managers treat their subordinates in a way that leads to
superior performance. How are they different from
managers who fail to develop top-notch employees?
subtle yet powerful key lies in the manager’s
expectations of subordinates. If the expectations are
high, yet attainable, productivity is likely to be
This doesn’t happen because a manager wishes it, nor
does it have anything to do with the power of positive
Physicians, behavioral scientists and educators have
long recognized the influence of one person’s
expectations on another’s behavior. In fact, as a child,
you probably experienced the power of positive (or
negative) expectations of a coach, parent or teacher.
If you were lucky enough to have a coach, for example,
who believed in your athletic abilities, chances are
your performance met the coach’s high expectations and
exceeded your own. This phenomenon, known as the
Pygmalion Effect, or the “self-fulfilling prophecy,” is
a powerful influence in business, as well.
Studies, including one conducted by Berlew and Hall at
American Telephone and Telegraph Co., show the power of
high expectations to be most significant during the
first years an employee is with an organization.
This critical period of learning is a time when the
trainee is ready to change or develop in the direction
of the company’s expectations. Consequently, the manager
of a new (or recently transferred) employee is likely to
be a very influential person in the employee’s career.
Managers who have been found to be positive “Pygmalions”
are usually also the best managers. (Pygmalion was a
sculptor in Greek mythology who, by his effort and will,
brought a statue to life.)
They have certain characteristics in common that make
the self-fulfilling prophecy work to their advantage:
They believe in themselves and have confidence in what
they are doing.
They hold a strong belief in their ability to develop
talents of their employees, to select, train and
motivate them. Because of this, successful managers are
careful to select only those subordinates they “know”
will succeed. They are slow to give up on a subordinate
because it means giving up on themselves. Thus, they try
that much harder to make sure the employee succeeds.
They have the ability to communicate to subordinates
that their expectations are realistic and achievable.
(If employees are encouraged to strive for unattainable
goals, they eventually give up trying and settle for
results that are lower than they are capable of
They believe that subordinates can learn to make
decisions and to take the initiative. They encourage
They prefer the rewards that come from the success and
increased skill of their subordinates to the rewards
they get from their own supervisors.
How do these beliefs translate to actual behavior?
Robert Rosenthal, of Harvard University, offered a
four-factor theory to explain the influence that
produces the self-fulfilling prophecy. These factors
include both non-verbal and verbal forms of
Managers who have been led to expect good things from
their employees and others appear to provide the
The manager sets an accepting, encouraging social and
emotional climate for employees with more potential.
This includes warmth, attention, smiling, nodding the
head appreciatively, all the positive, non-verbal kinds
The manager gives these employees more verbal clues
about their performance - more reaction, more praise,
and sometimes even more criticism, all of which help to
teach the employee what is needed for improvement.
The manager will teach more material, and more difficult
material, to employees who supposedly have more
The manager encourages the “chosen” employee to ask more
questions, urges him or her to respond to instructions,
allows more time to do a job correctly, and gives the
employee the benefit of any doubt.
seems to be critical in the communication of
expectations is not so much what the boss SAYS, but the
WAY HE BEHAVES. Indifferent and non-committal treatment
is the kind of behavior that communicates low
expectations and leads to poor performance.
startling fact is that managers are more effective in
communicating low expectations to their subordinates
than in communicating high expectations, even though
most managers believe exactly the opposite.
Clearly, the way you treat your employees on a
day-to-day basis can make all the difference.
Steer clear of the Bermuda Communication Triangle
Feb. 20, 2014
so helpful, so kind, and so innocent. Without even
knowing it, you may have stepped into the Bermuda
Triangulation of Conflict. What starts out to be a
three-hour cruise can turn into a shipwreck. The
triangulation occurs when someone comes to complain
about a coworker. The damage can get even worse if one
of your supervisors’ employees comes to complain about
managers tell me that they welcome employee complaints
and have an open door policy, which is fine as a general
practice. But where they capsize is when they
unwittingly step into the conflict too soon, without
following some simple guidelines.
