Land Mine #2 – Managing to the Exception

Below is an excerpt from Marty Clarke’s Leadership Land Mines. 

The Managing to the Exception land mine gets triggered in two ways: 

  1. Any time a person, or group of people allow an idea to be shot down because it’s not perfect, this is “overt managing to the exception.”
  2. Any time a manager lets a matter of small consequences dictate decisions on matters of large consequences, this is “unconscious managing to the exception.” 

Managers who manage to the exception usually get a whole lot of nothing done and usually wind up being nothing but a drag on everyone else’s productivity. Managing to the exception is a productivity killer.

This land mine is easy to fix. Here are four steps to help you avoid managing to the exception: 

  1. Pay attention to your radar – Get your mental radar tuned for this frequency and if you even think you are in a managing to the exception situation, you probably are.
  2. Ask yourself, “Is this a deal breaker?” – This is a critical step.  This is where your own judgment is the measuring stick. When your radar goes off and yes, you notice that you are, or someone else is managing to the exception the first thing you have to do is isolate the exception and ask yourself, is this a deal breaker? Is this exception going to cause enough damage on our ability to achieve the desired results that it renders the entire idea useless? This is a critical question.
  3. Stop the bus – So there you are, sitting in a committee meeting, or presiding over a team meeting, and your radar goes off. While the debate swirls around you, you decide that in your judgment the issue in question is actually not a deal breaker. Show a little leadership. Stop the bus. Speak up!
  4. Call it what it is – If it’s at all possible, my advice is that you actually use the specific words “managing to the exception” when you surface your concerns. For example; “Help me understand something. Are we managing to the exception here? I think we are. A system that can apply well to over 90 percent of the employee base is worth developing. We’re rejecting these ideas based on the exception to the rule. We’re managing to the exception, which is actually counterproductive.” 

As a manager, you must always be on high alert to whether or not the decisions you make are managing to the exception or not. Watch for the Managing to the Exception land mine in yourself, in your superiors and watch for it on your own teams. And when you spot it, be the one who stops the bus – be the one who emerges as the leader! 

The wisdom in this blog entry comes from Marty Clarke’s Leadership Land Mines – 8 Management Catastrophes and How to Avoid them. Click here to see Gary’s book report on Clarke’s book. 

Gary Tomlinson
(919) 847-6235

About Gary Tomlinson

Gary Tomlinson has been an entrepreneur and business owner for over 40 years. Today he is a leadership consultant and executive coach specializing in executive team alignment and organizational execution.
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