Category Archives: leadership styles

3 Reasons Why You Need a “Black Cloud” in Your Business

My unofficial middle name is “The Black Cloud”.  There’s a funny story behind how I got this name…

Several years ago, my husband was golfing in a charity tournament with 3 new acquaintances.  As is customary in golf, the foursome members shook hands, introduced themselves and shared where they worked.  One of the gentlemen was a Vice President at the company where I was employed.  Over the course of the next few holes, the golfers exchanged pleasantries, and chatted about those people they might know in common.

My husband said, “Do you know Meryle Corbett?”  The vice president replied, “Yeah – we call her The Black Cloud!  You should see how she comes around to our department trying to clamp down on our spending.  If there’s a new rule out there to batten down and take control, she’ll find it and enforce it.”

A few holes later, the vice president finally asked, “How do you know Meryle, anyway?”  My husband replied, “I sleep with her!”     The vice president’s jaw dropped, he turned beet red and back-pedalled big time.  My husband, a prankster, enjoyed the awkward moment and then smoothed over the incident.  I do remain pretty good friends with that vice president to this day, even though I now work elsewhere.

So… Why do you need a Black Cloud in your business?

1)  Black Clouds will identify business risks that you may never think of.  There is a natural tension between the accounting, risk, legal departments versus sales, marketing, customer service departments.  Black clouds will flag the risky possibilities in a business, so your management team can plan to mitigate the worst case scenarios.  Walking into a new opportunity with only half the picture can be fatal.  Black clouds will protect you.

2)  Black Clouds will introduce and maintain discipline and best practices in your business.  Marching down to ask a senior manager not to charge hotel porn movies on his travel expense account may not be my favorite job, but someone’s gotta keep the top of the spenders’ bell curve in line.    Black clouds will help keep all employees disciplined with the right procedures and practices to support the business and protect it from out-of-control costs or problem audit findings.

3)  Black Clouds will always tell you the truth.  When you are a senior manager, some employees suck up and tell you only the good news.  Others will try to snow you with gobbledygook information, or will hide the bad news from you.  CEOs and senior managers need the brutal truth in business if they are going to find the issues, manage them and fix them.  Your Black Cloud is usually the kind of person that will not lie, and who likely won’t sleep very well at night if they think you need to know certain information.  Black Clouds can be depended on to provide an honest viewpoint –  their job depends on the truth.

Still not convinced?  My friends joke about the Black Cloud story, and I often tell new groups how I got my middle name. There is a fun laugh behind this article, but I hope you seriously consider that the CFO or controller or accounting manager in your life, while appearing negative sometimes, is actually your best friend — we are here to help you, protect you and work with you to solve your business problems.   Make sure you have a little bit of Black Cloud in your own business!

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32 Dumbest statements by a Manager


This is a guest post by  | September 9, 2011
Here’s a list of real-life remarks that real-life bosses said in real-life business situations.  If I recall correctly, most of these came from the personal experience of my good friend Larry Jacobs, although some may have come from other lists on the web. In any case, the list contains some true classics:

