Shanghai … wait, what?

Referring again to this article in the New York Times about how a few major U.S. companies are handling the post-Covid work environment. With some employees returning full-time to the office. Others are working exlusively or almost excluisively from home. And many dividing their time between office and home.

“Though most evidence that remote workers are at a disadvantage is anecdotal, at least one study, led by researchers at Stanford University, suggests they are less likely to be promoted than their in-office peers. In the experiment researchers randomly assigned workers at a large travel agency in Shanghai to work remotely or in the office for nine months. Though the remote workers were 13 percent more productive, putting in more hours and making more calls per minute, they were promoted about half as often as their in-office peers.”

“They can get forgotten,” said Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford and one of the study’s authors.

But wait, what, Professor Bloom? That’s Shanghai. Those are Chinese. What does anecdotal evidence from China tell us about how Americans benefit or lose out if and when working remotely? Stanford University !

Face-time with management

A fascinating article in the New York Times about how a few major U.S. companies are handling the post-Covid work environment. Some employees are returning full-time to the office. Others are working exlusively, or almost excluisively from home. And many are splitting the time between office and home.

There are, of course, consequences for each choice. And in the U.S. some companies are concerned about reduced opportunities for those folks who are less present in the office. Why? Reduced face-time with management.

This is a clear statement about the nature of leadership in the U.S. business environment: Get face-time with your boss !

If you collaborate with Germans, ask them if less face-time with management would be a disadvantage or an advantage. And when you do, read to them, as best you can this, well-know, German figure of speech: “Gehe nicht zu Deinem Fürst, wenn Du nicht gerufen wirst.”

Phonetically: Gay nisht tsu die nem first, venn doo nisht gay-roofen veerst.

U.S. Army 22-100

How a society fundamentally defines the everyday working relationship between leader and led – between two levels of hierarchy – is imbedded in how that society defends itself. In its military.

If that working relationship does not function well, if it fails, not only is the respective mission in jeopardy, the very lives of the soldiers are at risk. Defining and managing the line between strategy and tactics is in the military context a matter of life and death.

The American military tradition in practice involves a close working relationship between leader and led, between strategy and tactics.

The U.S. Army Field Manual 22-100 states: „Leadership is the process of influencing others to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. Purpose gives soldiers a reason why they should do difficult things under dangerous, stressful circumstances. Direction shows what must be done. Through motivation, leaders give soldiers the will to do everything they are capable of doing to accomplish a mission. Effective leaders use both direct and indirect influence to lead.“

Mission Command. The U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command Pamphlet 525-3-0 states: „Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based on mission orders. Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent.“

Army Leadership Doctrine: U.S. Army Field Manual 6-22, Part 3 describes a direct leader as someone who “influences others person-to- person …. instructs, recognizes achievement, and encourages hard work.”

A direct leader carries out the goals of higher-level commanders on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute basis. Because higher-level leaders cannot dictate the specific actions that should be taken in every possible situation, direct leaders must act independently. However, their actions, and those of their subordinates, always support the commander’s intent:

“At the direct level, a platoon leader knows what a battalion commander wants done, not because the lieutenant was briefed personally, but because the lieutenant understands the commander’s intent two levels up. The intent creates a critical link between the organizational and direct leadership levels.”

Section 7-26 distinguishes between long-term, strategic intent – which is a written statement indicating the goals of the operation – and day-to-day intent, which is communicated more informally from the direct leader to his subordinates. “Leaders in command positions use commander’s intent to convey purpose. The commander’s intent is a clear, concise statement of what the force must do and the conditions the force must meet to succeed with respect to the enemy, terrain, and desired end state.”

It states further: “Besides purpose and motivation, (direct) leaders influence also consists of direction. Direction deals with how a goal, task, or mission is to be achieved. Subordinates do not need to receive guidance on the details of execution in all situations. The skilled leader will know when to provide detailed guidance and when to focus only on purpose, motivation, or inspiration.”

Omar M. Bradley, an American four-star general during the Second World War, summarized the relationship between soldier and non-commissioned officer in the following way: “In battle, the American soldier wants to know that the job is going to be done right, with no unnecessary casualties. The non-commissioned officer is supposed to be the best soldier in the platoon and he is supposed to know how to perform all the duties expected of him. The American soldier expects his sergeant to be able to teach him how to do his job. And he expects even more from his officers.”

