Posted by: kenwbudd | September 13, 2010

Why Should Your Boss Listen to You? — Contingency Planning & Management

There is more whining and gnashing of teeth about being left out of meetings, being the last to learn something, or not being consulted or even asked to the table at all than virtually any other topic in the security professions.

Obviously, security, business continuity, resilience, and risk issues are important, even mission critical. But if this is really true, why is it so hard to get bosses to listen more and seek us out to learn more?

As an observer of all staff functions in organizations as they advise, coach, and counsel managers and leaders, it is profoundly obvious that the single most important mistake all of these staff functions make, including security, is failing to recognize that every issue, question, problem, challenge, or opportunity a manager or leader faces is a management issue, opportunity, and question before it is any other kind of issue, opportunity, or question. Security and business resumption, two seemingly crucial functions, represent just a fraction of all issues, concepts, and problems business operators face every day.

To advise leaders and managers successfully, advice and ideas must begin where management’s thinking begins and always have a dominant management aspect or benefit beyond just the staff advice being giving at the time.

It also surprises me how many staff functionaries (in all areas of staff work) advise leaders and managers but fail to be students of management, students of leadership, or students of business operations. How can one seriously and with a straight face urge people to take advice from someone who has little or no substantive understanding of management’s challenges? I make presentations on this topic all the time. Whenever I ask an audience to tell me (with a show of hands) how many people have studied or do study leadership and managing as a part of their own personal staff knowledge-base development, only a paltry number of hands go up. Another question I ask is how many audience members read the Harvard Business Review regularly? Even fewer hands go up. It is astounding how many staff advisors fail to read even the most significant business literature. Managers read the Harvard Business Review (HBR). Managers discuss what they learn. Management tends to look to HBR for guidance and inspiration, as should those who advise them.

Study leaders and important people, but also study those that the people you work for admire. Read what bosses read, work to get a sense of the business from their perspective. It changes the way you think, it changes the way you talk, and it changes and improves the quality of the advice you give. And, not surprisingly, it will probably reduce the number of things you recommend. By altering your perception and perspective, some of the ideas you would routinely recommend without thinking, know become far less relevant or important to the organization and to you achieving your staff objectives on behalf of the boss you want to listen to what you have to say.

Most successful advisors whose performance I have witnessed over the years are keenly aware of the environment in which bosses, managers, and leaders successfully operate. It has been changing in recent years. In the old glory days of top management, getting the job of CEO was the capstone of a career. An individual worked about 20 years in an organization to get to that position, reached it at around age 50 to 55, and then, if healthy, kept the position until age 64 or 65. It was a wonderful job. The CEO worked mostly in an operations environment, made operations decisions, perhaps got a little famous, was welcome with open arms in all facilities, branch operations, and subsidiaries, and there were plenty of accolades to go around. Those days are long gone for most CEOs.

Top managers’ jobs have changed enormously. The average life span of a CEO’s career (according to a number of the larger executive search firms) is 41 months or three and a half years, and declining. The average ages of chief executives and, therefore, senior managers are declining. A generation ago, a CEO could be expected to be in their 50s, CEOs now are routinely in their 40s and their tenure is temporary. Whereas being a CEO used to be a career capstone, it is more likely today to be one stop in a career with other high level positions in the future before retirement occurs.

The biggest change of all in management’s day and daily work today is the incursion of extraordinary amounts of non-operating activity. These are circumstances involving angry employees; maybe whistleblowers; contention and tension in the workplace; sexual harassment issues; angry customers; rogue legislators; and cities, towns, and neighbors who are becoming less and less tolerant with industrial sites and other kinds of facilities in their neighborhoods and vicinities. All of these problems and more land on the CEO’s desk. Even though there may be highly skilled people in the organization to deal with these issues, the public, critics, regulators, legislators, and the media have come to demand that the chief executive and very top managers engage in and communicate about the resolution of these issues. Put plainly, the risks to executive and organizational security and success are increasing incrementally.

Management’s problem is, of course, that none of these issues are operational in nature and dealing with them has become an on-the-job training experience, as opposed to learning how to handle these circumstances along the career path or in management school. Besides, these new threats are highly emotional and often victim-dominated circumstances that are very foreign to management.

These realizations are crucial to being a truly strategic asset to senior managers. Understanding why they are so distracted is a key ingredient in figuring out how to be heard by these individuals who need to have access to your thinking. Here, in list form, are some of the most important recommendations I can provide about beginning to get in tune with where your bosses are and what their concerns, fears, and questions are. Now when you walk in that room, you can talk and know something about more then just your staff function and more then just a narrow range of subjects beyond your area of specialization, because trusted advisors are asked to comment on a wide variety of issues, topics, questions, and circumstances.

Recommendations:

1. Study leaders and leadership. Look for the stories of leaders you admire, and read and listen to information on their histories for the purpose of changing your way of thinking about what leaders do and why leaders make the decisions they do. This is also important because leaders study other leaders. The biggest problem leaders face is knowing what to do next. Quite often, the only place they can look for guidance is the lives and experiences of those who have gone before them.

2. Read the literature of management: Harvard Business Review, The Rotman Business Journal (University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management), Knowledge@Wharton (an eNewsletter), and Fortune Magazine. Fortune is among the best written English language publications on the planet. Find out what management literature or organizations your boss pays attention to, and start reading and monitoring them as well.

3. Ask yourself these questions:

· Do you actually care about these people? It helps if you do.

· Can you develop real expertise and interests beyond your staff expertise related to those you advise?

· Can you set aside your own problems and issues long enough to be of help?

· Can you manage your own ego involvement in solutions?

· Can you overcome the isolation your security function may have created for?

· While your security function may be connected to most parts of the organization, is it really involved in things that matter beyond the routine, day-to-day needs and concerns of the security function, or simply observe and report?

· Have you been increasing your skills and knowledge in dealing with these highly emotional situations and threatening issues that increasingly land on the desk of senior management?

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