7 Steps Ahead, LLC

Organizational Psychology for Managers
sold out at Amazon.com two days after it was released! Fortunately, more copies are now available. Click here to order. For excerpts, click here. To read a review of the book, click here.

What happens when a leader won't play well with others?

Is that really such a bargain?

Do you understand your company's personality?

Are you hearing the hoof beats of the four horsemen of business failure?

How can you make sure you're in the right place at the right time?

When is efficiency ruining your productivity?

What does it take for a team to consistently use its strengths instead of its weaknesses?

Just how different are leaders and managers really?

Despite the old claim about frogs sitting in water until it boils, they actually are smart enough to jump out. Why don't people do the same?

Why is it so hard to deal with Jerks in the office?

If there's no "I" in team, how does the team see where it's going?

Here's what Bank of America has to say about how leaders impact high performance teams.

What can you do when you feel you don't fit into a new organizational culture?

Some comments from my recent talk on Making Change Work at the Computer Measurement Group International Conference in Las Vegas.

Trying to build a creative, innovative culture? Check out this short article from Investors Business Daily.

Job feeling stressful? Here's how to relax at work.

If you want a motivated workforce, check out this article from Fox Business.

Learn the secrets of Mastering Your Schedule on Time Tamer Talk Radio.

"The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development" was listed by Amazon.com as one of the top 100 books on organizational behavior.



Publications and Announcements

Click here for the full list of publications

How Different Are Leaders and Managers?
in Corp! Magazine

Are You Speaking to Me?
in Corp! Magazine

When the Solution is the Problem
in Corp! Magazine

The Paradox of Perfection
American Business Magazine

Flawed Execution? Don't Lose Your Head Over It
in Corp! Magazine

The Destroyer of Cultures
at ERE.Net

Help Star Performers Ramp Up The Whole Team
in Corp! Magazine

The Secret to Productive Staff Meetings   

in Medical Office Today 

 Don't Let Dracula Decisions Roam Your Business  

in Corp! Magazine 

The Blame of Phobos Grunt  

in Corp! Magazine 


 The Four Horsemen of Business Failure  

in MeasureIT

Of Cats and Unwanted Prizes 

in Corp! Magazine

Who Betrays One Master 

in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership


My Hovercraft is Full of Eels
in Corp! Magazine


Using the Force: What Every Exec Can Learn From Darth Vader
in the Worcester Business Journal

"Balance the Individual and the Team for Top Performance"
in Corp! Magazine

"Real Science Fiction"
in Corp! Magazine

"Shaky Ground"
in Lab Manager Magazine

Zen and the Art of Leadership
Talk presented at Infotec 2010

Recent Interviews

Do you understand your company's personality?
in ComputerWorld

Tell About Mistakes and Failed Projects
in Investors Business Daily

A Bad Work Environment Can Make You Sick
on CareerBliss

How Much Does Motivation Matter? 

  in CSI International


Profiting from Your Performance Review  

in NASDAQ Careers News


 Motivating Small Business Employees to Work As Hard As You  

in the Phonebooth


 Relax at Work? Ha! 

in the Jewish Exponent


The Mobility Morass  

in Specialty Fabrics Review


HR Mistake of the Week: Why Hiring for Emotional Intelligence Gets You a BFF Instead of a Star Employee
in The Grindstone

Using Games to Build Your Team
on the Talking Work Podcast

How to Use Sports to Advance Leadership and Organizational Development
on the Full Potential Show with James Rick

Hiring Mistakes
with Todd Raphael,
Editor, Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership

Organizational Development on
The David Lush Show, WNIX 1330 AM

Innovation and Corporate Culture
on KKZZ Brainstormin' with Bill Frank

The Startup Business Coach

The CEO and Organizational Development


How to Motivate Your Employees
on Fox Business

Komen Reverses Planned Parenthood Move
in The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Art of Branding Your Career 

in Psychology Today

Prepping for Your Annual Review

in the NY Times


Making Pay Decisions Transparent 

in Human Resource Executive


Don't Like Your Job? Define One You Like 

in IT World


Computer Measurement Group Announces Keynote and Plenary Speakers for CMG'11 Taking Place December 5-9, 2011 at Gaylord National Hotel in D.C. Area  


 Career Focus: Engineering Management in Today's Engineer, a publication of the IEEE



4 Ways to Log Off on Time Off 


 About Creating Visions and Organizational Goals 


Researchers Find 'The Paradox of Meritocracy' 