In addition to teaching and directing their subordinates, direct leaders must constantly supervise the work of their soldiers. FM 6-22 points out that effective supervision requires leaders to get to know their subordinates very well. “Proper supervision is essential to ensuring mission accomplishment to standard. It is an integral part of caring for soldiers. The better they know their unit and subordinates, the more they can strike a balance for finding the details.”

Although constantly „looking over their shoulders” is not something that American direct leaders should do, they are expected to tell subordinates both what is to be accomplished (mission intent) and how it is to be accomplished (instructions). The detailed instructions direct leaders give to subordinates is [not are? The instructions; plural.] a key hallmark of American military leadership.

“Stop micromanaging”

Harvard Business Review. “Stop Being Micromanaged.” Amy Gallo, September 22, 2011.

There are managers who have very high standards who like some degree of control. They pay a great deal of attention to detail and exercise some degree of control, but they don’t stifle those who work for them.

Then there are pathological micromanagers who need to make it clear to themselves and others that they are in charge. These are the bosses that give you little to no autonomy, insist they be involved in every detail of your work, and are more concerned about specifics, such as font size, rather than the big picture.” 

It is counterproductive to fight against micromanagement. Gallo suggests: “Make upfront agreements. Talk to your boss before a project starts about how she will be involved. Try to agree on standards and basic approach.

Explain what you think the ideal plan of action is and then ask for her input. Be sure you understand upfront what the guiding principles are for the work, not just the tactical elements. These principles are what you should be discussing with your boss. 

The author recommends: “Remind your boss that she is better off not getting involved in the minutiae because her time and effort are more valuable to the big picture. And keep your boss in the loop.”

Signs That You’re a Micromanager

“Signs That You’re a Micromanager.” Muriel Wilkins. November 2014. Harvard Business Review.

“Absolutely no one likes to be micromanaged. It’s frustrating, demoralizing, and demotivating. Yet, some managers can’t seem to help themselves. The signs are clear:

You’re never quite satisfied with deliverables. You’re often frustrated because you would’ve gone about the task differently. You laser in on the details and take great pride in making corrections. You constantly want to know where all your team members are and what they’re working on. You ask for frequent updates on where things stand. You prefer to be cc’d on emails.

Wilkins suggest four things to reduce micromanaging:

Get over yourself. We can all rationalize why we do what we do and the same holds true for micromanagers.

Let it go. The difference between managing and micromanaging is the focus on the micro. Let go of the minutia. 

Give the what, not the how. There’s a difference between sharing that expectation and dictating how to get to that result.

Expect to win. Be clear on what success looks like. Provide the resources, information, and support needed to meet those conditions. Give credit where credit is due.

“Stop Being Micromanaged”

Harvard Business Review. “Stop Being Micromanaged.” Amy Gallo, September 22, 2011.

There are managers who have very high standards who like some degree of control. They pay a great deal of attention to detail and exercise some degree of control, but they don’t stifle those who work for them.

Then there are pathological micromanagers who need to make it clear to themselves and others that they are in charge. These are the bosses that give you little to no autonomy, insist they be involved in every detail of your work, and are more concerned about specifics, such as font size, rather than the big picture.” 

It is counterproductive to fight against micromanagement. Gallo suggests: “Make upfront agreements. Talk to your boss before a project starts about how she will be involved. Try to agree on standards and basic approach.

Explain what you think the ideal plan of action is and then ask for her input. Be sure you understand upfront what the guiding principles are for the work, not just the tactical elements. These principles are what you should be discussing with your boss. 

The author recommends: “Remind your boss that she is better off not getting involved in the minutiae because her time and effort are more valuable to the big picture. And keep your boss in the loop.”

How a society organizes itself

How a society fundamentally defines the everyday working relationship between leader and led – between two levels of hierarchy – is imbedded in how that society makes decisions. In its political system.

If that working relationship does not function well, if it fails, not only are the political policies of those elected to office in jeopardy, the direction of the country, state, city or municipality is at risk. Defining and managing the line between strategy and tactics is in the political context a matter of moving forward or backward as a society.

