Living on the Edge

There’s the story of the trucking company owner who was looking for a new driver for a tanker. He wanted an accomplished and skilled driver who he could trust completely with his load. So he took the top two applicants and, pointing toward a cliff in the distance, asked:  “See that cliff over there? How close can you drive my truck to that cliff without going over?”

Feeling very confident in his ability, the first applicant boasted: “I can drive your truck within three feet of that cliff and not go over the edge!”

Applicant two had a completely different response and stated: “I’ll stay as far away from that cliff as I can!”  The owner smiled, and eagerly pronounced, “great, you’re hired! You’re the kind of driver I want!”


When you’re managing, which driver do you relate to the most? If you’re the first driver, you push the envelope as often as you can. You disregard the counsel of your HR department because it isn’t convenient for you. Maybe you don’t even loop them in to what’s going on because you know you won’t like what they have to say. Sometimes you may even flaunt the law, such as wage and hour violations (letting them “volunteer” for part of their job because you just view that as “dedicated”; exaggerating their job functions to make them look like an exempt employee when you know they’re really not; offering comp time so you don’t have to pay them overtime).

Or you may relate more to driver number two. You have complete respect for your company’s processes and policies, you respect and value your employees, you do all you can to ensure compliance with the law and you respect and value the advice of colleagues who are the experts in areas that are not your own expertise.

Do you agree with the decision of the owner above? Would you value the employee who works in a way that provides the greatest protection of your company’s assets? Or would  you value the one who takes chances in a way the places your assets at great risk?

Yes, risk takers are good and necessary – when it’s appropriate to take a risk. If you want to be a manager that your company values, it’s wise to know when you can and should take a risk, and when you should exercise wisdom and discretion and protect your company.



Are You Out of Gas?

As we observe the annual rite of spring that is the start of the baseball season, let me share a story from Milwaukee baseball lore that may help inspire you on those days that work or life seems a little overwhelming.

Before game 7 of the 1957 World Series between the Milwaukee Braves and New York Yankees, Braves manager Fred Haney turned to Lew Burdette to start the game. The legendary Warren Spahn had been slated to start but fell ill with the flu and was too weak to pitch. Burdette had started and won games 2 and 5 in the series going the distance both times. Starting game 7 would mean pitching on two days’ rest – a near impossible feat for a starting pitcher.

BurdetteElite athletes, however, never seem to view anything to be an impossible feat. This was, after all, the World Series title at stake! Burdette gritted his way through to the ninth inning with a 5-0 lead. With two outs, the Yankees loaded the bases. Burdette still remained in the game to face Moose Skowron. His shot down the third base line was snagged by Eddie Matthews, who promptly stepped on third for the final out and a World Series win for Milwaukee.

In one of the Fall Classic’s great pitching performances, an exhausted Lew Burdette had won three games against the Yankees and shut them out for 24 consecutive innings.

So on those days when your tank might seem empty, reach back for a little extra. Often you’ll surprise yourself at what you are capable of doing.

(Information on Burdette’s feat taken from “A Century of Baseball Lore” by John Thorn.)

As a Supervisor, How Are Your Parenting Skills?

If you are a parent, you understand well the need to correct your children. You want to help them learn so you let them try a task first and, if mistakes are made, you correct them by explaining what went wrong. You do that because you love them and want to see them succeed. And you also know that it’s an important step in their development to let them make the effort on their own first. Ultimately, you hope they will grow into a successful young adult who can stand on their own.

If you are a supervisor, you understand well the need to correct your employees.  You want to help them learn so you assign a task and, if mistakes are made, you correct them by explaining what went wrong. You do that because you care about them and want to see them succeed. And you also know that it’s an important step in their professional development to let them make the effort on their own first. Ultimately, you hope they will grow in their role and advance in their career.

Right? Haven’t thought of it that way before?

One of my team members told me recently of an incident with an employee that demonstrates this. The employee had not handled a situation properly and my team member took the time to explain the error, and how to  correctly handle it the next time around. This employee responded with gratitude.  She was very appreciative of the time taken to explain the proper handling of the process to her, stating that she could only improve if someone took the time to correct her when she made a mistake.

That’s good coaching. (If my team member were the supervisor, I’d say good supervision!) It’s like good parenting. Helping an employee develop. Helping an employee succeed.

Go be a good parent. Go be a good manager. They’re a lot more similar than you might have thought.

Only Fools Rush In

Did you know this old Elvis hit has a message for supervisors?  Okay, that’s a stretch.  But the title can provide a good reminder to new supervisors to be careful in how they approach a new management role, especially if that role is with a new employer.


