Be Quiet Before You Speak
An article about Dr. Ichak Adizes published in Globes, Israel, on June 10, 2006
by Keren Tuzriel-Harari Israel
To read this article in Hebrew click here
How does Dr. Ichak Adizes, a management guru of international reputation, recognize a good manager? “By the scars on his tongue,” Dr. Adizes says – in other words, by his ability to control the impulse to speak.
It is an ability that Dr. Adizes personally demonstrated in a recent interview.
Usually, meetings with “gurus” – experts with a worldwide reputation – are conducted in the following manner: We, the journalists, ask, and they, the experts who know it all, give rapid-fire answers with barely a pause.
Using their own methodology, there is no situation for which these experts do not have a smashing answer, beautifully crafted, and finishing up with an amusing, seemingly spontaneous punch line.
But Dr. Adizes, alone among the world’s leading management theorists, allows himself to pause. The man who is the author of, among other books, “Management/Mismanagement” and “Corporate Lifecycles,” best-sellers in the field for the past 25 years; whose works have been translated into many languages; whose management theory is a brand; and who gave the keynote speech at a recent conference organized by CA does not claim to have all the answers.
“Good question, let me think,” is his favorite response, and then he will do just that before speaking.
But that rare skill is only one of the portfolio of characteristics that Dr. Adizes expects managers to adopt, despite the inflated egos they may have developed along their way to the top. He also expects good managers to listen more than they talk; to change their organization’s structure before they re-define its strategy; to engage in, rather than avoid, organizational politics; and to accept the current managerial trend – coaching – with a grain of salt.
In a recent conversation, Dr. Adizes, in his refreshingly thoughtful style, expanded on his “ten commandments” for good management:
1) “Develop big ears and a small mouth.”
“You can identify a good manager by the deep scars on his or her tongue,” Dr. Adizes joked, and then explained: “A CEO should not talk too much. In particular, he must not disclose to others what he is planning.
“This was the mistake that Frank Lorenzo made.”
In the Eighties, Lorenzo created Continental Airlines out of the merger of two smaller airline companies. Although Continental is now one of the largest airline companies in the United States, it was forced into bankruptcy just a year after that merger.
“After he lost all that he’d built,” Dr. Adizes continued, “Lorenzo told me, ‘My mistake was that I talked too much.’ He told them what he was going to do, then the unions found out, and – boom! – he lost everything. He told me, ‘All I wanted to do was be honest and truthful.’ But I explained to him, ‘The higher up you go, the more you need to shut up: just listen and shut up. Once you show your cards, other people’s agendas come into play, and you cannot do anything about it. You’re inviting a firestorm. Bite your tongue!’
“One of the people here in the conferences asked me, ‘What does a good manager look like?’ I think he expected me to give him a list of characteristics, but I used a visual image: big ears and a small mouth. The higher you climb on the corporate ladder, the smaller your mouth needs to be, because for every move you make and every decision you take, there are very heavy consequences.”
2. “To implement decisions, it is not enough to accept them.”
“It all starts in business management schools. I know many of them and how they work: they teach you how to make decisions, but not how to implement them. That is why, in the first two years after finishing school, the business school graduates can be very dangerous to an organization. They come and say, ‘You need to do this or that,’ and then they get angry if the organization does not do it, blaming management for being ‘old fools’ who know nothing.
“But there is a big difference between the reasons that cause a decision to be good and those that cause it to be good for implementation. These are two totally different things.
“One night recently when I could not sleep, I watched a TV program about the Israeli Committee for National Planning. There was an argument about whether to consider how the coalition works and use the results to find solutions that seem likely to be implemented, or whether to ignore the political system and recommend what the committee thought needed to be done. This is exactly the problem! In order to make decisions, you need to look into the content – what is the right thing to do – whereas in order to implement, you must look at political interests, understanding that everyone will pull in his or her own direction.
“Bank of America is a good example of a successful implementation. We did a diagnosis and concluded that the banking industry was very antiquated: it still worked on the principle that you take money from savings for which you pay 5 percent, give it out as a loan for 8 percent, and collect the 3 percent difference as profit. Great! – except that this was an industry that was losing ground to other, more competitive forces in the marketplace. The change to be made involved switching from a traditional savings and loan bank to an institution that provided financial services and made money from those services, such as information services, insurance, and mortgages.
This was a totally different concept, for which we had to make a change in the organizational structure that included three sub-systems – responsibility, authority, and rewards – that all reflected the new mission. I worked on this for three years, in the process moving 95 thousand people to different positions. Today, Bank of America is one of the largest banks in the world, and is very successful.”
3. “Accept the fact that organizational consulting does not always work.”