The American political tradition involves a close working relationship between president and cabinet, between governor and mayor and their respective cabinets, between all holders of public office and their direct reports.

The American president is the head of the executive branch of government. The president‘s cabinet – the next level of management within the executive – reports directly to him or her and does not possess any domestic political power which could challenge the president‘s authority. Members of the Cabinet serve at the pleasure of the President, who may dismiss them or reappoint them to other posts at will.

Article Two of the U.S. Constitution provides that the President can require „the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices.“ The Constitution did not then establish the names (or list or limit the number) of Cabinet departments. Those details were left to the Congress to determine.

There is no explicit definition of the term „cabinet“ in either the United States Code or the Code of Federal Regulations. However, there are occasional references to „cabinet-level officers“ or „secretaries“, which when viewed in context appear to refer to the head of the „executive departments“ as listed in 5 U.S.C. §101.

The President’s Cabinet is an institution whose existence rests upon custom rather than law. Presidents have differed in their opinions as to the utility of the Cabinet, but all have found some political and administrative strengths in its continuance.

The Cabinet is retained because it provides to the President: political and managerial advice; a forum for interdepartmental conflict resolution; a location where he can address most of the executive branch and thereby enhance administrative coherence; and a source of political support for his programs and policies.

The Cabinet is not now, and is not likely to become, a body with collective responsibility. Presidents cannot appropriately share their legal authority or  responsibilities with the Cabinet. The Cabinet, its members, and its sub-groups provide the President with an adaptive resource with which to manage the executive branch of government. (from CRS Report for Congress. The President’s Cabinet: Evolution, Alternatives, and Proposals for Change, September 12, 2000).

Stratēgia

Strategy: The science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war; the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions; a careful plan or method; the art of devising or employing plans toward a goal. From Greek stratēgia generalship, from stratēgos. First known use 1810.

Strategy is the goal, the mission, the end result, what is to be achieved by the team. It is a decision or a series of decisions. Tactics is the action taken to achieve that goal, to execute that decision. Strategy is the what. Tactics is the how.

Tactics: The science and art of disposing and maneuvering forces in combat; the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end; a system or mode of procedure. New Latin tactica, from Greek taktikos of order, of tactics, fit for arranging, from tassein to arrange, place in battle formation. First known use 1626.

In American football, basketball or baseball the strategy of a team can be seen in the formation of their players on the field. The strategy of American companies, of their individual teams, can be seen in their organization structure. A political campaign strategy is explicit in their organizational set-up, in which states they deploy what people and resources.

Lead: To guide on a way especially by going in advance; to direct on a course or in a direction; to serve as a channel for; to go through; to direct the operations, activity, or performance of; to have charge of; to go at the head of; to be first in or among; to aim in front of. From Middle English leden, from Old English lǣdan; akin to Old High German leiten to lead, Old English līthan to go. First known use before 12th century

Manage: To handle or direct with a degree of skill; to make and keep compliant; to treat with care; to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction of; to work upon or try to alter for a purpose; to succeed in accomplishing. From Italian maneggiare, from mano hand, from Latin manus. First known use 1579.

Administer: To manage or supervise the execution, use, or conduct of; to mete out; to give remedially. From Middle English administren, from Anglo-French administrer, from Latin administrare, from ad + ministrare to serve, from minister servant. First known use 14th century.

Team Sports

How a society fundamentally defines the everyday working relationship between leader and led, is imbedded in how that society teaches its young people to compete in athletics. In its most popular sports. If that working relationship does not function well, the team loses.

It is no coincidence that the terms common to American teams sports are used time and again in the American business context. For the overwhelming majority of Americans have experience neither in the military nor in politics.

Other than being a member of a family, participating in team sports is the most common experience Americans, especially youths, have in a team context. And for those whose days of playing in a team are past, most remain fans of those sports. Teams sports in America form how Americans work in teams. The relationship between coaches and players is very much the model, or the mold, for the relationship between team lead and team.

The American sports tradition involves a close working relationship between leader and led, between the coaching staff and the players.

The coach and coaching staff in American football are the dominant actors during the game without stepping onto the field. They determine not only the strategy, but also the tactics. Both they can change quickly.

