Why You Should Never Be the Smartest Person in the Room!

Why You Should Never Be the Smartest Person in the Room!

Why You Should Never Be the Smartest Person in the Room!

 I once read a sign that said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” I stopped and pondered that for a few minutes.  I found that it resonated with me and I immediately thought “that has the makings of a good topic for Contemplation Corner.”

While I wanted to give credit for the source of my inspiration, my research revealed that the quote has been attributed to a number of people. However, the lack of someone to whom I could attribute the quote did not dampen my enthusiasm to explore with you in writing why you should not be the smartest person in the room.

While being the smartest in the room may certainly be good for a person’s ego and perhaps their self-esteem, when you are the smartest person in the room there are some negative con-sequences as well.  When you are the smartest person in the room four things happen:

Everyone looks to you for the answer,
You frequently end up with the hard jobs,
You limit your access to learning experiences, and
You limit your leadership accomplishments.

Now, let’s explore those four concepts.

Everyone looks to you for the answer.  When you are viewed as the smartest person in the room and a question arises, people have a tendency to look to you for the answer.  When that happens, it may produce some warm feelings and a sense of pride, but when people rely on you to provide the answer rather than struggling with the problem solving process it has a negative impact on the problem solving process.

Research shows that when only one person is involved in problem solving, the breadth of information brought to bear on the problem is almost always narrow in scope. This may result in a less satisfactory solution than would have been possible if others participated in the problem-solving process. 

You frequently end up with the hard jobs.  Just as there is a tendency to look to you for problems solving skills if you are the smartest person in the room, there will also be a tendency to assign you all the difficult tasks.  The “group think” is “Why should we take on this task, if he/she is so much better at it than we are.  Let’s just give the job to him/her. Not only will the job be done better, but it will be easier for us just to let him/her do it.”                                                     

 You limit your access to learning experiences. One question that occurred to me when I started this column is “How will you ever have an opportunity to learn anything if you are always the smartest person in the room?”  When there is no one in the room smarter than you, then you have obviously limited your chances of learning something new.

 In fact, when it comes to increasing your learning potential, the smartest thing you can do is to be around people who are smarter than you.  If you are constantly around people who have knowledge that you do not, you will learn at an accelerated rate and be more energized by the increasing rate at which you are learning. 

 You limit your leadership accomplishments.  More than a half century ago, when I was in the early stages of being in leader-ship and management positions and had become a serious student of “leadership,” I read some sage advice: “Great leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are.”  Again, I cannot find the original source for the quote, but it has always resonated with me.

In fact, I now believe that the way to determine a leader’s competence as well as his/her confidence as a leader is to look at the people around that leader.  The great leaders know that by sur-rounding themselves with experts in a variety of areas, the organization fares much better than if it is dependent only upon the leader’s expertise. Good leaders surround themselves with good people, but great leaders surround themselves with people smarter and more talented than themselves and this results in a effective organization that produces quality product.

Great leaders understand the four concepts explored in this month’s column and surround themselves with people smarter than them, who support their leadership, who challenge them, and who push them to never stop growing, learning and perfecting their craft.

The willingness to surround yourself with smarter, more talented people is a sign you are willing to be an effective leader.

Take a chance, surround yourself with the best you can and see how much more effective your organization will become. 

The Value of Failing

The Value of Failing

The Value of Failing

Have you ever failed at anything?  How did you feel about that experience?  Did it make you want to give up?  If so, you need to adjust the way you look at failure. As pointed out by Henry Petroski, professor of engineering and history at Duke University, “The biggest misperception people have about failure is that it is all bad.”

Albert Einstein once said, “You never fail until you stop trying.”

If you look at the lives of many of America’s heroes, you will find that they were unsuccessful in their earlier years.  The biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson are classic examples of this.

Lincoln is unquestionably one of the greatest leaders this country has ever had; however, prior to being elected president in 1860, he had a number of failures, including losing his job, failing in business, losing eight campaigns for public office, and suffering numerous rejections by colleagues and constituents.

While Edison was attempting to create the electric light bulb and experiment after experiment was unsuccessful, someone called him a failure.  He retorted, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The difference between the people who accomplish things in their lives and those who see unsuccessful attempts at a task as failure is that the first group does not forget the lessons learned in their formative years.

A young child fails many times before he accomplishes the task of locomotion. The child first scoots, then crawls, then walks and even in the process of learning to walk, the child falls many times before he learns to walk. 

As parents, we do not discourage a child from attempting to walk just because he or she falls.  We know that eventually the child will gain the skills necessary to accomplish the task.

Somewhere along the line, however, many people began to view “failure” as all bad.  They forget the lessons learned from early childhood about not giving up. We are all going to fail at some time in our life.  Making mistakes is a part of the process.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” Joseph Conrad said, “It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes.”                        

We need to realize that failing at something does not make us a failure unless we give up. 

Great leaders understand that failure is symbiotic with learning.  That is what caused Michael Jordan to say, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

In his article, Failing Your Way to Business Success, entrepreneur, investor and sales strategist, Graham Dockrill, points out:

          You will find that the most successful people in life have failed the most times. If you welcome failure as a guide and teacher, you’re more likely to find your              way to success. Secondly, when you and your business are driven by discovery, you take a step forward, gather feedback and adapt.

