Carpenter or Cabinet Maker

By Guy Higgins

I often have discussions about leadership versus management. Those discussions usually start because I complain that people use management (or manager) when I think that they should be using leadership (or leader). The pushback I get is that companies use “manager” to encompass the responsibilities of organizing a group of people to achieve the goals of the company. I agree – companies do use “manager” that way. That doesn’t make it correct any more than using the term carpenter when you’re referring to a person skilled in flawless joinery to produce an exquisite piece of furniture. I am not belittling carpenters – carpentry is an important skill and involves no small degree of structural engineering knowledge (albeit mostly informal). Cabinetmakers and carpenters use many of the same techniques – measuring, cutting, joining. That doesn’t mean that any carpenter can make exquisite furniture or that any cabinetmaker will appreciate the easy way to make all the decking pieces line up perfectly at the edge of the deck.

The same perspective applies to leaders and managers. They both use much of the same knowledge. The difference is that you “manage” things like resources and time (just try inspiring time to run more slowly and see what that gets you) while you “lead” people (see how well your team or workforce responds if you move them around like bricks or treat them like the proverbial mushrooms). Continue reading

Leading Millennials

By Guy Higgins

I recently came across a short essay on LinkedIn. The essay was focused on the changes that organizational leaders need to make if they are to provide effective leadership to their millennial employees. I commented, briefly, on the post – saying something like, “If I understand this correctly, somehow, in the past thirty years, an entire generation of human beings has evolved so significantly that their cognitive processes have diverged from those of older humans in an extreme manner. GIMME A BREAK!” Continue reading

Human Resources or People?

By Guy Higgins

I recently read a short article titled What Does HR Need to Do to Get a Seat at the Table?  The article, in a nutshell, said that the human resources function has, today, the opportunity to enter a strategic partnership with corporate leaders.  It also bemoans the fact that, by and large, HR is failing to seize that opportunity.  A few thoughts on those observations, starting with some background:

  • I spent thirty years in the U.S. Navy.  The Navy focuses on people – much more so than the people sometimes believe.  The Naval Personnel Command, run by a three-star admiral, is entirely devoted to managing (recruiting, training, developing, promoting and assigning) people.  Note that it is the Naval Personnel Command – not the Naval HR Command.
  • After retiring from the Navy, I went to work for a major aerospace company – one that, I think, does at least as good a job in the HR area as any company, and better than the vast majority of companies.
  • I led good and not-so-good people in both of those careers, and was a unit personnel officer while on active duty.

Bottom line – I know a little bit about HR and leading people.

Thoughts on HR in industry: Continue reading

The Lateral Arabesque

By Guy Higgins

Last week, I wrote about the Peter Principle – the tendency of a company to promote people to their level of incompetence.  A derivative of that tendency is the Lateral Arabesque – the tendency for leaders to move a person into a different job, one in which their poor performance will have less impact on the organization.  The Lateral Arabesque is an alternative to demotion or expending time and resources on training while retaining that person in that position.  I suspect that we have all seen this happen at least once, and I suspect that none of us think that it’s a good idea.  So, why does it happen?  Presumably, our leaders are smart people.  In fact, most of the leaders for whom I have worked were not only very smart, but had extensive experience and knowledge.

It seems to me that, simply, there are two cases that explain incompetence in a formerly highly competent person.  The first is that the job simply exceeds the abilities of a person.  He may have been fully capable in previous jobs but is now facing problems for which he is unprepared, either by virtue of temperament or knowledge/skillset.  The second is that the person is “mal-performing.”  I define this as: a person with the right temperament and knowledge/skillset who recognizes that she is under-performing but consistently refuses to seek or accept help/guidance.  I suspect that this is much the rarer case. Continue reading

Revisiting the Peter Principle

By Guy Higgins

I recently came across a reference to the Peter Principle – formulated by Laurence J. Peter and discussed in his 1969 book, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong.  For those too young to remember 1969, the Peter Principle suggests that people will be promoted until they reach their “level of incompetence.”