  1. “Am I the only one around here with half a brain?!”
  2. “I know my plan won’t work, but don’t disagree with me in front of others.”
  3. “I only say those things to look tough. I’m reshaping my image for advancement.”
  4. “I tried to e-mail you to tell you that my e-mail wasn’t working, but my e-mail wasn’t working.”
  5. “If you are on schedule, then your plan was not aggressive enough. If you are behind schedule, you must be goofing off.”
  6. You don’t want a union! I know I don’t pay you much per hour, but I give you lots of hours. If you want more money, just work more hours! A union will take that flexibility from you.”
  7. “I’m sorry if I ever gave you the impression your input would have any effect on my final decision.”
  8. “We’ve experienced dramatic increases in our long distance bills. In the future, please exercise restraint concerning long distance phone calls, faxes and emails.”
  9. “I’ve noticed that our ‘cost of goods sold’ rise whenever we experience greater sales. What can we do to reverse this trend?”
  10. “What this department lacks is leadership.”
  11. “Don’t worry, give it a try. You have nothing to fear but failure, demotion and termination.”
  12. “I’m getting a new company car new week. Please call the dealer and ask him to delay the delivery until after Wednesday’s layoffs. I want to appear sensitive.”
  13. “Your report shows that 65% of our customers live outside the Unites States. Well, where are the rest of our customers? Pay attention to these details in the future.”
  14. “This marketing campaign will have a worldwide focus.”
  15. “Bonuses in my department are rewarded to team players who have demonstrated an appreciation for my leadership.”
  16. “I don’t want to force this decision on you. It would be much easier if you just agree.”
  17. “I’ve already made up my mind, but I am eager to hear everything you have to say on the matter.”
  18. “Next time, if you leave me an important voice mail message, do the right thing, call me and let me know it’s there.”
  19. “Fairness is applied evenly, according to my rules.”
  20. “I know there is a communication problem in my department. I just don’t want to talk about it.”
  21. “We have too many unproductive meetings. Please put aside next Wednesday to attend an all-employee staff meeting to discuss this issue.”
  22. “I know what the research reports says, but I have to go with my gut on this one.”
  23. “I don’t like to micro-manage, but I need to know everything that’s going on.”
  24. “Okay you bunch of cry babies, what’s this I hear about bad employer-employee relations?”
  25. “I know that I am great leader. This department, however, needs help learning to follow.”
  26. “Just because you’re right more often than me, doesn’t mean you’ll be a better manager.”
  27. “We do things democratically in my department…and I’m the ruler.”
  28. “Whenever you have an idea, discuss it with me first, and if I feel it is a good idea, I’ll tell the others. You must learn to let me get credit for your good ideas. That’s what team work is all about.”
  29. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d be the shining star in this department.”
  30. “I think you prefer your idea JUST because it’s better than mine.”
  31. “It has come to may attention that your salary is well below the industry average. Therefore I am changing your title.”
  32. “I threw your suggestion away. Only managers can make suggestions.”

3 Things I Learned from My Subordinates

Some days I feel like I’m on walking upward on a down escalator — my 25 years of supervising and managing experience isn’t getting me the results I want.   This past few weeks, the managers in my own department have been teaching me a few things:

1)  Know the “style” of the decision-makers in your business

When implementing change in the workplace, key decision makers are critical to have “onside”.  These key players may have different ways of gathering information, processing the facts, coming to conclusions and implementing changes or improvements to the business.

Some styles include:

      – the thinker:  he/she needs information a day or two ahead of meetings so they can mull over and think about the issues and facts at hand

      – the idea driver:  he/she wants the issues articulated but not solutions – they prefer to come up with their own solutions

      – the skeptic:  he/she is very unsure of input from anyone except close, trusted colleagues and advisors.  You will waste your time trying to convince this person of business issues until you spend a considerable length of time building trust and credibility on a personal level.  You may need to demonstrate either loyalty or high technical competence to gain this person’s trust.

     – the bottom liner:  he/she wants the problem and solution summarized quickly and succinctly.  Don’t waste their time (just watch their eyes glaze over) when you go on and on with lots of details and discussion

Adapt your approach to the appropriate style of the business decision-maker who you wish to influence.  Watch for clues as to each person’s style, and if necessary try different techniques until you find approaches that work.

2)  Prioritize your list of issues / initiatives using a mix of business agendas

Consider that your high priorities might not be the same as others in your business, especially leaders in other departments.  Pushing your highest ranking issues at all costs can isolate you and create subtle resistance to everything you are working towards.  Put yourself in the shoes of other departments:  what are their key initiatives?  How can your goals link with their likely goals?   Try finding common goals that you can build as winning initiatives for other stakeholders in the business; this will give you more likelihood of success.

3)  Be patient and work toward success in very small steps  

Executives can be very impatient, wanting results NOW!  (okay, yes, that’s me!)  One of my managers very wisely pointed out to me this week that my timing for pushing an initiative may not be in sync with the timing of others.  Sometimes, others are not “ready” for the changes involved.  Some leaders may need mulling or processing time to consider the risks and alternatives.  Some leaders will want more personal input into ideas or initiatives so they feel they have ownership of the results.  Some leaders will resist all suggestions and help until their own trusted colleagues support the initiative.

The key to success?  Know your customer and your colleagues.  This will help you create win/win opportunities with common goals / solutions, use a pace of change that is relatively comfortable for all parties, and develop approaches that encourage positive acceptance whatever the style of your key decision-makers.

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Hot Air and Management: Is there a Connection? (guest post)

The following is a guest post from Doug Dickerson  through one of my favorite Leadership Blog sites, the Leaders Beacon

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.

–          Peter Drucker

A story is told of a man flying in a hot air balloon who realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon and shouts, “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?”