The things that we get from failure that give it value are:

Failure Builds Character – There is a lesson to be learned from everything that happens to us and that includes failing. One of the greatest benefit earned from failure is strength of character. Failure hurts.  It causes  us to reexamine our action.  If life were perfect and every endeavor ended in success, we would not learn as much – failure teaches us more about ourselves and builds character better than success ever could.

Failure Provides Learning Opportunities – Early educational reformer John Dewey said it best: “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”

As Edison’s quote about “finding 10,000 ways that won’t work” demonstrates, there is value in examining why we were not successful in our attempts to do something.  In an earlier column I mentioned Fred Rangel telling me about a situation which I do not recall.  He said that I looked at him and said, “Okay, you paid your tuition. What did you learn?” Every failure should be viewed as an opportunity to learn.

I believe we waste a golden opportunity when we do not learn from our failures.   

Failure Teaches Resiliency and Persistency – We need to remember the lessons of childhood when we did not know the meaning of failure and kept on trying until we learned to walk. As Thomas A. Edison emphasized “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  That is a valuable lesson to learn. 

Rather than give up when he did not make the Laney high school basketball team’s varsity squad, Michael Jordan dedicated himself to becoming a better player.

Failure Promotes Growth – When our failures lead to know-ledge and persistence we grow. We reach deeper meanings and understandings about ourselves and our organizations and why we do the things we do.  This helps us to reflect and put things into perspective and develop meaning from painful situations.  Growth allows us to eliminate the errors and create streamlined processes in our organization’s culture.

My favorite philosopher (Anonymous) is quoted as saying, “Failure is life’s great teacher; it is nature’s chisel that chips away at all the excess, stripping down egos as it molds and shapes us through divine intentions.”

Since we know everyone fails at something and since failure builds our character, provides learning opportunities, teaches resiliency and persistency, and promotes growth, why should we fear it.

If our “failures” lead to learning a better way of doing something, was the experience really a failure or an opportunity to learn a better way of doing it? 

As Winston Churchill has pointed out, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

That is why I now say about myself, “I have never failed at anything; but I have certainly had a tremendous number of never-to-be-repeated learning experiences.”

If you want to be a great leader, go out and fail your way to success.

The Key Ingredient of Leadership Success

The Key Ingredient of Leadership Success

The Key Ingredient of Leadership Success

 Over the past few years, much has been written about the subject of “leadership” and numerous workshops have been conducted on the subject. What is missed by many who aspire to be leaders is what I believe to be the single most important ingredient in becoming a leader. That ingredient is “credibility.” 

If credibility is the key ingredient to becoming a successful leader, it might be wise to examine exactly what credibility is as well as how one gains and maintains credibility.

What is Credibility?

 The word “credibility” and the word “credit” come from the same root word.

My wife and I are remodeling our home. In order to pay for the remodeling we had to secure a loan.  The fact that we were able to get the loan means that we have “creditability.”  The person who approved our loan had to believe two things: (1) that my wife and I are capable of repaying the loan and (2) that we will, in fact, repay it. 

That illustration is in-line with the way Webster’s Dictionary defines credibility which is “the ability to inspire belief.” 

The Dimensions of Credibility

 Credibility has two dimensions.  The first dimension is trustworthiness and honesty and the second dimension is competence.

Dimension 1: Trustworthiness and Honesty

To be viewed as trustworthy, leaders must be consistent in their words and behaviors. Credibility has its roots in “walking their talk.” To be credible in action, leaders must be clear in their beliefs and they must know what they stand for. They must put their beliefs into action and their actions must be consistent with those beliefs. The leader must have a strong belief in what he/she says so that he/she can take a strong stand on the issue and back his/her promises with strong organizational performance. 

To be viewed as honest, leaders are honest to the degree that it is reasonably possible to do so. Because of the confidential nature of some information, leaders may not be able to share everything with their followers, but they share the truth even if it may not be the whole truth. When they are asked a question regarding confidential information, they respond honestly that they cannot discuss the issue and the reason they cannot discuss it (e.g. “That is a personnel issue and we cannot discuss it.). 

Dimension 2: Competency

 The demonstration of competency involves four actions:

Action 1: Have a vision

People follow people who know where they are going. Develop a vision that clearly paints a picture of where you are going. Let people know what that vision is; then believe in it more than anyone else does. This is extremely important because unless you believe in what you say, you cannot chart a path to its accomplishment. If you are not committed to the vision, then no one else in your organization will be.

Once you have the vision, craft a message that conveys its importance and urgency. Ensure that every decision made is consistent with the vision. Every decision needs to be examined in light of “how will this help us achieve our vision?”

Action 2: Communicate in a way that makes sense to people

 Effective communication starts with the clarity and the passion with which you communicate. Get your employees to see the vision. People can only move to the point that they can see themselves  accomplishing the vision. Followers must have goals, aspirations, and pictures in their minds in order to pursue the vision. Clarify expectations in terms of performance and behavior that will be needed to accomplish the vision.

 Action 3: Equip the followers

 Assess each employee to discover what they need to be able to fulfill performance expectations and then provide them with the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to accomplish the vision laid before them.