“In 1957 I was part of a youth delegation from Israel to France. One night, we traveled by train from Biarritz to Paris. As is typical with young people, all twenty of us crowded into one sleeping car where only ten could actually sit. So we sat one on top of another, in one person’s lap with one leg here and one hand there. It took two hours for us to fall asleep, but when we finally did, somebody said, ‘I need to go to the bathroom.’ The whole car woke up and started complaining: ‘Idiot!’ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Watch out!’ ‘My foot!’ ‘Watch where you’re going!’ ‘Don’t turn on the light!’ ‘Don’t step on my hand!’
As in many mismanaged organizations, it would probably have been easier to pee in your pants than to cause a commotion in the entire train compartment. In other words, even though you know that changes need to be made, and that everyone needs to agree, still you are afraid that this guy will yell at you or that one will be mad at you.
“In an organization that is in crisis, everyone is sitting in a train car, incapable of going to the bathroom or doing many other essential little things. And then a consultant comes along and says, ‘Guys, you are heading in the wrong direction. Don’t go to Paris, go to Rome!’ He writes the report in his office, stands outside the train, and hands it to you through the window with a bill for $100,000. Everyone reads the report and they all actually agree – but if you cannot even go to the bathroom, how will you get to Rome? That is why work like this does not get implemented.
“That is the major mistake of consulting companies—and in essence, of the entire American corporate culture. Consultants ignore the political system, and for a good reason: if they actually did take it into consideration, they could not consult; because they themselves are part of that system!”
4. “To be a politician is a big part of the work.”
“There is no organization that is not political. Politics is like breathing: If you want to be alive, you need to breathe. There are managers who say, ‘I love to manage, but I do not like politics.’ But that’s not possible. As Truman once said, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’ You cannot be a manager if you cannot handle politics. Many managers cannot climb beyond a certain point; they get stuck along the way because they do not understand politics. But the higher you go in an organization, especially in a large organization, the more your work becomes about politics instead of about planning: how you maneuver, how you circumvent, how you form a culture in which people can talk to and understand one another. This is the most important work of a manager.
“But where do you study politics? Not in business management schools. They do not teach the most important things about management. They teach content, not process.
“In the political arena, I have worked with eight Prime Ministers and have come to a very unpleasant conclusion: they generally do not have a strategy. The press is always trying to understand politicians: why have they done what they’ve done, what are they thinking, what do they mean? But in my experience, Prime Ministers rarely function based on strategy. In order to do that, they would have to be at least partly dictatorial.
“In a democratic organization, you are always responding to political pressures, and your actions are a result of pressures from all directions. They are not what you intended but how you responded, and then that is understood as a strategy, as if there were some logic behind the action. No. These are merely responses and maneuvers. A Prime Minister can never acknowledge this, however, or the trust in him would suffer.”
5. “The fact that someone knows biology does not mean that he can be a doctor.”
“Coaching has advantages; the human therapy definitely helps – but it is not enough. An organization has systems and sub-systems with complicated problems. Of course it’s important to treat the human element, but what happens afterwards?
“I once brought one of the most well-known family psychologists in the United States to my institute to do some coaching. We consulted together at an organization – I on the organizational level, and he on the personal level – and at some point I asked him what he was doing. He told me that according to the vice president of the company, the problem was that the employees had organized themselves into cliques and the cliques were fighting. His response to that vice president was, “Why don’t you create your own clique?” This was the exact opposite of what needed to happen there!
“Dealing only with the personal happiness of the executive is a sub-optimization of the organization. Management should look at the total sum. You need to rise above the trees and see the forest, but coaching does not see the total sum of things.
“Most coaches come from the world of psychology and personal development. One who worked for me asked me once, ‘What are liabilities?’ He did not know the difference between a balance sheet and a profit & loss statement. He could look you in the eye and understand you intuitively, but this was not coaching. Rather, it was like someone who knows biology trying to practice medicine. There is a huge difference.
“So coaching is very nice, but it is also very limited. ”
6. “You must be able to change.”
“You wouldn’t treat a forty-year-old child like a four-month-old baby, right?
“An executive who founded a company can continue to manage it as it is growing, but he needs to change his management style. It’s like raising kids: when a child is growing, you need to constantly change your parenting style, because if you treat your adult child like a baby, you will stifle him or her. When managers are unable to change their management style, it becomes a problem. In order to be a marathon manager, not just a manager for a short sprint, you must be able to change your working style whenever the organization changes.”
7. “First of all, create a strong organizational structure.”
“Twenty years ago, when I consulted Bank of America, we brought in a vice president of a Boston consulting firm who did research on what the bank’s goals ought to be. At the time, Bank of America was losing market share and was in real trouble. I was working with the company on its organizational structure, and during the break, this vice president took me aside and said, ‘I am sorry to tell you this, but it seems to me you’re re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.’
“But when I consult, I always start from the organizational structure. Why? Because an organizational structure is a political structure, so I begin by identifying and separating the power bases. You have to plow the soil first before you can plant anything new.
Think of a motor boat with a frozen engine: What is the point of planning where the boat should go when the engine hasn’t been released yet? You can decide, ‘Go left,’ or ‘Go right,’ but nothing is going to happen until that engine is back in working order.
