Leadership Definitions, Who Cares? LO18022

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@compuserve.com)
Wed, 6 May 1998 13:08:09 -0400

Replying to LO17986 --

[Rick, the author of this article posted it on the web, so I am assuming it
is ok to repost. Let me know if not so. Rol]

[Host's Note: To Rol and everyone else... It's my policy not to distribute
msgs that appear to violate someone's copyright. Just because something is
on the web do not necessarily make it OK to re-distribute. In this case, I
checked with Tom Petzinger who says, "Fine.. Post away!" ...Rick]


I agree wholeheartedly with your premise. The goal is to mobilize people
to do something difficult.

Tom Petzinger, who writes for the Wall street Journal, put his last
Friday's article on the web. It illustrates (perhaps) "Leadership"
(notive all the qualifiers) of one person in two different situations. My
question to all is, are both, neither, or one of his appraoches reflective
of leadership. In my mind, both approaches meet John's criterion.

A City Executive
Learns to Adapt
To His Workers' Style
By Thomas Petzinger Jr.
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 1998, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
NEW YORK -- SIX YEARS AGO, Roger Liwer was the hero of the New York
City Sanitation Department. Through his leadership, a demoralized and
unreliable vehicle-maintenance operation was molded into a model of
municipal efficiency. The department won a national innovation award.
Mr. Liwer was lionized in the trade press. He gave speeches recounting
his turnaround moves.
"This is how it's done," he told people. "Here is the cookbook."
Yet today, serving as the city's chief auditor, Mr. Liwer has thrown
his own cookbook out the window. Why would he abandon his proven
To understand Mr. Liwer, go back to Columbia University 30 years ago,
when he and fellow students shut down the school in a spasm of
radicalism. "We questioned everything," he says, "even the good stuff."
Later, as a planning engineer for the city, he delighted in attacking
bureaucrats, finding he could double the efficiency of a garbage route
or an inspection process simply by questioning longstanding pr actices.
By the early 1980s, he was a top official in the sanitation
department's Bureau of Motor Equipment, which repaired garbage trucks
and street sweepers in garages all over the city. Labor strife had
gripped the operation for years. Morale was shot. Astonishingly, half
the vehicles were out of commission at any moment.
Urged on by a boss who shared his antipathy to authority, Mr. Liwer
began tearing down the chain of command. He gave a labor committee the
power to institute new methods and procedures. With no one looking over
their shoulders, the mechanics' productivity surged.
THE WORKERS, mostly trade-school graduates from New York's outer
boroughs, took new pride in their department. They moved to prevent
breakdowns, instead of merely responding to those that occurred.
Ultimately the workers weren't only choosing which equipment to purchase
but helping their equipment vendors, such as GM and FMC , to modify
their designs.
Then in 1994, Mr. Liwer moved to the controller's office as chief
auditor. He asked an employee group to study better ways of running the
office -- but it wallowed in such trivialities as toilet-paper
selection. He urged people to end-run the chain of command -- yet he
usually learned someone had a problem only after a resignation had
occurred. In the camaraderie of the garages, the mechanics used to cut
up in his presence. "Here, I go for a walk through the office and people
start looking busy," he says.
Different workplaces, he realized, attract and create dramatically
different populations. For instance, the open-ended problems in
mechanics attracts diagnosticians, while the rigorously finite world of
auditing lures technicians. The mechanics saw themselves as mavericks in
a structured organization, the auditors as a source of discipline in an
unstructured one.
"What worked in one place completely failed in another," Mr. Liwer
says. "It was like using a French cookbook in a Japanese restaurant."

So to inspire superior performance Mr. Liwer turned the culture on
itself. No on e would be eligible for a merit raise without meeting
certain highly specific criteria, and any staffer seeking a raise would
have to fill out an application documenting that he qualified. "These
guys who love to follow the rules of accounting now have to follow the
rules of getting merit increases," he says.
But while all workplaces are different, there are a few features of
human nature that apply everywhere. Everyone wants to see his work go
somewhere, so Mr. Liwer drastically reduced the amount of time that
audits languished in the front office.
As a result of such moves, the number and scope of audits has
increased dramatic ally, even if Mr. Liwer dreads his role as an
authority. "I am a boss here," he says, "because the organization wants
a boss."
By Thomas Petzinger Jr.
The Wall Street Journal


Rol Fessenden

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