Action 4: Measure Performance and Provide Feedback

 Evaluate performance against expectations to ensure there are no discrepancies between the two. Provide feedback. Recognize and encourage those who are fulfilling expectations and work with the others to eliminate the discrepancy between their performance and the expectations. The leader who fails to provide honest accurate feedback to followers is failing the first dimension of credibility – that of being trustworthy and honest. Followers want to know not only what they are to do, but how well they are performing.


 People follow leaders whom they believe to be trustworthy and honest, who knows where they are going, who know how to get there, and who can help them accomplish something meaningful.

As an avid reader who is involved in leadership and management development and a firm believer in President Harry S Truman’s statement, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers,” for the past three years, in the December issues of The MBA Dispatch, I have provided this column’s  readers with what I think is a list of books which any student of leadership or management should read, but I don’t think I have ever penned a column on “Why Read?” 

Since March is National Reading Month and March 2 is National Reading Day, I thought this would be an appropriate time to remedy that situation. 

President Truman, who many think  was the best president this country ever had,  never graduated from college, but he claimed to have read every book in the public library in Independence, Missouri.

In his article, “What all Great Leaders Have in Common,” Mike Myatt wrote,

All great leaders have one thing in common: They read voraciously. Did you know that the average American only reads one book a year? Worse than this is the fact that 60% of average Americans only get through the first chapter. Contrast this with the fact that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies read an average of four to five books a month. Even more impressive is that some of the most successful leaders throughout history were known to read one book every single day. 

What is it that all these great leaders know that others do not?

Reading is good for the brain – Roughly 300 years ago, be-fore modern science and research equipment could back up his claim, English essayist, poet, playwright and politician Joseph Addison wrote, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Later scientific studies proved Addison was correct. Reading does make you smarter. It increases your vocabulary. Reading also increases blood flow and improves connectivity in the brain. 
Reading introduces you to new ideas and improves your problem solving skills – Have you ever solved a case in a mystery book before you read the conclusion or predicted a turn of events in a novel?  If so, it was probably because your  analytical thinking was stimulated from reading. Reading helps you detect patterns, solve problems, and assimilate new information as if you were living in the characters’ shoes.

Reading makes you a better writer – When you read, your brain absorbs good writing techniques and vocabulary. In your own writing, you will unconsciously copy the writing styles of books that held your attention. Reading also enhances your vocabulary and spelling. New words appear in their natural context and you can deduce meaning from the surrounding words, while visually imprinting their spelling for accurate recall.
Reading Improves your communication skills – Reading increases your both vocabulary and your knowledge of how to correctly use new words, as a result you can clearly articulate what you want to say. Reading also provides you with numerous subjects for conversations with others. If you listen to conversations of young children who are readers you will notice that their conversations tend to be much richer than those of nonreaders their age.
Reading improves self-discipline and consistency – The barrage of media and instant access to technological information in today’s world has caused our attention spans to get shorter and shorter. Unlike skimming a webpage, reading a book forces you to focus.  To get the most out of the story, you have to concentrate on the plot and complete the book. This forces your brain to form deep connections and to practice concentration. 
Reading increases your knowledge of history  – Reading can teach you historical politics, customs, cultures, economics, and intellect. As a high school student, I hated history.  It seemed to me to be a meaningless activity of recited name, date, and place (who, when, where).  However, when I began to read biographies and historical fiction, I found that facts set in the context of a story made history easier to remember. 
Reading increases your knowledge of other cultures – Years ago, I read James A. Michener’s book, Hawaii. While the book was historical fiction, however, when I later vacationed in Hawaii, I realized that I had earned so much about Hawaii’s history and the culture of the Hawaiian people from Michener that it made the vacation significantly more enjoy-able than it would have been otherwise.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               By reading I have also learned a lot about the cultures of countries I have never visited. 
Reading increases your knowledge and skill in your area of interest – Reading about your specific field of work or your fields of interest can improve your success in your field. You’ll gain factual knowledge and learn from others’ experiences and mistakes. Since I love teaching leadership and management courses, I am a habitual reading in those areas.
Reading reduces stress – Reading about something you enjoy or losing yourself in a good novel is an excellent way to relax. According to research performed at the University of Sussex reading can ease tension in your muscles and heart while letting your brain wander to new ideas and live in someone else’s shoes for a while.

If great leaders are readers and you are not, then why not start.  You have nothing to lose and a lot to be gained.

Good Things I Learned from Bad Bosses

Good Things I Learned from Bad Bosses

Good Things I Learned from Bad Bosses

 As I was racking my brain trying to come up with a topic for this month’s contemplation corner, for some reason I remembered an occasion when I overheard someone saying to another person, “well, you are not totally useless, you can always serve as a bad example.”

As I sat with my fingers on the keyboard of my computer pondering why that statement would pop into my mind as I was attempting to write a column about a management or leadership issue, it occurred to me that during my professional career, (1) I learned something from every boss I ever had and (2) that I learned as much from the bad bosses for whom I was fortunate enough to work as I did from the great bosses for whom I was more fortunate to work. 

When I came to that realization, I felt much like I imagine the great Greek scholar Archimedes felt when after stepping into a bath, he noticed that the water level rose, causing him to suddenly understand that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged and realized that the volume of irregular objects could be measured with precision, a previously intractable problem. 

It is reported that Archimedes got so excited at his discovery that he ran naked through the streets of the ancient city of Syracuse shouting “εὕρηκα, εὕρηκα” (“eureka, eureka”) which means “I found it; I found it.”

