“True freedom is where an individual’s thoughts and actions are in alignment with that which is true, correct, and of honor – no matter the personal price.”
Bryant H. McGill
This is about managing people, chaos <that is inherent with groups of people> and leadership.
I have written several times about my college job, quasi-security guy with a company called Contemporary Security Company <CSC>, and it made me think about another good business lesson I learned. I call it corralling chaos.
Comparing chaos to managing people?
Look. Unless you want to hire a bunch of clones or do some mind meld trick upon hiring someone, you are going to inevitably have a wide variety of specific skilled people, a mosaic of personalities and characters and, well, humans being human within your purview.
Anyway. I learned this very quickly as a youngster at CSC. And, by the way, I didn’t learn this because I was some brilliant leader or insightful organizational behavior person at the age of 18 … I learned it out of simple survival. Once I became a supervisor I definitely had a ‘Bruce team.’ A small group of guys who I always selected <or they selected me> to be surrounded by to manage and utilize.
In hindsight I was a little different than some of the other supervisors. I liked using the same guys even though the assignment was different. I liked tweaking each guy’s ‘comfort zone’ to show them how to adapt. I think I subconsciously recognized that it probably helped me out under a variety of assignments in that these guys … and these guys were wired differently … wouldn’t take a cookie cutter approach to how they handled things.
Not only did they see that things could be done differently <than maybe what their first instinct was> but also they became comfortable with some things out of their comfort zone.
The best example I have is two guys who were with me whenever possible.
They were book end personalities.
African American. Sharp & smart. Took life seriously. Scowled a lot. Maybe 6’ 1” and 280 pounds of hair triggered whirlwind of aggression. You only walked up to Lamont from behind very carefully. I vividly remember walking up behind him and tapping him on the shoulder … and he spun around with a semi graceful martial arts form <… c’mon, how graceful can a 280 pound guy be> … crouched and coiled to part my head from my shoulders.
I also vividly remember his eyes were laser-like and seemingly completely clear of anything but ‘destroy.’ Without relaxing … he said ‘little buddy … you shouldn’t sneak up on me like that’ and then he uncoiled.
White suburban kid. Maybe not the sharpest knife in the drawer. 6’ 2” and chiseled 220 pounds or so. Played defensive end at Orange Coast junior college. Easy going … smiled a lot. The first time I met him on the job I saw him wade into a drunken brawl of maybe 6 guys and singlehandedly blow it up with maybe only one punch thrown by him <which admittedly put that guy out of commission>.
These two guys became the bookends that held most of my teams together.
Lamont was like an assassin.
Dave was like a bull.
Lamont I restrained.
Dave I released.
Both could intimidate in their own way, but their instinct was always to act with power of action and not words.
My bosses struggled to understand why I always wanted them — no matter the assignment.
Lamont was often seen as uncontrollable <therefore they hesitated to want to put him in more ‘delicate diplomatic’ situations>.
Dave was often seen as ‘not too smart’ <therefore they hesitated to want to put him in situations where he may have to think on his feet>.
Beyond the fact I saw how these guys could be used effectively I probably more recognized that situations my bosses ‘foresaw’ within an assignment more often became unforeseen actions & consequences.
Security at some event with zillions of people wandering around <many drinking> all with an attitude that ‘hey … I paid to be here … so I can do pretty much whatever I want’ is inevitably one of much randomness.
Interestingly … that describes the business world fairly well <without the drinking>. Managing people isn’t really about plans & planning, or even having a plan, it is more often about how to deal with what happens when the plan breaks apart.
Look. Plans and planning and all the things under those headings <business plans, contingency plans, succession plans> are all good things … uhm … until they aren’t.
All the plans that once bring order, continuity, and control often become rigid obstacles to progress and adaptation.
Lamont, Dave … shit, whatever personality I was supervising, I found that most people are trying to do what they believe is in the best interest of the organization.
I also found the trouble was often they may not have the same point of view on what that is. And, yes, that leads to some version of chaos.
Both options are valid.
But the conclusions they reach end up in direct conflict with each other. This creates confusion <with each other as well as those around them seeking cues on what to do>.
A lot of the supervisors around me did two things.
Bitched & moaned about ‘the guys they managed’ and said ‘they just don’t get it.’
Picked people for their team that they could ‘control.’
I guess I decided to take responsibility for getting out of the chaos. I assumed from day one that it was me responsible for allowing chaos.
I also assumed I couldn’t control anyone — certainly not someone like Lamont or a number of other highly wired individuals I liked to have on my team — but I did assume I could point them in the right direction <with regard to attitudes & actions>. I picked guys for my teams who could get shit done. And get shit done within some principled behavior guidelines.
Be a compass as it were.
I certainly didn’t understand all the real thinking behind good management and leadership at that age.
What I do know now for sure – good leaders provide a compass.
A good leader helps others think through implications that can impact the broader team’s goals and objectives.
Once people have orienting values and principles, their ability to think and operate independently accelerates.
Good leaders hold people, themselves included, accountable to a set of values and principles. And leading is often measured by how you deal with the times which inevitably occur when the leader needs to confront a difficult decision that puts principles to the test.
Corralling chaos is all about getting comfortable with being slightly uncomfortable.
My guys recognized that always sticking to the plan without fail provided a false sense of security. They knew from experience that there needed to be some flexibility with “how” the “what” is implemented.
They embraced the purposeful discomfort and I rewarded the purposeful discomfort.
I left room for serendipity.
I left room for what is called “interaction with an unintended outcome” <Scott Doorley, Stanford>.
Some smart guy, Atul Gawande, states there will always be people who excel and thrive in complex and chaotic environments. People who “have a better capacity to prepare for the possibility, to limit the damage, and to sometimes even retrieve success from failure.”
Well. I agree with that and I don’t agree with that.
I agree that some people are better than others at the ability to quickly assess situations and take decisive action based on their experience and instinct.
I don’t agree that anyone and everyone can become better and hone this ability. In fact … part being a good leader is trying to figure out how to maximize this ability within employees <because it enhances autonomy which increases organizational efficiency>.
I have no clue if I am particularly strong with the ‘capacity to prepare for unintended consequences.’
What I do have a clue on is that no matter how strong I may be … I can’t prepare for everything and can’t solve everything and I can’t be everywhere at all times.
I liked having a variety of skilled people available … no matter how difficult they were to manage.
It increased the likelihood the team could handle any ‘unintended consequences’ as they arose.
CSC taught me a shitload.
It taught me very quickly that when supervisors complained that people are working against each other, that they are not aligned, that they don’t seem to ‘get it’ … that they are full of shit.
It taught me first & foremost that a supervisor needs to look in the mirror.
Is chaos a bad word to use when discussing people management?
But here is what I do know.
I would rather corral chaos than ‘light a fire under someone’s ass.’
Is that a management style?
Sure. I imagine so.
I imagine it is actually a management or leadership choice. And when I look in the mirror with regard to management style I am okay with what I see. And I thank my CSC job for helping me be okay with it.
If interested, after you read this post, you can visit his past CSC ‘learnings’ posts:
<learning to say no>
<practicing actually means more relaxed>
<action has its time>