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Mob Rule? At Work?

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Image: Bob RosnerOkay, this is yet another article about the current wave of protests in the Middle East and the implications for the rest of us (in the case of this blog, for the workplace).
A strained metaphor? Undoubtedly. Annoying? Hopefully not. Important? Well, what do you think I’m going to say after spending the past two hours working on this blog?
There is one phrase that really struck me over the past few weeks as the tumult seemed to spread from creepy dictator to creepy dictator. “No leaders.” Political parties, yes they existed. But few seemed to gain much traction over the swarm of people protesting throughout Egypt. Opposition leaders? Yes, there were multiple waves of them arriving triumphantly at Tahrir Square. Mostly, according to new reports, to a response that catapulted exactly no one into the exalted title of the opposition leader.
Overthrow an entrenched dictator without a plan? Without violence? Without the Internet? This isn’t politics, it sounds like a fantasy.
Given that most business organizations in the United States don’t believe that they can produce a widget without a strategic plan, four consultants and an executive dining room full of middle managers.
Cynical, a bit. But more true than most of us want to accept.
Which all reminds me of my first real job. It was at a restaurant cooperative in Philadelphia. There were twenty one employees with no boss. There was a boss at the very inception of the restaurant, but Marcus was a true hippie in the best sense of the word. He believed that more minds beat one mind. So his first act as boss was to make everyone the boss.
Sure there were times where consensus decision making made me want to take an ice pick to my eyeballs. But mostly it was a grand experiment in collection action. But rather than a select group of leaders, everyone took a turn at leadership when the situation favored their particular experience or expertise.
When no one is the anointed leader you can get an out-of-control mob, but you can also get a situation where leadership is assumed and exercised and handed off to the next leader.
I wasn’t in Egypt. But I was in the Eatery and I saw first hand that collective action can work.
I’ve also been an adjunct professor to MBA students, so I’ve been around people who preach the importance of short leashes. And for most of the past twenty years I’ve been arguing that leashes should be longer. But reflecting on the past few weeks and my own first job, I’m starting to wonder if leashlessness is indeed the best, and most overlooked option.
About the Author: Rob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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The King Has No Clothes, Lebron’s Lessons For Work

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Image: Bob RosnerThe Lebron-a-thon reminded me of an old Vietnam era joke. One soldier turns to another and asks, “What’s the difference between the Marines and the Boy Scouts?” The second soldier shakes his head saying he doesn’t know. The first smiles and says, “The Boy Scouts have adult leadership.”

The Lebron-a-polooza proved one thing, a group of twenty-somethings can win the battle and lose the war.

If during his special on ESPN Lebron had announced that he was sticking with his hometown Cleveland, he would have turned from a local hero to a national hero. Sure, Miami, Chicago, NY, LA and Brooklyn/NJ would have been disappointed, but the rest of the country would have rallied around him.

I’m not saying that he had to stay in Cleveland. I am saying that as soon as Lebron realized that leaving Cleveland was a possibility, the ESPN Lebron-cast should have been dropped.

As a nation we can only handle so many bad breakups. I’m still smarting over America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock, getting jilted. Then Tipper Gore. Now Cleveland? That’s just too much for a nation to bear.

So what is the business lesson here? The importance of adult leadership.

Young people can have talent, money and endless opportunities. But there is a point where wisdom can leverage all of that more than the buddies that you went to school with. I’ve seen Entourage. For every time that your posse points you in the correct direction, there are many more times where you make a glaring mistake.

Heck, I’m 53 years old, and these days I tend to reach out to wiser souls when I have a big decision to make. And I can’t tell you how much it has helped me.

Lebron, do the show and stay. Or leave town quietly.

I didn’t even watch the show and I had to take a shower after I found out what happened. It just felt dirty.

The only thing that made Lebron look good was the very public rant of the owner of the Cavaliers. Dumb. But unfortunately Lebron’s fingerprints are here too. Because after seven years it he should have contacted the owner to let him know before he went on national TV.

