How to Overcome Wasted Authority When You are Not the Leader

Bored Panel Of Judges Or Interviewers
This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He reluctantly leaves his sail boat to help me with strategy. After convincing him to write here once, I am now hoping he becomes a regular contributor.

Wasted Authority – A Review

Some time ago, I wrote about poor leadership resulting from Wasted Authority.   In that post, I described wasted authority as a result of weak leadership that exhibits one or more of the following traits:

  • Indecisiveness when it is clear that a decision should be made;
  • Failure to take action when cultural expectations are violated or associates misbehave;
  • Inability to provide timely feedback to teach individuals and the organization;
  • Failure to frame an issue, articulate priorities and delegate to others;
  • Ignoring customer issues that the organization simply takes for granted;
  • Failure to address large, well-known issues openly and directly.

These traits result in an environment where:

  • Decisions are delayed by over-analyzing or waiting for consensus to emerge;
  • Poor behavior is overlooked; exceptional efforts and good performance are unrecognized;
  • Meeting topics wander off the agenda into excruciating detail;
  • Customers issues are ignored or met with half measures;
  • Important, uncomfortable topics are not openly discussed.

Working in an environment with wasted authority is very frustrating, wastes the time and talent of the organization and drains the energy of the organization.

 

 

What if You Are Not The Leader?

If you are a leader and recognize your behavior in any of these traits, it is time to adjust your style to be more decisive, open, focused and action-oriented. There is a lot a leader can easily do to stop his/her own wasted authority behavior.

But what if you are not the leader and are subjected to wasted authority by one or more of the leaders of your organization? What can you do to help change the environment? How can you lead when you are not the one who should? Even though you are not the one in charge, there are several actions you and others can take to improve specific situations and change the environment. Consider the following actions to overcome wasted authority.

 

“Wasted authority results in weak organizations.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Indecisiveness

Agree on the Alternatives

When confronted with indecisiveness from the leader, start by making sure everyone agrees to options or alternatives for the decision. For example, say, “Can we simply list the alternatives for this decision?” and then start the list – write it down on a flip chart or whiteboard for the leader or group. You should make the list of alternatives as short as possible, ideally just 2 or 3, and prioritize them.

Define What is Needed and Schedule Closure

The next step is to ask, “If we cannot choose one of these options, what additional information do we need to decide?” List what is required. Then determine who is responsible to get the information. Agree who is going to do what and make assignments. Finally, ask when the group can reconvene to review the structured options and make a decision.

Many times with this approach, a group will be able to make a decision at the time. But if not, this process will structure the alternatives, establish concrete actions and decide when to decide! Another term I like to use is “scheduled closure.”

Orchestrate Support of Others

If you know ahead of time that there will be a tendency to delay a decision, then meet with others who will attend the meeting to structure alternatives before the meeting. If an indecisive leader sees several people on the same page, it will help make the decision.

Develop an Offline Decision

Alternatively, once a list of options for the decision is created, see if a smaller group of individuals can be assigned to return with a decision or recommendation. Indecisive leaders sometimes will let others decide if options are clear and several agree.

 

Leadership Tip: Confront indecisiveness by listing and agreeing on the possible options.

 

Ignored Performance – Good and Bad

When a leader does not recognize good employee performance or ignores poor performance or behavior, the wrong culture is set for the entire organization by lack of action. The attitude spreads rapidly.

If you are not the leader, what can you do?

Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Lessons from Frank Perdue

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A Visionary Leader

He entered many of our homes via television, winning our hearts with his clever ads about his chicken.  Appearing in hundreds of ads, Frank Perdue turned Perdue chicken into a national brand.  “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” the ads touted.

Frank Perdue was a visionary business leader.  He focused on culture, leadership development, packaging, promotion, and operational excellence perhaps years before others.

Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

Recently, his wife, Mitzi Perdue, wrote a biography Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business and Life Lessons from Frank Perdue.  The book paints the picture of the man, allowing us glimpses into his personal life, but also is full of business and leadership advice.

Mitzi herself holds a BA in government from Harvard, a masters in public administration from George Washington and was for years a syndicated columnist for Capitol News then Scripps Howard.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her late husband.

 

“Find out what the customer wants and then make it better.” –Frank Perdue

 

Take Care of the Customer

There are so many business and life lessons in this book.  Let me just ask about a few areas.

One story you tell was about packaging.  It grabbed my attention because he wanted better packaging, but his team said no.  They said it was too expensive.  I know he was frugal, so his commitment to make it happen speaks volumes.  That little story says so much about his style and determination. Would you help us understand why this was so important to him?

Funny you picked on that story because it happens that I’m (I think) unusually qualified to comment on it.  My master’s thesis from George Washington University was on the importance of packaging.  I felt that the packaging of an idea or a product wasn’t as important as the content, but it was way up high as a consideration.  Frank intuitively understood this concept without having to get a master’s degree!  In the cases of the cartons that chicken was delivered in back in the late 1960s, it was pretty much industry standard to have flimsy boxes that might leave someone’s processing plant looking fine, but by the time they arrived at the distributor’s loading dock in a big city, the box might be crushed and leaking.  Crushed and leaking boxes were a mega-headache for the distributor because it’s hard to handle them on a forklift, and it’s unsanitary.  Frank realized that if he could create boxes that wouldn’t crush or leak, he’d be solving one of the distributors’ major problems.  His attitude was that as long as his goal was to be the best, the price almost didn’t matter, he had to fix the fragile boxes because, “We can’t afford not to.”  It fit in with his motto of, “Take care of the customer,” and the result was that when a distributor wanted chicken, he probably had Perdue on his speed dial. Packaging was an extraordinary competitive edge for us.

Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

“A business that doesn’t change is a business that is going to die.” –Frank Perdue

 

Build A Culture of Disagreement

Take us into the culture of the company.  It tolerated disagreement and strong opinions.  As you say it tolerated “really forceful disagreement.”  How did Frank encourage this?  When did he, as a leader, stop the argument and unify the team?

Why Standing Out is More Important than Ever

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Your Personal Buzz

Recently, I shared my observations about all things honey.  A honey festival demonstrated that it’s possible to differentiate almost anything—at least from my uninitiated view of the product.

 

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” –Dr. Seuss

 

Differentiate YOU

That amazing array of honey products got me thinking about personal brand.  We are all at a fair of sorts.  Whether the marketplace or in your social circles, there are many others competing for time, for opportunity.  How do YOU differentiate YOU?

Most of us don’t think about a conscious plan for standing out.  We have learned to blend in.  But great leaders stand out.  Work that is extraordinary captures our attention.  If you fail to stand out, you will be passed over at promotion time.  Overlooked in the marketplace.  Ignored for the most important opportunities.

 

“Great leaders stand out.” –Skip Prichard

 

Some work stands out so much that it generates that viral buzz that the media savors.  If it makes you uncomfortable just thinking about that type of attention, I have good news.  It often is tiny differences that make the big difference.  Success often happens at the margin.  If your work is only slightly better, you have an enormous advantage.  Often we look with interest at the shocking or spectacular, but settle for purchasing or consuming something closer to our version of normal.  The choice we make, however, is usually one that is just ahead of the competition.

Are you a leader?  Leaders do not blend in.  They don’t hide their unique qualities.

 

“Be the one to stand out in the crowd.” –Joel Osteen

 

Are you a blogger? More than the look and feel of your blog is the personal touch, the sharing, the authentic voice.

Do you have an upcoming speech?  Share a personal story or do something that no one else would do.

Creating A Buzz: 7 Ways to Stand Out

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It’s a honey festival.  What would you expect?  Honey!  And honey is a commodity, right?  It’s all the same.  If you want honey for a recipe, or to add to some hot tea, you pick up some honey at the store.

My view of honey completely changed when I attended the Lithopolis Honey Festival last year. I left not only with new information about honey, but also with observations on how to make nearly any business stand out.

Arriving at the festival, I see the streets have been closed to allow for tents to fill the streets.  People are everywhere, crowding the vendors.  With so many people milling about, how do the honey manufacturers attract customers?

As my family walks down the street, we stop to visit each table.  I begin to notice how wrong I am about honey.  There are innumerable ways that each company is different.

STAND OUT

Here are a few ways that I began to see the differentiation:

Don’t sell a product.  Entertain the audience.  Crowds gather around to see “Bee Beard.”  That’s where a man of perhaps questionable sanity has somehow managed to create a beard made of hundreds of bees, extending down his body and circling his head.  From the number of people crowding around, it’s clear that this team is successful.  It’s hard not to stop and take a look.

Use personality to develop loyalty.  Some honey producers were present in the aisles with a friendly smile. They were not accosting or overly aggressive.  These savvy customer service honey sellers met us in an engaging way, answering questions.  Somehow in the first minute, we know the history of the business and the family.  You don’t need an academic study to know that you are more likely to buy from someone you know.

Create unexpected flavor.  Did you know that honey could come in cinnamon or raspberry?  Resisting the chance to try various flavors is futile, so we stop and taste a few.  Now we are comparing notes, sharing tastes.  Engaging with a product in this way increases the sale opportunity. 

7 Tenets of Taxi Terry

It Started With A Question

 

“Are you ready for the best cab ride of your life?”

When the door slammed shut, Scott McKain wasn’t only taking a cab ride to his hotel.  He was embarking on one of the greatest customer experiences he could imagine.  Not only would Scott enjoy a memorable cab ride, he would exit that taxi with lessons that can make a difference in every business.

 

“Passion without effort equals failure.” –Scott McKain

 

The taxi driver, Taxi Terry, didn’t know that he had just picked up my friend, bestselling author, extraordinary professional speaker, and customer service expert Scott McKain.  Of all the people in the world to pick up at the airport, Taxi Terry picked up a global expert in standing out, in the art of distinction. In fact, he is the Chairman of the Distinction Institute.

 

7 Tenets of Taxi Terry

  1. Set high expectations and then exceed them.
  2. Delivering what helps the customer helps you.
  3. Customers are people, so personalize their experience.
  4. Think logically and then act creatively and consistently.
  5. Make the customer the star of your show.
  6. Help your customers come back for more.
  7. Creating joy for your customer will make your work–and life–more joyful.

 

That simple, enthusiastic question, directed to an exhausted traveler one night was the beginning of a customer experience that tens of thousands of people have learned from. Scott has presented the lessons he learned to audiences around the world.  And the lessons are now available in a new book, one that will inspire you.  7 Tenets of Taxi Terry is sure to be one of the enduring business books that will come up in conversations everywhere (yes, even in a cab!).

 

“If you want your business to get better, the first step is for you to get better.” –Scott McKain

 

Do You Want to Create Memorable Customer Experiences?