“If we go back to the situation on the train: you release a leg here, a hand there, and eventually everyone can breathe freely again. Then the first person can go to the bathroom, and then someone else, and then we can see where we are going. How about going to Rome?
“This is the key to my methodology, which took me many years to develop: how do you re-organize the political structure correctly without being swallowed up? How do you enter a war zone without getting yourself killed? The reason it is so risky is that the minute you enter an organizational structure and start making changes, everyone starts shooting at you. The trick is to build strategy and structure from within, without becoming a target.
“Today it is fashionable to talk about the quality of human resources, but this is a mistake. Quality is necessary, but it is not enough, because if the company’s structure is poorly designed, even excellent people will be wasted and destroyed. The structure has to be good, the foundation has to be solid, the mission and the values have to be compatible, the decision-making process needs to be right, and then the component called “people” will flourish. If you plant seeds in a desert – even the best seeds – nothing will grow. Good people without good structure will not succeed.”
8. “Fit the management tools to the business.”
“A high-tech company is like a restaurant: on the day it opens, it has to be at its best. The food must be good, the services must be good, the place needs to be clean – every single element must be excellent before you present yourself to the public. You cannot think first about the product, then about technology, later about money, and finally about the staff. You will go bankrupt!
“In contrast, take a shoe factory, for example: you can make the shoes first, then develop the market, then take care of the financial management. You can do everything in its time.
“But in a restaurant, no; and the same applies to high-tech or any organization that is part of what we call the ‘new economy,’ the ‘e-economy,’ or the ‘information economy.’ You cannot learn from experience. Right from the beginning you need to be good, and that is why many Internet companies that rushed to catch the wave of the ‘new economy,’ using old tools, went bankrupt. They learned the hard way to put all the components upfront, before they press the button, and they know they need to be good even while still in simulation mode.”
9. “Always take responsibility.”
“Managers, especially CEOs, cannot pass on responsibilities to others. All the responsibility is theirs. The CEO needs to be a leader who is willing to take responsibility to start with.
“To be a leader is like playing music: there are those who have talent and can achieve great success with the addition of a little learning. There are also those who can achieve some success even without talent, as long as they can acquire some skills.
“Many people try to solve a problem by asking, ‘Why does this problem exist?’ In my opinion, that is the wrong question. Asking ‘why’ requires no thought and can destroy any argument. A little kid can destroy the argument of a Nobel Prize-winner, if he keeps repeating ‘why?’ enough times.
“Analyzing a problem by asking ‘why’ presumes that if only you understood what happened, you could solve the problem. But there is no end to ‘why.’ That is why I say that operationally, you need to start with the questions, ‘What is the problem; who can solve it; and how can it be solved?’ The ‘why’ is interesting, but less useful; after all, we use a lot of things we do not understand. Take the field of medicine: when you go to the doctor, he might give you some medicine and say, ‘Call me in the morning.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because it might not work.’ He is not sure. It sometimes happens that a disease disappears and the doctor does not know why. Despite many years of research and knowledge in medicine, there’s still a lot we don’t know. How can we know it all in management? So let’s solve the problem even if we don’t know why.
“You need to begin functionally: who can solve this? Let that person start looking for a solution: otherwise, it becomes a theoretical argument: ‘We analyzed the problem nicely. We understood. What now?’ So I always begin by looking at the problem, figuring out who can solve it, and sending them to begin solving it.”
10. “A good CEO is not the best professional.”
“Does the CEO need to be the very best manager or the best professional? The answer is very simple: a good manager does not need to know it all, but he does need to know who does.
There is no chance that the CEO will know it all. Zero chance. Today the world is so complicated that it is impossible.
“A good analogy, again, is in the field of medicine: where we find greater and greater specialization, an eye doctor is not enough of a specialist anymore. Now you have one who specializes in the cornea and one whose area of expertise is what is behind the cornea. You might compare a CEO to the general practitioner, who knows enough about all things to see the total picture, to know which specialist you need to see, and to create integration.
“At a cocktail party once, a man asked me what kind of work I did. I told him, ‘I am a professor at UCLA’; immediately he started yelling at me, ‘You professors are idiots; you know nothing!’ I asked him what his experience of professors had been, and he told me, “I am a manager. I brought in one of your professors to consult me, and he screwed me!”
“Let’s do an exercise,’ I replied. ‘You tell me the name of the professor, and I will tell you what his advice was.’ He told me the name, and I said, ‘He told you that your brand loyalty was not strong enough and that you needed to strengthen it.’
“How did you know?’ he asked. I said, ‘Because this is what he has been writing about his whole professional life. This was the subject of his dissertation, and since then he has not progressed. He only publishes and writes about brand loyalty.’
“When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Why? Because that’s your specialty. That is why the best CEOs are not specialists – or you might say they specialize in understanding the total sum of the system, and knowing which expert or specialist to go to.”