Carl Braun Describes Why Most Managers Fail to Lead


When member @panhandler shared this Harvard Business Review article with us, I immediately connected their conclusion with a few statements made by Carl Braun. In his masterful no-nonsense plain English, Braun described why most managers fail to lead.

First, let me briefly highlight the HBR article. The authors explain the two primary types of performance: tactical and adaptive. Below are brief descriptions of each:

tactical performance - how effectively your organization sticks to its strategy.

adaptive performance - manifests as creativity, problem solving, grit, innovation, and citizenship.

The authors summarize that most managers focus on and overdo - through incentives - tactical performance. Specifically, the authors described an all too common scenario. They approached the call center of a bank’s consumer loans business. That call center had “perfectly” scripted answers written by a psychologist, phone dialing was automated, and significant bonuses could be had for achieving high performance. But performance was declining precipitously.

Few see how demoralizing such a structure is. The management of the call center idolized profits. This statement from the article proves it:

“The leadership team was skeptical that their teams would work without sticks or carrots, so they had us work with the lowest-performing employees in the building.”

That’s poor wording. The leaders of the call center weren’t leaders, they were managers - and terrible ones at that.

Carl Braun perfectly explained why such methods are demoralizing, and lead to declining results:

"There might be owners and management whose idol is profit. There may be workmen whose sole concern is the paycheck. But they’re not men, they’re worms… Man is not primarily a money-grubber. And any leadership based on such an assumption, is degrading both to the leader and to his people. It will surely fail.

And to think that profit, or salary, or wages, is a man’s highest motive and spur, is gross misconception. It’s worse, it’s gross slander.

Accept it (belief that man is running just for money), and we condemn the worker in industry to a life of ugliness, discomfort, and unpleasantness… It’s (profits) not the end, it’s merely the means.

It’s high time that every industrial leader become fully aware that industrial man, like any other man, is a man of sentiments and feelings."

Thankfully what the researchers in the article did to help “adaptive” performance was to tend to the sentiments and feelings of call center employees. They provided the environment to enable call center employees to find in their work its fullest import, interest, and satisfaction. These are the traits that business owners and leaders should be developing.

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