in Human Resource Executive 


Game Changer 

in SHRM India


How to Stay Motivated on the Road to ITIL Expert  

in ITSM Watch


To Be a Leader, You Must Be a Follower 

in Oregon Business


 Incentivizing Employees
in Advance for Medical Laboratory Professionals

Tips for Making, Keeping Business Resolutions
at Fox Small Business

The Evolution of Leadership

Getting Results: Performance vs. Putting in the Hours

How to Self-Promote Without Being Obnoxious
on CNN

Hiring Headaches
in the IndUS Business Journal

Identifying Your Future Leaders
in IndustryWeek Magazine

Natural Born Project Managers: Myth or Reality at Project Manager Planet


How to Survive a Bad Team Leader
at Yahoo! Careers

Books and CDs

Contact Us

 Bring Me The Head Of Shinseki The General


When I was a kid, I used to watch a lot of old WWII movies and B-grade science fiction on TV. There wasn't a whole lot of difference between them. The WWII movies involved airplanes or submarines, while the science fiction involved space ships. Beyond that, the plot lines were remarkably similar. The bad guys always appeared absolutely overwhelming and were led by a seriously tough, supremely competent general who terrified everyone. He, and it was almost always he, would usually be introduced in scene that involved him killing off one of his subordinates for failing at something or another. The good guys always were slightly disorganized and Our Hero started the show in deep trouble: he was either being dressed down for some major screwup or the major screwup occurred early in the show. But, because these were the Good Guys, he would be given another chance. Naturally, because this was the nature of that type of movie, Our Hero would then turn out to be the one person who could save the day. It was very clear, even then, that if the good guys killed people off for failing, they would have been defeated. Indeed, this was the major difference between the good guys and the bad guys in a lot of those movies, a point emphasized in some movies where it would also be revealed that Our Hero's earlier screwup was due to attempts by the bad guys to discredit him. Meanwhile, assuming he survived to this point, the bad guy general would kill himself or be killed for his failure.


The fact is, when a team fails it's not uncommon to kill off the leader, albeit these days the death is more likely to be symbolic. As news of the problems at the Veteran's Administration surfaced, General Eric Shinseki ended up resigning his post as head of the VA. Now that he's gone, naturally all the problems at the VA will immediately disappear.


Well, maybe not.


Killing off the leader can be a very satisfying move, and certainly has a sense of poetic justice to it. Certainly, when the screwup is large enough, it's more satisfying than killing off some junior flunky. However, as a means of producing effective organizational change it is not necessarily going to be all that effective; indeed, you just may be getting rid of someone you've spent a long time training. Instead, it helps to stop and look at the organizational system and understand the forces at play and what is actually taking place. Organizational systems can be very complex and unexpected interactions or badly constructed goals can have serious unintended consequences independent of any particular leader.


For example, at one time Sears Automotive famously gave all of its car mechanics a goal of generating some $200 dollars an hour of billable revenue. The problem, of course, is that they had no control over how many people came to them for auto service nor did they have any control over the particular problems those drivers were having. But the goal focused only on the result: a specific number. Failing to make that number meant failing to remain employed. As a result, the goal became all-consuming: mechanics focused on it to the exclusion of all else. Not surprisingly, they found a way to make their numbers: they invented problems out of thin air. This worked very well until Sears was caught. The wrong short-term goal can blind people to longer term consequences. Changing leaders only helps if the goals are changed as well.


In another situation, IBM in the early 1990s decided that it needed to do a better job of getting technology out of its scientific centers and to the market. They decided that the engineers in the scientific centers needed a stronger incentive. The incentive some senior VP came up with was to tie the performance evaluations of the engineers to how well their products did in the market. This produced a couple of significant problems:


First, the engineers had no control over the sales force. Salesmen had their own numbers to make, and tended to push only those products that they were most comfortable with. They had no particular desire to risk their bonuses! The net result was that it was pretty random which products were being actively marketed and which were not. This, as one might imagine, did not exactly thrill the engineers. The problem was further aggravated by the fact that the sales people were often in a different geographic location from the engineers.


Second, instead of collaborating and cooperating, engineers on different projects now had an incentive to compete with one another. Since they really had no idea how to make one product or another more attractive to the sales team, competition was, at least, mild. Mostly it served to waste energy and distract people. Each new leader who came in was caught up in "the way things were done," and a lot of good people quit. Replacing the VPs didn't change anything; it wasn't until Lou Gerstner came in that anything actually changed. Changing leaders can help, but only if the new leader can also change the culture. Otherwise, you're just replacing an experienced leader with a less experienced one, and telling the new one that he'd better not make any mistakes. That is not a recipe for success!


In a third situation, a manager was fired because customers were complaining that products were being released too slowly. The manager had been told several times to speed up the process. After the manager was fired, shipment speed dramatically increased. Unfortunately, so did two other things: customer complaints about defective products and, to the surprise of no one except senior management, product returns. I suppose one could argue that they fired the wrong manager in this case. The real culprit, though, was problems with team coordination across the company. Killing the various leaders was not the solution; training them properly was. When that happened, and the various managers were allowed to learn from their mistakes, things began to improve.


Particularly in high profile situations, killing the leader can feel very satisfying. It has a feeling of justice being served. However, quite often it does not actually solve the problem. It's only when we stop to look at the system and understand what is really happening that we can take the actions that will actually make changes that we want.







Like to dramatically improve performance in your organization? Contact us for a free initial consultation.  


Stephen R Balzac

About 7 Steps Ahead 
Stephen R. Balzac, "The Business Sensei," is a consultant, author, professional speaker, and president of 7 Steps Ahead, specializing in helping businesses get unstuck and transform problems into opportunities.

Steve has over twenty years of experience in the high tech industry and is the former Director of Operations for Silicon Genetics, in Redwood City, CA.

Steve is the author of The 36-Hour Course on Organizational Development, published by McGraw-Hill and a contributing author to Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play. Steve's latest book, "Organizational Psychology for Managers," was released by Springer in the fall of 2013. He writes the monthly business column, "Balzac on Business."

He is the president of the Society of Professional Consultants (SPC) and served as a member of the board of the New England Society for Applied Psychology. No stranger to the challenges of achieving peak performance under competitive and stressful conditions, he holds a fifth degree black belt in jujitsu and is a former nationally ranked competitive fencer.