Twitter and ESPN work for the masses. But for your partner for seven years, you owe it to come from you directly. Privately.

Sure the Madonna rule could apply to Lebron. You know, there is no such thing as bad publicity. But personally I feel that his brand went from the penthouse to the outhouse, because of his own decision making.

Lebron, try adult leadership. I think you’ll like it.

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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Leadership Quiz

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Image: Bob RosnerReady for that corner office and a reserved parking spot? Tired of waiting for your boss to die? As a service to you, my readers, I’m going to give you a much easier path to a fancier office, bigger paycheck and higher quality headaches.

Take the following quiz and you’ll immediately know if you’ve got what it takes to be a leader. The only thing that will then hold you back from making that magical leap from being the delegatee to being the delagator is to convince the management that this test is much cheaper than extensive evaluations and actual accomplishments in determining the “keepers” for your company. But then again, Ms. or Mr. UpWardlyMobile, this is a small price to pay for potentially huge jump up the corporate ladder.

The answers, and what your score means to your career, appear at the bottom of the column.

1. Define “Management by Objective,” “Reengineering” and “Theory Y Management.” 10 points
2. What is the number one employee complaint? 10 points
3. What is your company’s vision statement? 25 points
4. What is the most precious resource for your company? 15 points
5. Which best describes your approach to leadership? 15 points
–a. I deserve my obscene paycheck and options because I make the tough decisions
–b. If indicted, I’m ready to claim that I really didn’t know what was going on
–c. All of the above

1. Give yourself 0 points if you had any clue about what “Management by Objective,” “Reengineering” or “Theory Y Management” means. If you have no idea, give yourself 10 points. You should know by now that old fads are not worthy of the bandwidth of an up-and-coming executive.

2. The number one employee complaint—“it’s too cold.” The second most common employee complaint? “It’s too hot,” according to a study by the International Facility Management Association. Give yourself 10 points if you got either of those answers correct. But give yourself 15 points if you refused to answer the question—because the only employee complaints that should concern you are those of your people.

3. Okay, vision statements from most organizations are forgettable platitudes that should make any sane person wretch. But remember, you want to join the ranks of people who spent days at some fancy resort to come up with this BS. So give yourself 25 points if you can recite your company’s current vision statement. Unfortunately this isn’t hand grenades or horse shoes, so close doesn’t count. To get the points, you’ve got to nail it perfectly.

4. If you answered that the most precious resource for your company are the employees, give yourself 20 points. If you said your boss, subtract ten points from your total. You should know that sucking up should always be focused on the person who signs your paychecks and not a silly quiz at a web site.

5. If you chose obscene paycheck AND claim that you didn’t know what was going on in the company you were running then you must work on Wall Street.

85—Check your pants, I think they might be on fire
70—Get ready to say goodbye to your cube
50—Don’t you have better things to do than take online leadership quizzes?
30 or below—Remember, without followers, there wouldn’t be any leaders

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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Do You Have to Be a Jerk to Be an Effective Leader?

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Image: Bob RosnerBusiness is tough in the best of times. And few would probably argue that these are the best of times. A part of the problem is the rift between workers and their bosses. From an old Harris Poll that found only 37% thought their management had integrity, emails to Workplace911 and almost any conversation overheard about work—bosses and employees appear to inhabit two parallel universes.

From David Letterman to the folks at Lehman, it seems like integrity in the corner office has taken a sabbatical.

Which brings us to the topic for this week’s blog—Do you HAVE TO be a jerk to be an effective leader today? Are these the exceptions or the rule of bossing?

I’ll argue the pro side first. Then the con. Then I’ll tell you my take on the question (as if you didn’t already know).

PRO-JERK ARGUMENT. There has never been a tougher time to be a boss. The combination of a faltering economy, competitive pressures, a workplace that keeps moving faster and faster, technology and workers who have less loyalty than at anytime in the history of the modern corporation (which is approximately 100 years according to Peter Drucker, for those who are scoring at home).