First, some basic principles that will
make your workplace a healthier place and help you know
what to do when it looks like your ship may steer off
Employees should try to resolve their own
problems first, before coming to their manager.
While you may have good intentions to
react and solve your employees’ problems for them, it is
often the wrong thing to do. You need to set the
expectation that your employees are adults who should
work things out with their coworkers. If you jump in too
soon, your employees will be only too happy to let you
take responsibility for resolving every issue and they
will sit on the sidelines and critique your performance.
Unfortunately, as soon as a boss steps
in, the intensity of the storm increases because the
other party feels that their coworker has tattled on
them. If you find that you have a continuous line of
employees outside your door, you probably have fallen
into the Mommy or Daddy trap: “Come to me. I’ll fix
Managers should use complaints as an
opportunity to teach their employees how to handle
conflicts, rather than jump in and do it for them.
If one of your employees comes to you for
help with a conflict, start teaching by asking
“What have you said or done thus far?”
“Why do you think she is angry with you?”
“How has it affected the customer?”
“What do you think you could do that
would help solve this?”
“What could you say to her?”
One of the most effective ways to help
your employees is to guide them through a thought
process about their own responsibility, approach and
what they could say to the other person. You may want to
role-play how they would say it. Then ask the person to
report back once they have completed the conversation.
This guarantees that they follow through and gives you
another opportunity to help them with the next step.
Don’t be too quick to side with one
person or the other.
Once you have asked probing questions,
you will probably discover that the complainer played a
part in the conflict. Your best strategy is to get out
of your work area more often and make it a point to
observe the circumstances first hand. Secondary
complaints are usually a sign that you are too removed
from what is going on.
Anonymous complaints, such as, “Here’s
what my coworker did that upset me but you can’t tell
him I complained about him. Now, I want you to go talk
to him,” are destined to steer your ship off course.
If you become the mouthpiece of the
anonymous complainer, you will only make things worse.
The offending party will say, “What do you mean some of
my coworkers complained about me? What did they say and
who was it?”
It’s human nature to want to hunt down
the complainers and confront them, “Why didn’t you tell
me directly?” The person will be suspicious and hostile
toward the team and will be resistant and resentful.
When a person comes to you and says,
“Don’t tell him it was me,” ask the complaining
employee, “How would you feel if I told you there were
anonymous complaints being lodged against you? Would
you want to find out who complained? Would you be
receptive and eager to change? Would you be able to
continue to trust your teammates?
Instead, suggest that he or she make the
first attempt to discuss the problem directly with the
other employee, with help from you on the sidelines.
Then, if things don’t improve, you may step in. If they
don’t feel abandoned on a desert island, the complainer
may be more willing to take steps to resolve the problem
on his or her own.
CEO behavior has huge impact on entire organization
Feb. 13, 2014
do you think goes on among a typical group of senior
managers? Do you envision a group of smart, hard-driving
executives engaged in open dialogue about the strategic
issues affecting the bottom line of their company? Or,
do you imagine a group of fifty-somethings with a
mortgage to pay, kids in college, with a lot to lose if
they don’t play along with the CEO? The reality is often
somewhere in the middle. And if the organization is
lucky, it has a CEO who realizes that his or her
behavior determines, to a large degree, which way the
pendulum will swing.
Regardless of the size of the company, there are
critical cause and effect behaviors that CEOs need to be
Don’t punish bad
Leaders who go ballistic when things go south usually
don’t realize how much their emotional volatility shuts
down communication. Their management team will withhold
negative events in the hope they can fix the problem
before the leader hears about it. They will waste
endless hours massaging data, wordsmithing memos, and
rehearsing presentations until they are sanitized and
guaranteed not to cause a stir. The problem, of course,
is that the truth is always masked and issues go
unresolved. Then, voila! The CEO learns about something
too late, goes ballistic, and starts the vicious circle
trust the “Open Door” policy.
Put yourself in an executive’s shoes. He has a lot of
issues he probably should talk to the CEO about but he
doesn’t want to bother the CEO because he is very busy.