The rules of the game limit in no way when, how often, which and how many players they can substitute. Nor are there any restrictions on team formations on the field.

The coaching staff in almost all circumstances calls the individual offensive and defensive plays via direct communication with designated players: the quarterback on offense, the middle linebacker or safety on defense.

Playbooks are extensive descriptions of what each player does in a given play. They are detailed and prescriptive in nature. Depending on the position there is no to little room for variation.

During breaks in play, as well as changes in ball possession, the coaching staffs instruct directly their players on the details of execution. In other words, teaching occurs during the game.

American football is a very tightly managed and scripted sport, in many ways a sophisticated chess match between opposing coaching staffs. The television and radio commentators refer time and again to what decisions the coaches are making during the game: strategy, tactics, player substitutions, play-calling, time management.

Basketball – invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a Canadian-American, while teaching physical education in Springfield, Massachusetts – is also a sport dominated by the coaches. It has all of the characteristics of American football.

The teams of five players are smaller. The lines of communication between coaches and players are shorter and more direct. Although there are fewer set plays memorized from a playbook, the coaches can determine more directly how their team plays.

The chess match character is particularly evident during the final minutes of close games with coaches standing on the side of the court directing their players in real time, substituting players rapidly based on ball possession, and calling timeouts in order to give them explicit instructions.

Although baseball is in many ways a different kind of sport than American football and basketball, its rules and how the sport is played very much echoes the coach-player relationships in football and basketball.

It is the coaching staff who decides who pitches the ball, what pitches are chosen, when they are pitched. The coaching staff also instructs to a certain degree the batter on when to swing at which pitches. When players are on base as runners, they too are given instructions on when or when not to attempt to steal a base.

American colleges recruit their athletes from high schools across the nation. The athletes are often offered full tuition scholarships to play a sport at a university. Top basketball players are identified as early as in their 8th or 9th grade. The best players will be recruited during their junior year of high school.

This is a very personal process which consists of a dialogue between the university‘s head coach and player during his or her lasts one pr two years. Although there are many deciding factors in where a player decides which school to attend, the personal relationship with the coach is one of the most important.

Presidents and Cabinets

President Lincoln held Cabinet meetings on Tuesdays and Fridays. These meetings were informal gatherings of equals with no formal structure or assigned seats. The President, however, preferred to deal with matters directly with individual members rather than have discussions with the full group.

Lincoln was deeply involved in the day-to-day affairs of the War Department. According to the diary of Gideon Welles, the president went to the War Department three to four times per day to look over communications in the telegraph office. Lincoln was known for his deliberative style, patiently listening to what his Cabinet members had to say before making a decision.

President Obama did not convene frequent Cabinet meetings during his first term. The meeting held in July 2012 was only the eighteenth. Obama does, however, hold daily meetings with White House advisors in which they discuss specific policies. The president reportedly prefers to understand problems with a high degree of detail. Some have criticized him for micromanaging his staff.

Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan are considered to be the classic examples of delegators. Both brought a broad, bold vision of the role of government to the White House, and each relied heavily upon staff, executive agencies, and cabinet heads to implement their policies. Not coincidentally, both were largely successful in advancing their agendas, though at opposite ends of the political spectrum. In the first two years of his presidency, George W. Bush had exhibited many of the leadership traits of Reagan and Roosevelt.

Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter were known as micromanagers. As a former Senate majority leader, Johnson took an unusually active role in Congressional affairs, and was fond of monitoring the minutiae of the legislative process. He took a similar approach to managing the Vietnam War, picking many of the bombing targets himself during late-night strategy sessions with his generals.

Although Jimmy Carter campaigned as an outsider to the political system (having served one term as the governor of Georgia), he quickly developed a reputation as a “policy wonk” and micromanager. He was faulted for lacking the grand vision of previous presidents, and for obsessing over the administrative details of the office at the expense of seeing the big picture. It was reported that Carter once took time to resolve a scheduling dispute between staffers over the use of the White House tennis courts.

Richard Nixon’s leadership style has been described as “keeping his own counsel.” The thirty-seventh president had few advisors that he trusted, and rarely sought out dissenting opinions or advice from others. It is believed that Nixon’s mistrust of virtually everyone around him contributed to his downfall following the Watergate break-in.

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