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„Fly me to the moon“: achieving dream objectives

11185799 - united states, 1969, postage stamp issued to commemorate first moon landing

The passing of Gene Cernan a couple of weeks ago brought back to me the sheer greatness of the Apollo program.

In 1961, American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy announces that he ambitions for the USA to fly a man to the moon and back before then end of the decade. At that time, America had not even managed to put a man in orbit, and only one American had technically been in space, and only for a few minutes. As motivating as such an ambition might be, it seemed extremely far from the tiny capabilities of the space program as it was.

One can expect various reactions ranging from incredulity to broad enthusiasm. Yet even the latter needs at least one more ingredient for men and women to carry the project through successfully.

When managing teams, we want and need to achieve dream objectives as well. And although not as breath taking as the sight of a man walking on the moon, reaching these targets make a big difference, especially for those involved in achieving them.

But the skepticism or even the over-enthusiasm can hamper the achievement of dream objectives. There are some ingredients that have to be part of the plan.

 

A dream objective has a challenging yet easily understandable finish line

People need to be able to focus on what constitutes the finishing line. This should not be like running on a treadmill without a watch and km counter, but a fixed line to cross. Kennedy had stated the finishing line: it was to put a man on the moon and to bring him back.

 

A dream objective is something rare, big and something clear.

An ambition too small misses the capacity to generate enthusiasm. If an objective seems easy, then it´s just another day at the office. It´s not changing the world, it´s changing the settings. Only crossing a real finish line that required work and dedication can deliver the satisfaction of a job well done and personal barriers having been breached.

Imagine if JFK had only set a goal of going to orbit and launching some probe to monitor space data…No, the moon was big, the moon was simple, the moon was something you get on your feet for.

 

A dream objective needs little win´s on the way.

Going from a 15-minute flight on a cannonball trajectory to a controlled flight to the moon does not happen without stages.

This is probably the most overlooked ingredient of success, and yet an ingredient that can reconcile the sceptics and the over-enthusiasts. The first see the objective too far away, the others sometimes cannot figure out how to get there and lose motivation along the way.

In the Apollo project, thousands of people combining a vast array of skills (sometimes too much as the Apollo program was very difficult to manage) started to evaluate what separated them from achieving the objective, and sketching out the sub-projects that needed to be undertaken for all of it to come together:  making a powerful rocket, mastering orbital flight, designing the craft to land on the moon, learn to fly it learn to dock in space, and of course calculate required trajectories, approach modes and speeds. And much more.

Each of these project step stones are win´s. The sceptics see that when looking at the concrete steps, the project becomes more realistic, and the over-enthusiastic see that the finish line is closing, and that their energy is not lost.

 

A dream objective is an ambitious goal made into a dream

I know, in companies, the objectives are not always as shiny and magical as going to the moon. Yet it is essential to always point out the difference crossing the finish line will make.

What can be considered a „bean counter“ objective can be understood as an ambition to make the organization stronger and capable of providing better jobs and further opportunities fr those involved.

It should also be said that everyone should be involved and invited to join just for the sake of individual growth and accomplishment. There can be no motivation if a dream objective does not fit in the personal plan of each and every participant. It´s the manager´s job to make it fit and to deliver to the participant the prospect of being a winner as an individual and not only through the collective.

 

A dream objective gets people on their feet, and the realization of it will deliver self-confidence, pride and a sense of fulfillment to all. A gift really. If you did not receive dream objectives from your own management…make your own.

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Do things „by the book “but be prepared to change the ending

41720000 - two pilots in aircraft with a checklist

If you have not seen the film „Sully” yet and plan to, don´t continue reading because I´ve got some spoilers (although the outcome is known to most)

The film dramatizes the investigation following the successful ditching of an airbus 320 shortly after take-off from LaGuardia airport in New York due to loss of both engines after a bird strike.

The investigation undermines the captain´s decision to choose to ditch the aircraft in the Hudson river, a choice presenting many risks, rather than returning to the departure airport after following through procedures for such an incident.

Pushing forward this reasoning, they show that computer simulations demonstrated that the crew could have returned safely to the airport. Simulations done at the airbus factory seem to point to the same result.

Yes, it was possible to return to the airport. The pilots in the simulators did it…after 16 unsuccessful attempts, and by taking immediately the required actions to perform a return to the airport successfully.

There are three ideas on leadership we can push on with this example.

Leaders do not indulge in wishful thinking

We always want a situation to end well. Turning around, landing at the airport and going for drinks is the ideal option, but it is not the best one. Character is not only understanding things will not go down as you would wish, but also the strength to choose a solution you find realistic, and being able to cope with the responsibility afterwards.

It should be noted that you do not always need an emergency to indulge in wishful thinking: a manager with a full hands off attitude indulges in wishful thinking by believing that everything in the end will work out regardless of how you steer the ship.