While I did not run naked through the streets of Conroe, the city in which I live, I was extremely excited that I had solved the problem of not having a topic for this month’s column. I can write about the good things I learned from bad bosses.

Some of the good things I learned from bad bosses are:

I don’t want to be a micromanager – micromanagement is a management style where the manager monitors subordinates and team members extensively. This means being fully involved in their work, limiting the workforce’s creativity, autonomy, and input.

If you have worked for a micromanager, as I have, you know what I am talking about.  I hope you have decided, as I have, I do not want to be a micromanager.  It has been my observation that Micromanagement is exhausting not only to the micromanaged, but to the micromanager as well. Looking over the shoulders of every employee every day will quickly burn out a manager. It can take a terrible toll on the manager’s physical and mental health. 

Micromanagers tend to grow to hate their jobs even to the point of hating the organization which employs them. Some grow to hate it so much that they end up quitting their job and decide they never want to be in management again.

If you have a tendency to be a micromanager, take a step back, relax and realize that if you hire competent people and provide them with the skill, knowledge, resources, and guidance to do their jobs, your employees can manage to successfully do their jobs without you hovering over their shoulders.

While managers need to exercise control, that control should come with clear direction and guidance for employees to follow and enabling allow employees to practice following the direction and guidance while asking questions as needed to perform tasks.

As employees successfully follow the guidance, they are learning to be capable, confident and independent. As a result, job satisfaction, production creativity, and morale are all high. It is a winning situation for the employee, the manager and the organization.

Actions speak louder than words When your action does not your words, people believe your actions, not your words.

In interviews conducted during management studies, I have had executives tell me how important the vision and/or mission or their organization is, yet when I walk through their organization and see no evidence of the vision and mission and I talk to employees who cannot tell me what the vision or mission is.  I find it hard to believe that it is as important to the boss as he or she says it is. 

A boss telling the team that he or she is going to hold someone accountable for a mistake is one thing. Actually holding them accountable is an entirely different thing. Most of us have been in a situation where the boss said there would be consequences for something only to take no action. That tells the rest of the team that it’s okay to do certain things. When that happens things usually start to fall apart for the entire organization.

Employees seldom perform well for bosses who actions belie their words.

Employees have lives outside of work While I have high performance standards for the people whom I lead and manage, I also realize there are demands upon their lives that are not related to work.

While a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Semi-nary, I obtained a job as a medical records clerk on the 3 pm to 11 pm shift, Monday through Friday at a local hospital. 

During my orientation, the Director of Medical Records told me, “I noticed that you are a student at the seminary.  You will probably be glad to hear that you will not have to work on Sundays.”

A couple of years later, when I clocked in for my shift on Friday, the Director asked me to come to her office.  She said, I know I told you that you would never have to work on Sundays when you were hired, but we have a situation and I need you to work the 3-11 shift on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.  When I told her that I already had plans for the weekend, she replied, “You are going to have to cancel your plans because we have an audit next week and we have a lot to do to get ready.” 

I explained to her that I could not do that because I had agreed to fill in for a preacher who had already left the state on a vacation. and the next day I would be driving to the city where I would be preaching on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. Her response was, “I am not asking you to work on this weekend, I am telling you, you will be working the 3-11 pm shift this weekend on both Saturday and Sunday” 

I offered an alternative.  I suggested that I work a double shift on Saturday and then get up really early on Sunday morning and make the 3 1/2 drive to preach there on Sunday morning.  She accused me of not being a team player and told me that I either worked the 3-11 pm shift on Saturday and Sunday or I would be fired.  I told her that I would work on Saturday and that I really needed the job, but I had made a commitment that I did not feel I could cancel since this was Friday afternoon and the pastor had already left on vacation.     

Her response was that the church not having someone to preach on Sunday was not her problem, but getting everything ready for the audit was.  I told her that I would work the Saturday shift, but could not work the on Sunday. 

Her response was that I would work both Saturday and Sunday or I would be fired.  

I worked the 3-11 pm job on Saturday and drove to the town where the church was after I got off work that night so that I could sleep in a little longer on Sunday morning before I preached. As I drove I also made the decision then that I needed to start looking for another job whether or not I got fired. 

On Monday, when I arrived for my shift, the Director was waiting.  She instructed me to follow her to office. Once we were in her office, the conversation went something like this:

“Did you work this weekend as I told you to?”

“I worked on Saturday, but did not on Sunday because of the previous commitment I told you about.”

“Is that what I told you to do?”

“No, but I told you that I would not be here on Sunday and offered to work a double shift on Saturday to help get ready for the audit. You refused that offer and I told I would work the Saturday shift as you requested, but that I could not work on Sunday.”

“You could not or you would not?”

 “If a previous commitment does not qualify for ‘could not,’ then I guess the answer is ‘would not.”  

“What did I tell you would happen if you did not work the 3-11 on Saturday and Sunday this weekend?”

“You told me I would be fired.”

“Well, since you disobeyed a direct order knowing you would be fired, all I can say is ‘your fired.’ Your final check will be mailed to you tomorrow.”

While I would not want to work for that boss one like that boss again, I have to admit that in this situation her actions were in alignment with what she had told me. 