He knows he is expected to solve problems on his own, so
he doesn’t want to look inept - or worse - needy. This
can happen at every level of an organization when a
leader relies on the Open Door to hear about issues.
It’s a risky - no - lazy approach. Leaders need to get
out of their office and walk around, have lunch with
employees, have fireside chats, visit sales staff in the
field and be visible and accessible.
Invite challenge and debate.
Unless a leader encourages this, he or she may not get
it. It’s often necessary for the CEO to be direct about
“Let’s make sure this will work. I want to hear all the
reasons why it won’t so we’re not surprised later.”
“I’m no expert in this matter. Charlie, you’ve seen how
our distributors have reacted to new initiatives in the
past. What are we missing?”
Whether the leader is intimidating or not, direct
reports will often hold back without a direct
advice from a wide spectrum of excellent contributors.
Leaders can run into trouble when they only rely on a
few key advisors. Not only will the advice be limited in
scope; it will create an unhealthy dynamic within the
leadership group. For instance, executives and managers
will quickly learn who is in the inner circle of
confidants. If they are on the outside, they will resent
being excluded, which may cause them to distance
themselves from the “in” crowd and even withhold
information from them. Political jockeying will begin,
as people maneuver to gain access to the king.
Beware of rewarding loyalty over competence.
We all see what happens in politics. The loyal one seems
untouchable and is viewed through the rose colored
glasses of the CEO. Because the loyal one has been
granted this special safety, he or she would never risk
jeopardizing this situation by challenging his or her
benefactor. Unfortunately, this is also seen in private
organizations. For example, successful entrepreneurs
sometimes aren’t objective about the employees who were
with them from the beginning, when times were tough. If
the loyal one is a poor performer, good employees will
become frustrated with this cog in the wheel of
effectiveness and will lose respect for the leader.
Great performers will not play on an uneven field and
may take their ball to a company where competence is
rewarded more fairly.
Beware of the
outside ambassador role.
Some CEOs are so busy visiting customers, active in
community affairs and shmoozing at the club; the mother
ship begins to drift. Senior leaders have to make
decisions without a CEO who can make the final decision
and hold everyone accountable. Without the ultimate
decision-maker, dissension can break out and politicking
can eat up vast amounts of time. The vision becomes
fragmented and momentum stalls. Every ship needs a
I manage an employee who has lied to me?
Feb. 7, 2014
have a new hire that, just days short of reaching his
six-month probation period, lied to me three times in
While verifying progress on a pilot program that was his
sole responsibility, I asked three project-specific
questions. There was no chance of miscommunication
because the questions were: Did you do step 1 and how
did it go? “Yes, easy process.” Were there problems with
step 2, entering the data? “No, all went well.” Did the
equipment work after the step 3 check out? “Yes, working
discovered his lie; the customer called in wondering
when he was coming to do the pilot. I asked him why he
lied and his response was, “I was embarrassed to tell
you I had not done the job, and I was planning on doing
it the next day and then ran out of time before I left
gave him a “Decision making day off” with pay, asking
him to provide me with a plan on how he proposed to
regain my trust. I explained I would not micromanage him
if he chooses to stay with the company. He returned to
work with a check and balance plan (micromanaging) which
I rejected and he promised he would be perfect in his
performance. I stated there is no perfect employee and
that standard was impossible to achieve and I only
wanted his best effort every day.
agreed that he would sign a last chance agreement (any
future work rule violation could result in termination),
his pending pay upgrade would be put on hold, and the
disciplinary action would remain in his file for five
years. I believed our frank discussion and his
commitment to my expectations would result in him being
a conscientious employee and decided to keep him
very next day, he was 15 minutes late because he had to
drop off his child at day care, a task his wife normally
did. My VP overrode my request to dismiss him, based on
a unique situation of snow-covered roads that morning
and our #1 corporate goal - safety first.
do I manage him going forward?
think your VP is being overly generous and has put you
in a tough spot. Since there have been no real
consequences for any of these serious offenses during
his probationary period, he will now believe that he can
get away with even more. The question is: can he?
