Some general managers are at a loss when it comes to getting their department heads to take greater responsibility for their department’s performance.Â They wonder why they have to tell their subordinates what they must do and how to do it.Â Why won’t these managers take charge and assume the initiative to run their operations more efficiently and profitably?
Let me tell you the story of Dave and one of my early leadership lessons.Â As a newly-commissioned second lieutenant I was going through Army Ranger School â€“ a grueling 9-week course at Fort Benning with a three week segment in the mountains of north Georgia and another three weeks in the swamps of Florida.Â Each Ranger candidate was paired with another â€“ his Ranger Buddy.Â Mine was Dave, a classmate from the Academy.
One night on an extended patrol in the mountain phase, Dave had been assigned to carry the heavy M-60 machine gun in addition to his normal load of gear and ammunition.Â We were cold, hungry, sleep-deprived, and physically exhausted from miles of “humping” up and down the mountainous terrain.Â As the night went on, Dave, who was behind me in the patrol formation, carried on a non-stop litany of complaints about his sore legs and back, his blistered feet, the extra weight he carried, the constant stopping and starting as we groped our way through the darkness, how hungry he was, and on and on.
At one the many halts, the word came down the line that the patrol leader had been “killed” and that Ranger Dave was now in charge.Â In a flash Dave sprang into action.Â In short order he assigned the M-60 to another Ranger, took charge of the patrol, huddled under a poncho with his flashlight to confirm our location and route of march, and moved about issuing orders like he was fresh from two weeks of rest and recuperation.
The change in Dave was astounding.Â In an instant he went from a complaining malingerer to George Patton on the offensive â€“ the only difference being the mantle of responsibility.Â From watching Dave lead the patrol for the next 10 hours I realized that giving a person a leadership role with its heavy responsibility for mission success is a transforming event.
But I would also point out that when the responsibility is not fully given, when the senior leader continues to tell the subordinate what to do and how to do it, a junior leader will not take full responsibility and has a legitimate excuse to evade accountability.Â So, what can a general manager to do ensure that his subordinate managers take full responsibility for their enterprises?
- Make it clear that it is their responsibility to set the agenda for their departments within the larger goals of the club and to run their operations efficiently and within budget.
- Broadly spell out expectations, but do not micromanage.
- Define and employ measurable accountabilities so their performance can be objectively and accurately gauged.
- Monitor performance closely until the subordinate proves that she can be trusted to do the right things.
- Offer help when needed.
- Intervene when necessary to avoid significant errors or faulty decisions.Â Use such interventions as teaching moments for the subordinate.
- If too many mistakes are made or the subordinate is not meeting expectations, remedy appropriately with counseling and ultimately, if improvements are not made, discharge.
Many managers, when given full authority, an opportunity to make a difference, and reasonable expectations, will rise to the occasion.Â They will quickly go from passive execution of your directions to a hard-charging, energized Ranger Dave.
Thanks and have a great day!
This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers â€” those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.
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