Not all people will be faced with the decision I was, but many will work for supervisors who insist that the job takes precedence over everything else in their lives. Treating people with dignity and respect and extending the courtesy of respecting their personal lives should not depend on their performance at work. Failing to demonstrate that you can care about people when the going gets tough shows them your true colors. Mistreating people in such a way means that you can pretty much say goodbye to any goodwill you might have built up until this point.

Can You Hear Me NOW?: The Struggle of Introverts to Find Their Voice in the Workplace

Can You Hear Me NOW?: The Struggle of Introverts to Find Their Voice in the Workplace

Can You Hear Me NOW?: The Struggle of Introverts to Find Their Voice in the Workplace


Spencer Washington

MBA Training Associate


You’ve heard the sayings. We all have.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Blow your own trumpet.

Play to the crowd.

 The list goes on and on. In essence, the message being conveyed by these sayings is that you have to be a standout, that finding a way to separate yourself from the crowd is essential to getting ahead. In doing so, you have to be an excellent salesperson in order to convince others of your value and worth.

 Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well for some people like John, it can feel like a horrible nightmare. John works in Accounting. He has been employed at the same company for 10 years. In fact, John has spent his entire 10 years in the same department. John arrives on time, rarely calls in sick, and crunches numbers like no one’s business. John has seen quite a bit of turnover in his department in the last 10 years, yet he’s remained steadfast and and loyal. Committed to a fault, you might say. He’s the best at what he does, but he’s a pretty quiet guy. John doesn’t get caught up in office gossip and he doesn’t socialize much with his coworkers outside of office hours. He tends to form real relationships with others and personally invests himself in everything he does. If you were to ask anyone in the department about John, they would all describe him as knowledgeable. He’s usually selected to train new hires on the ins and outs of the job. Ironically, John has yet to be selected for a promotion. He’s had his eye on that corner office since he was hired and believes that he’s more than qualified to move up in the company. He continues to toil away, day after day, hoping that his opportunity will soon come.                                 

You see, “John” is a fictional character, but his experiences are the reality for many. John fits the description of an introvert. Introverts are often described as quiet, reserved, and thoughtful. They don’t seek out social engagements or undue attention, as they have limited toleration for stimulation. They prefer to be around smaller groups with more intimate interaction and conversation. Introverts can appear as the complete antithesis to those employees who are comfortable with marketing and selling themselves. For this reason, introverts–as talented and qualified as they may be–are habitually overlooked for promotions.

 Author Susan Cain discussed this phenomenon in astonishing detail in her 2013 New York Times bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. She historically examined how charisma and extroversion came to be so highly favored in society. She even devoted an entire chapter to The Myth of Charismatic Leadership. Her book revealed how undervalued introverts are. Through discussion of contemporary research, she responsibly highlighted the benefits of introversion, such as creativity, introversion, and perseverance. Throughout her book, she interviewed several prominent individuals who identify as introverts. Their conversations revealed both the challenges and the benefits that introversion has brought to their personal and professional lives.

 Ilya Pozin, the founder of Pluto TV, outlined four reasons why introverts make great leaders in her 2018 contributing article to Inc.com. Those reasons include 1) being motivated by productivity instead of ambition, 2) building more meaningful connections, 3) not getting easily distracted, and 4) solving problems in thoroughness rather than in haste.

 So it seems that there’s hope indeed for John and everyone like John. But that hope hinges on organizations understanding the importance of intentionally recognizing people like John. People who possess talents and abilities but may not seek out the spotlight, people who may not be the life of the office party, people who are thoughtfully devoted to doing things the right way. It would behoove companies to really take stock of the power of their introverted employees rather than continuing to favor and promote those who are extroverted. If they don’t, managers and executives could find themselves lamenting a very popular saying: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

Spencer Washington

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part IV

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part IV

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler

Part IV


In Part I of this this series on “Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler,” I  (1) shared with  the readers of this column the experiences which I felt qualified me to call  myself an “organization remodeler” and (2) explained that the lessons I had learned as an organizational remodeler led me to the conclusion that the keys to having an effective organization are the development of:

The correct organizational design,
A clear and compelling vision and mission,
A well-coached team of talented and highly motivated individuals,
A culture based on effective communication, collaboration, shared values and personal accountability, and
A strategy for developing each of the above.

and (3) discussed why organizational design is important.

In Part II, I described the various types of organizational designs and the strengths and weaknesses of each. 

In Part III, we explored “having a clear and compelling vision and mission.”

Staffing your organization with a team of talented and highly motivated individuals and creating a culture based on effective communication, collaboration, shared values and personal accountability requires:

Selecting and keeping team members who share your values and beliefs.

   Do not misunderstand me on this point.  I am not talking about hiring “yes” people, but people who share the same values and beliefs that I do. 

   It has been my experience that most organizations do not do a good job of this.  First of all, they do not spend enough time defining exactly what they are looking for in an employee and, secondly, they don’t ask questions that cause applicants to give answers that reveal whether an applicant is appropriate for the organization and even more importantly whether the person is appropriate for the position they are filling. 

 I think is even more of a problem for detention facilities and residential programs because they have to maintain a staff-resident   ratio.   As  a  result,  the  administrator   feels pressured to hire someone even if there was not a good candidate in the interview pool.   

