Lowest Common Denominator

Manage for your winners- don’t resort to designing your management systems for your bottom tier!

If you were awake in sixth grade math you probably remember the concept of the lowest common denominator in order to work with fractions. The concept was to evaluate and manipulate the numbers to obtain the lowest common number in order to make the denominator the same in order to solve the problem.


This general concept is also used in management by instituting a series of rules to control issues that are occurring with employees. This set of rules are typically directed to only a few violator employees who are not performing or typically ride the edge of acceptability.

The root of the problem is that these employees are either disengaged, not managed properly, or are lacking feedback on a regular basis. Management by the lowest common denominator is a passive-aggressive style of management. Rather than attack the real problem, the manager will attempt to “hem in” the problem employee by developing a set of often silly rules in order to address issues in an attempt to keep employees productive.

The issue here is that this management theory requires that these rules apply to all employees. Your best performer and your worst performers.  Your best performers will resent being held to stupid rules. So you are actually catering to the lowest common denominator instead of attacking the real problem.

Don’t default to this style of management. Concentrate on the relatively few violators and address the issues at the root. Using a rules based system to lead your team is never the best way to lead. If your team members are not engaged and need constant attention then replace them. Resorting to the lowest common denominator style of management will cause unneccessary damage.

Lead your team. Provide continuous feedback. Let them know where they stand at all times.  Give them specific tasks and deadlines. Be a leader. Don’t punish your best performers by forcing them to comply with stupid rules.

Rules are for math problems, not leadership.

So what do you think? Have you experienced this management style before?  Click on “Leave and Comment” and tell me about your experience.

Chicken Leader

I used to work for a boss who believed that the best way to find an employee’s capacity was to continue to pile on the work until they said “uncle”.  I thought that it was pretty cruel and also not very smart as the overloaded employee was likely to make some mistakes that would need to be cleaned up later.  And most likely, I would end up fixing the mess!


Yet this kind of management theory is not uncommon.  The manager tells everyone that there is an “open door policy”, so if there is too much work then all you need to do is say so.  if you have any problems- just see me.  They are convinced that they are very approachable.  They have fooled themselves into thinking that they are just “one of the team”.

The fact is- these kind of leaders are just hiding.  The open door policy, and approachability is just an excuse.  They are afraid to ask because they don’t want to hear the answer.  Then they would have to deal with it.  They hide behind the intimidation.  They are chicken leaders!

Most employees will not walk through that “open door”.  Walking through that door is inherently dangerous.  They have no idea how things will be received. They may be viewed as weak employee or a complainer.  The walk through that “open door” can lead to an argument.  The bad thing that could happen far outweighs the good that could result.  The walk through the door could be a disaster.  The open door, you can always come see me, I’m just like you, I want to hear your problems, want to help you, won’t get angry with you…simply does not work.

So how do you get feedback and suggestions?  How can you find out how your employees are doing?  Well- you have to ask. But before you ask, you have to be trusted.  So how do you build that trust?  Here are a few ways to help get there.

Lower Your guard. If you want your employees to share and go to a risky place, then you need to go there too. If you want to be a leader you have to model the behavior that you want to see- right? If you have a guarded and formal posture, you can expect that your team will have that same hard shell.  Be authentic.  Share your struggles.  Be yourself.

Develop A Real Relationship. Work to develop a relationship with your teammates. Share what is going on in your life in order to encourage them to open up. Let’s face it- work is a very large portion of our life.  We spend a great deal of time doing life at work.  Don’t compartmentalize your time at work.  Develop real relationships with content that extends beyond your work.

Serve Others.  There is no better way to build trust than to be a servant leader.  When you put the needs of others first, you are sending the message that you place real value in them.  They have worth.  Without a servant leader mindset, you are placing the value on the hierarchy.  You are emphasizing the distance between them and you.

Be Observant.  Keep you eyes open and watch what is going on in your workgroup.  If you see someone that is struggling or is upset, address the issue.  Waiting for the problem to fully mature will only allow things to fester. The result will be a bigger mess.

Get Dirty.  If you want to relate to your group you have to get in the trenches with them.  You have to get involved and learn the struggle first hand.  If you stay in your ivory tower you will not fully understand what they are going through.  You also have to be prepared to hear personal struggles outside of work.  Family issues, sickness, conflicts, marital problems.  If you have a real relationship you can expect that you will also have to carry with them some of the weight of the personal struggles.  You would for a friend.  Why are they not your friends?

The open door policy doesn’t work.  If you want real feedback and suggestions for improvement, you must build the relational bridge.  Many leaders are afraid to build the bridge.  The bridge will make you appear vulnerable.  The bridge will reveal your fears and struggles. Hiding behind your title and distancing yourself from your group is the strategy of the chicken leader.  Are you ready to unlock the potential in your group?  Do you want more but can’t seem to get there?  Build the bridge, lower your guard and unlock the potential!

So what do you think?  Have you worked for a chicken leader?  Do you think you can effectively lead a workgroup without the relationship?  Click on leave and comment and tell me what you think!