Monday, October 6, 2008

24 Lessons in High-Performance Management

Lesson Two
Use Problems to Enhance Your Career

I've broken the sound barrier over 2,000 times at the controls of everything from the F-86 Sabre and the F-102 Delta Dagger to the F-101 Voodoo and the F-16 Viper. I have knocked off a lot of plaster and broken countless windows. My extra duty job in the Air Force was to speak to groups of upset, hostile civilians and convince them that those sonic booms were "the sound of freedom."

Having built a reputation in the military as the "sonic boom salesman," I got into sales when I stopped flying. Those hostile audiences must have provided excellent training, because the transition went smoothly. I did so well in my first year as a salesperson that the company executives asked me to manage one of the sales offices.

I managed that small office for a year with some success. One year later, the same executives showed up again to promote me to manager of the top office in the 36-office chain.

That's when I started making the same mistakes nearly every manager makes. I urged my people not to think of me as their boss, but as a friend who was always right. My goal was to turn everyone in that office into a copy of me. It made perfect sense at the time. Turning the salespeople into Danny Cox clones seemed to be what my bosses wanted to do. If I could get my salespeople to do the job exactly as I had done it, they wouldn't bring me any problems that I hadn't already solved.

Under my management, the number-one office plummeted to number 36 out of 36. One day, as I was trying to figure out the problem, my boss showed up in my office, unannounced, without his usual smile and pleasant demeanor.

"Cox," he said through clenched teeth. "I can now see that it was a mistake making you the manager of this office and I feel it's only fair to tell you that I'm already looking for your replacement."

That was the shortest and the most effective motivational seminar I ever attended. I needed to learn how to lead––and I needed to learn fast.

I sought out the counsel of many successful people and soon learned that I needed to work on myself, not the salespeople. Salespeople get better right after their manager.

The techniques I began using had such an immediate effect that within two weeks my boss stopped looking for a replacement. We were heading back to number one.

Here are three ways you can start turning problems into opportunities:

Think of a problem in the past that turned out to be a positive.

Chose a problem that you can turn into a positive if you apply the right attitude and plan.

Decide on one thing you can do in the next 24 hours to improve your leadership style.

"High performance is often the result of a sudden change in direction."

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