"Welcome back from the leadership workshop, Larry."
Startled, Larry Parks bolted up from his painstaking inspection of the blueprints for KGO Worldwide Conveyance Company's major project in Singapore. The plans involved an intricate web of moving ground-level and elevated walkways, escalators, and elevators throughout a stretch of central Singapore. Larry's boss in the Excalibur Engineering division, Chloe Hall, was leaning in his doorway. He set down his mechanical pencil and mustered a half-smile.
"Hey, Chloe. What's up?"
"Just wanted to know how the workshop went."
"Great," Larry said, trying to feign enthusiasm. "Really good."
"Can you stop by my office in about fifteen minutes to talk about it?"
Chloe was turning to leave as Larry managed, "Sure." To himself he thought, It's 7:15 Monday morning. Can't she at least let me deal with my e-mail before demanding an audience?
Larry rubbed his closed eyes with the cool fingers of both hands. He leaned forward, elbows on the gel wrist pad in front of his keyboard, and held his face in his hands while his inbox opened, revealing a torrent of e-mails awaiting his response:
"Need your help."
"Problems with permits."
"URGENT . . . supplier financial troubles."
"Spec change. . . . "
Larry had tried to keep on top of e-mail during his absence. Even so, he counted two dozen new messages from Singapore having to do with the project--or, as he'd come to refer to it, "The road to hell." There were another ten from members of his domestic team.
Of the thirty-four total project-related messages, twelve were marked URGENT.
And all had arrived since he'd left the office the previous afternoon--Sunday, when people were supposed to be with their families.
Larry let his head hang down and massaged the back of his neck, tracing along the spine to soothe the tension building there. But when he looked back up at his computer screen, he felt his jaw tighten again. "Oh, brother," he muttered through clenched teeth. "How can there be this many new e-mails on a Monday morning? Doesn't anybody around here take a break? Can't anybody think for himself? Do I have to personally handle every single detail?"
Larry turned toward the wall behind him and caught his reflection in a large framed photograph of his father straining to reel in a huge marlin on a charter boat in the Bahamas. He considered all the time he'd wasted attending that leadership-development workshop the previous week, and the additional pressure it had put on him. The circles darkening under his eyes reminded him of how badly he wanted one really good night's sleep.
Larry put aside the project plan and pulled out his workshop notes to prepare for his meeting with Chloe.
Looking at the sparse pages from the workshop, Larry recalled the trouble he'd had paying attention. He knew its focus was developing leadership skills and self-awareness. But he'd had other things on his mind.
Larry had brought the project plan to the workshop, plus the work breakdowns, Gantt charts, resource-allocation tables, and a bunch of component drawings he needed to review as well. He'd hoped to find a seat in the back of the room where he could be left alone to do his work while "getting his dance card punched." But the tables and chairs in the room were arranged in a horseshoe that had left Larry no place to hide.
He'd resigned himself, about halfway through the first of the three days, to being an active participant in the workshop. But he still found it hard to care. The training was all soft: talk about the importance of process, caring for your people, and other principles that Larry thought were just so much window dressing.
What had Chloe said? Oh, yes: "When you started working here, I saw a potential leader for this company, not just a brilliant engineer or a competent project manager. This is a tough culture, with lots of guys who have a storm-the-castle-worry-about-casualties-later attitude. And the people, like you, who bring the highest level of technical expertise don't always bring an equivalent level of people skills. But from watching you work with others, I think you have the potential to turn into a real leader. You've always shown yourself to accept feedback and to be open to change. I want to get you off to the best possible start on this assignment, and this workshop has produced strong results for lots of people."
Larry had looked forward to hearing what his mentor, Macon, would make of all this, and wondered why Macon hadn't had to attend as well--then remembered Macon had already been to it, or something like it, last year.
When talk in the workshop had turned to the importance of delegating thoughtfully, Larry recalled Macon's advice: "If you want to make sure something's done right, you either do it yourself or double-check to make sure the guy you assigned it to didn't screw it up." That was more practical advice, Larry thought, and it didn't take three whole days to deliver.
