning around selected topics, develop strategies, and create action plans. For example, we had a group for employee safety, one for employee satisfaction, one for customer satisfaction, and one for the administration of team budgets. Each team member was on a role group. Role group membership rotated each six months. We challenged the groups to establish a learning objective in their subject area, and to then put something new in place from what they learned. Each role group did a presentation to management each six months to share their experience and accomplishments.

Some of the groups did better than others. Those that set their own objectives did better than those whose team leader set the objective. Some topics seemed easier to manage than others. For example, employees could get their hands around safety; customer satisfaction seemed harder for them to impact in a strategic way.

The first presentations to management were just okay. What else should we have expected? The groups had struggled with process issues, goal-setting, and how to carry out their plans. But they all put forth effort, and a start had been made.

The ROCs made up a role group. Their job was to work together on systems development and office procedures. I attended their first presentation. They were enthusiastic and wanted to know what they could do to continue learning and how they could increase their involvement. I encouraged them to read Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline. I offered to provide some consulting help as they tried to apply the concepts of the disciplines, especially systems thinking and personal mastery.

Six months later, we were invited to the next regional office coordinator role group presentation. When I arrived at the conference room, I noticed it was decorated. The walls and ceiling had stars pasted on them—references to the future and to visions.

At the conclusion of their presentation, I, along with everyone else, was speechless. They had scripted their presentation around vision, systems thinking, personal mastery, and creating your own future. They had transformed the concepts into reality. They described their goal-setting process, how they divided up the work, and the results they achieved. They talked of reengineering work processes they managed and the savings this generated (without the help of consultants). They were alive, energized, and enthusiastic. They took responsibility for their own learning. Their presentation was a moment of “what could be.”

One thing I learned during this transformation was that front-line folks were often awfully smart—sometimes smarter than vice presidents—and the fear of such smart people can lead to resistance to employee involvement by senior managers.

Excerpted from my e-book, Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation available at Amazon.com

Practice to Get Good at Something

Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard.

When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. … Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.

 | Brain Pickings.

Don’t Hurt the People

                 

Nearby lay the wounded General Sickel, who had refused to be taken from the field before his turn and had watched the poignant scene from the shadows, “General,” he said, smiling benignly on his commanding officer, “You have the soul of a lion and the heart of the woman.”  In the Hands of Providence: Joshua Chamberlain & The American Civil War by Alice Rains Trulock

 

The business unit I led had moved to self-managed work teams. The workers were represented by the Newspaper Guild at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN. We had been meeting with the Guild for several weeks in an attempt to resolve several longstanding issues. This negotiation would allow us to move forward in our redesign and culture change efforts rather than waiting a year or two for the contract to expire.

Discussions were not going well. The union that represented the Circulation district managers also represented the Newsroom reporters, and they had an adversarial relationship with their management. Through bargaining the publisher hoped to gain commitment from the reporters for a newsroom reorganization, and the reporters were trying to make up for a wage freeze.

We believed we could come to an agreement with the district managers. We wanted to break away from the newsroom and negotiate our own contract. We decided to try. The vice-president of Labor Relations and I would meet with the head of the union and Dave, the union leader from our business unit. We hoped to reach an agreement with the union, and then try to get the larger union membership to approve those agreements.

We met and talked; the strategy might work. The executive secretary of The Newspaper Guild and the vice-president of Labor Relations sent Dave and me away to work out the details.

Dave was a rotund man in his late forties. There is nothing phony about him; what you saw is what you got. Slow to anger, when upset his face turned beet red, and he tells you what he thinks in no uncertain terms. Dave gives his all for the people he represented. The two of us fought over the years and had developed a mutual respect. I liked Dave.

We went to my office. We reviewed the components of a settlement, which would include the unions support in a job redesign process, which could change the job of the district manager.

Dave was very concerned about this possibility. He looked at me, and with love for his people in his voice and tears in his eyes said, “Please don’t hurt the people. Don’t destroy the work they do.” My heart went out to him. To me, his deep emotion and concern for his people were the essence of leadership. Dave was getting the best deal he could for those he represented and plead with me to be just.

