Journey into leadership: Bullet points!

New leaderThis post is part of a series that follows A.M. Starkin, a young manager taking his first major steps into leadership. Starkin writes here to share his experiences and to get input from others, so please share with him your thoughts and ideas.

This will be the Great Starkin Bulletpoint Post – I simply want to say too much.

By the way, as mentioned in a comment, I am HAPPY to see people wanting to think and comment on what I am writing here. My primary reason for posting is to let thoughts on practical leadership evolve and mutate, so the more the better! So far it’s mostly all about helping me, and that is totally completely outstandingly fantastic! Each comment makes me think, and I should probably feed a lot more back if I had the time.

Three and a half weeks since my first post, I am beginning to feel close to having solved my problem. It’s purely a feeling, because:

  1. I will only know by this time next year whether I have solved the problem. The target that has been set for me is to double volumes and make a huge sum on doing so.
  2. We are still not invoicing on time nor paying our suppliers on time, and a couple are still threatening to stop working with us.
  3. I am finding skeletons in the closets everywhere.
  4. I hardly know what difference I have made yet.

The feeling of having solved the problem comes from seeing the very basics beginning to work:

  1. People are beginning to take responsibility for their own jobs. Especially my deputy is taking her self-made job description seriously.
  2. My deputy is no longer illoyal to the company in her internal and external communication.
  3. Our most experienced colleague is beginning to take all kinds of good initiatives.

I was going to put more bullet points here, but when I come to think of it, the above is maybe the only thing which needed to be fixed?! I no longer feel that the team is demotivated, frustrated and against change. And that is why, in a way, the problem is solved. We are now ready to develop – and that is why, in a way, my mission starts here: The task for me is not to go from “not good” to “OK” – but for me to make this company self-oscillate, the employees happy and the mother company profitable.

I don’t know if that is an achievement, because I am not really sure what difference I have made. Maybe what am doing is this:

  1. I do not exercise authority. I suggest, ask questions, take intiative, encourage, but never decide.
  2. I praise as much as I can – but never blame and discredit.

Is that all it takes to wake people up and make them take the same responsibility for themselves as they do outside work?

There is also the possibility that I am too naive or unable to see clearly what is happening. You might be in for a surprise, dear readers!

What’s next?

  1. The people are working but the business is not. Invoicing, payment and sales is not working, but it’s probably only a matter of time now that there is a positive attitude towards getting it done.
  2. I need to build on and enforce the positive curve we are on.
  3. Sell our basic product and streamline operations first
  4. Later begin innovating and approaching customers to work out tailor-made solutions.

Should I decide on doing things the way I want? Should I make people decide it on their own? On which level do I lead?
It might be wise to do like this:

  1. Decide actively the direction now. We might have the basic motivation and sense of responsibility in order – but it’s not a confident, autonomous and competent unit yet! I haven’t been very clear or directive yet.
  2. Encourage people to help me realize this – and support those who want to help. This is what I started a week and a half ago.

Another thing needs to be addressed: There are hundreds of things that nobody has taken ownership of and therefore belong to me: Court cases, contractual problems, compliance with rules and regulations, chasing bad payers (corporate finance are not very good at this), solving problems with overseas agents delivering on our behalf. I simply don’t have time to do all that + lead the business as long as I am only allowed two days a week (really only one day but that’s absurd so I take two days).

I can’t justify adding a person with the present budget, but neither can I justify leaving these things alone! Thinking to be done – during the next couple of days that I have taken off.

Next post I’ll try to post some real life!

A.M. Starkin

7 thoughts on “Journey into leadership: Bullet points!”

  1. Getting your most experienced and your lead to buy into the changes is the first big step and can really be the pebble to start the avalanche.. in either direction. Since you’ve got them moving positively, hopefully that’s the momentum everyone else will get.

    Those hundreds of items that are your responsibility need to be handed off to someone that can spend more time on them. My suggestion (not that I would know if it will work) is to take a few of those items at a time and delegate them out based on the options people want to work on that match up.

    The more approval you get from everyone, the easier it will be to pass off these tasks that aren’t liked.

  2. A couple key positive signs (people taking responsibility, and experienced employees taking initiative), but as you say, you won’t really know until next year (or more like a few months from now). One of the most interesting points is that of having more work than you can handle (excess work). On one hand, the budget might not appear to have room for another employee to take up the excess, but on the other hand, if you have a flat tire, then three working one’s won’t do, and you need to buy the fourth tire or your car won’t run like it should.

    How much would it cost to bring in someone to handle some of those issues? If you sink $50,000 into the annual salary for the extra help is that much of a splash in the bucket? I think the real fear is, if you fail will someone point to that as an area of useless excess spending? If you turn this around and start raking in some nice cash flow, then no one will really care, but if it sinks can you really to be blamed? As long as there is a clear need, and a clear plan for how this person would help (whatever money you spend has potential ROI), then I don’t think you can be blamed.

