Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Be repetitive on the values that really count

I’ve heard it said that people generally retain ten percent of what they hear after a week and it declines after that.  The obvious conclusion is to be very repetitive on the most important topics.

At Tractor Supply Company the leadership is constantly talking about the mission and values of the company.  Constantly means that the topic is covered at every executive meeting, every department and district meeting, the sales rallies, and in virtually every internal employee publication. The result is that leaders anywhere in the company can make decisions with confidence because they clearly understand the basic values of the organization. No need to look over your shoulder!

Leaders, particularly new ones, often try to communicate more topics and information than most people can absorb. My advice for best results:  Spend lots of time on the few really important topics that shape others thinking. 

Posted on 09/28/2011 9:45 AM by Joe Scarlett
Monday, 26 September 2011
Leadership in Action


This year my church is celebrating it's 200th anniversary and we have planned a number of special activities to commemorate the event.  Lots of people have stepped up to take charge of one thing or another and  this past Saturday was the Fall Festival, an event that we had had in the past, but had stopped offering many years ago.  Always a huge draw for the kids (my own 20-something kids remember it as their favorite activity when they were small children) we decided to bring it back.  


Preparations were made and everyone anticipated the event with great excitement.  Then earlier last week it became necessary for me to be out of town most of Saturday, and I arrived at the festival almost at the end.  But what I saw when I got there was a perfect demonstration of leadership in action.  About 200 parents and children were having a blast!  People were eating, enjoying music, playing games and generally enjoying themselves.  It appeared that this had just happened, although I know that lots of work had gone into it.  Those in charge did such a great job--they loved what they were doing, they had a great purpose, and they were able to recruit lots of people who also wanted it to be a wonderful event.  Isn't that what leadership is all about?    



Posted on 09/26/2011 1:46 PM by Mary Fink
Friday, 23 September 2011
Arrogance in leadership


It may sound obvious, but arrogance is a trait that every leader must check at the door in order to lead effectively.   All of us have known that person who’s promoted into a leader role after having been the super star individual contributor.   Many times, these individuals will carry with them the pride and arrogance of their success as an individual contributor.   Time and again, these individuals learn thru mistakes that arrogance causes others to not to want to be around you and probably most of all, refuse to respect you.  

In Jim Collins’s book, Good to Great, he found that humble leadership was one of the many traits that contributed to the long term success of organizations.   Humble leaders get more involved and are more willing to listen to opposing viewpoints.   They also tend to have high moral values, which causes them to be centered on doing things right for the right reasons.   They believe their talents are a gift that is to be kept in perspective in both the work place and their personal lives.

So where can you find these humble leaders?   They could be right under your nose.  Many times those super star individual contributors are not your best choice for future leaders.   Not only do they sometimes have difficulties turning off the traits that made them great IC’s, but it’s not necessarily the best thing for the company to have them turn those traits off.   Is it prudent to have your best sales person not sell anymore?   Many times, you’ll find the leadership traits you seek at the top of the stack, right underneath those star individual contributors.   When you dig in, you may find that it’s there processes and ideas that are actually carrying the super stars to their lofty heights.   They typically don’t crave the spotlight but take great pride in seeing others shine and do well.  

Jim Collins said that the type of leader necessary to turn a good company into a great one are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.   Finding people like this is no less difficult than originally thought, but it’s important you’re looking for the right traits and in the right places.


Posted on 09/23/2011 9:23 PM by Scott Carlton
Monday, 19 September 2011
How you criticize sends a message


Nobody likes to hear criticism but from time to time leaders must deliver messages that criticize an employee’s performance. The way you deliver those messages says everything about you as leader.

First stick to the facts, forget negative adjectives and do everything in your power to be positive.  Focus your efforts on future outcomes. You probably have to start by reviewing past fact based performance as a benchmark but move quickly to future performance goals.  Prepare your discussion carefully, avoid emotional statements, and stick to the facts.  Walk through your talk trying to put yourself on the other side of the table.

Delivering a critical performance discussion is difficult for both parties but handled in a positive way can help to build a stronger relationship with your employee and can build respect for your leadership skills. 

Posted on 09/19/2011 4:17 PM by Joe Scarlett
Friday, 16 September 2011
Never stop learning!


If you’ve watched this blog long enough, you’ve heard us talk about the fact that every person should have a learning agenda.   I would wager that virtually every single person has a deep intellectual curiosity about some topic.   That topic is typically where their passion is.   For some lucky people, their passion and their work overlap and thus fueling their learning agenda comes naturally.   For others, their passion lies somewhere else from their work and driving that learning agenda is more difficult.

For most of us in business, learning every day is fairly simple.   You can browse anyone of many news web sites or pick up a business newspaper.   In these scenarios however, while you’re learning something worthwhile, you may not be learning something that will actually help you be a better leader or executive.   How do you make sure you’re investing time in learning about things that are going to help you at work (especially when you’re personal passion doesn’t overlap)?   

The following tips are recommendations for all of us in terms of ensuring that we’re developing our skills and capabilities for our chosen professions:

  • Subscribe to at least one magazine that is specific to your industry – not just generic magazines such as Business Week.  Have this delivered to your home and make time to read it.
  • Set aside time each year to attend an industry conference and map out the sessions you will attend ahead of time.  If your company doesn’t fund such trips, look at it as investing in your career.
  • Find a mentor that’s in your industry and schedule regular discussions with that person
  • Reserve study time that is completely dedicated to your industry.   Put this on your calendar on a reoccurring basis and be disciplined in not sacrificing this time
  • Attend classes that are designed for people to become more educated specifically on your industry and your job.   