The negotiations fell apart eventually, but the love in this leader’s heart for the people he represented will stay with me for a long time. In the years ahead, I would meet many union leaders in different industries. I never met one who didn’t care deeply for the people they represented. I wish I could say the same about the executives from top to bottom who I would meet.

I was told that when I left the company someone asked Dave to access my time as leader. “Well,” he said, “The job is better when he left than when he came.”

A few years later, the “job” and this union group would be destroyed.

Excerpted from my e-book, Value Drive Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation available at Amazon.com

Aung San Suu Kyi on Freedom from Fear

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

[…]

Fearlessness may be a gift, but perhaps most precious is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ — grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.

Touching on some of the deepest themes Viktor Frankl explored in his 1946 meditation on humanity’s search for meaning, Suu examines the heart of what makes us human:

The wellspring of courage and endurance in the face of unbridled power is generally a firm belief in the sanctity of ethical principles combined with a historical sense that despite all setbacks the condition of man is set on an ultimate course for both spiritual and material advancement. It is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes man from the mere brute. At the root of human responsibility is the concept of perfection, the urge to achieve it, the intelligence to find a path towards it, and the will to follow that path if not to the end at least the distance needed to rise above individual limitations and environmental impediments. It is man’s vision of a world fit for rational, civilized humanity which leads him to dare and to suffer to build societies free from want and fear. Concepts such as truth, justice and compassion cannot be dismissed as trite when these are often the only bulwarks which stand

via Aung San Suu Kyi on Freedom from Fear | Brain Pickings.

Team 7

When we created our teams in the Star Tribune’s Circulation department field organization, we tailored our efforts to fit the union environment, and the culture of the organization. We reduced the number of supervisors and moved those who remained to a centralized office where they worked as a team. We changed all incentive plans to be team-based instead of individual and competitive. We created team roles. We began to shift work from the top of the organization down through the layers of management and staff and empowered district managers to make decisions about their work. Teams established work schedules. Teams assumed some budget management authority.

District Managers felt a great deal of ownership for the districts they alone were responsible for. They felt afraid to give up their districts and work solely as a team responsible for the larger area. We decided not to force this change—it would not work if we mandated the shift. The union would fight us, and the people would be angry and resistant. To be a true team, we felt we had to eliminate the individual districts that set up artificial competition for resources. Eliminating districts also seemed to be the most efficient way to utilize the time and talents of the staff. We let teams know that we would like a team to experiment and give up district boundaries. Team Seven came forward.

A couple of months later, the team leader, May Worker, came to me with a plan she and the team had devised to eliminate district boundaries. I rejected the plan and sent May back to change it. The plan did not fit my concept of how the work should be organized.

A few months later, I asked Steve Marine—May’s boss—how the plan was coming. He said fine. I told him to be sure that the team and May followed my instructions. I did not know that Steve had met with the team and heard their presentation on how they wanted to do the redesign. Their plan was different than what I had directed. They knew that I expected my instructions to be followed and would be angry that they weren’t; Steve was afraid to tell me. I was busy, and a couple of months passed.

One day, I asked Steve what was going on. He told me the truth. I got angry. I chewed him out—along with May Worker and Diane Olson. I told Steve to get a meeting scheduled with Team Seven. I would be the bad guy and tell them that they could not do the redesign the way they wanted.

We met at Team Seven’s office. All of the team leaders and union leaders were there. We listened to Team Seven for one and a half hours. They had written a mission/vision statement for the team. They explained their job redesign and how it would work. The team figured out how they would handle workload issues. They talked about how the redesign would affect the people who worked for them and how issues would be handled. Team 7 talked about their weekly team meeting and how they handled conflict.

One team member courageously told a story of how the team was upset with him and confronted him. The team members went to May for advice on how to talk to him. May volunteered to talk to the man for them. They said no, they wanted to handle the situation. They just wanted May’s advice on how to confront their teammate. The man spoke of what he learned from this experience.

I asked many questions and the team had good answers for all of them. Their pride in their work was evident in their voices. Their commitment was powerful. We were moved by what we saw and heard.

I said, “I have to eat some crow. I told you that you had this wrong. You defied me. That took courage. You did what you believed in and you were right.” I felt proud of the team, May, and Steve. I learned much that day about listening to those closest to the work.

Excerpted from my e-book: Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal & Organizational Transformation available at Amazon.com