Up from the Crowd: Lessons to Help Managers Become Effective Leaders

Up from the Crowd: Lessons to Help Managers Become Effective Leaders

by William L. Mince


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491735978
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/27/2014
Pages: 90
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.22(d)

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Up From The Crowd

Lessons to Help Managers Become Effective Leaders

By William L. Mince


Copyright © 2014 William L. Mince
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-3597-8


The Bell Curve

One of my very first learning experiences came when I was twenty-five years old. I had been a production manager for about two years with a privately held firm when a Fortune 100 company acquired it. I was responsible for a staff of three general supervisors, ten shift supervisors, and a total of three hundred employees. Soon, a changeover of senior management occurred, and I found myself reporting to the new VP of operations, who had been with the parent company for more than twenty years.

He starting looking at some of my key performance measures and one day asked me to his office. He asked me to explain why the turnover rate of my management staff was approaching 50 percent per year. I explained that I had been brought in by his predecessor to "turn around" the department. It had been clear to me from day one that I needed to replace the underperforming employees if they could not meet the aggressive goals we needed to achieve.

He asked how I determined who to keep and who to let go. I replied proudly that I had set a very aggressive standard and only retained those who were willing and able to keep up with me. Those who could not keep up were given three chances and then let go for cause. Proper documentation ensured that the employee could not file a wrongful discharge suit. After a few more general questions regarding my management style and decision-making process, he asked me to set aside some time for a longer meeting the next day. I was excited—the boss had been so impressed with me he wanted even more of my input!

When I arrived the next day, the first question he put to me was whether I understood the concept of a normal distribution curve. When I said yes, he handed me a piece of chalk and asked me to draw one on his blackboard. (Yes, this was in the old days before dry-erase markers and white boards.)

I explained that many sets of data, such as the height of a group of individuals, the family incomes of various communities, and the weight of fish caught during a season, could be graphically portrayed by use of a distribution chart. This chart has the total range of possible values along the bottom or X axis and the quantity of each of these along the left or Y axis. When all the data is plotted the resultant line will appear in a bell shape, as many of the extreme values show up in small frequencies while most of the observations are in the center. If the values are normally distributed, then the top point of the curve is equal to the average of all the data points.

If the standard deviation for the average is calculated, then one can see the probability of a data point occurring. So, I also drew the breaks for standard deviation at 1 = 68 percent, 2 = 95 percent, and 3 = 99.7 percent. I explained how populations of data could be analyzed with this to determine the likelihood of a data point to exist in a given segment. He then asked me to plot myself on the curve relative to my employees. I placed a mark at the ninety-seventh percentile, indicating that only three out of a hundred people were smarter, more motivated, or more dedicated than me.

He did not disagree but asked if perhaps I was being too modest and would have placed my mark farther to the right if I were to be completely candid. I confessed that I did in fact think I was farther to the right but did not want to appear to be showing off.

He then asked if I understood what my high-school teachers had been doing when they "graded on a curve." I said yes and made the appropriate revisions to the chart.

He asked if I believed that this normal distribution applied to my workforce. I agreed, with one exception: we did not hire individuals who were Ds or Fs. In fact we hired mostly hire As and Bs and only settled for C+s as a last resort. I then erased the left half of the curve.

He looked at my drawing for a while and asked me to summarize how I applied this to my job. I said that I not only understood statistics but was actively using them in my decision-making process. By weeding out the underperformers I was creating a team of superstars. I expressed that it was my goal to have only A+ players on my team. After all, to successfully meet the challenges we faced I needed only the best employees. He thought about this for a while and then took the chalk and circled the entire distribution curve to the left of my mark. He drew an arrow from my mark back toward the circle he had drawn.

He then asked if I really believed I could only find two or three others out of every hundred who could possibly live up to my expectations. Did everyone on my staff need to measure up to how I saw myself? He also pointed out that the further I thought I was to the right, the more "dummies" I would have in my group. Finally he said I was setting impossible and unrealistic standards for my staff by assuming they even needed to have the exact same characteristics as me.

I was stunned! He'd used my own logic against me. Worse yet, I had made the arguments myself. Realizing he had struck a nerve, he let me off easily. He asked me to just think about this overnight and said we could pick it up again the next day.

