Every leader wants to be fair to their team members. Unfortunately many leaders make a very simple mistake when thinking about and acting on fairness. Once they make a simple mental shift, they can truly be fair to all the members of their team.
Today’s post is taken from a longer interview conducted by Wally Bock. If you’ve never read Wally’s work, I highly encourage you to check it out. Today he interviews Mike Figliuolo about his new book Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
Wally: Your newest book is ‘Lead Inside The Box,’ which I think is an interesting title. So, how did you come to write it? Why did you write a second book? And what’s the title all about?
Mike: We constantly hear in our teaching and our coaching practice that leaders are saying they’re too busy, they’re too pressured, and they don’t have time. They’re also talking about the increased expectations that are being placed on them and their teams. The notion of the core framework of the book is all about how to be a more efficient and effective leader. It seemed to us like this book was going to solve a very pressing need in the market.
WB: Do you have any indication that it is actually doing that?
MF: I would say based on all the reviews we’re getting on Amazon and Goodreads it is. People are saying this is a great approach because it’s simple, it’s actionable, it’s practical, and it makes sense.
They also are saying what’s different about it is so many leadership books out there look at the individual team member and say, ‘Well there’s the problem! It’s that person.’ What we’re saying is ‘That’s not the problem. How about we look at the leader’s behavior as well and see how that can drive the problem?’
That’s one of the big insights that comes out of the book – saying you as the leader are contributing to the issues if things aren’t going well and there are things you can do to make things better.
WB: You went to West Point and served in the Army for a while. Does any of that connect to this?
MF: Yeah, absolutely. In a conversation I had this morning I was asked, ‘well why don’t you just go out and hire a bunch of high performers and get rid of all the low performers, and that’s that. That solves the problem.’ That sounds great in theory, however, most of us, when we take on a role we’re dealt a hand and we have to play the hand that we’re dealt.
When I was in the Army, a new Private would show up one day and say, ‘I’m Private Smith, I’m reporting for duty.’ The Department of the Army had assigned him to you. It’s not like you can just say, ‘Well, it doesn’t look like it’s going to work out. I’m going to just fire you and go get a high performing Private.’ Nope. You got Smith and you’ve got to figure out how to make it work.
I think that notion of working with what you’ve got and helping those people improve was definitely ingrained in me way, way back in my early military career.
WB: It sounds a little bit like the Toyota management system stuff. Most of your issue is the system and not the person. If you fix the system then you fix the problem. Does that approach play any role in the book?
MF: Well, I don’t’ think we necessarily look so much at the systems or the processes, but we are looking at the environment surrounding the individual. It’s about the way the leader is leading that team. I think it’s the same principle that we’re saying it’s not the individual but that’s where we always lay the blame. There has to be some external factor that’s impacting their performance – positively or negatively.
When things are going great we always say, ‘oh it’s because I’m an awesome leader.’ When things go terrible it’s because ‘they’re a bad person.’ My co-author Victor Prince and I are saying wait a minute! You don’t get to pick and choose here!
So many of us take new jobs – even if we’re at our current company. When there’s a reorganization you’re told, ‘okay Wally, here’s your new team…’ You didn’t have much choice in that matter. When you go to a new company or you take a new job, unless you’re a member of the C-suite or division president it’s not like you can go in and say, ‘eh, I don’t like this team, I’m going to get rid of all of them and I’m going to build a new team.’ We don’t have that luxury. You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt.
WB: You said, and I’m quoting here, ‘otherwise well intentioned leaders are working harder than they should are not getting all they could out of their teams.’ What does that mean and how does your book fix that?
MF: I think all of us would buy into a notion of fairness. Saying we should treat all of our employees fairly sounds great. Where that breaks down is when we equate fairness to time and effort. So if I’ve got five people on my team I might say, ‘well for me to be fair to them I have to give all of them two hours of my time a week. I’m going to spend two hours coaching them, training them, and developing them, because that’s fair.’
I’m well intentioned in taking that approach but the problem is I’m not being efficient or effective. Because all my team members are different, and I may have Wally on my team who is a high performer, and Wally only needs twenty minutes of my time.
WB: Not only that, he only wants twenty minutes of your time.
MF: Exactly, and when Wally goes nuts after the thirtieth minute like ‘oh my gosh, get me out of here I have work to do,’ because he is a high performer, he’s self-directed, and by me wasting his time, I am not being fair to him. I’m not giving him what he needs and I’m not being efficient.
Then I have Joe on my team and Joe is a low performer and I’m giving Joe two hours of my time. Well that’s not fair because Joe really needs four hours of it. He needs additional coaching, development, and training. I’m being well intentioned. I’m being fair by giving him two hours – but that’s not what he needs.
The way Lead Inside the Box gives leaders a way to fix this is it helps them understand where they’re investing what we call leadership capital. Leadership capital is your time, energy, attention, and effort. You’re going to make deliberate investments in your people. For some people you’re going to invest a little bit of leadership capital but you get a high return from them when it comes to their results.
For other people, you’re going to have to invest a lot more leadership capital to drive a similar level of results. It’s about making that investment explicit and understanding the ways you’re spending your time, energy, and effort.
WB: Give me one reason that I should buy this book.
MF: I think the one reason above all to buy it is that for leaders, the pressure is so high and the time is so constricted that if you want to be successful and competitive, you have to change how you are spending your time and where you are spending it in terms of leading your people. You can do that randomly and try out different approaches, or you can get the book and get a very straightforward framework with practices and practical questions that will tell you ‘spend more time with this person and spend it this way, and spend less time with this person, but the time that you do spend with them, spend it this way.’ It’s going to help you be more efficient and more effective in a really practical way.
WB: Thanks Mike.
MF: Thank you, Wally, for making the time for this interview.
For an in-depth look at techniques for leading all different types of team members, pick up a copy of the book (CLICK HERE to get your copy now) and check out the book’s website. We have a nifty assessment tool there where you can answer a few simple questions about your team members and get clear recommendations on how to lead them more effectively.
In addition to the book, classroom instruction and keynote presentations on the Lead Inside the Box method are available. Please contact us to arrange for this course to be trained at your organization or to have us come deliver a keynote presentation on the topic at your next event.
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