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Leadership Guide Magazine, March 2008 Issue

March 9, 2008

Hi Friends. Read more from Linda Hatcher and other great articles at www.leadershipdevelopment.com

From Cynicism to True Leadership in the Workplace by Linda Hatcher

Jerome Alexander has made a needed mark in leadership thinking with his self-branded moniker and related writings “The Corporate Cynic.” He writes honestly, and sometimes painfully, about the front-line truths of today’s corporate world. From reading his writing, we can learn the WRONG ways to do things, with the hope we can strive harder for the “practical ways to do the right things right” slogan of this magazine.

For example, he talks about the euphemisms that have been draped over Draconian measures, often taken without proper regard or even bare-minimum fair treatment of the hard-working individuals on the front-line. “Having seen the best and the worst at work, I am sorry to say that the worst clearly outnumbers the best,” he concludes after more than 30 years working in Corporate America in finance and administration middle management. He says one of the most flagrant recent examples he saw in a management memo was to tell people that their jobs would be “co-sourced” (as opposed to the actual “outsourced.”) Other examples are being a project “champion” (versus being volunteered or “stuck” with even more work for no more money, with no additional resources), and the now-common “rightsizing” for “force reduction.”

He gives many detailed case studies of the action of some corporate dramas in his blog and has written a book aimed at one of the leading characters of the downside of business today: what he calls “the 160 Degree Deviator.” Writes an Amazon.com reviewer about the book: Even the best organizations have good intentions when instituting new plans or policies. Something always seems to go wrong, because of a type of manager called the 160 Degree Deviator. These are people with their own agendas who damage company morale and cause frustration to rise. The reason that they aren’t called 180 Degree Deviators is that the author gives the company 20 degrees “credit” for having the right idea.

Alexander lays much of the blame for corporate chaos on what he calls “Hollywood-esque” images that leaders try to present and maintain, versus the substantive ethical character needed to treat people with genuine respect and dignity.

“Deviators have personal agendas which causes morale to suffer and frustration to set in,” he says.

His blog is full of interesting and sometimes outright hilarious inner looks at the downsized America that will only head more the same way, given intense global competition. For example, he tells the detailed front-line story of a merger in action. “We were all waiting to see what new directive would be coming down the pike. Something goofy always seemed to happen after these events.” He goes on to describe the “double secret” he and other middle managers had to keep as the new management team began moving in. “The circus continued for another week,” he writes. Finally, he recognized a macabre truth that we have all seen, a Hollywood-esque cinematic epiphany: “digging your own grave.”

He realized, “the sooner we completed the transition, the sooner they can cut all of us loose. Dig faster! Dig faster! Dig faster!”

Despite his cutting truths, Alexander still retains an optimistic outlook that some leaders, some companies, are ethical. “I have been criticized for dwelling too much on the dark side of corporate leadership and painting all leaders with the same brush,” he admits. “That has never been my intent. The thrust of my “rants” has always been aimed at those who destroy morale and create cynicism and malaise.”

He identifies the characteristics of ethical leadership from three outstanding leaders he has known. True Leaders, he says are….
• Unpretentious. There are no airs about them.
• Even tempered. They don’t “fly off the handle.”
• Thoughtful. True Leaders never made a rash decision. They always think things through.
• Supportive. If someone needs help, a True Leader is
always available.
• Well spoken. True Leaders do not use profanity, only measured clear and concise words. They always make sure that what they say is understood.
• Responsible. They are the first to admit when they make a mistake.
• Trustworthy. A True Leader would never betray a confidence unless he obtained one’s permission.
• Hard working. Very hands on. Would never dream of asking anyone to do anything that they wouldn’t do themselves.
• Respectful. True Leaders treat everyone with dignity

He talks about a specific leader, Steve, who had the respect of the entire staff, as well as that of a multitude of others in the organization.

“Even the malcontents respected him,” Alexander notes. “He beamed with a low-key aura of self-confidence. He knew who he was and what role he filled in the company. He very seldom ever threw the weight of position around and never with the staff. If you did a good job, he’d make sure and tell you. If you screwed up or got out of line, you’d hear about that too. His praise or criticism was always aimed at what you had done and never about you personally. He could mix it up with the staff at the Christmas party but always remained slightly aloof. If Steve had any personal idiosyncrasies or peculiar habits, they were never evident. He was much more respected than liked but he was a likable guy. He looked, acted, and sounded like an executive. Steve was not a stodgy old man either, only about ten years older than I was.”

Under Steve’s leadership, Alexander goes on, a great deal of issues confronting the organization were solved. There was no fanfare or accolades. We knew that we were just getting done what needed to get done. If Steve asked you to put out more effort to get a project completed, you just knew that it was important to the corporation. He didn’t have to tell you that. He’d never send you off on a wild goose chase or waste your time.