I pondered this revelation during a fitful night of sleep. If what he said were true, then I had been treating my employees unjustly. It was also clear that he might not be viewing my management style in a favorable light. Given that many managers had been let go since the acquisition, I was now concerned about my job. I was in the middle of an epiphany, even though at the time I did not know of the word or what it meant.

When I arrived at his office the next morning I was somewhat cowed. He asked whether I had thought about yesterday's discussion and if I had any questions. I shared that I realized how I had probably been letting my ego and sense of my own ability cloud my judgment, but I had no idea where to go from there.

He just smiled and said he was glad I understood the impact of my current reasoning and the need for a change in my approach. Furthermore, he would be willing to mentor me if I would let him share candidly his observations of my management style. As if I really had a choice? Of course I would be willing to take his input.

He redrew the bell curve from the previous day and put a circle around the center part of the curve. He said we should always try to hire the best employees. However, not all jobs require A players, and over time top employees will naturally develop the skills to move on to other responsibilities in other departments or find promotions in other companies. In fact, by hiring A players into positions requiring less skill, I was increasing the probability that employees would leave on their own or become bored with their jobs. Since I might not be able to retain them, I needed a strategy that would still attract quality individuals and ensure a competent team for the current job needs. Rather than trying to hire only A players he suggested I focus on improving the group as a whole.

He drew another circle just to the right of the first one. He said that, given an average capability of the available labor pool in our community, with good recruiting and hiring I could probably shift my team average three to five percentage points to the right.

Furthermore, as I developed into an effective manager, I could also move the average another three to five percentage points to the right. He drew this on the chart and suggested I focus my effort in the future on recruiting and employee development. The trick, he said, was to get individuals to stretch beyond their current performance through motivation and to create an environment that encouraged teamwork and personal growth.

A few weeks later he called me in to the factory at 3:30 in the morning. The facility was dark, and no one was on the production floor except the two of us. He asked me to describe the current level of efficiency and output. Obviously they were both zero. He asked me to go home and think about why that was so and to see him in the afternoon to discuss it. I was still confused the next day, and he explained that all the technology, equipment, processes, and infrastructure were of no value without people to use them. The most important asset in your organization, he said, is the people. I have never forgotten this lesson. If you do not focus on developing, coaching, and growing your people, you will only be left with costly physical assets that cannot produce anything.

These coaching sessions made me realize I had a lot to learn if I were to become an effective manager and succeed in my aspirations to executive management. As part of the parent company's employee-development practice, they offered to pay the tuition for my undergraduate degree if I attained a passing grade in every course. I signed up right away and spent the next five years in night school. After a two-year break I then pursued my MBA, splitting my major between organizational behavior and marketing. My objective was to understand how an organization worked on the inside and what was required to ensure that customer needs were met. The academic education combined with solid mentoring from my boss helped me grow significantly as a manager. I also paid attention to how my peer managers behaved and learned from both the good managers and the bad ones.

Many times I have found myself drawing this bell curve to help my managers understand that we could not just replace all the employees in order to improve performance. For the rest of my career I focused on first understanding the skills and opportunities for improvement of the staff and then on motivating them to grow and accomplish the goals of the business.

Key Takeaways

• While you may be the smartest, most dedicated employee, you cannot succeed by yourself.

• Focus on growing the whole team, not just the superstars.

Additional Material

• Eikenberry, Kevin and Guy Harris. From Bud to Boss. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

• Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1995.

• Hersey, Paul, Kenneth Blanchard, and Dewey Johnson. Management of Organizational Behavior. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.

• Sutton, Robert I. Good Boss, Bad Boss. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2010.


Collaborative Thinking, Consensus Decision Making

As a new manager, I had two false assumptions regarding decision making. First, I assumed my career success would be based on my ability to make better decisions than any of my peers. I never missed an opportunity to demonstrate this, sometimes waiting for a staff meeting to spring the latest idea on everyone at once. I also insisted on getting credit for every thought I had that contributed to a good decision. Second, I assumed my subordinates were just waiting for me to deliver the next paradigm-shifting gem that had eluded them for months. I knew they would see the brilliance of the idea and race to begin implementing it.

