Filed under: — Doug Contreras @ 9:46 am on

When Ed Koch was mayor of New York from 1978 to 1989, he would ask anyone who would listen, "How am I doing?" Arguably one of the city’s best mayors, he was known for marching to the beat of his own drum. Although it might seem strange to many that an independent and strong-willed person would solicit this kind of feedback, psychologists suggest that the desire for recognition and acknowledgement is as important to the spirit as the need for food and water is to the body.

In spite of this basic need, it is amazing how often bosses miss the opportunity to commend or correct a worker. I recall one boss, Tony, who thought positive feedback would cause the workforce to become complacent and/or raise the expectation of financial rewards. His approach was to comment on "sins of omission or commission", but he rarely had anything positive to say. For many of us, Tony’s negativity fostered one of the most demoralizing work environments any of us had ever experienced!

And in another case there was Rick who provided no feedback one way or another. In spite of a brilliant mind and impressive academic credentials, Rick was a numbers man. Devoid of people skills, he never appreciated or understood our need for feedback. At all times, none of us knew where we stood and most of us wished we worked somewhere else.


Managers and Bosses: Let your people know how they are doing!


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Filed under: — Doug Contreras @ 2:30 pm on
I returned from Vietnam in 1970 and began my training as a customer service rep for a small package printing firm. Days into the process, I was asked if I would consider managing a start-up plant which had the potential to instantly double the company’s size. The original person slated to take on this responsibility declined at the last minute and with no other candidates, I was the only act in town. At the tender age of twenty four, I jumped at the challenge oblivious to the fact that a feat of this magnitude would require the mind and memory of a computer and the dexterity of an octopus. With tons of energy and no support from the parent plant, I took on all the responsibilities - HR, Customer Service, Engineering, Traffic & Warehousing, Maintenance, Quality Assurance, Planning & Scheduling, Purchasing and Shift Supervision. In one year the plant was fully operational, running two shifts with 70 employees and generating a profit.

People laud me on the accomplishment, but experience has helped me realize that I was the hub of the wheel. If anything had happened to me, the effort would have collapsed.

It’s surprising how managers consistently place themselves in similar positions. Some think no one else can do what they do, while others seem to be so insecure about their place in the organization that they are reluctant to give up control as if it would be an admission of weakness.

For a business to prosper and grow, managers need to delegate and monitor. I suggest that the process include the following elements:

  • Establish realistic and doable goals.
  • Train your people making sure they understand your goals.
  • Have a contingency plan to allow for a person who cannot do the job.
  • Provide your people with the tools needed to accomplish the task.
  • Monitor progress by comparison to objective standards.
  • Make yourself available for advice and counsel.
  • Give your people space - don’t stand over them!
  • Acknowledge and reward success.

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Filed under: — Doug Contreras @ 4:50 am on
Early in my career when I was a plant manager, one of my line workers asked if she could meet with me. Ida came into my office after work and asked me, "Doug, why are you so angry all the time?" Both surprised and somewhat annoyed by the comment, I responded "What makes you think I’m angry?" She said "You never smile, you always walk around the plant with your arms folded and you only talk to us when something has gone wrong." With twice my years of wisdom and experience, Ida said, "the boss sets the tone. Everything you say and do affects our morale and how we work."

As I drove home that night and thought about it, Ida was right. I wore my responsibilities on my face never realizing it and the impact it had on the people I was leading. Determined to change, I thought about my workers and practiced smiling at myself in the mirror when I was shaving. I took my smile to work with me and began to make a daily practice of greeting each person in the plant. While I can’t say that I could quantify a change in performance and productivity, I am sure that this was an important step in building what turned out to be a highly effective team.

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Filed under: — Doug Contreras @ 3:34 am on

Belief in one’s ability to accomplish a task is as important as having the required technical knowledge.

A smart leader knows that fostering a positive mental attitude is an essential tool in building self-esteem and generating consistent results. We all thrive on the encouragement and positive feedback from the boss. Self-confidence is almost infectious with each success increasing our level of trust in our ability to accomplish the next task.