A lot of good going off to a workshop did me, Larry thought on his way to Chloe's corner office. The real workshop is here, where there's work to be done, and she sent me off to a hotel for three days to play leadership games.
"Larry," Chloe acknowledged as he entered, looking up from some papers on her large, dark, orderly, polished wooden desk.
Must be some rare imported rosewood, Larry guessed. He couldn't help but compare it to his own desk, made of some sort of vinyl laminate that failed to even remotely resemble the granite its pattern was designed to simulate.
"Have a seat. And tell me, how did it go at Jim Enos's workshop?" Chloe showed him her confident smile.
Larry took a deep breath and recollected his experience of the previous week.
CHAPTER TWOThe Masquerade
"Good stuff," Larry said, trying to sound convincing. "I'm not sure I agree with Enos's take on everything, but there were some good principles I think I can apply. It, uh, reinforced some of the things I don't think I was paying enough attention to."
Chloe walked around her desk to take a seat next to Larry. He reflected that in her spacious, sunlit office, with its French Impressionist prints, off-white walls, light gray carpeting, and bright but soft light, he ought to feel more relaxed. Instead, he often felt on edge, intimidated. Maybe it was Chloe's strong, angular chin that threw him off balance, he reflected.
Though he was glad to be out of the harsh fluorescent light of his own office and in a room with a view of woods, he was nonetheless put off slightly by the obvious disparity in his and Chloe's organizational status. And he caught himself wondering how, given their proximity in age (Chloe was only three years older) and his superior training as an engineer, she had advanced so much further than he had. On paper, he thought, you'd figure she'd be reporting to me.
"Like what, Larry?" Chloe asked.
"Do you mind if I look at my notes? There was so much that it hasn't all sunk in yet," Larry offered.
"Of course, go ahead. I hadn't meant it to be this formal, but I'm interested in your observations."
Larry opened his organizer and scanned what he'd written under Day One:
A leader's job is to create and manage the culture??? (While I'm doing this, who's minding the store?)
You're only as good as the people who work for you. (Need better people on my team.)
Leading is freeing people to do what they need to do. (I'd like to free a couple of people on my team to go find another job!)
Managers can't lead without awareness of their impact on others. (How do I find out if I'm getting through to them?)
If you expect to sit in the shade, you'll need to plant trees. (Is this a gardening seminar? When you need a meal now, you don't seed a vegetable garden.)
That sure wasn't what Chloe wanted to hear. Flipping the page, and hoping for help, Larry checked what he'd written under the title Action Items from Workshop:
1. Leave voice mail reminding everyone on team to focus more closely on their piece of the action and the bottom line. Let them know I mean business.
2. Send e-mail to team members telling them to list the things that have gone awry because of lack of skill or knowledge and then send it to me. Use list to get some technical backup.
3. Check with Chloe to see whether there's any way to change project bonus structure to reward people with stock instead of straight pay. That oughtta focus people more on making sure that their work contributes to the bottom line.
Larry decided it would be better to generalize. He leaned back in his chair and placed his hands, tent-style, in front of him, a gesture he'd learned conveyed confidence. "Well, I came away with basic things about paying more attention to what my people are doing, making sure they know how to do their jobs, promoting responsibility," Larry offered.
"Good points, Larry. Okay, you pass the general content quiz."
Larry absorbed Chloe's sarcasm, wondering what it meant.
"And what I hear you saying is that none of this is especially new to you?" she probed, tilting her head slightly.
"Well, you know, not really new, but maybe things that in the daily shuffle get lost. I realize I need to lift my sights a little higher but still keep my eye on the ball."
Chloe's lips tightened, then relaxed. For a second Larry thought she was going to say something critical, but she seemed to accept what he said--even if she wasn't happy about it. "Okay, Larry," Chloe said. "I just wanted to welcome you back, to tell you how much we're all counting on you for a big win here. You can come to me for anything you need. My door's always open."
"Thanks, boss," Larry said as he stood up to leave. Chloe gave him a tight smile, and he mischievously pulled the door closed behind him.