Leaders gather information, process it and act

In the film, the simulations of return to the airport are successful because the crews in the simulators know exactly the situation and immediately take all necessary steps knowing their status perfectly before even starting. In reality, any person needs time to assess the situation and process the options. In the film, the captain asks the simulations to be redone with a 35 second waiting time for the investigators to evaluate his decision fairly.

A leader will never know beforehand the consequences of actions taken and must rely on processing skills to decide a course of action.  The situation is evaluated with all the info at hand, including opinion of others, and a plan is sketched out. Comes a time when to stop calculating and speculating, and taking control of events….with the risk of being wrong.

You cannot rewrite the ending of the book without having read it first

All that being said, there is one very important element not to be forgotten. The captain took a very risky decision, but it wasn’t a reckless one: his training, his flight experience, his knowledge of the aircraft was paramount in the success.

Rewriting the ending of the book is about being able to adapt to new situations that were not planned by senior managers, senior marketing or financial officers. It does not translate into a “no-knowledge bravado” attitude that is more reckless than inspiring.

Changing the ending of a book requires the book to have been read and reread first. Understanding situations, knowing your people, knowing your field of business, reading up on past experience of people who were in the chair before, are essential tasks and aptitudes to gain the experience and the depth that empowers to see when the book needs to be somewhat interpreted differently.

Agree, disagree, get in touch.

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„What we think we become“ Feeling too much and not thinking enough?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSXYHqs0KPo

When I first saw the movie “The iron lady”, I fell in love with that part.

It is so well put that there is nothing to add to the meaning of what we hear. I don´t know if Margaret Thatcher really said that in her later years, but these could clearly the words of people having forged a place in history. Clairvoyance, action, persistence, values shape what a person is to become.

This message is for everyone. In leadership or not. It invites to be „in charge of“ and not simply a passenger in your life journey.

And we certainly live in a world today that invites us to share our feelings to others, whether it is about the emotions that we bear inside, and the emotions that we feel while watching, listening and reading trivial and non-trivial news and opinions on social media.

Feelings can most certainly be barriers to action by inciting people to self-pity, to lack of objectivity, to blame guilt on others for one´s difficulties. All this leading to decisions based on opinions that are not fully thought through. On the other hand, thinking develops an analytic view of the situation, and provides the essence of better decisions.

Does that mean that there is very little to gain from feelings? If they are negative feelings and blocking one´s ability to bounce back, most certainly. But as those feelings exist, they need to be acknowledged. In management, we value highly one´s capacity to emotional Intelligence to better understand the people they work with, and find out how to obtain the best from them. A speech based on objectivity alone does not go through to someone whose emotions hinder their capacity to reason.

And then of course, we must also acknowledge that enthusiasm, thirst for innovation and intuition are feelings as well. A young person starting a career feeling motivated and believing in himself does not reach that state through an algorithm, but through something immaterial. If those feelings can be so strong and so stimulating, we must take in account that feelings are just as necessary as clear thinking.

We often say that in dire situations, fear is not your enemy because it leads you to be cautious. You just need to be able to control it. The same goes with other feelings, we have to learn how they benefit us, and use them at our advantage.

As I said in the beginning, when I saw that line in the movie “Iron Lady”, I fell in love with this affirmation, I did’nt run it through a computer program to find it inspiring or accurate.

Agree, disagree, get in touch.

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Support decisions from your firm: an objective on which there are disagreements is better than no objective at all.

61423859 - trust text on blackboard with businessman holding umbrella and suitcase

 

We have all seen it. Whether we participated or not in the discussion, upper management takes a decision we don´t agree with it and that we know will be unpopular within our own managed team. We fought well but in the end, the decision was not the one we recommended.

Disappointed, worried about losing the bond with the team, no one can dismiss the temptation, especially young managers, to distance themselves from such decisions.

This is a very dangerous road that one should avoid travelling on. One of them being that manager might not have all the information to judge, but that is only part of the reason.

You may think implementing an unpopular decision weakens your influence on the team members as they will not see you as the ally you wanted to be. And sometimes the friend you wanted to be. Nothing good will come from that.

One of the TV series that I am never tired of watching is „Band of Brothers“. In the episode „Breaking point“, the soldiers are awaiting orders in a place called „Bois Jacques“ in the bulge. German soldiers are well equipped and bombard the American lines with artillery barrages that take a human and psychological toll on the men. There are casualties and wounded men every day. It’s a harsh winter, food is cold, and the situation seems stuck.

To make matters worse, they are under the command of a very poor superior officer appointed by the higher-ups in the military staff: lieutenant Dyke. Morale is low, and some of the men fight their stress and dissatisfaction by mocking their commanding officer. At that point, one of the platoon leaders, Lipton, overhears the imitation done by George Luz . He tells him that although the imitation is immensely funny, he asks him to stop doing it as “it does no good to anyone”.

