Were They Always Dead Wood
This morning I had a tweeter conversation with Tom Peters – prolific author and business thinker – who said, “Dan, my whole “psychological shtick”: “Act your way into feeling/thinking” rather than “Feel/think your way into acting.”
Tom went on to say, “The only thing I know how to do is bust my ass at whatever, grand or trivial.”
Our best is about us not others. KaChing!
“Peter Drucker used to open many of his lectures to executive audiences by asking, ‘How many of you have some dead wood in your organizations?’ Nearly everyone would raise a hand. Drucker would then ask, ‘Were they underperformers when you hired them, or did they become so once they started working for you?’” From, Better Under Pressure.
Leaders and organizational systems either drain or energize. Energizing-organizations provide clarity, simplicity, resources, connections, channels, boundaries, and guidelines.
Energizing high performers:
- Challenges. High performers love to perform.
- Learning. Provide relevant training they enhances performance.
- Obstructions. Get out of the way. High performers don’t like meddlers.
- Love. Keep them doing the things they love doing.
- Honor. We don’t honor some for fear of neglecting others. That’s a formula for depressed organizations. We don’t honor some for fear others will be jealous. That’s a formula for mediocrity.
- Progress. Making progress may be the most powerful energizer of all – celebrate it.
What brings out your best?
What does an energizing organization look like?
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Wow, this so applies in schools too. Kids aren’t failing before they come to school, yet somehow the environment of school creates mediocrity. Let’s celebrate achievement, let’s allow people to fail without making them feel small, let’s get out of the way of kids who are fully engaged with what they’re doing!
Thanks for adding your insights.
I love your statement, “allow people to fail without feeling small…”
If fail comes because of trying lets do more than allow…lets CELEBRATE failure. If failure comes for lack of trying, that’s another story.
Great having you today,
‘How many of you have some dead wood in your organizations?’
‘Were they underperformers when you hired them, or did they become so once they started working for you?’”
Love this! A very convicting couple of questions!
Yes indeed. Nothing like a Friday morning kick in the pants. 🙂
Thanks for stopping in today.
Would imagine the next logical questions are, ‘what was your role in creating that dead wood?’ Are you still doing it? Why? Ouch!
Go ahead Doc, keep rubbing it in. 🙂
And I thought It was my reflection in the mirror!
Dan, you and Tom P would like “Big Chris” from British Children’s TV show “Roary the Racing Car”. He has a saying: “You bend it; you mend it.”. Since all of us rely on children’s culture: books, TV, films, etc. to aid the formation of our children (and, in the past, ourselves) I’ve always had an eye out for great messages. Your thoughts today tell me that Leaders have a responsibility to the people they have led (and are leading). If they blast the tree with lightening and kill some wood (or if they take so many leaves that the humus layer dies), then there are steps to be taken. One shouldn’t kill the geese that lay the golden eggs!
Thanks for joining the conversation and adding your insights.
Love the children connection. I wanted to bring two opposing ideas to our thinking today. One, our best is about us. Two, organizations and leadership impacts our best. Glad you caught the tension.
Thank you. I liked your comments yesterday. There is much in there about integrity and about remembering who we are, were and can be. Over here in the UK, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer has just joined the candidates for Mayor of London, UK in saying he’d be willing to adopt US standards of disclosure: share with people what’s in his tax return. Members of the UK’s royal family, who receive income from the public purse, already disclose how their money is spent. With austerity budgeting and “tough times” around the globe, it is great to see all this leadership “by example”. Public service workers in the UK are seeing their incomes (present and future) frozen and/or squeezed. The same has been true for those in the private sector. I wonder how many leaders who generate income from the public (or the “vast unwashed body” of global shareholders / insurance policy holders / pensioners) would be willing to stand-up and show they are paying their own way? How this relates to creating “deadwood” (or bringing life back to blasted trees) I’m unsure; but, going back (again!) to the world of Children’s TV (this time with a US-UK-EU bridge) the pop group S-Club 7 had a great song a few years ago and that might explain where you’ve sent my mind: “Bring It All Back”:
Great post. People cannot be alive inside a management system that is incapable of dealing with their innovations. After you beat your head against the wall for so long you begin to withdraw –it’s only human.
Leaders who don’t understand they must create a management system that not only allows people to think, create and act, are failing as leaders no matter how visionary they are. Great management is not as much fun as great leadership, but without the two all you have is talk.
Always a pleasure seeing you here. I think of you as my systems friend and love the value you bring to me personally and to readers.
Because of you and others, I’m thinking much more about systems.
Yeah, I like this “both/and” thinking. Much of leadership that I’ve read tends to downplay management and elevate leadership. Both are needed.
It is as simple as “Reward the behavior you want to see ! ” Remember we all do this for “15 Seconds in the Sun”.
Great seeing you again. Simple rocks and if you don’t get anything else right, rewarding behavior must be one of the top things to get.
Thanks for chiming in…
Great thoughts, Dan.