In a recent conversation with an HR person from another company, she told me that her boss had an interesting way of screening applicants for manager positions.  He would interview them over lunch, and if they added salt or pepper  as soon as their food came, he disqualified them from further consideration.  Why?  His theory was that a person who added seasoning to their food without even trying it first would be the kind of person who would come in and make changes before assessing the operation/department to see what changes are or are not actually necessary.

I’m not sure that’s really a sound interviewing strategy for several reasons.  But aside from that, the general idea merits some measure of consideration.  A manager who takes on a new management role and blindly comes in and makes changes beginning the minute he walks through the door is not going to build a team who supports him.  A manager who makes instant changes and assumes that what she did in her last job with her last company will automatically work in her new role will lack credibility and not instill confidence.  Such managers will be viewed as arrogant and out of touch.

Change is often good and necessary, and to make it effective you have to tackle it with the proper approach.  You have to do your homework.  Change for the sake of change is ill-advised.  If a process or practice makes sense in a setting and is working, think twice before changing it unless your careful study and research reveals that the change will absolutely make an improvement.

2 Things Every Manager Must Do For Their Employees

Do you make time for your employees?

I once had a sit-down meeting with an employee who had a laundry list of complaints about his work environment. Throughout our hour-long conversation, he kept returning to a single issue: he didn’t believe his supervisor was giving him quality time.

It seemed that almost every issue ultimately stemmed from this single grievance. His supervisor would meet with him, but always with someone else and not one-on-one. In meetings with his supervisor, the supervisor allowed others to constantly interrupt. He complained that in the years he had worked the job he only recalled one uninterrupted meeting with his boss.

Look: you may have a lot of things going on; a lot of responsibilities, but managing your employees is one of those responsibilities. If you want to get the most production out of your team, you have to be willing to commit time to them. If you (intentionally or not) show them by your actions that they don’t matter as much as the “other stuff” on your plate, you’ve lost them.

Taking from this example, here’s two things you can and should do for your employees:

  1. Make time for one-on-one meetings. No one else there. I’m not talking about disciplinary situations, which may call for someone to be with you. This is a normal meeting. Give them time to talk to you (emphasis on them talking). Let them know that you want to hear what they have to say.  And…
  2. Eliminate interruptions. Mute the phone. Put up a “do not disturb” sign. Ignore the cell phone. Don’t divert your attention to the email alerts. Give them your undivided attention. Implement the “50 Mile Rule”. What is that? Simply put, if an issue or incident is not so critical that your staff would call you back to the office if you were 50 miles away, then it isn’t critical enough to interrupt your meeting now. It can wait.

Did you know these two things have a positive impact on you as well? Consider where we started in this post, with the employee and his laundry list of complaints. If his supervisor gave him occasional individual attention (a professional courtesy, by the way) and gave him complete, uninterrupted attention during those meetings, I believe it’s highly likely the other complaints on his list would have taken on very little significance to him, and he probably would not have come to me. Your attention to this short two-item list makes a more contented employee. That usually means a more productive employee.

Contented + Productive employee = Happier + more productive you.

Patience Pays Off When Developing Talent

How well do you know your employees’ abilities and skills?  Do you help them develop those by providing learning opportunities?  Do you let them work their way through tasks and give them room to fail, thereby giving them opportunity to grow?

Examples abound in the sports world of how to do this.  And yes, the same concepts apply in non-sports businesses.  It’s all about patience and taking the time to identify and develop potential.

From Jim Callis’ ranking of rookies in Major League Baseball for 2014:

“As this year’s Hall of Fame class would attest, future stars don’t always shine as rookies. In 1987, Greg Maddux was the worst starter on another last-place Cubs team, going 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA and a 1.638 WHIP that each would have ranked as the worst in baseball had he not fallen just short of qualifying.

Meanwhile in Atlanta, another second-round pick from the 1984 draft spent his first summer in the big leagues getting battered. Tom Glavine went 2-4 in nine starts, with an ERA (5.54) and WHIP (1.748) not much different from Maddux’s. Neither received a vote in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting — Benito Santiago was the unanimous winner — but that didn’t stop them from combining for 660 victories, six Cy Young Awards, a 1995 World Series title with the Braves and a joint induction in Cooperstown this July.” (emphasis added)

If you aren’t a baseball fan, I will tell you that those are staggering statistics.  Many of the game’s best pitchers have never reached the magical 300 win plateau, yet these two pitchers – teammates for much of their careers – both reached it.

Recognizing talent. Patience. Coaching. They’re not just words, they’re your job.