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)!

Business Problems are Leadership Problems

I met a gentleman many years ago that I quickly came to know and trust. He taught me several great lessons. One of them came rushing back to me recently as a result of a situation that will take far too long to discuss in this forum.
If you are in a leadership position…take a seat. This one might make your BP go up. “All business problems are leadership problems.”
Not sure if he coined the phrase, but it has proven true throughout my career. I look at it in two directions: 1. If a business has problems (they all do), it’s because the leader has failed in some way (yep, that includes me). 2. Leaders are responsible to ensure that problems get solved.
OK, Leaders, if you are part of the problem are you ready to fix yourself and fix the problem?