lesson learned in this situation may be that your VP
wasn’t adequately briefed prior to overturning your
decision to fire him. Or, perhaps your VP is trying so
hard to be the nice guy, he or she is blind to the
pitfalls. In any event, since your company’s safety
first rule trumped your desire to put an end to this
charade, you will have to wait for the next opportunity
to fire him - and you’ll surely get one based on his
behavior so far.
has unbelievable gall to lie to your face, let a
customer down, and then fail to complete the pilot
because he was going on vacation! What about this
situation says he has any regard for the customer,
respect for you, work ethic, or has any personal
you are well aware, most people who really wanted to
keep their jobs after signing a “last chance agreement”
would get up a little early on a snowy day and get to
work on time! I expect his future excuses will be
fact that you didn’t let him get away with an action
plan that forced you to micromanage him is admirable,
but the fact that his alternative plan was to be
“perfect” just underscores how glib and manipulative
this guy really is. I would demand another specific plan
if I were you and I wouldn’t let up until I got one. I
would also extend his probation for another few months
so he can’t think he is off the hook.
Before he pulls another fast one, get an agreement from
your VP that he will be on a very short leash. He has
not given you any reason not to micromanage him - and
any freedom you may have promised is null and void after
this series of events. He has clearly not earned your
trust so you should micromanage his performance so you
can not only see if he truly can do the job but to
protect your company from additional customer
You owe him nothing. So far you have done all the
bending. It’s his turn to prove he shouldn’t be fired.
leader sabotages manager by allowing end runs - everyone
Jan. 29, 2014
Several years ago I was promoted from the Accounts
Payable Supervisor to the Accounting Manager, who
oversees both the Accounts Payable Department (A/P) and
the Accounts Receivable Department (A/R). Against my
recommendation, one of the A/P clerks was promoted to
person had very limited experience and no formal
training in accounting but they thought I’d be able to
mold and train her.
spent many days in my office crying and feeling
overwhelmed. I took time to reassure her and advise her
on how to handle situations at hand. It has been a rough
two years trying to mold this employee, tackling
staffing issues and staying on top of my
responsibilities. My professional relationship with her
has always been good and she has continued to report
directly to me.
of this supervisor’s biggest faults is her lack of
communication skills. We have discussed this topic
often. Recently, I confronted her about her work being
extremely behind and the fact that she didn’t tell me
about it. She said she doesn’t want to talk to me. In
addition, she has told me “No,” when I asked her to come
to my office to finish another heated discussion about
she has an attitude about me for some reason. When I
leave her alone, she’s fine but when I inquire about
situations as her manager, she becomes very defensive.
boss, the controller, knows about this situation and yet
won’t support me to fix this problem. This supervisor
has been going around me directly to him for the last
year, which has complicated communication even further.
I will make specific requests of this employee and she
will go to the controller to override my decision.
have come to the conclusion that she lacks the
leadership skills, communication skills and technical
skills and I feel we should make a change in personnel.
Of course the controller disagrees with me. I feel that
I have done all I can to help her succeed. I feel the
controller is making a fool of me by allowing this
supervisor to go around the proper chain of command and
override decisions that I have clearly discussed with
him in the past.
long should this be allowed to go on? Am I doing
something wrong? I don’t want to leave but something has
to be done.
main thing you have “done wrong” is to stay silent for
too long. Your manager, the controller, is cutting your
legs out from under you and leaving you with no real
authority to direct the work of your employee. Most
people in your shoes (and believe me, there are plenty)
want to say to their boss in frustration, “Okay, I give
up. Why don’t you just manage my employees for me?”
you are doing something “wrong” your manager is at fault
for not telling you. Yes, I suspect that your employee
has been seeking your boss’s support at your expense.
