Let’s say we are playing football and after a touchback your team starts on the twenty and my team starts on the forty. Would you consider that fair?
I am a big proponent of free markets with open competition and a “best man wins” mentality. If I can make a better product or deliver a better service, I win. If the reverse occurs, you win. If I am really bad, I go out of business and my assets, people, etc. will be redeployed as the market provides opportunities. If I do a really great job my business grows which typically means more jobs, better wages, happy stockholders, etc. All I ask is that we compete on the same playing field and neither of us receives preferential treatment. I think most business people would agree with me.
In the world of retailing, internet sales in Tennessee have an automatic approximate 9% (depending on local options) sales tax advantage. That is simply not fair. No major retailer has a 9% profit. It is not right that certain retailers have a government imposed profit advantage.
Our free market system works best when we have the best competitive situation. More competition gives consumers the best quality, the biggest selection and the lowest prices. Last month I had an unsuccessful conversation on the topic with Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina and quite frankly I could not follow his reasoning. There no way that a category of retailer should receive a 9% government imposed advantage over other retailers selling exactly the same products.
When I think back on the great leaders in my life and those that I aspired to, I always think on those attributes that earned my follower status of them? What attracted me to consider them a leader in the first place?
Here’s my own top 10 list of traits that I found myself aspired to:
When I look over this list – several names come to mind and I realize how blessed I am to have these great people be part of my life. I hope to continue striving to live up to their great examples.
Create your own list – keep it with you – and aspire to lead by example. Because someone is watching you and making their own list.
Step out there…you never know where the road might take you!
Thirty years ago my mentor and boss, Tom Hennesy, spent time with me reviewing the economics of our business. He made sure that his eventual successor had a full understanding of the various financial measures of the business. He had me study the profit or loss statements of every operating unit.
I studied the thousands of components of the revenue line in immense detail – category by category – and often item by item. I learned about the relationship of pricing and volume to gross margin. We constantly reviewed every expense line on the financial statements. He taught me more than I ever wanted to know about balance sheets.
I was fortunate to receive such great coaching. If you need similar coaching ask the right person and you will probably be surprised at the willingness of that person to help you learn.
Our role as leaders is to develop our people in all their skills including a clear understanding of the financial components of our business unit. The more our team grasps about the economics of the business the better the decisions they can make.
Leaders: How are you doing coaching your key people on the economics of your business?
The leaders who earn the most respect and typically achieve the best results are the ones who select good teams, set clear direction, delegate, empower, trust and then celebrate the successes. At our leadership institute we regularly talk about “pushing decision making to the lowest possible level.” In other words, if some below you on the totem pole can make the decision then empower them to do it. Empowering others builds confidence and produces results. Additionally when you push responsibility down the ladder you then have the time and clarity of vision to “see over the hill and around the corner.”
The other side of this coin is the boss who is constantly checking on what you are doing and often telling you what to do and even how to do it. It is clear that this boss does not trust you. This person is commonly known as a micro-manager. The results of micro-managing are low morale, poor results, and high personnel turnover. In addition micro-managers seldom get promoted and often get fired.
You don’t like being micro-managed and your people don’t like it either. Micro-managing is like a disease.Leaders: Stamp out micro-managing!
I recently spent an hour with fifty young ambitious leaders. What a thrill. I led off with my standard talk about Tractor Supply Company and the basic principles of leadership. You could tell that this was an engaged group by the expressions on their faces and that they laughed at my occasional jokes.
After about twenty minutes we opened it up for a Q&A session and spent the remainder of the hour in spirited discussion about Tractor Supply and leadership. They asked tough questions about the selection of people, delegation, motivation, communications, integrity on and off the job, and a whole lot more. By the time the hour was up I was emotionally exhausted and ecstatic at all we had covered.
Leaders: This is our most important job – teaching others how to be good leaders. You don’t have opportunities to teach? Make the opportunities. Volunteer to teach. Nothing is more important than teaching others. If you are reading this you are in a leadership role and you can be an inspiration and a role model for others.
When you are old and gray, your most important memories will be of those you helped to achieve success.
Start each day with a good look in the mirror and ask yourself “Do I look like someone I would be happy to work for or with?” Your personal appearance telegraphs an awful lot about you in so many ways. If you look professional others think of you as professional. If you look unprofessional others will likely discount much of what you say.
Guys – shave every day. The fact that George Clooney only shaves every third or fourth day is no justification for you to look like a slob. Ladies – you all know what a professional looks like in your business so at very least just follow the crowd. My advice is to dress to win and that means never being at the bottom of the appearance ladder. My additional advice is to dress for the position you seek not the one you have today. If you dress one step up the ladder you will begin to think and act like you are one step up the ladder and then all of a sudden you might just get there.