Walking back to his office wide-eyed, Larry felt that he had just narrowly dodged a bullet. He decided to call Macon to get his advice on how to handle this business with the workshop and Chloe. After all, Macon had been through it before and survived.
CHAPTER THREENow What?
When Larry got back to his office, his phone was lit up--message light blinking, new call ringing. He picked up the receiver.
"Larry, it's Miles. We've got a contract problem with the cable supplier. They've decided now that they won't knock off the five percent we thought they'd agreed to. And we can't find anything in writing that says they ever agreed to that."
"Damn it, Miles, I can't believe you didn't get it in writing! How'd this happen? You've been a purchasing manager for--how long is it?"
"Look, Larry, how it happened doesn't get us to a solution. And my competence as a purchasing manager is between me and my boss, not you. You can't just throw this ball in my court and then turn your back and walk away. You're the project manager here, not me. If you want to go around looking for who to blame instead of working with me on a solution to this, then look in the mirror. So what do you want to do about it?"
"Okay, Miles, calm down. Let's round up the usual suspects and have a quick meeting on this. See you in ten minutes in the war room."
It sounded to Larry as if Miles might have cracked the handset when he hung up the phone.
Before Larry could get up to leave his office, however, the phone rang again. The caller ID screen said it was his lead designer, John Burke.
Against his better judgment, Larry picked up the phone. "Listen, John, I'm on my way to a meeting. What's up?"
"Here it is in a nutshell, Larry. You've looked over the drawings pretty carefully, right?"
"Well, I tried. But Chloe had me in this training thing for a couple of days, as I think you know, and I haven't had the time to look at them as closely as I wanted."
"Then you probably wouldn't have noticed this, but whoever did them needs to go back to basic training. They stamped just about everything 'critical to quality.' It's like they never heard about how to incorporate customer requirements in determining CTQs. If we have to QC everything they marked, this project'll go way over budget, and way behind schedule."
Larry sat down and massaged his temples with his free hand. "John, why the heck are you making this my problem? Can't you just go back to the design engineer and ask him to revise them?"
"Not if he hasn't been to the Quality Function Deployment course, I can't. He won't know why I'm bothered by this. And if he has been through QFD, then he flunked. This is not a job for entry-level engineers, Larry. We need the most experienced, brightest, and hardest-working people on this project. The risks are just too high."
"They always are," Larry sighed, trying to end the conversation. "All right, John, I'll get right on it."
John continued: "When you picked this guy, didn't you look to see whether he'd been through QFD?"
"What makes you think I picked him?"
"Hey, you're the manager, Larry. Isn't it your call who's on the team? And even if you didn't pick him, didn't you check to see if he'd been to QFD? And if not, why didn't you send him?"
"John, I don't need to explain myself to you. And this isn't getting us anywhere. I'll check the drawings myself," Larry said.
"Oh, and by the way, Larry, it may be beside the point by now, but don't you think it would be worthwhile to get the marketing manager and sales engineer in the room with the core team as soon as possible so that guys like this novice designer can get the big picture straight from the photographer's lens?"
"Why's that, John?"
"Because, Larry, those are the guys who had the initial customer contact, the primary vision for the project, and they're the best ones to represent what the customer expects--what they have bought. I shouldn't have to tell you how things can get distorted once they move into the hands of engineers and designers."
Larry sighed again, remembering the lessons from previous training about the importance of keeping core teams intact through a project's life cycle. "I'll see what I can do, John."
"You know, sometimes I feel like you've given us a thousand-piece puzzle and asked us to complete it without ever seeing the picture on the box. Maybe it's not the designer's fault about these drawings."
"I said I'll look into it, John," Larry said, and hung up. What next? he thought. Oh yeah--Miles's meeting.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Lost and Found by Lyle Sussman, Ph.D., Sam Deep, and Alex Stiber. Copyright © 2004 by Lyle Sussman, Ph.D., Sam Deep, and Alex Stiber. Excerpted by permission of Crown Business, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.