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Make decisions and take action, ask for forgiveness later

Happy new year everyone! Welcome to 2015!  To kick-start the Turning Managers Into Leaders blog, my first column of the year for The Globe & Mail went online this morning.

Leaders: Get rid of the ‘Mother may I?’ mindset

The premise: Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness – a statement I make repeatedly to managers and supervisors. What I’m really saying is: make decisions and take action. In the column, I tell you why, I explain what I mean, and I even show you how to “ask” for forgiveness. And guess what? The word “sorry” doesn’t come up even once!

G&M010915As always, I’m eagerly awaiting your reactions and perspectives. As in all the columns I write for The Globe, it’s a short read and shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. I really want to know what you think! Do you agree? Or not? Add your viewpoint to The Globe‘s website, or if you wish, drop me an email or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks).

And please help me get the word out … pass the link along to your staff and colleagues. I’d love to hear from them as well! And if you have experiences or “war stories” of your own to share, PLEASE DO!

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere:

Leadership lessons from the Papa Johns’ debacle

You might have already read about the public relations nightmare that Papa Johns, the international fast-food pizza chain, faced recently.  But if you haven’t …

Last Monday, on January 7, Minhee Cho stopped in to pick up a pizza at a Manhattan location of this chain.  The young cashier rang in the sale, and then typed in a description on the receipt to identify the customer.  The description – “lady chinky eyes”.  Ms. Cho, not surprisingly, was a tad bit offended and posted a picture of the receipt on her Twitter account with the following text: Hey @PapaJohns just FYI my name isn’t “lady chinky eyes”.  Also not surprisingly, the photo went viral.  In fact, last I checked, it had been viewed 244,843 times.

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Watch your step and stay focused

E nihi ka hele … mai pulale i ka ‘ike a ka maka

— Hawaiian proverb


Watch your step … and don’t let things you see lead you into trouble.

I first saw this truism on a sign at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, put there to caution visitors against wandering off the marked trails.  Certainly, in an active geological site where seemingly solid rock formations can unexpectedly turn into fragile sulphur banks and then crumble into steam vents in just a few short moments, this is very sage advice.  But this wise counsel is just as applicable in the workplace and to your role as a leader.

As a leader, you are faced with a myriad of responsibilities – day-to-day issues, fire-fighting crises, stacks of phone messages, and of course a never-ending stream of email – and while each is very important, they likely also pull you away from a long-term focus.  Yet it is the long-term initiatives that will actually take your organization (or your department) onward and upward to the next level of success.  So how do you focus that critical mental energy and time towards such issues?  By doing exactly what this Hawai’ian proverb suggests.  First, create a plan, preferably in writing.  Second, watch your step.  Move forward decisively and deliberately, but tread carefully nevertheless; there will be unexpected obstacles and setbacks and you have to be observant and prepared to counter them.  Third, stay focused.  Expect that there will be distractions along the way – unanticipated stakeholders, unforeseen options and the dreaded scope creep – but concentrate on your ultimate goal and stay the course.

Empower your employees to make decisions and take action

A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with several clients at a popular eatery in Chicago.  The atmosphere was lively and the conversation animated, and while emphasizing a particular point, one of my dinner partners accidentally knocked over her drink.  A staff member rushed over to clean it up and our waitress offered a refill.

“Yes please” replied my colleague, “but this time, could you put it into a short glass instead of a tall one.”  “I want to make sure I don’t spill it again,” she said with a smile.

Imagine my surprise when the waitress’ brow furrowed and she replied, “I don’t think I can do that.  We only make this drink in tall glasses.  I’ll have to check with the bartender, but I can’t make any promises.”

Seriously?!  Our collective jaws dropped as the waitress left to determine whether such a breach in beverage protocol would cause havoc and consternation in the kitchen! Continue reading

Stop waiting for someone else to act, do it yourself

Topes in the Mexican village of Chilahuite
Topes in the Mexican village of Chilahuite

The Mexican state of Veracruz is bordered on the east by endless stretches of dark sand beaches that gently flatten into the Gulf of Mexico.  To get from the main coastal highway to the beach, you usually have to travel through one or more sleepy villages on your way to the ocean.  One such small village (pop. 500) is Chilahuite.  Like most small coastal communities, the single road that runs through town is also where everything happens – children play, friends meet, daily trade is conducted, beverages are sipped and gossip exchanged sitting on plastic chairs on the side of the road.  But as Mexico has commercialized and grown, city folk from the large urban centres are increasingly visiting the beaches, and traffic in these small little villages has multiplied.  Not only has the number of vehicles increased exponentially, but most newcomers ignore the posted speed limits of 30 kms/hr (about 18 miles/hr), creating dangerous situations for the townspeople who are used to a much slower and sedate pace.  In Chilahuite, the complaining has been endless.  For at least two years (if not more), I have heard people grumble about how “someone should do something”, each hoping that the municipality would either install los topes (Spanish for speed bumps), or increase patrols to enforce the speed limit.  Unfortunately, despite the complaining, no visible action has been taken.  It took a fatal accident earlier this year for the villagers to finally take matters into their own hands.  Because asphalt and concrete are expensive in Mexico, the townspeople devised another solution.  They obtained heavy rope (made from natural fibres) and laid it across the main road at frequent intervals – instant topes.  As they were able to raise enough money, they covered the ropes with a thin layer of asphalt to create a more permanent solution.  “I don’t know why we waited this long,” commented one of the old-timers.  “We should have just taken action ourselves a lot earlier instead of waiting for someone else to do something.”

Are you grumbling about how so-and-so should do this-and-that?  Are you waiting for someone else to get things done?  Perhaps it’s time to become the doer instead of the observer, to step up and act.  Stop waiting for someone else to do it, take action and do it for yourself!

Leadership in action – how one organization managed a difficult situation

Approximately three weeks ago, I delivered a live webcast for CGA Canada, a national association for accounting professionals.  An unprecedented 3,550 people worldwide registered for this conference (it must have had something to do with the topic – Dealing With Difficult Personalities :)) and in the weeks leading up to the event, staff at CGA Canada took steps to ensure that their technology could handle this high volume of participants.  They checked that the virtual room was big enough, that the bandwidth was sufficient, that there were backups in case of power failures and telephone line breakdowns.  Unfortunately, there was one thing that didn’t come to mind, and as Murphy’s Law is known to operate, it was the one thing that threw a monkey wrench in the works!  They didn’t check the size of the door!  They had a large enough room to handle over 3,500 participants, but only one regular sized portal.  And in the 5 minutes before the webcast was supposed to start, thousands of people tried to walk through that door at one time!  They all got stuck, no one could move forward or backward, and the whole system ground to a slow halt. Continue reading