She may have done some serious damage to your
Perhaps when you began to hold her accountable for
producing results, she ran for cover and a sympathetic
ear. Sometimes under-skilled people, who know they are
over their heads, try to save their jobs by desperately
trying to build supporters and discredit their boss,
whom they know is in a position to expose their
inadequacy and remove them from their jobs.
suggest that you go to your manager and tell him that
your leadership authority is being undercut when he
overrides your decisions. Explain that you would prefer
it if he would discuss these issues with you, come to a
joint decision, and then support you when she tries to
lobby him for a change in her favor. Clearly spell out
what this has done: give him specific examples of
situations when this supervisor has been insubordinate
and refused to do something you’ve asked her to do.
him if he has some concerns about your leadership
ability. If he dodges the question, say, “You must feel
I’m not a good manager or you wouldn’t be overriding my
decisions. If either of you have concerns about
something I’m doing, I feel it’s only fair that you tell
me, so that you have the benefit of both sides of the
Judging by the way that he has handled this situation,
your manager may not have strong leadership or
communication skills. He needs to know that this is
unworkable for you. Unfortunately, he may not have the
skills or the spine to do anything about it. It would be
wise to start looking for another opportunity, just in
case the damage is worse than you think.
Succession planning is not about choosing a replacement
Jan. 24, 2014
companies are about to find out what happens if they
haven’t been proactively developing bench strength. Not
only is the economy recovering, but Boomers are
retiring, which means people will be on the move -
leaving for new opportunities, or leaving permanently.
23 percent of U.S. businesses have a formal succession
plan in place, according to the Society for Human
Resources Management. And data from the Family Business
Institute shows about 30 percent of family businesses
survive into the second generation and 12 percent into
the third generation.
Complacency about succession can be the little mouse
that chews the wires on your company’s engine. Here’s
what I’ve seen:
The owner’s son doesn’t want to run his dad’s business,
but dad pressures him into it.
The most critical technical person in the company died,
with no backup.
The woman, who everyone assumed would take the VP of IT
role when the VP retired, wasn’t interested in the extra
The father prepared his son but rushed out the door
without a firm plan in place for the father, who wanted
a temporary management role.
The head of sales left the company and his replacement
was a better salesperson than a leader.
of the above situations created risk for these
businesses, and cost the companies time, money and
may be thinking, “We have our successors all picked out,
so those things wouldn’t happen to our company.” Not so
fast. Succession planning is not choosing your
replacement or winning the lucky gene pool. In fact, I
think succession planning is a misnomer - it should be
called succession development.
are some development ideas for any company:
Have regular development discussions with every
employee, to discover their interests and find ways to
grow them in the job they have now.
For high potentials, who want to expand their
responsibilities, look for opportunities to “sub and
swap” them into temporary roles. For example, several of
my large clients are experimenting with ways to develop
global acumen, without lengthy expat assignments. A
short term “swap” with someone overseas, or a “sub” for
a maternity leave, is desirable, doable and affordable.
Rotate would-be executives into areas outside of their
functional expertise, to test and grow their leadership
skills. Without their technical expertise as a
foundation, they will be forced to rely on the technical
expertise of their experienced staff, and they will get
a fresh perspective as they experience a new part of the
Have your senior leaders participate in a facilitated
Talent Inventory, where all their direct reports are
thoroughly discussed by the cross-functional team. Both
technical skills and leadership skills are assessed, as
well as readiness and willingness for promotion. Short
and long-term action plans for development are created.
This process can be started at the manager level and
rolled up the organization.
are some additional ideas for family businesses:
Use outside advisors to help examine three separate
areas: the family, the ownership and the business, to
find the right balance. Each family business is unique
and these three systems will overlap and intersect-and
should be consciously managed.
Determine early who has interest in joining the family
business, and early on, let them experience key areas of
the business. This exposure to employees and customers
gives them a better understanding of the company and
helps them figure out in what they are interested.
eliminate entitlement, expect family members to produce
results as if they were an outside hire. Empower their
managers to give them honest feedback without pulling
Expect family to get outside experience that tests their
skills and exposes them to other businesses. Not only
will they bring back valuable insights, they will gain
confidence by proving to themselves and others they
earned their leadership position (not just inherited
Actively develop non-family members, to keep talented
Choosing the leader of the business should never be a
foregone conclusion. Even with good planning, a family
member may be the wrong choice to lead the company into
the future. Develop a group of trusted, objective
Dealing with a Diva
Jan. 16, 2014