In What Roles Do You Also Lead?

Over the course of time, I have read numerous books on leadership and have attended trainings, as well. Without fail, all of them talked about leadership at work. Perhaps that was due to purchasing bias on my part because I wanted to be the best leader I could be in my career.

Being in the midst of my 60th trip around the sun, I find myself being more reflective. Not so much to second guess my past, but to make sure I get the final chapters right. One of my very recent reflections has been centered on where, besides at work, have I been a leader and where have I been the best leader. There are two non-work parts of my life that called me to be a leader: my family and my church.

As for my church (churches, actually), I have held leadership roles since our very first church in Greenfield, WI back in 1985. I held various leadership roles in different functions. Over the years, the health of the areas under my leadership seemed to improve. Of course, it wasn’t so much what I did as it was what God did through me, so I really can’t take any credit. Still, with God’s ample assistance, I think I have led well in those rolls.

In my business career, I’ve had positive impacts on my employers and my businesses over the course of time. Stumbles were many, but I kept getting better and the businesses grew more profitable. I was blessed to have really good people with which to work (both as bosses and as co-workers) and we accomplished much. Hopefully, I had some level of influence upon those successes.

Upon a lot of reflection, the most important leadership opportunity that I have had was in my family. If I am honest, however, it’s in this role in which I think I’ve done my poorest job of leading. One could say that a family is the most complex and demanding of these three leadership roles. That could be true, but that really is no excuse. The fact of the matter is that it’s been the leadership role for which I was the least prepared…and the one that scared me the most.

We are all driven by something. That “thing” for me has often been the fear of failure. I don’t know what it is for me about leading my family that made me flinch, but I did. In business, I attacked and shored up my weaknesses. In church, I gave God my hands and my heart and let him use me. But at home….I just felt inadequate.

I don’t share this with you to pout. My main conclusion from this reflection mirrors advice that I give my coaching clients: NONE of us knows everything. I tell them to build on their strengths and hire to fill in for their weaknesses (either via employees or mentors). In my personal life, my loving and patient wife has filled in for all my holes as we raised our family. Our sons have turned into fine young men and I simply cannot describe how proud of them I am. She is that perfect example of surrounding ourselves with team mates that complete us. Of course, I didn’t hire her (I doubt she would have taken the job). Instead, God saw in her exactly what I needed and He put us together. Perhaps, he saw in me exactly what she needed, too. Together we led our family. We had each others’ back and we pressed onward. She is my greatest blessing. On this Valentines week, I celebrate her.

Who fills in your holes? Celebrate them!

Time For Some Adult Supervision

Last night, a client who is also a good friend and a brother in Christ messaged me. He asked, “Do you think there is any chance of civility in this country anymore?” Figuring he was referring to the SOTU dust-up I replied, “There is always a chance, but the 2 parties’ leaders need to show the way. Pelosi and Trump won’t get that done. Both are petulant children.”

Now, depending the side of the aisle on which you sit, you may not like that last statement. Well…the truth hurts and that statement is the truth. We have fallen into this mode of “if you don’t agree with me then I must hate you.” That is a massive fallacy. We don’t have to agree with everything someone believes, in order to extend brotherly/sisterly love to them. Jesus reminded us in the second part of the Great Commandment “…love your neighbor as yourself.”

In politics, in society and in business we are NEVER going to agree 100% with those around us. But to succeed in any endeavor, we must work together and that requires a little grace, a little mercy and a whole lotta love (to quote Led Zeppelin). As leaders, it is our duty to model that behavior and show the way. Let’s start today!!

Lonely at The Top

There are a lot of old sayings about leadership that allude to the lonesomeness of leading people. For example, “It’s lonely at the top.” Or, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Also, “Leaders are like eagles. They don’t flock together; you find them one at a time.” It’s ironic because leaders, by definition, have to have followers. In larger organizations, the leaders are surrounded by people yet can, and do, still feel alone.

While there is a tendency for all leaders to feel this way from time to time, it does NOT have to be a constant in a leader’s life. In my observations and personal leadership experience, one of the biggest mistakes we make as leaders is in assuming that we have to have all the answers. The reality is that this point of view is putting undue pressure on ourselves. NOBODY knows everything.

We all have holes, blind spots, weaknesses, whatever you want to call it. Yet, the people that surround us have brains too (yes, it’s true)!! We need to be better at inclusively tapping into those brains to improve our organizations. This releases the self-imposed pressure of “knowing-it-all” and….it lifts up our team and shows how much we value them. What a powerful innovation engine that creates!

Mike Rowe's S.W.E.A.T. Pledge

“THE S.W.E.A.T. PLEDGE”
(Skill & Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo)
 
1. I believe that I have won the greatest lottery of all time. I am alive. I walk the Earth. I live in America. Above all things, I am grateful.
 
2. I believe that I am entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. I also understand that “happiness” and the “pursuit of happiness” are not the same thing.
 
3. I believe there is no such thing as a “bad job.” I believe that all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them.
 
4. I do not “follow my passion.” I bring it with me. I believe that any job can be done with passion and enthusiasm.
 
5. I deplore debt, and do all I can to avoid it. I would rather live in a tent and eat beans than borrow money to pay for a lifestyle I can’t afford.
 
