Monday, February 14, 2011

Management lessons from the 4th grade

In the car today my sons talked about being a safety in fourth grade: safeties are responsible for ensuring children entering and leaving the building before and after school get to their car/bus safely. Here's what my guys had to say:

  1. Captains and lieutenants seemed to have been chosen randomly – and because they were in the position for the full trimester, no one ever got a chance to earn the position
  2. Captains and lieutenants were given the combination to the safety locker (where badges were kept), which led the other safeties to feel as though the school didn’t trust them. Why not give the code to all the safeties?, they asked.
  3. Some safeties seemed to abuse the position, as in, when a safety would do something wrong and another child threatened to tell, the safety might say, “you can’t do that, I’m a safety” as if being a safety granted him/her immunity.
  4. Because everyone became a safety eventually, the kids who were safeties in the last trimester knew they only got chosen because they were left over. And more, this did not demonstrate that school officials saw you as especially capable or dependable, thereby diminishing the honor.

Now I’d like not to get into the debate about how American sports and schools give everyone an award for showing up, but I would like to see how we can take this 4th grade view of the world and apply it to management and leadership:

  1. Are your team leads chosen carefully, with input from the full team? Does your company have specific promotional plans clarifying expectations and ensuring that all employees both have a chance for advancement as well as a chance not to advance? When a promotion is made, is the choice explained well and using more than one medium (or do you rely on the mass email: “congrats to so ‘n so, chosen for his such ‘n such”)?
  2. Do your employees experience themselves as being trusted? If not, can you expect them to trust you?
  3. Do you have systems in place to ensure that team leads use their positions well? Remember: Power corrupts. So does the lack of power. When abusive power leads to powerlessness, corruption spills over into business processes and eventually the bottom line.
  4. Do you provide meaningful opportunities for development, growth, and achievement? People are motivated by different things – some by challenge, others by esteem, and so on. Managers must provide a variety of outcomes to ensure all employees have the opportunity to self-motivate.

What does your 4th grader have to say about management and leadership?

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