Manager or Supervisor?

Give some thought to this:

  • Do you ever suggest-but-not-really-because-it's-more-like-you-insist that one of your direct reports hire someone?
  • Do you ever tell them that you don't want them to hire someone?

If you have ever done either of these, no matter what your direct report's title is, you have turned them into a supervisor.

A supervisor supervises daily work that is defined by someone else. A manager decides what the work is. They also have the power to hire and fire. Take that away, and they're not a manager any more. And the moment their direct reports know that - whether you want to or not - you take on being that team's manager, because they won't bother to go to the supervisor for anything any more. Why should they? You've taken all of that former manager's power away.

If you don't trust a manager to hire or fire people, you have the wrong manager. Fire them. If you don't trust anyone else to hire and fire, you've created a hierarchy with just 2 levels: you, and everyone else. There are some profound ramifications to that:

  • Your managers won't own the success or failure of their team members. Why should they? They didn't even get to decide who those team members are.
  • Your managers' direct reports will come to you whenever they get a 'no' from their manager. Congratulations! Mom said no, so now they go to dad. You've turned your organization into a dysfunctional family, just like you always dreamed about.
  • Turnover: If your managers' direct reports aren't owned by their manager, they won't get what they need. People who don't get what they need leave. And guess what? Managers who find out that they're not really managers leave, too, to go work for organizations where they can be managers. Which is most of them.

The solution: Let go! You hired managers to do what you are either bad at or don't have the bandwidth to do. Let them be managers, for Pete's sake. And if they fail, give them some encouragement and talk it through with them. If they don't improve, replace them. If they do, congratulations - you have an hierarchy that works.

Mirror, Mirror

Today we’re going to talk about the human brain. Or brains are hard-wired to behave certain ways and to recognize and seek out certain patterns, even if we’re not conscious of it. For example, we’re automatically attracted to people who have symmetrical faces, no matter where we’re from or how we were raised. We see pictures in clouds because our brains try and force a pattern onto things that don’t have any.

One of the things that are brains are hard-wired to do is to respond favorably to someone whose accent, pace, and gestures mirror our own. A recent study found that salespeople who observed and mirrored how quickly or slowly their Customers spoke, their accents, and their hand gestures were 5 times as likely to close the sale as salespeople who did not. This is because our brains are hard-wired to trust someone who talks and acts like we do – no matter what their age, sex, or ethnic background is.

Try this when you speak with Customers – and remember that your company's employees are internal Customers. If the person that you’re talking to speaks a little slower than you do, slow down. If they cross their arms when they speak, do the same thing. Have you ever noticed that Hillary Clinton’s accent changes depending upon where she’s speaking? She does that on purpose – and many other politicians and other public figures do, too.

When Customers are tense, such as when something costs more than they were expecting or we have to deliver unhappy news, mirroring helps to ease the tension. It tells the Customer, “We’re just like you. We’re on your side. We’re going to help.”


Sales and Customer service are all about communication – learning to speak all of our Customers’ languages. The better we learn to mirror their pace, accents, and gestures, the more successful we’ll be.

Pin the Tail on the Donkey

"Hey, Dave, do me a favor - tell your team not to tell Customers that they can X if they have a Y."

"Who told a Customer that?"

"I don't want to say; I don't want to get anyone in trouble."

"Okay. Can you give me the Customer's name? I can work backwards from that."

"Can't you just send around an email or something?"

No. No, no, no.

First, because if that actually worked, they would have gotten it right to start with. Second, it's clear that only one person is getting it wrong. Why waste the time of team members who already get it right? Are we deliberately trying to kill their morale?

There are a lot of things wrong with our current Avoidance Culture, and one of the worst is not trying to correct a problem at its source. If anything less than the entire team is getting something wrong, it's an abdication of your responsibility as their manager if you don't sit them down, face to face, and say: "This is something that you need to correct."

"But it's hard!" you cry. "I don't want to hurt their feelings!"

How will they feel when their bad habits accumulate to the point that you have to let them go, when you've given them no indication that they were doing anything wrong? Is that fair? Is it right? And how will your HR staff feel when that dismissed employee turns around and litigates? As far as they knew, everything was peachy.

If there is an issue, it's your job to coach your employee regarding how to correct it. Yes, they still have to do the heavy lifting, but you're not doing your job if you don't even tell them where the log jam is.

You Can't Change Customers

Where did the Muppets go wrong?

If you saw the Muppets' latest TV outing, chances are pretty good that you were repelled. Aside from trying to turn the characters that we grew up with and loved into something that they're not - tabloid-worthy - the show failed because it tried to change us. We don't want to think of Kermit and Miss Piggy as sleazy paparazzi-bait. We want to forever believe that they represent what we really hope we are.

Buried deep in all of us is a hard-wired monkey brain that hates change. When asked what we believe and polled about what we want, we routinely lie. Our response to gun violence is a perfect example: If as many of us were against mass shootings as the polls suggest, there would already be universal background checks.

It's not what we say that matters - it's what we do.

Rod Serling understood that; the Twilight Zone was nothing if not a textbook of human behavior. All of the best storytellers have an innate grasp of what we are - Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, and even Donald Trump. They lead not by trying to steer us in a certain direction, but by finding out where we want to go and pointing the way.

Any venture that contains the words "We'll get them to..." fails. The secret to selling anything, whether it's a product, an idea, a service, or a persona, is to find out where your Customers are already going and beat them there.

Do anything else, and you'll wind up alone in a cul-de-sac.

The Culture of Can't

Resistance to change is a natural, programmed human response. As a rule, people hate change, and will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid it. They create a Culture of Can't, and present excuse after excuse for why change is not only a bad idea, but downright impossible.

But change is necessary and healthy - it helps us adapt to ever-changing conditions - and resistance to change has a cost.

In the days before Mount St. Helens erupted, the authorities and the folks who lived nearby were told by volcanologist David Johnston - a scientist who had studied the mountain for years - how devastating the inevitable eruption would be. He told them that it was going to explode with the force of a nuclear weapon. He said that it would release rivers of mud, avalanches of snow, and super-heated ash at hundreds of miles an hour, killing anyone in the area.

The local government still took weeks to decide to close the park - and tried to reopen it again when the eruption didn't happen right away. 54 people who lived near the mountain refused to leave. Most of their bodies were never recovered. That included David Johnston, who was in an area that was thought to be relatively safe.

Change happens; it's how the universe works. There is nothing that anyone can do to prevent it. The trick is to find a way to make change work in your favor - to create a Culture of Can. Instead of wasting your time and energy pushing back or dragging your feet, pick the change apart to find the opportunities that it presents. If you dig, there are diamonds in that mud. You want to be the one who finds them before someone else does.

Because there is always a volcano, a change in the social or political landscape, an asteroid, a disease, or a predatory competitor more than happy to make you extinct.