My friend Jon Petz is a business inspirational speaker, conference emcee and magician who lives in the Columbus area. His magic amazes me. I’ve been a few feet from him when he performed magic and have no idea how he does it. One of my favorite illusions is when Jon steps into a box in the middle of the stage. His assistant then collapses the box. Suddenly Jon appears in the back of the theater. I don’t know how he got there. It’s an incredible illusion. Jon and other great magicians entertain us with their illusions. Jon’s molecules aren’t being sent to the back of the theater with a Star Trek Teleporter. To me it makes what Jon and other magicians do so incredible and fun to watch.

There are other illusionists. These are people who gave me the illusion of a quality product or service and didn’t deliver. I have worked with and for illusionists. One gave upper management the illusion of profits and quality performance. It got him promoted. When I took over one of his locations, I learned his secrets. One was not doing maintenance on equipment to save money. That problem took time and a lot of money impacting our profits to fix. The other was more difficult. He took advantage of his people. Their wages were far below my other 3 locations. He had taken advantage of his position as manager. Moral was bad. Other issues didn’t come out for a long time because the manager still had a position of power in the company. People feared reprisals.

This manager was good at illusions. He continued to move up in the company even during mergers and restructuring. I didn’t like what I saw and ultimately fixed my personal situation by changing companies. Others weren’t as lucky. Ultimately his illusions got discovered. It didn’t help the people he hurt. I’ve seen this happen in other companies especially after a merger or acquisition with a manager who can do a good illusion of success. One company was a good customer of mine during my corporate days. I had worked closely with them and still had a lot of friends there. After they were acquired their department was put under a manger from the acquiring company. The guy was a jerk in many ways like calling people at home at 1 AM to talk or give them assignments. After most of my friends left, HR got involved and figured out the manager’s illusions. He was fired and escorted out of the building by security.

One of the biggest challenges companies have is getting and keeping people. Sometimes people leave to better themselves going to a company paying more money with a better opportunity for advancement. Some leave for other reasons. People care about money but also want a life outside of work. They want to feel valued and enjoy freedom and flexibility. They want to make a difference. My grandson is an engineer who works for a small engineering firm in Virginia. He enjoys the work he is doing and the people he is working with. He always talks positively about the owners. They give him freedom and flexibility in his work and work schedule. The firm is getting the results they desire and are currently expanding hiring additional engineers.

How can companies avoid having illusionist managers who look good but are silently destroying the work force? The leaders in the organization need to build trust with their employees. People need to feel comfortable approaching them when they have problems with a manager. This can be difficult in large companies. I made a point to visit all of my locations regularly. I didn’t want to be the big boss in the office they never saw. We visited on their turf like in the shop or on jobs in the field. I always learned from and got a lot of good ideas from my employees. They told me things I needed to know but didn’t like to hear. Trust is important at all levels of an organization. For a leader, knowing the truth is essential, even if it is unpleasant. To make good decisions a leader needs factual information not fantasy.

Companies can develop leaders instead of managers. This requires constant training. Managers tend to focus on things. Leaders focus on people. They know if they take care of their people “things” will be taken care of. Leaders encourage different viewpoints. They aren’t intimidated by being challenged. They want to surround themselves with people who have skills they don’t have. Leaders think in terms of “we” not “I”. They like to see their people promoted within the organization. Some managers avoid promoting people because they have to train a replacement. Leaders tend to think in terms of the team. Leaders have a vision of where they want to go and know there are multiple ways to get there. They know the best way isn’t always their way. I enjoy working with leaders.

There is a lot of talk about China since their balloon flew across our country. China and the USA are dependent on each other. The USA is China’s biggest customer. Millions of Chinese depend on the USA for jobs. Products like clothing, prescription drugs and electronics come from China. Green Power in Charleston is manufacturing electric school buses. Their battery packs come from California because the refined cobalt used for the cathode and graphite for the anode come from China. The current plan to go “green” is an illusion requiring key materials from the leading emissions producer in the world, China. We can change this.

Illusionists like Jon Petz and other magicians are fun and entertaining to watch. Illusionists in business are dangerous making upper management believe things are great (benefiting the manager) when they aren’t. Illusionists can destroy a workforce. Leadership and trust can help keep illusionists out of power.

Greg Kozera, [email protected] is the Director of Marketing and Sales for Shale Crescent USA. (You can follow SCUSA on Facebook) He is a professional engineer with a Masters in Environmental Engineering and over 40 years’ experience in the energy industry. Greg is a leadership expert, high school soccer coach, professional speaker, author of four books and numerous published articles.

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