This is a mistake.  I can assure you that the employee who will give you the most problems, the most grief, and be the most difficult to supervise is the one you never should have hired in the first place. You can hire easy and make managing tough or you can hire smart and manage easy. 

You cannot build a team of talented and highly motivated individuals and create a culture based on effective communication, collaboration, shared values and personal accountability if you are hiring the wrong kind of staff.  You are not being fair to your current staff when you hire people who do not share the organizations values and/or are not highly motivated.

If you don’t have a good pool of candidates, tell your staff what happened. Ask them to help with coverage until you can find a candidate who will be someone they would like to work with, who will be a team player and shares the organization’s values and philosophy. 

Notice, that not only do you want hire people who share the same values and beliefs as you do, you also want to be able to keep the employees who share your values and beliefs.  In order to do that you have to train them, develop them so that they can easily find a job somewhere else and then treat them so well they don’t want to leave.

Indoctrinating and socializing individuals to your way of thinking and feeling: Once you have them on board, invest in your employees. It is important in creating a culture that there be shared beliefs and values. That does not come easy, nor does it happen overnight, but it is worth what it takes to accomplish it.
Your behavior serving as a role model that encourages employees to identify with you and thereby internalizing your beliefs, values and assumptions.

These three steps are not easy, but whether you are the director of the agency, the supervisor of a unit, or anyone else who supervises people, these three things are the things a super supervisor does.

During my career of remodeling and changing organizations, the first thing I did when I assumed the top position in the organization, or the division for which I was responsible, was to figure out who the leaders were – not who was in a leadership position, but who actually had followers, regardless  of  what position  they held  in  the  organization.   I started working on selling those people on how we could make the organization a better place to work and how they could be a part of that.  If I could sell it to the leaders and get them on board, their followers would follow them even if they did not follow me. 

 Once I felt that I had successfully hired and/or socialized and indoctrinated enough people to the new way of thinking, I appointed a committee consisting of people who had bought into the new way of thinking and charged them with developing a new mission statement and a new vision statement for the organization which would serve as the guide posts for the organization.  Even though I love facilitating vision and mission development, I brought in an experienced facilitator to work with the group so that the vision and mission would not be seen as something I had developed.  It would be the group’s vision and mission and since it was their vision and mission, they would be more committed to selling it to the rest of the organization.

When you start remodeling or changing an organization, you will need to deal effectively with the various reactions you will get employees within the organization. 

You might find the research by the Hay Group, a worldwide human resources firm, helpful.  Their research  identified four types of employees, based upon how they adapt to change. Those four groups are the Superstars, the  Open-minders, the Skeptics and the Resisters. 

Dealing effectively with the four groups should be a part of the strategy you develop before you start remodeling process in  your  organization.

Let’s look at each group and what needs to be done in dealing with each. 

Superstars – This is a group of high performers who understand and buy into the organization’s mission and vision and they know what it takes to achieve it.

         What you need to do with this group is whatever it takes to keep them (e.g. recognition, rewards, compensation, the choice assignments).  In exchange, they                  help drive the change by serving as examples for the rest of the organization.

Open-minders – These are top performers, but they are not ready to sign on to the plan. However, they are willing to listen to the reasons they should.   You can develop their talent and increase their contributions to the group.  It’s worth the effort and cost to get them on board quickly.

         What you need to do with the Open-Minders is to make sure they understand how both they and the organization   will benefit from the changes you are                         introducing. Spend time coaching, provide formal training and development, and provide rewards for improved performance.     

Skeptics – This is a critical group because they’re good workers. They’ll wait and see how the changes shake out. If you identify them early and help them adjust, roughly half of this group will become Superstars.  The other half will be dead weight and become resisters.

         You need to identify the ones in the group who are worthy of keeping, then invest heavily in mentoring and coaching them.  Make sure that they clearly                           understand what is expected of them and tie their rewards to attitudes and behaviors that support the change that is being introduced.

Resisters – This group comprises about 15% of employees in most organizations. They are likely to be strong producers, but they worship the status quo.  They are not going to buy into the change and some will attempt to sabotage the remodeling process. Your only choice may be helping them to move on.

          What you do with this group is constantly address their inappropriate behaviors with appropriate sanctions and spend your time concentrating on developing              the other three groups.

Good luck on the remodeling project. Keep me posted about how it is going and let me know if you have any questions.

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part III

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part III

Lessons Learned as an
Organization Remodeler
Part III

In Part I of this this series on “Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler,” I (1) shared with the readers of this column the experiences which I felt qualified me to call myself an “organization remodeler,” (2) explained that the lessons I had learned as an organizational remodeler led me to the conclusion that the keys to having an effective organization are the development of:
• The correct organizational design,
• A clear and compelling vision and mission,
• A well-coached team of talented and highly motivated individuals,
• A culture based on effective communication, collaboration and shared values, and
• A strategy for developing each of the above.

and (3) discussed why organizational design is important.

In Part II, I described the various types of organizational designs and the strengths and weaknesses of each.

In this month’s column we will focus on “having a clear and compelling vision and mission.”

For a number of years now, MBA has been conducting training, providing technical assistance and facilitating strategic planning initiatives with a variety of organizations. One of the
things that we have discovered is that a number of executives have not learned the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement. We often see organizational vision statements that are actually mission statements and organizational mission statements that are actually vision statements. We also see well intended vision and mission statements that are uninspiring, confusing, and so long that they are impossible for anyone to remember.

