Owners: Could You Be The Stumbling Block To Progress In Your Organization?

This is an article that will probably be read by ONLY those who are humble enough and committed enough to really want the truth. That means it will only be read by a few. Can you say: Competitive Advantage?

Booz & Co’s Strategy + Business magazine offers some significant insights into this question. My experience? You probably are the stumbling block. That can be fixed with a little effort. Be sure and take the interactive survey (ouch). Be brave and have your staff take it as well.

strat + bus logoIn almost all organizations, some leaders pave the way for their employees to do their best work, and others inadvertently make things much harder than they should be. Where do you fall on this continuum? Do you help or do you hinder? In all probability, it’s the latter. According to our research, your employees are more likely to view you as an obstacle to their effectiveness than as an enabler of it—and that holds true whether your organization is successful or stumbling.

People expect to find bad bosses in failing companies. However, in surveys and interviews with more than 250 working professionals in 37 countries, we’ve found that 51 percent of employees across the full spectrum of organizational performance believe initiatives tend to succeed despite, not because of, their leaders. All employees think that their bosses hinder their effectiveness from time to time. But the prevalence of this phenomenon even in successful organizations (as defined by respondents to our surveys) is eye-opening. READ MORE…

You can ‘t like everyone

Let’s face it, if you have more than a couple of people on your payroll there is going to be someone you don’t like. Of course, this is funeral service so we feel we have to “like” everyone. So we pretend and, since everyone eventually figures out we are pretending, it makes things worse. At the same time, some of the people we don’t like make valuable contributions to our organization. In fact, sometimes the person is your brother or father or whatever.

Here is some excellent insight on how to deal with this vexing situation:

 hbrEverybody complains about incompetent bosses or dysfunctional co-workers, but what about irritating direct reports? What should you do if the person you manage drives you crazy? If the behavior is a performance issue, there’s a straightforward way to address what’s irking you — but what do you do when it’s an interpersonal issue? Is it possible to be a fair boss to someone you’d avoid eating lunch with — or must you learn to like every member of your team? More Reading…

Lessons In Leadership

You have heard me say (and you will hear it often) that funeral service is underled and overmanaged. This is a result of confusion on the part of our profession between the task of directing activities and the duty to develop your people.

Funeral home owners overwhelming hire employees that will do what they are told, push decisions upward and never make mistakes. Yet they say they want people who will think for themselves, grow in responsibility and take the burden off senior management. This schizophrenic perspective is simply the consequence of a wrong belief about what leaders do. The result: The majority of owners (I actually don’t know more than a handful of exceptions) really function as shop foremen.

This article offers some tips on how to stop being a foreman and start being a leader:


Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 1.43.24 PMThink about a leader and chances are your first image is of someone giving orders — maybe it’s the quarterback in a huddle outlining the next play for his teammates, maybe it’s an army officer coolly  barking commands in the heat of combat. But chances are, when many of us think of leadership, we picture a person telling others what to do.

After all, that’s the essence of leadership, right?

Wrong, says Christine Comaford, an executive coach and author of SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together who recently participated in a series of interviews on the website of fellow author Keith Ferrazzi. In the course of a long exchange about leadership, she tells the story of an executive she was coaching who couldn’t stop telling his employees how to do day-to-day things.

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Analytics Have Their Place…It’s People That Matter

Analytics feel so good because you can measure them. Peter Drucker is purported to have said, “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.” EXCEPT, he never said it. The point continues to be that DeathCare is overmanaged and underled. The recent trend towards analytics is, in fact, a positive one. It’s danger (and this is happening) is that it mistakenly supplants the role of Leader with the role of Shop Foreman.

This post from the Drucker Institute elegantly opens a better perspective:

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.39.12 AMBut for all that, Drucker also knew that not everything could be held to this standard. “Your first role . . . is the personal one,” Drucker told Bob Buford, a consulting client then running a cable TV business, in 1990. “It is the relationship with people, the development of mutual confidence, the identification of people, the creation of a community. This is something only you can do.” Drucker went on: “It cannot be measured or easily defined. But it is not only a key function. It is one only you can perform.”…More at Measurement Myopia – The Drucker Exchange – The Drucker Institute

At the end of the day, developing, caring for, caring about, nurturing people is what gives meaning, texture and purpose to life…maybe especially our work lives.

There’s A Reason They Just Sit There

The myth of American business is the lone hero leader. The Lee Iacocca’s and Jack Welch’s who single handled rescue ailing businesses from certain disaster.

Funeral directors often self identify themselves as rescuers. It turns out that this is exactly the opposite of the best way to lead people…ESPECIALLY knowledge workers like funeral directors who respond in a predictably passive aggressive way to “command and control” style leadership.

hbrIt turns out there is a scientific reason why employees are less effective when tasks are dictated. Amy Arnsten, a neuroscience professor at Yale University, studies the importance of feeling in control. Her studies can be applied to employee autonomy in managing a team. In an interview at her Yale Laboratory, Arnsten explained that when people lose their sense of control, such as when tasks are dictated to them, the brain’s emotional response center can actually cause a decrease in cognitive functioning. This perception of not being in control, whether real or imagined, would presumably lead to a drop in productivity. If a manager describes the long-term outcome he wants, rather than dictating specific actions, the employee can decide how to arrive there and preserve his perceived sense of control, cognitive function, and ultimately improve his productivity….More at Stop Telling Your Employees What to Do – Harvard Business Review

What I would do:

The next time an employee comes to you for a solution ask them to make a recommendation. Assuming it won’t start the building on fire or land you or them in jail, act on it. You might surprise everyone. No matter what happens the look of shock will be worth the momentary panic you might experience.