One more thing – SMILE! It is contagious. People want to associate with others who smile so as you leave for work every day put your smile on before you walk out the door.
How do find your courage? Courage is a word we don’t hear much of in business, but one that is highly needed and thought of.
Courage by definition is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” However, to have the courage of one’s conviction is to “act in accordance with one’s beliefs, especially in spite of criticism.” (dictionary.com)
Courage in business supports leaders to implement grace and empathy in times of change, builds manager strength to encourage opportunity and vision, and helps the front-line work force to see strength and confidence in action so they can ultimately be courageous themselves.
No matter where you are in the business world, remember that you are not that big a deal – there is always someone ahead of you in your organization or in a competitor so don’t let your title, position and level of responsibility go to your head. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for young executives is letting ego get in the way of good leadership.
When you get a big head people will slowly back away from you and many will be reluctant to tell you the truth. Big egos send the message that you have all the answers and therefore “I’ll just tell the boss what he or she wants to hear.” Now you are isolated and out of touch and may be plateaued or maybe even worse.
Stay humble – others will respect you and follow your leadership. One way to stay grounded is to spend lots of time in the core of the business asking questions and listening carefully. And no matter how you feel when you get bad news your response should always be a simple “thank you.” Don’t shoot the messenger or you will cease to hear the news you need to be a good leader. When you stay grounded you will stay plugged in which will help you to make the best leadership decisions.
“Liking your chores is not a prerequisite of you doing them.” Did you Mother ever tell you this? Mine sure did, and I’m thankful for this work ethic given me young in life. However at the moment I likely rolled my eyes and stomped off to do what was asked.
Even today as professionals, we all want to find joy in our work and find it meaningful. However, in the most meaningful work there are elements of the unfulfilling and the unlikable we just have to do. How do you handle those moments? Do you meet the not-so-fun duties as part of the whole that you are grateful for – or grumble after.
If you are truly blessed to have a job that provides enrichment and joy in your life – I challenge you to have a gratitude check-up in the moments of the unlikeable and remember the whole. If you have more moments of joy than the unlikeable make sure it is known.
Spread the JOY test. Whenever a co-worker is grumbling about the unlikable, encourage gratitude for good work. Whenever meetings turn into the mundane, encourage innovative thinking.
You might find your days filled with happier people … including yourself.
The great leaders make a point of setting clear direction in as many ways and as frequently as possible. There is no greater disappointment than working on a project only to find that unclear direction has led the project off track and now needs to back up and restart. In virtually every case of this nature the problem rests with leadership communication.
The experts say that people retain about ten percent of what they hear a week later. From this you could conclude that the important topics need to be communicated ten times if we expect everyone to have a clear understanding of the direction. The more out of the norm, the more important the communication - so on new projects communication overkill is just the right ticket.
Include as many people as you can in the communications loop – the more people that hear the message the more likely the outcome will be on target. And the more people in the loop the more likely disagreement will rise to the surface so issues can be resolved early in the process and the damage is minimal.
Over communicate the important stuff!
Our world is in a constant state of change driven to a large degree by technology. Don’t be left out – change is coming - like it or not, so take charge of the change process. Get out in front. My advice about the topic is to go someplace different to talk about change – if you sit in the same chair and do the same things you are not likely to think differently. Change the environment to change the thinking
Years ago one of our senior executives told me that he saw me as a champion of change. I took that as a real compliment and have always tried to promote positive thinking about change. Leaders set the tone and your long term success will be closely tied to how you plan, manage and implement change.
The number one obstacle to executive growth is the inability and unwillingness to really delegate responsibility. Non-delegators are also known as “micro-managers” and micro-managers may be the biggest morale busters in business. So if you want to move up the ladder get comfortable letting go.
Discuss the big picture mission repetitively, clearly outline the strategies, define the tasks and expected results and set a timely review schedule. Then get out of the way starting with the words “I trust you.”
You may be uncomfortable with real delegation but after a while you will feel better and eventually you will relax. When you become confident with your delegation you can begin to spend your valuable time thinking about longer term strategies to grow your business. And when you reach this point the big bosses will look at you in a very different way.
The financial situation in Europe is almost comical. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cypress, Italy and others are all looking for a bailout as if there is big cookie jar in the sky. Who will be next week? What happened to taking care of yourself? Your business? Your country? Europe is playing Whac-a-mole with Germany’s cookie jar which is not bottomless.
In business and in life bailouts are temporary at best. Individuals, businesses and nations – in the long run you have to stand on your own two feet. When I ran a business I knew that failure meant bankruptcy and I was determined never to be in that mess. We made solid, responsible decisions and worked together to achieve success.Leadership means personal accountability – never pushing the ball down the road.
