Tweaking Brandt

Re "Brandt On Leadership -- Management By Procrastination," August 2006. Knowing that the best humor has a grain of truth, I went digging through your friend Andy's Gravity Fed Decision cone. Tell him it would be a pretty good model for improvement if it started with Stage 2, "Benchmarking," focused on Stage 3, "Panic," and zipped through Stages 1 and 4.

Benchmarking is a good place to start because it means middle managers and others are asking questions about what they do and comparing themselves to competitors and peers. They are validating their processes while picking up a few ideas for improvement. These are good things to do, even if they take some time. In Stage 3, rather than shaming executives for deferring actual decisions to workers closest to the customer, this is actually quite smart. This is the level where good operational decisions do happen, and where many strategic decisions -- with the CFO -- should happen.

As for the stages of "Fear" and "Endless Review," I have come to appreciate that the best executives have learned that any front-line insights they ever had are either too narrow or obsolete. They also have learned to lead by wisely serving those at the heart of the business, rather than by being served like royalty. Unfortunately, many people in lower levels have not learned this and behave like serfs; many executives have not either. They are puzzled and somewhat embarrassed by the gap between what they give and what they get from the organization.

Talking to their grandkids is one way to work that out.

Richard Rowan, president
Rowan & Associates, Falls Church, Va.

Feedback On Feedback

Re "Engineering shortage?" and "Labor Days: Meeting Our Workforce Challenges!," September 2006. It is a shame that the authors of this special study didn't have prior access to the letter to the editor from Abogle. He hit the nail on the head as did Kathie Leonard of Auburn Mfg. Inc. in Maine. Why go into the manufacturing sector when nearly 18% of the sector's employment has disappeared since 2001? An electrical engineering graduate waiting tables and a mechanical engineering graduate finding only a teaching job available is not an uncommon occurrence. Nor is a Web designer/computer sciences graduate tending bar.

When the demand side of the equation doesn't look like a good bet, students migrate elsewhere. The dirty little secret is that it feeds on itself. Manufacturing drives over 60% of R&D in this country. As Ms. Leonard opined, perhaps we should look at a trade policy that doesn't recognize the fact that managed strategic trade is the name of today's game. We seem to be very slow to grasp reality.

Robert W. Johns, director of marketing,
Nucor Corp., Charlotte, N.C.