Workers like a firm hand on the rudder at work. They like an executive who is in charge and pointing the organization in the correct direction. And as they say, you’ve got to scramble a few eggs before you can make an omelet. So a bit of jerkiness is a required part of being a leader today.

ANTI-JERK ARGUMENT. Eisenhower, the General who led the Allied Forces in WWII and later served as President. A real guys, guy. As weird as it sounds by his bio, he is the source of the best all time quote of the anti-jerk position. He said, “Hitting people over the head isn’t leadership, it’s assault.”

What Eisenhower knew was that treating employees like rental cars has consequences. Some beaten down employees will take it out on customers, while others specialize in being passive aggressive—employees, to paraphrase Kafka, have their weapons too.


I believe that jerks can have a major positive impact over the short term. But after a while their whip cracking tends to fall on deaf ears. Or no ears at all as the workforce goes running for the exits. So be a jerk selectively.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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What’s Wrong with This Picture?

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The following is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces blog. I thought it was appropriate for Today’s Workplace’s focus on taking back Labor Day. After all, this holiday should offer pause not just for workers, but for company leaders to reflect on how they can do more with less in this difficult economic environment. Enjoy, and feel free to drop a comment below.
– MH

According to two new, independent employer studies – this one and this one – while more than half of employers are planning to hire full-time employees over the next year, over half also don’t offer paid maternity leave (and those that do provide only around 50% pay, on average).

This recruiting/retention picture doesn’t add up for me.  Companies that believe they’re seeing light at the end of the economic tunnel should focus on pleasing their current workforce and getting employees engaged – especially if they’ve had to make some wage or other concessions since the beginning of the recession.  This is all part of sharing the recovery as well as the pain with workers.

This is not to say that companies that see more demand shouldn’t hire more talent to meet it.  But while they make plans to do so, they should use this time as an opportunity to ramp up their benefit packages and other methods for improving productivity and commitment so their existing knowledge base is fully on board for the increased workload – and so they can serve as better ambassadors to acclimate new hires to the organizational culture.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment that the above-mentioned studies represent conflicting human capital strategies?

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

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Lumpers and Splitters

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I read a great article on Karl Rove, a.k.a. the ex-President’s Svengali. In the article it talked about the fact that in politics there are two kinds of people – “lumpers” and “splitters.” Lumpers try to build the biggest possible coalition to get the policies they want while splitters use wedge issues to divide and conquer the electorate.

Anyone who has wandered the corporate hallways knows that lumpers and splitters are not limited to politics, they’re alive and well in today’s workplace.

Let’s start with splitters. The classic splitter move is to be hyper-focused on the people above you in the chain of command. They’re the ones that you have to sell for you to get any new budget or more authority. So what do you do? You present your arguments to the boss in terms of an attack. You attack competitors. You attack existing initiatives. But mostly you attack your coworkers. In short, you get where you need to go by applying negative energy. I think Bob Dylan summed it up best when he sang, “…Cares not to lift you up any higher, but rather to get you down in the hole that he’s in.”

Then there are the lumpers. Consensus builders. People who subject themselves to endless meetings to try to get “buy-in.” The people who take the time to talk to the people on the fringe. But as we all know, “buy in” is expensive because it costs time and political capital. Working the halls sure sounds great, but who has the energy or inclination?

Sure it sounds nice to be a lumper (the philosophy, not the word). But the reality is that splitting is a short cuts also have costs—they’re just not as apparent.

Okay, let me make a confession here. I’ve been a splitter for most of my career. I would attack, I would criticize, I would do whatever it takes to win. I found that negative energy, just like negative campaign ads, works.

But I’ve realized there is a different way. A better way.

I learned that working the room has its benefits because the more minds you get involved the better the result. That fighting over the last piece of the pie is silly. It’s smarter to put your energy into figuring out how to make more pies. That the best ideas usually come from others.

We need more lumpers at work. Is there anyone out there ready to join the lumpers team?


“A little reciprocity goes a long way.” Malcolm Forbes

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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