Sometimes the lack of “nutrition” needed to keep a tree alive comes from the lack of “nourishment” provided by its surroundings.
Keep us growing, Dan!
Thanks for the encouragement and challenge.
There’s a noble goal, create an organization and be a person who nourishes others.
Dead woods were once live woods. So, how did they turn into dead, is great question. It is question for almost all the organisations that need to succeed. Besides many reason, one dominant reason is people practices. People do not perform to their fullest capacity due to unfair and toxic practices. When undeserving people get promoted and rewarded, deserving people feel discouraged and hence underperform. People always do not motivated by money. I think, transparency, affection, top down interactions are energizer and morale booster. People do their best when get rewarded or valued for their works. They are committed given autonomy and flexibility. I believe that an energizing organisation looks like talking, smiling, questioning, suggesting to anyone and everyone across hierarchy. People stay longer in the energizing organisations. They report less sick. Health of people is great indicator. Retention is high and breakthrough innovation take place very often.
Thank you for sharing your insights. I always take something away.
In addition to your other comments, I’m taking this one with me:
“When undeserving people get promoted and rewarded, deserving people feel discouraged and hence underperform.”
You powerfully capture a key reason some people check out.
Best to you,
The real tragedy of the “dead woods” is the personal cost. In an HBR article (December 2010) Dr. Edward Hallowell wrote that disengagement is a leading cause of both not achieving personal goals and of depression. The workplace can deaden the spirit, but only with the permission of the person whose spirit is being killed.
Last week I went through a toll booth – I cannot imagine a more deadening job than collecting tolls. I asked the person in the booth how she was doing and she very nearly sang – “I’m blessed!” No one was going to turn her into dead wood.
It’s always a pleasure having you stop in. I respect you and what you’re doing.
Love the toll booth story. I’ve seen those positive toll-takers, too. Wonderful.
Best to you,
Great point for us to not see self as victim of life and circumstances which only ends up in blaming others. I can’t control others or my circumstances always but I can control my attitudes like this toll booth lady.
After reading the title today, I knew this was going to cause some serious self-reflection. It is so easy to get upset with those we consider deadwood. We talk about how to jumpstart them or how to get rid of them but we always do so with the assumption that is their fault. But the question of how we might have contributed to their condition is seldom if ever discussed. If these employees didn’t start out this way then something happened. If we want to take credit for the successful employees we also need to look to see if there is any blame for unsuccessful employees.
Between you and Doc, and others, I’m going to bury my head in the sand – too much responsibility going around! 🙂
As always, thank you for sharing your insights.
Best to you,
One more thing on this “Get out of the way” idea. Overall it is a much better idea to establish your office as a “safe zone” for ideas and alternatives. The reasoning here is to consistently let everyone know “the more I know about how you prepare and how that impacts the teams “Focus on Endorsable Outcomes” the more I am able to anticipate and remove potential road blocks. It’s a win – win engagement.
Its good to have a perspective looking at how organizations function as sometimes those in the thick of things take the usual operations as Business As Usual (BAU). Looking at some of the comments is like looking at a range of experiences and it shows the commonalities. I liked the Toll booth story, staying blessed is the key to not becoming another dead wood statistic. Blessed easter to you and all the readers of your loyal blog followers.
An interesting post.Dead Woods are the result of narrow mind-set, superiority complex, not able to gel with a performance based culture and the performing team, loss of zeal due high aspirations, immaturity and lethargic attitude.
Good leaders usually try to mould them with and try to bring them to a desired performing level. It’s also true that energizing factors really work well for high performers. But 10% of employee strength even at middle and senior management level become dead woods because of one or more reasons as earlier listed. One needs to remove dead woods before they become obstacles.
What brings out my best? When people believe in me. When there is periodic coaching and input without micromanaging. If there is never any feedback on my leadership, it feels like no one cares about me. I know I can improve and that most likely others see my errors. If they have the guts to point it out with grace, then I grow and feel cared for. If there is too much input and feedback, it feels like the organization or leaders don’t trust me.
I like the metaphor about dead wood. Seems like when we became national directors for our organization, we spent too much time clearing dead wood to the neglect of the good trees. Is that common? Any tips on doing that differently? Also, seems like a point you are making is that if people were not dead wood when I hired them and now they are, that it is the leaders and organizational systems fault. Mostly true? or All true? Any scenarios when it is not fault of either of those?
There was once a King who disinherited his daughter. She had given him great advice that he didn’t like. Her sisters praised him “to the skies” instead. The wise daughter left and married another King. She loved her father and, eventually, went back to “save his arse”. Sadly, the end-game was tragic. Leadership secret of William Shakespeare’s King Lear? Don’t rage around in a thunderstorm, go find the advisors you sent away before it’s too late (or just don’t lose touch with them in the first place!). Alternatively, just see above – and consider the true tale of Winston Churchill (a man whose advice wass considered to be of variable quality at different stages of his career).
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