You may be asking yourself, “Why does it matter if there is confusion about vision and mission statements, or if they are written in a certain way?” The answer is that a study by Bain and Company indicated that organizations that have clearly defined vision and mission statements that are aligned with a strategic plan outperform those who do not.

That being said, let’s clear up any confusion between what a vision statement is and what a mission statement is.

A Mission statement:
• Defines the present purpose of an organization;
• Answers the questions about why an organization exists.
o What it does
o For whom it does it, and
o What the impact of doing it is.
• Is written succinctly in a few sentences, and
• Is something that all employees should be able to articulate upon request.

Some examples of effective mission statements are:
• Erie Insurance: “To provide our policyholders with as near perfect protection as is humanly possible and to do it at the lowest possible cost,”
• Nature Air: “To offer travelers a reliable, innovative and fun airline to travel in Central America,”
• Nissan: “Nissan provides unique and innovative automotive products and services that deliver superior, measurable values to all stakeholders in alliance with Renault.”
• Mel Brown and Associates: Equipping individuals and organizations to accomplish their visions, missions and goals.”

Some organizations periodically refine their mission statements based on changing economic realities or unexpected responses from consumers. For example, some companies are launched to provide specific products or services; yet, they later realize that changing what they do, who they do it for, or the impact of doing what they do will enable them to grow the business faster and more successfully.

Having a clearly defined mission statement helps employees better understand organization-wide decisions, organizational changes and resource allocation, thereby lessening resistance and workplace conflicts.

A Vision Statement:
• Defines the optimal desired future state – the mental picture of what an organization wants to achieve over time,
• Provides guidance and inspiration as to what an organization is focused on achieving in five, ten, or more years,
• Functions as the organization’s compass. It is what all employees understand their work every day ultimately contributes towards accomplishing over the long term; and,
• Is written succinctly in an inspirational manner that makes it easy for all employees to repeat it at any given time.

Leaders may change, but a clearly established vision encourages people to focus on what’s important and better under-stand organization-wide change and alignment of resources.

Some examples of effective vision statements are:
• Alzheimer’s Association: “Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s Disease.”
• Avon: “To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women – globally.”
• Norfolk Southern: “Be the safest, most customer-focused and successful transportation company in the world.”
• Microsoft: “Empower people through great software anytime, anyplace, and on any device.”
• Reston Association: “Leading the model community where all can live, work, and play.”

Effective vision and mission statements help clearly define the organization for organizational employees and for the community they serve.

The absence of vision and mission statements or poorly written vision and mission statements are lost opportunities for:
• Attracting/engaging/retaining talent;
• Building organizational culture; and,
• Increasing productivity while leveraging all resources to successfully implement a strategic plan.

Facilitating the vision and mission development process for our clients is one of the methods that MBA uses to equip individuals and organizations to accomplish their visions, missions and goals.

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part II

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part II

Lessons Learned as an

Organization Remodeler

Part II


Part I of “Lessons Learned as an Organizational Remodeler” contained an introduction to the topic and Lesson 1 which was “Organizational Design is Important.”  In discussing this lesson, I emphasized “Each organization is unique. Organizations need to be designed to meet their unique circumstances, cultures, environments, needs and purposes.” 

Last month’s column ended with me saying that in this month’s column “we will explore how to develop:

Correct organizational designs,
Clear and compelling visions and missions,
Well coached teams of highly motivated individuals,
Cultures based on effective communication, collaboration and shared values, and
Strategies for developing each of the above.”

However, in order to adequately address some of the questions we have received about organizational structure, some of the items I had planned to cover this month will have to be postponed to next month. 

With that explanation, let’s return to the point in last month’s column, “organizational design is important.” 

At some point in your career, you may have been asked to provide an organization chart for an employee handbook, an annual report, as part of a budget request, for your organization’s website, or for something else.  If you did and I had to guess what that the structure looked like, I would guess that it looked like a pyramid. At the top would be the chief executive officer (or whatever the title is of the highest ranking person in the organization) with lines stretching down to middle management, then to supervisors, and finally to staff-level employees. 

The problem is that not every organization functions best with a hierarchical organizational structure and other types of organizational structures exist. Let’s examine the basic types of organizational structures and the strengths and weakness of each.

The Hierarchical Organizational Structure – This is the type of structure just mentioned above. It is the most common type of organizational structure — the chain of command goes from the top position down to the entry level positions and each employee in the organization has a supervisor.


The strengths of the Hierarchical Structure are that it:

Better defines levels of authority and responsibility,
Shows who each person reports to or who to talk to about specific projects,
Motivates employees with clear career paths and chances for promotion,     
Gives each employee a specialty, and
Creates camaraderie between employees within the same department


The weaknesses of the Hierarchical structure are that it:

Can slow down innovation or important changes due to increased bureaucracy,
Can cause employees to act in interest of their department instead of the company as a whole, and
Can make lower-level employees feel like they have less ownership and can’t express their ideas for the organization.

Functional Organization Structure – This is similar to the hierarchical organizational structure. It starts with positions with the highest levels of responsibility at the top and goes down from there. However, employees are organized according to their specific skills and their corresponding function in the organization and each separate department is managed independently. 