Attack the behavior not the person

I was taught to “praise in public and criticize in private.” Recent research and advice suggests this is the wrong advice.  It shifts the burden from the team to the leader.  But bear in mind that when criticizing in public you NEVER attack the person, only the behavior.

hbrIf you’re like most leaders, you believe in the adage “praise in public and criticize in private.” So when a team member does something that negatively affects the team, you usually talk to the team member in private. But this can be a dangerous adage to follow because it significantly reduces accountability, the quality of team decisions, and your team’s ability to manage itself. As Richard Hackman said reflecting on his research, “[T]he most powerful thing a leader can do to foster effective collaboration is to create conditions that help members competently manage themselves.” Here’s why criticizing in private undermines your team, and what you can do to build a smarter team starting today.

Why do leaders unwittingly shift team accountability to themselves? First, they’ve been taught correctly that they’re ultimately responsible for the team. Yet they misconstrue this ultimate responsibility and adopt a “one-leader-in-the-room” mindset; they believe that they are primarily, if not solely, accountable for how the team functions, including providing negative feedback to their direct reports. Second, research by Chris Argyris and Don Schön and my 30 years working with leadership teams shows that in challenging situations almost all leaders try to minimize the expression of negative feelings: If it’s difficult for you to give negative feedback, you prefer to do it in private than in the team setting. Read more

The book “Leadership and Self Deception” by the Arbinger Institute is one of my recommended reads.  It contains a similar scenario and how a true leader followed up on it. 

How To Interview For Great Employees: 14 Super Questions


Interview questions: Everyone has them.

And everyone wishes they had better ones.

So I asked smart people from a variety of fields for their favorite interview question and, more importantly, why it’s their favorite and what it tells them about the candidate.

1. If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for you in this role, what did we achieve together?

“For me, the most important thing about interviews is that the interviewee interviewsus. I need to know they’ve done their homework, truly understand our company and the role… and really want it.

“The candidate should have enough strategic vision to not only talk about how good the year has been but to answer with an eye towards that bigger-picture understanding of the company–and why they want to be here.”

Randy GaruttiShake Shack CEO

More Reading


Good Advice For Leading Younger Workers

There is a lot of noise coming from the Baby Boom generation about how the younger generation isn’t willing to work the long hours and endure the hardships they endured when they first started.  In fact, as I spend more and more time studying the cultures of funeral homes this is specifically where the divide comes in.

In my experience, however, Millenials, as the younger generation is called, need only be connected to a higher calling.  The need a purpose to link their work to.  Once that happens just get out of their way.  I have always believed that funeral service has a noble calling.  Boomers somehow got fixated on the long hours and arduous work pattern.  connect millenials to the work itself and you will see some wonderful things happen.  This article from Harvard Business Review contains some sound advice on this matter.

In the years I spent at West Point as the military leadership course director, I got to know some millennials pretty well. I came to appreciate them as ready to work just as hard as previous generations, perhaps even harder. West Point graduates from the millennial generation have selected the most dangerous initial assignments for their Army service at rates higher than previous generations. They aren’t looking for military jobs that will just set them up for good business careers later. They’re demonstrating with their very lives that they’re ready to join the real world.

It seems our differing generations suffer from two key stumbling blocks: communication gaps and preconceived notions. Communication has changed rapidly in the last ten years and not all of us have kept the pace. And both older and younger generations can fall victim to surrendering to negative chatter or stereotypes, instead of looking for common ground and goals.

So as leaders, you have a choice: You can make assumptions about the next generation or you can invest in them the way that others have invested in you….More at Don’t Make Assumptions About the Next Generation; Invest in It – Col

Are You Talking To Your Employees or With Them?

Smart managers build bridges, not walls.  Here is an interesting take on how to work with sometimes uncooperative employees.


What do you do when the other person simply won’t budge from an entrenched position in which they have a great deal of personal and professional commitment? How do you bridge the gap between your position and his?

Most people try to win the other person over to their point of view by argument. The trouble is, in many cases they don’t have all the facts to fully understand why the other person doesn’t agree. What’s more, the gap may be down to differences in values or cultures that are not particularly amenable to reasoned arguments. Whatever the source of the differences or gaps, when you can’t win by reason, you start to get angry at what you see is the other person’s lack of it, which gets mirrored, and so the gap only gets wider.

The key to avoiding this dynamic is to stop trying to get the person to change and instead get them to open up….More at How Smart Managers Build Bridges – Charalambos Vlachoutsicos

Authentic Leadership

There is an old saying: “Fish Stinks from the head”.  Your people are always watching.  This video says it well in less than 3 minutes.