denken mit auf Augenhöhe

“Bei aller Strategie bleiben wir menschlich: Wir hören zu, denken mit und kommunizieren auf Augenhöhe.” In English: “Yes, it’s about strategy. But more importantly it’s about people. We are people. We listen. We think with. And we communicate at eye-level.”

Think with. At eye-level. That’s it. The German logic. In black and white. Clear as a bell.

The quote is from gambit. A Germany-based marketing and communications agency. Specialists. Serving companies who build buildings. gambit understands architects and interior designers.

I stumbled across gambit when noticing how superb the Simonswerk website is. Created by gambit. Simonswerk. A German mid-sized company located near Hanover, with a strong presence in France, Italy, and most importantly in the United States.

And why the term gambit as the name of their agency? They provide the definition on their website: “gambit [gæmbit], n. (Schach) einleitender Schachzug, (in conversation) einleitende Bemerkung.”

From MerriamWebster: “A chess opening in which a player risks one or more pawns or a minor piece to gain an advantage in position; a remark intended to start a conversation or make a telling point.”

selbständig – independent

“The team at Minderleinsmühle opened up their hearts to me. From the first minute onward I felt very comfortable. In my area I work independently. My colleagues, however, are always there for me should I need help. Every day I learn something new.” Anna, Intern in Quality Control, 2019

Minderleinsmühle near Nuremberg, Germany. From their website:

“Our mueslis & cereals, pastries, sweets, chocolates and snacks stand for high-end quality, sustainability and best taste. Under leading of the Hubmann Family, the Minderleinsmühle was arisen from a craft mill with connected agriculture to an established manufacturer in the sector of organic food. As a grown enterprise with a vision, we unify craftsmanship and experience with technology and innovation.”

German Leadership Style … wrong !

Here we go, another misreading of German leadership logic. See correction in ( … ):

“In Germany there is a clear chain of command in each department, and information and instructions are passed down from the top. (no, it goes in both directions) This does not mean, however, that German management is exclusively autocratic (not only not exclusively, not autocratic at all): while the vertical structure in each department is clear, considerable value is placed on consensus.

Equally, the German striving for perfection in systems and procedures carries with it the implication that the manager who vigorously applies and monitors these is showing faith in a framework that has proved successful for all.

Accordingly, German managers motivate staff by showing solidarity with them in following procedures. They work long hours (wrong), obey the rules (a cliché, often Germans will go against or ignore a process or procedure) and, though expecting immediate obedience (a terrible cliché, as if Germans were dogs), insist on fair play. For their part, German employees welcome close instruction (actually it’s the opposite, they want generally-formulated tasks, and not specifically/detailed-formulate orders): they know where they stand and what they are expected to do.”

Kareem about Wooden

One of the greatest scorers in the history of NBA basketball in the United States. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, formerly Lew Alcindor. An intelligent, very thoughtful person. On and off the basketball court.

He, like so many other players at UCLA – University of California Los Angeles – who played under coach John Wooden, was greatly influenced by Wooden.

In this talk Abdul-Jabbar speaks about the great strengths of John Wooden. Not only in how he formed great basketball players and teams. But more importantly how he formed young men. And they were as players at UCLA young men between the ages of 18 and 22.

Why is this post listed under Germany instead of the USA? Because Wooden’s approach to coaching is more indicative of the German leadership logic than of the American.

Wooden did not coach his players during the game. He gave only some very general instructions. Instead, he allowed them to apply what he had taught them during practice.

John Wooden always referred to himself as a basketball teacher. By the way, the official professional name for a soccer coach in the German Bundesliga is Fussball-Lehrer, literally soccer teacher.

How to Be Like Coach Wooden: Life Lessons From Basketball’s Greatest Leader, by Pat Williams (2006, with David Wimbish): “He (Wooden) always focused on the details. He was a teacher who happened to be a basketball coach.”

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?

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.

Walton about Wooden

In this very brief video, Bill Walton, describes the coaching philosophy of John Wooden. In the sense of how Wooden coached during the game.

John Wooden coached men’s basketball team at UCLA – The University of California at Los Angeles. He was most likely the most successful of all coaches at the university level.

Wooden did not coach his players during the game. He gave some general instructions. Instead, he allowed to apply what he had taught them during practice.

John Wooden always referred to himself as a basketball teacher. By the way, the official professional name for a soccer coach in the German Bundesliga is Fussball-Lehrer, literally soccer teacher.

Bill Walton was one of John Wooden’s, and basketball’s, greatest players. His finest game was the 1973 collegiate championship in which he scored 44 points, make 21 of 22 field goals.

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.