“A new president was appointed to the company back in the 80’s that had different kind of style,” Alexander says. “Steve was moved around to a variety of other positions and then retired early. A great loss.” Alexander said a similar fate was in store for a former VP of Human Resources for the same firm.
.
“Warren possessed all of the traits and characteristics that you would expect in a Vice President of Human Resources. He could spot a problem employee or manager a mile away. He always acted with ultimate discretion. Warren insisted that everyone in his department be responsive to the needs of both employees and management.”

Unfortunately, Warren fell to the same fate as Steve. The new president replaced him with an attorney.

“No one that I ever spoke with about these individuals has ever mentioned respecting or admiring these people for being workaholics, closing “big deals,” saving millions of dollars, or having TV shows,” Alexander says. “These leaders never blew their own horns and dissuaded others from doing so on their behalf. There was humility and a dignity that they brought with them to work every day. It was self-evident.”

Modern Corporate Leadership

March 10, 2007

I was recently asked by Dave Butcher at “Industrial Management Times” to write an opinion piece on Leadership.  So in in the words of Otis Day (lead singer of Otis Day and the Knights), “Here ’tis….” 

Modern Corporate Leadership: A Dinosaur’s View

By Guest Contributor

Jerome Alexander, author of the book 160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic, tells IMT readers that accepting responsibility speaks volumes about character — an individual’s and an organization’s. Yet today responsibility and character no longer seem important, he writes.

Thirty years ago, when I was first promoted into management, an executive gave me some advice that I really took to heart. I was so impressed by his speech that I have shared it with every first-time manager that I have had the privilege of promoting or hiring. His advice went something like this:

When you are first promoted into management, three things will happen: you will get some money, some power and some responsibility. You will enjoy the money, but your lifestyle will change and the novelty will soon wear off. You will enjoy the feeling of power until you notice that you are constrained by rules and that there a lot of people with a lot more power and authority than you. You will get some responsibility, but guess what? That will never go away! In fact, if you’re good, the responsibilities will only increase

Being responsible for the activities of others should be a humbling experience. I believe that the ability to accept responsibility speaks volumes about an individual’s character. The same is true of corporate character: it is the reflection of the character of its leaders and managers.

Many of today’s corporate officials believe that they are at the helms of world-class organizations, each of which would qualify as the best place to work in America — and they’ve spent enough money on consultants to prove it!

There is never a problem accepting responsibility for good press. But when survey results on employee morale speak otherwise, some of these same officials appear dumbfounded. Others simply devalue the statistics as representing the views of the usual suspects — a few disgruntled employees and those who do not understand “the big picture” of a competitive global economy. Still others will scramble to delve into the survey results to nullify the sampling techniques or discredit the authors. Sad to say, but this cycle will repeat itself through new surveys every few years because of the one item most frequently overlooked during the postmortem process: the character of the corporate leadership itself.

In my 30 years in middle management, I have seen this time and time again. During the last several years, however, I have noticed a disturbing change for the worse. In this age of “lean” processes, downsizings, mergers and decentralized management, I believe that the once-good character of many corporations as reflected in their executives and managers has been replaced with a new character of irresponsible, self-serving and egocentric technocracy. The once-revered characteristics of solid corporate leadership have been replaced with a Hollywood-esque image of celebrity replete with pompous arrogance. Many responsible managers have been replaced with rude, fast-talking, “buzzword-spouting,” acronym-using facilitators of the latest trendy programs. They are leaders in name and title only. Character seems no longer important. Responsibility has been pushed far down the organization chart to the lowest levels. Isn’t that the latest fad?

The rank-and-file employees, on the other hand, still come to work with implicit trust that their managers are acting in the best interest of the company and its employees. They believe that those in positions of leadership should be responsible and of good character. Further, they believe that the corporation should be of good character. Their trust and loyalty cannot be taken for granted. They are beginning to feel betrayed.

Employees’ perceptions about the corporation’s leadership only seem to be important if they have an effect on “results” or become embarrassing (as in the case of an attitude survey). Instead of seriously considering the root causes of these negative perceptions, some consultants’ gimmicks will usually be employed to make the workforce “feel better” about their lot. Is that a responsible way of dealing with issues?

Worse yet is when some new form of “corporate religion” is forced upon employees to prove how wrong minded those perceptions are. Insulting the intelligence of the rank-and-file and good solid managers is no way to influence change.

Many employees are losing respect for their superiors as well as the corporate system that created them. Many corporate leaders have become so removed from day-to-day operations that they no longer have a clue as to what is really happening within their organizations, and therefore, other than for short-term profits, they no longer feel responsible for anything else. Many line managers have taken their cues from the top and perpetuated all of the bad characteristics that they believe will serve their own agendas and careers.

I recently spoke with the vice president of operations for a $100 million multi-plant manufacturer. When I asked about his responsibilities, he shot back that he was responsible for holding his subordinates responsible. What does that say of his character?

—–

Jerome Alexander MBA, CPA, is the author of the book 160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic (Llumina Press, 2002).