In short, it is worse to have no leader to travel with than a leader who takes you on a dangerous road. Immobility is a much greater demotivation factor than a non-unanimous goal. Immobility, feeling of abandonment, creates restlessness, loss of confidence, loss of purpose.

And what good will come to your team from standing out as „rebels without a cause“? Will they grow in the organization because they refuse to do something considered unwise? Will they make management change their decision? No, they are making the situation worse for themselves, and the manager is not leading them to a better reasoning.

And what will they think of a manager that is neither capable of being convincing when discussing with the higher-ups nor capable of action within his own team.

Now most certainly, nothing is more ridiculous than blind propaganda when beginning to travel on a path that seems so unappealing to the people you work with, that is a question of communication. But keep the lines moving.

Agree, disagree, get in touch!

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Management: do what´s right even if it costs popularity in the short term

12432625 - stand out from the crowd concept

 

Beyond the corporate culture clichés, dazzling videos of teams cooperating hand in hand for the victory of their firm and themselves, reality is much more complicated when it comes to developing a working organization.

And with the new generations of young people, highly individualistic and defiant, the job of making teams functional and expansive is even greater.

Teams are strong, and the stronger the collective, the more the manager feels alone during conflicts.

Personally, I have always viewed my job as to encourage the development of strong collectives. The cooperation between members gives much more business through faster growth of the new employees, and customer satisfaction. But I am always aware that there is a price.

Because the good working atmosphere is not the goal, but the means, and the real objective is reaching targets set for the team. On occasions, you will need to do things that are right for the organization, even if those actions are viewed as unpopular.

If the thought of being unpopular worries you, remind yourself that:

  • Change, extra work, new methods is always disruptive to comfort, and many people value their comfort. Some to the point that it might threaten their results. Negativity is to be expected.
  • You are doing it for the greater good. How many leaders have been dragged in the mud during their reign to be rediscovered later as long-term thinking individuals? Take Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the U.K. from 1979 to 1990 for instance. She was not after popularity, she knew what was right, and she gave back a job and a future to millions of Britons. Things might not be so dramatic where you are (it is not where I am), but that´s the confidence you need to feel.
  • The team is not your family, you have no moral obligation to defend them in all circumstances. There´s a line, everyone´s interpretation differs to where it is when it comes to work habits and the relationship with the manager, but you have to let go of someone if that person cannot be put on the right track, even after trying to reason him or her. You did what you could.

 

I won´t go into the communication aspects with the team because that´s a whole chapter, but I need to emphasize one thing: do it with confidence and resolve.

Agree, disagree? Get in touch!

 

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Don’t breathe down their neck, but don’t leave the room either!

53538971 - difficult boss

Your team members do not like to be looked over the shoulder, nor do they like to be told what to do and if you need to personally order each action and monitor each detail of what you ask your team to perform, you will end up exhausted supervising a team of robots, doing nothing without a clear instruction to do something.

This is known as micro-management. And all management coaches, advisers will tell you it´s bad. As I just did from my own experience. Even a world war legend, general George S. Patton said Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

Pretty hard to disregard the words of such a great and proven leader. Continue reading

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How motivated is the hamster running in his wheel?

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I don’t like running, I do it for the exercise, and the best part about running for me is when it ends. As usual I went running Saturday. Usually, I do 10 km in a circle because I hate going back the same way I came, so I try to plan a circuit I can do and that is achievable without turning back. Yet this Saturday my friend wanted to come along, and 10km is too much for her, so we agreed on going somewhere else where she could do a shorter run and I could complete the distance I wanted to do.

It all ended up for me running around a couple of times a 800m circumference lake in the Ruzinov district in Bratislava. And it was extremely unpleasant. It was unpleasant because it was boring. And because it was boring, I found it physically harder to perform. And after the third tour and seeing the same swan on the shore, an image came into my mind: the hamster spinning in his wheel at the pet shop. How can you be motivated to do anything if you’re not moving! Well a hamster might be OK with it, but people?

There is a saying in France “metro, boulot, dodo” which means in child speak “subway, work, sleep”. This illustrates a state of mind when boredom steps in your workday. When that happens, motivation is much harder to feel and performance goes down.

There are many risks for a team to to fall into the impression that the days all look alike and that the work is always the same. It is quite a threat to the group in performance, spirit, and teamwork.

Perhaps that’s why it is important beyond all these fun team building activities to keep alive with the team the notion that we are on a moving train and the landscape from the window is changing even if the interior of the train remains the same.

It’s easy for a manger to be overwhelmed by daily tasks to forget these couple of minutes that can make such a difference. I occasionally myself realize at the end of the day that I took care of the team technically, but I did not manage to take those couple of minutes to point out how interesting the day, the week and the month is going to be.

I’m glad my Saturday morning run reminded me of this.

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