The strengths of the Functional Structure are that it:

Allows employees to focus on their role,
Encourages specialization,
Helps teams and departments feel self-determined, and
Is easily scalable in any sized organization.


The weaknesses of the Functional Structure are that it:

Can create silos within an organization,
Hampers interdepartmental communication, and
Obscures processes and strategies for different markets or products of an organization (Most MBA’s clients are criminal justice agencies and this is seldom a concern for the organizations with which we work).

Horizonal or Flat Organizational Structure – This structure organizations with few levels between upper management and staff-level employees. Many start-up organizations use a horizontal structure before they grow large enough to build out different departments, but some organizations maintain this structure since it encourages less supervision and more involvement from all employees.

The strengths of the Flat Structure are that it:

Gives employees more responsibility,
Fosters more open communication, and    
Improves coordination and speed of implementing new ideas                           

The weaknesses of the Flat Structure are that it:

Can create confusion since employees do not have a clear supervisor to report to,
Can produce employees with more generalized, rather than specific, skills and knowledge, and
Can be difficult to maintain once the company grows be-yond start-up status.   

Divisional Organizational Structure — In divisional organizational structures, an organization’s divisions have control over their own resources, essentially operating like their own company within the larger organization. Each division can have its own purchasing team, IT team, accounting team, etc. This structure works well for large organizations as it empowers the various divisions to make decisions without everyone having to report to just a few executives.

Depending on your organization’s focus, there’s a few variations of the Divisional organization to consider.  Among them are the Market-Based Divisional structure, the Product-Based Divisional structure and the Geo-graphical Based Divisional structure.

As mentioned earlier, the Market-Based and the Product-Based Divisional Structures are not applicable to MBA’s clients; therefore, I will address only the Geographical-Based Divisional Structure.  In this structure, division are separated by region, territories, or districts, offering more effective localization and logistics. An organization might establish satellite offices across a county, state, country or the world in order to stay close to their customers.

The strengths of the Divisional Organizational structure are that it:

Helps large organizations stay flexible,
Allows for a quicker response to industry changes or local needs, and
Promotes independence, autonomy, and a customized approach

The weaknesses of the Divisional Organizational structure are that it:

Can easily lead to duplicate resources,
Can mean muddled or insufficient communication between the headquarters and its divisions, and
Can result in an organization competing with itself.

Matrix Organizational Structure — A matrix organizational chart looks like a grid, and it shows cross-functional teams that form for special projects. For example, an IT employee may regularly belong to the IT Department (led by an IT Director) or a security employee may regularly belong to the security department (led by a Security Director), but work on a temporary project (led by a project manager). The matrix organizational chart accounts for both of the employees’ roles and reporting relationships.

The strengths of the Matrix Organizational Structure are that it:

Allows supervisors to easily choose individuals by the needs of a project,
Gives a more dynamic view of the organization, and
Encourages employees to use their skills in various capacities aside from their original role


The weaknesses of the Matrix Organizational Structure are that it:

Presents a conflict between department managers and project managers, and
Can change more frequently than other organizational structure types.

Team Based Organizational Structure – After reading the name of this organizational structure, it is probably no surprise to you that this type of organizational structure groups employees according to teams. A team organizational structure is meant to disrupt the traditional hierarchy, focusing more on problem solving, cooperation, and giving employees more control.

The strengths of the Team Based Organizational structure are that it:

Increases productivity, performance, and transparency by breaking down silos,
Promotes a growth mindset,
Changes the traditional career models by getting people to move laterally,
Values experience rather than seniority, and
Requires minimal management.


The weaknesses of the Team Based Organizational structure are that it:

Goes against many companies’ natural inclination of a purely hierarchical structure, and
Might make promotional paths less clear for employees.

Network Organizational Structure – In today’s world, few organizations have all their operations under one roof, and dealing with a multitude of vendors, offsite locations and satellite offices can become confusing.

A Network Organizational structure makes sense of the spread of resources. It can also describe an internal structure that focuses more on open communication and relationships rather than hierarchy.

The strengths of the Network Organizational structure are that it:

Visualizes the complex web of onsite and offsite relation-ships in organizations,
Allows organizations to be more flexible and agile,
Gives more power to all employees to collaborate, take initiative, and make decisions, and
Helps employees and stakeholders understand workflows and processes.


The weaknesses of the Network Organizational Structure are that it:

Can quickly become overly complex when dealing with lots of offsite processes, and
Can make it more difficult for employees to know who has final say

Organizational structure is not a one size fits all option. The structure that worked in one organization may not work in another.  In addition, the structure that served the organization well in one phase of its existence may not be as effective in the next phase.

In remodeling various criminal justice agencies in which I worked, I considered the size of the organization, the different types of services to be offered, the geographical area which needed to be served, the political environment in which I was working, and the culture I wanted to create. I would advise anyone to do the same.

In the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the Grail Knight said, “Choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”  The same is true of choosing an organizational structure.  The right structure can help bring life to your organization and the wrong one can snuff the life out of it.

I hope that addressed the questions that were raised about organizational structure.

Next month we will pick up the lessons learned with where I had planned to start this month’s column – developing a clear and compelling vision.

If you have questions about this column or would like to suggest topics to be addressed in future columns, email them to ceo@melbrown.org.