My lesson in life on self-confidence came from a guy who was affectionately known as BIG TOM. In the late sixties, the Army sent me to Ft. Monmouth, NJ for training in microwave communication. Ultimately, when I was deployed to Vietnam, I was assigned to a multi-purpose signal site on a jungle mountaintop. My stateside training was helpful in understanding what we were doing except for one detachment which was under construction - the Tandem Switch. The Switch, as it was known, was a high-tech, high profile project which was considered to be cutting edge for that time. The Army had only a handful of these locations in Southeast Asia and none anywhere else. Successful installation and integration of these sites were to make this phone communication system second only to Ma Bell in the U.S.; and the fact that this was done in a combat environment made it even more remarkable. It was so new and so unique, training and manuals were non-existent.

After I was in Vietnam for about a month, the battalion commander called me on a Saturday to tell me I was the new officer in charge of the Switch. Early the next morning I was awakened by the sound of a helicopter hovering over the landing pad next to my quarters. Knowing that high-ranking visitors and celebrities would show up on our site on Sunday mornings to take pictures of the breathtaking mountaintop view, I quickly got dressed and headed up to the Switch in time to meet the Commanding General of the 1st Signal Brigade, General Tom Rienzi. General Rienzi was 6-4 and in perfect physical shape. He wore two 45-caliber pistols with white ivory handles. His fatigues were highly starched and his combat boots were polished to a mirror finish. Instantly General Rienzi began to pepper me with a bunch of technical questions about the site - and I had no clue! I told him I was new on the job and begged him to ask me the same questions in 2 weeks. In response, he put his hand on my shoulder, smiled and said "I have every bit of faith in you, my good lieutenant".

For the next 2 weeks I talked to each of the civilian contractors who were working on the site and became well-versed in the details. As promised, the general returned 2 Sundays later and hit me with the same questions plus a few new ones. Happy with my responses, he put his hand on my shoulder, smiled and said "you did exactly as I expected you would, my good lieutenant". During the rest of my tour, we had other chances to meet & talk. On one occasion, I was invited to a 1-week conference in Bangkok that included senior communication officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force. Although I was the lowest ranking officer at that conference, General Rienzi sought and valued my input. His warmth, his encouragement and his conviction in my ability to succeed served as a lifelong lesson for me. I came away from this experience convinced I could accomplish anything through hard work & more importantly learned the value of developing that sense of self-confidence in those who worked for me.

Shortly before General Rienzi left Vietnam, the Switch was placed into full operation weeks ahead of schedule. To celebrate our success, he invited 5 other generals and a host of other dignitaries to a cut-over ceremony at our site. At that ceremony, he presented me with a Bronze Star and our site with a plaque commemorating the event. To this day if I have the slightest bit of apprehension when facing a new set of challenges, I think of BIG TOM and his good lieutenant.

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Filed under: — Doug Contreras @ 12:51 pm on
Most of my career accomplishments are attributable to the dedication and efforts of the thousands of people whom I have had the privilege to lead. While the commandments are simple, they require practice and personal discipline.
  1. Treat all people with respect and dignity at all times.
  2. Avoid foul language and disparaging comments.
  3. Never play favorites.
  4. Seek opinions and welcome feedback.
  5. Give credit where credit is due and remember that a word of encouragement or a pat on the back goes a long way.
  6. Hide your personal problems and learn to smile - workers take their cue from the boss.
  7. Learn to listen.
  8. Meet your workers on their turf and avoid office meetings if at all possible.
  9. Know your workers and learn a little about them personally to create common ground.
  10. No matter how busy you are, always make time for your people.
  11. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest and say so.
  12. If you promise to get an answer for a worker, make sure you follow through.
  13. Support your workers openly to your peers and your superiors.
  14. Lead by example and set the pace for others.
  15. Avoid fraternizing with your workers.
  16. Never be one of the workers yourself, except in select circumstances.
  17. Be known as the person to provide your workers with the tools and resources needed to do their jobs.
  18. Make sure your objectives and instructions are clear and doable providing both written and oral formats.
  19. Don’t be afraid to counsel workers who fail to perform or follow the rules.
  20. Insist that your subordinate supervisors follow these commandments!

The results are guaranteed!

Visit my profile on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dougcontreras
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