Many times, however, my subordinates would halfheartedly implement my idea or just ignore it completely. In one instance, my peers and I engaged in a series of one-upmanship presentations to the boss. Clearly, we were spending more time trying to show off our intelligence than getting to a common solution. We would sometimes withhold key facts from each other and then present them at a later date when it would better support an alternate solution of our own.

I then had the good fortune of working for a plant manager who influenced my decision-making process forever. He insisted that his leadership team reach a consensus on each major proposal before bringing it to him. He would stop the meeting if he detected any game playing or posturing among the staff. He also did not believe in protest without reform. If all we were going to do was bring him problems and ask him to decide like Solomon, he suggested, he did not need any managers. Furthermore, if we as a leadership group could not work together, maybe it was time to get a new team.

While developing a system for distributing digital media to mass merchandisers, I once held a brainstorming session with software developers, product managers, digital media creators, and the marketing staff. We were developing a system to push digital files from our office over a satellite link to each retail location through a firewall to a server. The retailer was adamant that we could not have remote access to their servers. However, they still expected us to know when the system was not functioning. Our engineers were adamant that we either demand access to "ping" the client devices or cancel the project.

The most junior media designer on our staff then asked to share a story from when she was working on the night shift at a licorice factory. The technical team interrupted her to explain that licorice had no bearing on the problem and to let the pros decide. I intervened and allowed her to tell her story. She described in a nontechnical manner the way in which the licorice was squirted (extruded) through some skinny red lights (laser measurement beams) and that every now and then someone (a process engineer) from the front office came running out and made some adjustments to the squirting thing. She always wondered how the guy in the front office knew he had a problem.

About this time one of the developers sat up and exclaimed "ET, phone home!" We all laughed, and he went on to explain that if the retailer would not allow us access to the server, perhaps we could place an agent on it that would send a periodic outbound message. If we did not get the message then we would know something was not working and call in a service technician. This one sharing event established great rapport among all the staff and fostered many subsequent successful brainstorming sessions.

Employees' experiences come in all shapes and sizes. Some have similar industry experience while others share academic and technical experience. Unless they have all worked at the same job doing the same thing for their whole career, any group of employees will have plenty to share. A graphical way to express this is to think about six individuals, each with six work experiences. Some may even have held the exact same position but at a different firm, while others had similar ones in significantly different industries.

Now ask them to effectively put all their experiences together on the table.

The team now has thirty-six experiences to bring to bear on any particular issue.

One key to a successful decision-making process is to insist that team members check their egos at the door and be willing to listen to everyone's input. It is often necessary to frame the discussion with appropriate ground rules. It may be that some parameters cannot be changed for the first pass at the solution. These may include the date of an upcoming trade show, a maximum cost of goods, or a minimum set of specifications. The team should try to solve within these restrictions first. However, setting too many boundaries will limit the team's ability to think out of the box. If team members cannot come to an acceptable resolution or compromise, they should be given the latitude to propose which premise must be changed and the impact it will have on the other parameters.

I was enrolled in an organizational behavior course as part of my MBA program. During one class we participated in a team exercise on decision making where we were given a multiple-choice test on survival skills. We turned in our individual answer sheets to the professor, and as he graded them we were randomly placed in groups of five to discuss and compare our answers. We were allowed to change our answers after discussing each question, but we had to agree as a group on each one. When the professor returned our individual answer sheets, to my surprise I scored 20 percent higher by getting input from my peers and changing my mind on several questions.

Later on at work, I was asked to participate with peer directors on a project to review and update our design control process. A professional facilitator had been asked to lead our group discussions. She was easily able to coach twelve of us through two days of intense disagreement, debate, and consensus building that resulted in significant changes to our process. A key tool she used for prioritizing was called N/3 or "N over three" and worked as follows:

• Break into groups of three to five and write ideas or problems on flip charts.

• Reassemble as one group and review all the ideas. Clarify each one so all team members have a common understanding. Combine those that are similar and eliminate duplicates.

• Count the number of ideas and divide by three.

• Have each member of the group vote for this number of ideas without trying to rank them. For example, for a list of thirty ideas each person would be allowed to vote for ten.