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, testified in Congress a few days ago about the bank’s two billion dollar plus trading loss. He apologized, took personal responsibility and made it clear that only stockholders lost money – no customer or taxpayer lost a penny. The bank that he leads screwed up and Dimon made it clear that he is accountable to his stockholders.
This is the kind of performance we expect from business leaders – honesty and accountability. It makes no difference where you are in the pecking order, taking responsibility is just plain good leadership. You can bet the employees at his bank feel good about the man leading the organization.
In an interesting twist Dimon politely turned the conversation toward government accountability and the total lack of financial management of the biggest budget in the world and the long term damage being inflicted on American taxpayers. He was saying I accepted responsibility for what I have done, what about you?
You can improve your leadership skills by serving on a board – any board. The dynamics of individuals working together (or not) in a board environment is challenging, time consuming and often frustrating. It is also a great way to study how individuals interact as a group to lead an organization and a way to observe leadership or lack of it in action.
Obtaining a position on the board of a for-profit business would be great but those are not always easy to find. Board positions on non-profits are pretty easy but make sure you understand any contribution expectations before making a commitment. Don’t be shy about asking – many organizations are looking for high quality board members and don’t have a recruiting plan – you might just inquire at the right time. And, when you ask you might just be starting a networking process that will accomplish your goal.
After you have been to several meetings you might have the opportunity to insert yourself in a leadership role. I have seen many situations where leadership is needed but no one has the nerve to stand up and take charge – what an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and build your reputation. Plus, having “board member” on your resume can’t hurt.
We speak frequently about the difference between urgency and importance—urgency having a deadline attached, and importance being related to achieving those things that move us toward our goals or mission. There are those things that are both urgent and important, but more often than not, they are one more than the other.
In our organizations we often cater to the urgent, the emergencies, the fires that must be put out. For some this is what gives them the rush every day—that need to fix things that are messed up. This is also often where the glory or recognition is—something was very wrong and now it has been righted.
What about those who work hard to prevent those emergencies from occurring in the first place? Those who do “preventive maintenance” on equipment or processes or projects? Often these are the associates who work steadily to take care of things in a calm and methodical manner and who rarely receive recognition. Isn’t it time we give a shout out to these associates and appreciate them for what they do as well?
You earn success in business when you really accomplish the important things. The fact that you are doing a lot of tasks does not necessarily mean that you are accomplishing the right stuff. Sit back and analyze what you are actually accomplishing.
Early in my career a wise older manager taught me a clear and embarrassing lesson about making sure my time was being spent effectively. Emails are a big time consumer. Let’s say you get seventy emails a day – wow – that can gobble up lots of time and may accomplish little or nothing. I suggest sorting those by sender and immediately deleting (without reading) the fifty you know are meaningless. Read the ones from your boss and your employees and take whatever action is absolutely necessary. Additionally, coach your team on how to make their emails short and to the point.
Take time out when you are alone and away from the workplace to analyze how you spent you time in the last week. I’ll bet you can find ways to change the way you allocate your time and subsequently accomplish more of what is really important.
This advice may seem counter intuitive but it can work wonders for you and your company. The more you know about products and services in your industry the better prepared you will be to compete and innovate.
I made it a point to visit competitors as I traveled the country and would often call the president of another company telling him that I would be in town asking about getting together. The response was almost always positive. Often we would meet at his office or store and many times the meeting evolved into a meal together. Obviously we would be cagy about how much we shared but we both came out ahead in current knowledge of the business. I have actually developed several good friendships in the process. The losers are the ones who stick their head in the sand and refuse to communicate with competitors.
Every industry is different and many companies have policies about this subject but I would urge you to push on this topic because there is so much upside opportunity to learn and often to the benefit of both parties.
Holding on to key talent, developing and preparing them for each level of leadership is critical. The transition from management to true leadership can be daunting. Ask yourself this…although your Senior Team has the strategic and financial skills to lead a great meeting – are they prepared to lead and inspire a great organization into the future?
Development planning is an evolving process. What had a star rising through the ranks as a project manager changes as they reach levels that require leading and inspiring others. As our friend and author Marshall Goldsmith would say “What Got Them Here, Won’t Get Them There”. Do you know where “there” is? Are your development plans for various levels of management ranks differentiated for those changing expectations?
Planning for succession is a difficult process and even more daunting since the fallout from the recession. Strategic planning initiatives that were once 5-years rolling – are now 3-years rolling (and sometimes 2 years) due to uncertainty. However, as strategic plans evolve and time for planning now an everyday process, so should the leadership development planning to compliment those plans. Is your “bench” solid with up-to-date leadership skills to withstand and lead through the changing tide and rolling strategic plans?
Leadership is about vision and planning for the future. If strategic plans only emphasis sales and financial focus without human capital, then they are missing a key component. These evolving plans must also involve thought in who will carry out these plans and preparing them - developing them to be ready when the call comes to lead it themselves.