The man below says, “Yes, you are in a hot air balloon hovering about thirty feet from this field.”  “You must work in information technology,” says the balloonist. “I do,” replies the man, “How did you know?”

“Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but it is of no use to anyone.”

The man below says, “You must work in management.” “I do,” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well, says the man, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going, but you expect me to be able to help you. You are in the same position you were before we met, but now it’s my fault.”

For a business to run effectively it must have good management. It also must have strong leadership. Not every manager will be a good leader but every strong leader can be a good manager. And while some managers are full of hot air, a skillful leader will take his or her people to a higher level.

While it is true management often time gets a bad rap, allow me to rise in defense of the many great managers out there who wisely blend their management and leadership skills to create a positive work environment. How do they do it and what can we learn from them? Here are three observations worth consideration.

A great manager is a student of leadership. He or she is smart enough to understand that management skills can only take you so far. A manager may possess enough business smarts for the day-to-day operations, but a student of leadership understands it is just half the battle.

A manager at the next level is there because he learned the value of relationships, the wisdom of collaborative teamwork, and leadership by example. He placed the needs and interests of others ahead of his own, and learned that servant leadership will take him further than brow-beating ever could. Are you a student of leadership?

A great manager is a good listenerI saw a bumper sticker recently that read, “Bark less, wag more,” and this, I thought, was a great leadership concept. Yes, there are some managers who enjoy barking because it is all they know. But those who bark and growl are not great. They are just loud.

A great leader will invest time listening to the ideas, concerns, and dreams of those around her. A manager can create the climate in which the business works, but only a leader can create the culture by which the people work. The difference being, in one setting it is about the task, in the other it is about the purpose. When the team has the ear of the leader the leader will have the heart of the team. Are you a manager that listens?

A great manager adds value to others. John Maxwell says, “Successful people find their own strength zones. Successful leaders find the strength zones of the people they lead.” And this is the point of separation between managers and leaders. A great leader wants what is best for everyone in the organization. He wants everyone to succeed and will go to great lengths to make it happen.

Finding the strength zones of those you lead is about positioning the right people in the right place where they can shine and be successful. Insecurity will prevent a manager from doing this but a great manager finds great satisfaction in seeing team members excel. Billy Hornsby said, “It’s okay to let those you lead outshine you, for if they shine brightly enough, they reflect positively on you.”Are you adding value to those you lead?

A great manager is a student of leadership, a good listener, and adds value. While not an exhaustive list by any stretch, it is a starting point from which to transition from being a manager to a leader.

Are you full of hot air or are you taking your people to a higher level?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

3 Fun Ways to Give Your Office a Lift

Got the boredom blues at the office?

Here are some ways to perk up the mood or give your staff an attitude lift:

1)  set up office mini-golf, charge a buck and give the proceeds to charity

We set up a course one Sunday evening, then surprised office staff Monday morning with a fun warm up to the day. Design two or three “fairways” using garbage cans, chair legs, bookends, office plants, coffee cups, business books or anything else you can think of.

Consider these options:

  • use pool cues, hockey sticks or other implements in lieu of golf putter
  • make one fairway a blindfolded start, another using reverse-handed strokes
  • create small prizes like office sticky pads, logo pens, ball caps, etc.
  • use video or photos to document your event, publish in employee newsletter

2)  arrange a tacky tie day

  • create an anonymous voting system for employees to choose their favorites
  • provide prizes for the tackiest, most inspirational, most original tie
  • document participants with photos and publish in a company newsletter/email

3) Create your own Office Olympics

Divide employees into a handful of teams, ensuring a cross section of employees and levels on each team.

Differentiate each team with a color or unique name.

Plan one event each week for the next 3 month period, where employees can win points for their house team.  Events might include:

  • baking or BBQ contest  – sell the goods for charity fundraiser (team who sells the most wins more points)
  • fun quiz contest – find quizes on google (entrants submit answers and scores count toward points for their house team)
  • “name the baby” contest – employees submit baby photos, teams try to match employees to the baby photo (most matches wins points)
  • golf putting contest
  • picnic lunch or spaghetti feed (charge nominal fee, proceeds to charity)
  • Chili cookoff contest
  • bocce or croquet tournament
  • photo caption contest – choose a handful of funny photos and have employees submit captions (print the funniest ones, vote on the best ones for points)

The goal is to think of fun ways to encourage comraderie and offset stress or boredom in the workplace.  Employees who laugh and look forward to work will become more productive in the long term.

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