Excerpted from Up From The Crowd by William L. Mince. Copyright © 2014 William L. Mince. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments, vii,
Introduction, ix,
Lesson One The Bell Curve, 1,
Lesson Two Collaborative Thinking, Consensus Decision Making, 9,
Lesson Three Life and Work Balance, 15,
Lesson Four Secret Weapon, 19,
Lesson Five Humanize the Organization, 22,
Lesson Six Learning to Learn, 27,
Lesson Seven Who Owns It?, 33,
Lesson Eight GOIN4 AU, 39,
Lesson Nine Focus on Team Success, 43,
Lesson Ten The Value of Process and Reporting, 47,
Lesson Eleven Show Me the Data, 52,
Lesson Twelve Hire Tough, Manage Easy, 56,
Lesson Thirteen Performance Management, 63,
Lesson Fourteen Managing Change, 68,
Conclusion, 75,

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Up from the Crowd: Lessons to Help Managers Become Effective Leaders 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Bharat More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The author has done an excellent job in describing his experiences in easy to read language. The book material was easy to understand and follow. While reading the book, I saw myself in the author! That is - how we transitioned from managers to leaders. The book could be a good tool for young operations managers to grow professionally.
Donwilliams9 More than 1 year ago
Up from the Crowd is a great book not only for those new to management, but is a great read for those managers looking to improve their performance. It's a straightforward, practical guide that's easy to read and put into everyday practice right away. I have already shared this book with my management team. I'm hopeful that Bill will follow-up this book with more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book! Divided into concise chapters supported by humorous anecdotes, the author's candor about his past experiences makes the material both approachable and enlightening. The author's breadth of experience shines through in the well-thought-out structure of each chapter and it's clear that his ideas are not simply philosophical rhetoric but tried and true tools for success. Highly recommended to anyone looking to improve their management style and effectiveness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bill Mince’s “Up From The Crowd” is a collection of short chapters conveying his personal insights and wisdom garnered from his years of experience in a leadership role. The 14 chapters or “essays”, supported by real life examples, provide practical and focused best practices that can be applied to any organization. This book could easily act as a foundation for an effective training program for seasoned managers or supervisors new in position. I recommend that any leader seeking to create an empowered and motivated team driven to achieve superior results add this book to their library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Up from the Crowd is a straight forward and easy to follow account of author William L. Mince's advice on being a top manager. Anyone interested in learning from the mistakes and life experiences as a successful businessman should read this book. It recaps the lessons he has learned from working decades in management from overseeing departments in privately held businesses to publicly trades corporations. His advice and teachings are a must for anyone entering the field of managing others as well as current managers who want to improve their effectiveness. His knowledge is applicable to working with groups in all situations from setting goals to improving the final results from any task. His lessons are simple and straightforward. Some are obvious to many readers but also a reminder that the fundamentals are a must to be effective and successful. His advice to generate and use flowcharts is a novel and brilliant way to simplify all matters of manufacturing and problem solving. This concept sets the basis for innovation and improvement of all processes. Brilliant. I would recommend this book to all who strive to improve their effectiveness at work as well as operating effective in other in all avenues of life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a new manager, I found this book to provide an excellent and sometimes humorous account of what it takes to transition from one of the staff to a management position. I recommend this for all new managers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Must-read for new managers, or older managers adjusting to life with today's new workforce. The book is a collection of essays that provide insight, guidance and direction for anyone who manages staff in today's business world. I have the book and will be buying one for all of the managers who report to me. This book is a valuable reference tool that provides lessons that can be referenced time and again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great book - insightful reading. Perfect for quick reference on my desk. The key takeaway section at the end of each chapter offers relevant reminders to managers at all levels. This would be a perfect book for required reading for employee development.
1KT More than 1 year ago
I just finished the book – Congratulations! It’s a Great Read!! I really like the approach …”learn from my mistakes & lessons”…really captivating lessons! It reminded me of the One Minute Manager – short, to the point with poignant stories that the reader can relate to – and use in their daily jobs/lives! You can also finish the book in one flight - and tag the lessons you want to re-read in the future. Nice work!