The book gained a great deal of notoriety when it was published and people (as we often do) seized on the idea and its associated concept of the “Lateral Arabesque,” which is the idea that having promoted someone to a job in which they are proving incompetent, leadership then moves them, laterally in the organization, into a job in which they will do less harm. Continue reading

Excuse me, but I’m the Operations Officer…

By Guy Higgins

In another short vignette from my naval career and my experience, I want to visit an example of the value of not taking action.

In about 1973, I was walking through the Operations Department in Patrol Squadron One, and I was passing the Ops Boss’s office when one of the more junior officers in the squadron rapped on the Op Boss’s door.  “Excuse me, sir, but my crew hasn’t been scheduled for a training flight in over three weeks, and we need to get some flight time.

This was an interesting exchange, and I thought I would “hang around” for a couple of minutes to see if this approach would gain the young pilot some advantage.  Flight time is important, and you need to work the system to get all that you can.  Normally, these kinds of requests would be written into the squadron’s “snivel log,” a ledger kept by the flight scheduling officer into which flight crew could enter information pertinent to the scheduling process – such as, “I have a cold and can’t fly for the next three days” or some such – sniveling to either get or avoid being scheduled. Continue reading

The Bravest Man I Ever Knew

By: Guy Higgins

This is one of my continuing posts on learning about leadership from Goose Gesling.  Goose was my Commanding Officer way back in the days of stone knives and vacuum tubes.  During my squadron’s deployment to WESTPAC (the western Pacific) in 1974, we (the flight crews) were routinely sent out on what we called “The Circuit.”  We would depart from our deployed based in Okinawa, fly to the Philippines for one or two operational flights, then depart to Thailand for another one or two operational flights, the last of which would terminate in Diego Garcia.  (DG was a lovely place in the 70’s.  We lived in the rough equivalent of plywood hootches, and, at one point, the entire food supply on the island was condemned by a visiting inspector.  As an aside to this aside, these inspectors were veterinarians.)  We would typically operate out of Diego for a week and then fly onward to our turn-around base in a Mideast nation where we would fly our two or three operational flights and then repeat the cycle in reverse.  We called it The Circuit, and it normally took two to three weeks to complete; although, it could take as long as a month. Continue reading

Dumbing Down Professionals

By Guy Higgins

I read an article in Bloomberg recently (  The article related several incidents in which pilots had used erroneous weight information to calculate their weight and balance (the takeoff, flight, control and landing performance of an airplane is intimately related to the how much the airplane weighs and exactly where the center of gravity is).  These were not minor errors – they ranged from ten percent to almost thirty percent.  In some of the cases, the airplane crashed and in others it nearly did so.

The good news is that the pilots reported the incident that prompted the article.  That reflects professionalism on the part of the pilots and wisdom on the part of the airline for creating a system under which employees (not just pilots) can report such incidents.  A spokesperson for the airline said that there had been technology issues with getting correct passenger counts.  The implication here that frightens me is that there is a “technology problem.”  Continue reading

Professional Development – A Coda

By Guy Higgins

As I sent my most recent blog off to my webmaster (webmistress?) and editor, I thought about adding something very specific – hence this coda.

The US Marine Corps Reading List that can be found at:  ( is an excellent example of one aspect of professional development – continued reading and self-education.

The list is arranged according to rank, but many of the recommended books are included in multiple rank lists.  Naturally, as specifically stated in the Chairman’s (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey) Introduction to his reading list, these lists are focused on the profession of arms.  It is nonetheless an exceptional source of readings for people aspiring to be leaders.  Continue reading

Professional Development

By Guy Higgins

I happen to belong to the Harvard Business School Executive Education discussion group on LinkedIn and joined a new discussion on the skills and attitudes needed to be an authentic leader (

Since I’ve been thinking about how people develop into leaders, I decided to expand on my comment in that discussion.

Professional development covers a lot of territory, so first, I’m going to narrow the scope of this comment to be consistent with my overall theme of leadership and focus on the professional development of leaders.  I am not belittling or demeaning professional development outside of the leadership – simply focusing. Continue reading