23.1 "Single Step." I was a twenty-year old, summer
relief-manager at a chain-restaurant location that was experiencing the worst fiscal performance in the region. On my
third day while I was eating lunch and contemplating my rather bleak situation, a waitress suggested to me that if the lever-operated
water faucet at the dining room service station flowed faster, it would save the wait-staff a considerable amount of time.
I agreed. And immediately after finishing my sandwich, I conducted an investigation, removed the cover plate, adjusted
the set-screw, and tested the results. The water blasted out of the faucet with such force that it blew the ice and
water out of the glass and gave me a rather unexpected shower. However, after her laughing subsided, an hour or so later,
an absolutely wonderful chain of events occurred. She told everybody! During the next two weeks I was inundated
with over 100 suggestions, large and small, on how to improve the restaurant; and which I implemented if at all feasible.
The entire crew (though admittedly minus a significant portion of the original cast) was also quite responsive to my directives
and instruction. We ended that summer with the second highest sales growth rate and third highest profit margin out
of twenty-eight restaurants. Though I never used the buzzwords or truly comprehended the motivational forces at work
then, I was totally hooked on: "empowerment," "open-book management," teams, listening, "continuing improvement," total quality
management, and participative leadership nearly forty years ago and I have never looked back. And while my leadership
profile has always remained consistently demanding and somewhat autocratic, I have repeated this secret "success formula"
many times, albeit, without the shower. Twenty-five years later, I successfully reengineered how my region of a consumer
products company operated based substantially on seven hours worth of input received from an exceptionally well applied and
vocal customer service representative during my initial orientation. Similarly, both the road to a more successful horizon
and "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" (Confucius). And a new Leader's ability to identify and
resolve the chronic problems that have eluded both his or her less able predecessors or recently acquired Subordinates is
frequently his or her most valuable asset. However, more intellectually mundane activities such as bringing in additional
resources, reorganizing existing operations, placing more capable Subordinates in motion, further training, or carefully monitoring
their progress may ultimately prove to be a turnaround Leader's most important contribution toward improving the organization's
general welfare. For more often than not, the Leader's predecessors have allowed the situation to deteriorate to such
an extent through either neglect or a lack of talent that they are no longer capable of instilling confidence or motivating
their Subordinates to perform at the desired level of proficiency. Thus the greater promise offered by a turnaround
Leader over his or her failed hierarchical forebears is the expertise, energy, leadership diligence, motivational skills,
and problem-solving abilities that are necessary to extricate the corporate financial vehicle from the obsolescence ditch
and to put it on the "greenback" road once again. For as Cyril N. Parkinson (Parkinson, PL p88) astutely observed, the
single most important step that Leaders can usually take is to adopt the military drillmaster's intolerant attitude toward
failure or accepting excuses for substandard performance; though they are also well-advised to eliminate the shouting and
other demeaning behaviors that are so frequently associated with this leadership stereotype. As it is the artful and
prudent implementation of this perspective that will determine whether turnaround Leaders eventually surmount all the barriers
in their path or fade after their initial breakthrough.
(A) Turnaround Leaders must have a passion for detail
and for unearthing those seemingly unimportant, inconsequential, minute particulars whose improvement can translate into increased
operational proficiency. And again, a Leader's time is advisedly well spent identifying chronic performance issues and
creatively directing his or her time and resources toward resolving them; though not to the extent of personally managing
each of these issues or getting so bogged down with the specifics of a particular problem that such activities prove detrimental
to properly supervising his or her other responsibilities on a broader scale.
(B) Consequently, the issues that turnaround Leaders
choose to personally manage must be viewed by the majority of their Subordinates as being significant enough to warrant their
direct intervention. And initially, astute problem-slayers may correctly feel that it is necessary to give tediously
specific directions as to what they want accomplished in a particular area even to the extent of providing elementary in-depth
instruction under certain circumstances. But if they must continue to give such an inordinate amount of direction at
every turn of the problem-solving road, it is a solid indication that their Subordinates are in dire need of further development
or upgrading; or that they need to broaden their supervisory perspective and learn to delegate greater responsibility.
(C) Leaders can also use their involvement in a new project,
sales program, policy implementation, or chronic issue to establish an analytical guide for their Subordinates to resolve
various operating problems on their own. Thus it is not unusual for turnaround Leaders to take an active and time-consuming
role in the "what" and "how" of projects that can serve as a model for the problem-solving format they want their Subordinates
to emulate; with the ultimate aim of achieving significant time efficiencies on similar issues further down the road.
Assuming that their Subordinates are properly trained and possess the necessary technical expertise, Leaders should then concentrate
their energies on the organizational, developmental, implementation, or follow-through activities associated with the problem;
as these are the functional elements where failing middle or upper-echelon supervisors are most likely to be found wanting.
But if the Leader's rank-and-file or supervisory personnel lack the required training or technical expertise to achieve satisfactory
operating results, these deficiencies must be corrected forthwith as a prerequisite to addressing other primary issues; for
Subordinates must first be capable of walking before being expected to run the high hurdles.