6. I believe that my safety is my responsibility. I understand that being in “compliance” does not necessarily mean I’m out of danger.
 
7. I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late, and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is.
 
8. I believe the most annoying sounds in the world are whining and complaining. I will never make them. If I am unhappy in my work, I will either find a new job, or find a way to be happy.
 
9. I believe that my education is my responsibility, and absolutely critical to my success. I am resolved to learn as much as I can from whatever source is available to me. I will never stop learning, and understand that library cards are free.
 
10. I believe that I am a product of my choices – not my circumstances. I will never blame anyone for my shortcomings or the challenges I face. And I will never accept the credit for something I didn’t do.
 
11. I understand the world is not fair, and I’m OK with that. I do not resent the success of others.
 
12. I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.
 
On my honor, I hereby affirm the above statements to be an accurate summation of my personal worldview. I promise to live by them.

Gotta Love the Grind

Over the years of my working with entrepreneurs and business owners, there have been many traits that made them successful. However, the one that has stood out as common among the most successful ones is a willingness to “grind.”

Call it persistence, stick-to-it-iveness, a never-quit mentality or what have you, this loving-the-grind has gotten them past the difficult times when capital was in short supply, product development was behind and the future looked dark.

Having a just-keep-grinding mentality helped each of them overcome it all. For some of them, this willingness was driven by their faith. Others had that single passion for what the were trying to accomplish. Many more simply were afraid or unwilling to fail. Whatever the motivation, loving the grind showed up in each of them.

Leadership is Not About Power

A number of years ago, when I was leading a group of about 150 employees, I used to have “Lunch With Jeff” for all the employees that had a birthday in the current month. I would have one gathering for 1st shift and a second gathering at the switchover between 2nd and 3rd shift.

A typical get-together would include some pizza or subs served in a conference room. Generally speaking, these were pretty well attended affairs. Who doesn’t like free food? My primary purposes were to: 1. Wish them happy birthday (always good to survive another year, right?), 2. Thank them for the effort they were putting forth, 3. Give them a chance to get to know me better and me them, 4. Let them ask me pretty much anything, with the caveat that there were some things I either did not know or could not answer.

I recall, in particular, one of these lunches that occurred during the run-up to a presidential election. Living in Iowa at the time, the Iowa Caucuses were on nearly everyone’s radar. During the course of conversation, one of the youngest in the group (guessing early 20’s) indicated that he wanted to go into politics and get elected (we nicknamed him The Senator from that day forward). Being extremely skeptical of nearly all politicians I asked him why he wanted to do that. He replied, “For the power; just like you are in management for the power.”

I looked at him and smiled what I hope was a gentle smile and informed him that I really had no power at all. Sure, I could hire and fire. However, I did the latter only out of necessity. Beyond that, I explained that the power belonged to each of them. If they weren’t buying what I was selling, it would show in the business’ results and I would be out on my ear in short order. If they were buying into my vision, then they could make the company as good as they possibly could. There was a short period of silence followed by a new topic of conversation.

John Maxwell tells us in his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” that the true measure of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less. The ability to influence is preceded necessarily by a relationship. No influence occurs until there is a relationship created first. That is true for a business, a family unit, the acceptance of a faith….any influence.

Since this is a business blog: If you own or manage a business/business segment, invest the time in your team to get to know them and allow them to know you. In doing so, the relationships you develop will allow you to influence your team so you can lead them to new heights.

Hiring and Firing: Who's to Blame When it Does Not Work Out?

About 18 months ago, I interviewed a candidate for a position that I had posted on the internet. He had the proper qualifications and enough experience to warrant a visit. Since I was out of town and did not want to slow down the process, I scheduled a telephone interview with him.

As we began the interview, everything was pretty typical with me asking questions based on his resume as well as more probing questions about how he had handled certain situations in the past. As we neared the end of my questions, I asked if he had any questions of me. His first question went something like this: I have been checking around town and it sounds like you have been hiring someone frequently for this same position. Everyone seemed to think this must be a difficult place to work if people keep leaving.

I smiled (which he could not see over the phone) and replied that, indeed, we had gone through a few people in this position. However, the assumption people were making was a poor guess. I explained that the reason we had been re-hiring for the position is because I had to fire all but one of the people that I had hired. The lone exception left us to take a management job elsewhere that I simply did not have available. There was silence on the phone and I suspected that I had just scared the heck out of the gentleman. I quickly continued that this was because I had done a poor job in the hiring process. Once I realized the mistake, I quickly had to step up and start the process to fix my error.

I’ve been hiring people for 30 years; either for companies at which I worked or those that I have owned. I seem to be better at hiring some positions than others but, in totality, I have not exactly been a rock star at the process. Turns out, I am not alone. Even when I hired on behalf of large employers who used the latest psychometric tools, we only hit on about 60% of them. I don’t know what the average is currently, but I suspect it is still not much better.

So, like any other business problem, this is a leadership problem. When we hire the wrong person, it is incumbent upon us to not let it drag on as that does no good for the employee nor the business. It’s not easy on either party at the moment, but it is better long term for each party to find a better fit. If you make a mess, it’s your job to clean it up.

FYI, I did not hire that particular gentleman. We did find a person for the position and he is coming up on his 2nd anniversary this Spring. I think we got this one right (knock on wood)!