    Also, there might be an unseen benefit. If you’re willing to hire more help to fix problems, then that shows a real dedication to solving problems (assuming you have that clear plan, and it’s not viewed simply as excess spending). For the other employees, this could be a sign of encouragement. “Management really does want to make this better. They’re willing to risk money on another salary in a losing department. They might actually have a real vision for our future.”

  3. I think if you could coax your colleagues into finding the current problems with the business (ie the invoice, payment and sales not working) in such a way that they think that they were the ones who discovered the problems, they might be more committed to solving them.

    If that doesn’t work, you could “sell” a problem to one of your better staff and give them virtually a free reign on solving it. If they are really interested in the issue they should rise to the challenge and might offer some surprising solutions.

  4. I forget if this was mentioned in the other post, but are the employees aware of the financial situation they’re/you’re in? It might appear like an obvious point if the parent company has brought in a special turn-around manager, but if it’s not been made clear, then this could be a crucial point that they should understand. It’s more than just, we have some problems that we need fixed. It’s we need to make money again because we’re not right now, and here’s by how much we’re losing. It shows a trust revealing that kind of information, which isn’t normally shared, and the more informed your workers are the better, no? Plus, people are driven by results, and since you’re and they are being measure by the financial result, then everyone should be on the same page. No reason showing shadow puppets to convey a point, when you can just show the puppets.

  5. Starkin, what you’ve achieved is amazing! Especially since you’ve only got two days a week for this company and since you have other responsibilities.

    I’ve appreciated your posts even though I haven’t commented before. Reading your last post, I thought of people saying that when trying to turn around people, one third might respond quickly, another third can be reached, and the last third is unlikely to be reached. If that’s true, reaching half the employees in the meeting you mentioned – that’s incredibly well done.

    This post of yours made me think that
    * You should rejoice that skeletons are falling out of the closets! That’s good!!! You might even call it a criteria of success. It’s certainly a prerequisite of future success.
    * I don’t agree that you don’t exercise authority – but that might be due to a difference in understanding (English is not my first language). I find that exercising authority is necessary in leadership – but exercising it in a negative or authoriTArian way is unnecessary and contraproductive. Apart from the ethical implications…

    To me it seems that:
    * the people are working – so will the company soon. Don’t use too much energy on the suppliers threatening to leave. Use it on the company, and other suppliers will come.
    * you should get your priorities straight. Obviously, you can’t solve “court cases, contractual problems, compliance with rules and regulations, chasing bad payers …, solving problems with overseas agents” all at once. What is to be obtained when?

    However, what I think most of all is: Do you agree with the target that has been set for you? What is your commitment to this target now that you know the company? What do you need from the mother company to achieve this target? This is the time to go to the mother company with any requests for assistance – you have had the time to get to know the company, they will expect any demands from you NOW. Use your window of opportunity. Without posing na

  6. Wow, good comments! I’ll have to reply:

    Hi Anne, English is not my first language either! By authority I mean force. I do not tell anyone that they must do anything. One of my new colleagues commented on this way of working recently like this:

    – But Aser, you are just pushing the problems on to us!

    My response was that I am bursting full of will and ideas to go forward but that at any time I prefer that they tell me what they need from me. If they can’t tell me that I shall be happy to decide.

    I have to learn to be more directive because clearly, not everyone is ready for this kind of freedom. I fundamentally believe that everybody thrives with it.

    What do you think?

    Matt, after reading you comments i did 2 things. I told my boss 1) That I needed more time or an extra hand and 2) that we need to share the state of affairs (of the mother company, which isn’t that positive either) with everyone. In my company information and money are very reluctantly given out.
    In my little company I have shown people the budget for next year – which immediatly invoked outrage and a feeling of urgency (which is in fact a very good sign). I have also shown the top 15 list of bad payers, and it’s just too simple for me to be surprised, but I was surprised how much people took ownership of the problems.

    Fleejay raises an interesting issue: Does selling here mean lying or manipulating to some degree? Its what everybody does, I agree, but I would like to try not to. I don’t like to sell stuff that doesn’t have a money back guarantee – and in the long run it wears down my credibility and/or creates a culture where “selling” is the way we get things done. Fleejay or anyone, please challenge me on this one!

    Ben, according to what you said I will try to pass some of those issues on to my colleagues. It will take some efforts to find available time, which we started doing this Friday.

  7. I agree with you totally that you should never lie or try to manipulate your staff, they are smart and the little lies will always come back to bite you!

    When I said “sell the problem”, I meant try to make the problem sound as interesting as possible by emphasising the bits that you think would be fun to work on.

    To be honest, I don’t really think you need our advice, you are doing a tremendous job already!

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