Balance is hard to achieve in any endeavor until you notice you are getting slightly off-center. When I conceived of this blog, it was to be a little music, a little leadership, and a story to make it memorable. These last few weeks there were less practical leadership insights other than “be like me”, which I find… not that helpful. Engaging with leaders (and myself) to establish a good Rhythm of what I call “Management Hygiene”, add in that it is Black History Month, I wanted to dig into an African American artist, and I needed to make these shorter… there is really only one person to do that this week…
Leadership topic - Rhythm (Management Hygiene)
What Rhythm makes your Leadership practices regular enough to drive the performance of you and your teams to a new level?
Making things predictable is one of the key tenets of engineering, and similarly, to management. Reducing things to practice, and developing your own Management Hygiene, is an important shift that most leaders must make to drive large-scale initiatives and changes.
If you study music at all, you will hear about a specific beat – a Rhythm that played a key role in the transition from the blues to rock and roll. Bo Diddley was an American singer, guitarist, songwriter, and music producer who used African rhythms and a signature beat, a simple five-accent hambone rhythm, which is the cornerstone of hip hop, rock, and pop music.
His catalog is the perfect soundtrack to a discussion of Rhythm and Management Hygiene.
One of the first questions I used to ask leaders in our initial Coaching conversation was “How often do you meet with your direct reports?” More often than not, it was met with a few moments of puzzled silence, and then typically “Oh we talk every day!” The HARDEST thing about coaching is not letting your judgment enter into the conversation. But to be honest, I normally sigh, and, as I’m a terrible poker player, that usually takes the conversation into a different place. I have at least learned to back up and ask a better question: “What is your approach to management?”… which helps me deduce the same thing… do they use the Rhythm method?
In the same spirit as 1-1 meetings, nothing is more important than Rhythmic conversations with peers and partners. It is complicated, as for most of your career you are “competing” with them, imagining that only one of you will get the step up. There is truth in that, but also that without good relationships, you will become more and more insulated. To stay with the musical metaphor, without the band, the lead guitarist is flashy… but rarely would be recognized. So who are your “bandmates”, and how do you sort out how to partner with them?
A basic element of any effective management system is “No Surprises”. “Simple but not easy” does not even start to describe this critical part of your Hygiene. In fact, I have used a fairly graphic way of describing it to leaders, probably driven by where I now live. Our street in Virginia has a Rhythm of what are politely called “Bear Interactions”, the largest in our area… and our area has the most in the whole state. So we fairly regularly have a bear walk past our house. In fact recently, we observed not 1… or 2… we had 3… on our deck. They were small, but like surprised leaders, they can pack a wallop….
In the early weeks of the year, the Rhythm of many organizations is “Strategic Planning Meetings” – otherwise known as “…wonder what the heck do we do now?” It is the place where the realities of last year, the current market assessments, and the dreams of the future come together to set out goals for this year. Similar to “Feeding the Bear”, well-run organizations have what they projected for “this” year from last year’s “5-year plan”, and can simply reorient that to what is now happening. But particularly last year has probably thrown that up in the air… or has it? Who sees over the horizon that you need to find?
I grew up with email. My class was the last class to learn slide-rule in high school, and the first to move from punched cards to a terminal. And it was just as inside IBM and outside networks were starting to connect remote people together in ways that are still taking over our lives. I took typing in high school, not to be an admin (like my first bosses thought), but because being able to do it well was the connection to the rest of the world. Interestingly, studies have shown that people hate email – it takes up way too much of their daily Rhythm and produces very little ROI – and yet, they can’t let go. So who is executing whom?
The one remaining element of Rhythm critical to Management Hygiene is summarized with a single word: When? All of the work on priorities, partners, directs, strategic planning, even email fail… unless they make it onto your calendar. As I tell each leader: your calendar does not lie – it shows who, what, and why you do what you do, and the paradox is that managing the calendar is the easiest and hardest exercise we do. In one engagement a leader wanted to move from 12 hours a day to 8. As we examined each day, by Thursday, after eliminating no meetings, I moaned, “…so you don’t really want to work less..:”