Prioritizing learning in today’s world is difficult.   Prioritizing learning for something that may not be your passion is even tougher.   Hopefully some of these ideas will help you.

Let us know what other tips you have in this area – would love to hear from all of you on this very important topic.

Posted on 09/16/2011 9:33 PM by Scott Carlton
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
When you have screwed up...


I am continually amazed at how often leaders try to avoid accepting responsibility when something goes wrong. Nobody wants to hear about the person or team that did not do their part or how circumstances slowed it all down or how the weather impacted the project. Leadership means being accountable.  

If you are the boss and something falls short you are the one in the hot seat – don’t pass the buck because that just erodes everyone’s confidence in you. Have the courage to say “I screwed up.”  And then follow it with a clear plan and timetable to get it done right.    

Leaders who are realistically honest and take responsibility quickly earn the respect of everyone around them. “I screwed up” are very powerful leadership words.

Posted on 09/14/2011 10:37 AM by Joe Scarlett
Monday, 12 September 2011
Everyday Leaders


We have seen much in the past weeks about the horrible events of 9/11/2001, and how those events changed the world as we knew it.  I believe that the events of that day made leaders out of many of the people who were directly involved in the twin towers or on the attack planes.  I heard one story this weekend about a salesman who worked on the 81st floor of the second tower.  When the plane hit the building, starting a fire on the floors above that, he and his group began the trek down the 81 flights of stairs.  When they got to the 68th floor, they could hear someone moaning and yelling for help.  They stepped out of the hallway and into the 68th floor to find a woman in a wheelchair and three of her colleagues who were trying to figure out how to get her down the stairs.  The group of salesmen found a chair that they could secure her in, and carried her the rest of the way down.  They got her outside, got an ambulance crew to care for her and they went on their way.  Later when asked how it felt to be a hero, the one salesman said that at that moment he wasn’t a salesman, a manager or anything else except someone trying to help someone else in need.


Isn’t that the heart of leadership?  When we can  put our total focus on the needs of those who depend on us we have succeeded as a leader.  In Jim Collins’ Good to Great, he talks about the Level 5 Leader as the one with personal humility and strong professional will.  Leadership is about THEM, not me.

Posted on 09/12/2011 3:07 PM by Mary Fink
Friday, 9 September 2011
Courtesy is a winning strategy


In our daily routines we are constantly making both verbal and written requests for all kinds of things.  It only takes a few extra seconds to add the word “please” to our requests. When someone asks you for something and includes the magic “please” you respond in a more positive way so discipline yourself to do the same. 

When someone has done something for you, a polite “thank you” goes a long way.  When you hold a door for someone or point out a potential tripping hazard you are showing concern and compassion for others which translates into respect for you.

Courteous words and polite actions may seem a little old fashioned in our rough and tumble “let’s get it done yesterday” work environment but those actions go a long way toward building your professional image.  A practice of being courteous to others sends positive messages about you that lead to added respect.  In other words, there is no downside to being courteous -- only upside potential.

Posted on 09/09/2011 2:02 PM by Joe Scarlett
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
Customers as "Change Assurance"


I read recently that our “biggest vulnerability in times of change is not your job—it’s your customers.”  Jeffrey Gitomer said that and a lot more on the topic of our customers being what we need to focus on in uncertain times, because their staying with us or not can determine our success or failure.  I have often counseled people who were worried about downsizing or laid off that those are the times when you need to be at your very best.  Easier said than done, when worrying about keeping your job seems to be the thing on the top of your mind each day, but it is in those uncertain times that we have to be at our very best.

Last week, our daughter had to have some car repair.  We have become raving fans of a local car repair business, so we went there.  They were courteous and helpful, and they told us when the car was not ready it was because they installed the correct part, but that there was something wrong with that particular part so they got another one and installed it.  As a thank you for our being patient, they did a few preventive maintenance checks for no charge.  We were happy with the service.  On the way home to Knoxville that night, our daughter noticed that there was something going on with the transmission which was new—we all agreed it was an unlikely coincidence.  So she took the car to the Knoxville location of the same business, where they diagnosed the problem, coordinated with our local office to identify the problem, fixed it and washed her car to remove the transmission fluid that had gotten on everything.

 Economic times are tough, but these are the kinds of businesses that will survive.  They took care of us and now we are customers for life.  

Posted on 09/07/2011 9:25 AM by Mary Fink
Sunday, 4 September 2011
Honest and Respectful Feedback


As a leader, there are times when we are faced with having “difficult conversations” with individuals that are on our teams.   Examples of this include anything from direct feedback on how they’re performing their job, how they’re treating their co-workers to what they are wearing to work.   One of the hardest tasks a leader has to do is provide this type of feedback so it can be acted upon.

There are many leaders that I’ve worked for that have neglected this important duty.   Speaking from experience, I can tell you that there is nothing more detrimental to the morale of a high performing team than to see a leader who shirks their responsibility of addressing an underperforming member of a team.   If you want to keep a team functioning at its best, you as the leader must step up and address issues that are blocking that potential.

An approach that has always worked for me in these situations is to always have an honest and respectful relationship with any member of my team.   I make any new team members aware that I will always be completely honest relative to what’s on my mind in any communications with the team (either individually or as a group).   If there is something that I’m concerned about the members of my team causing that concern will be told.   I also tell them however, that I will always provide my concerns in a way that respects their position on the team and the fact that we are co-workers and co-human beings.

In my experience, feedback is always better received and more apt to be acted upon when it’s received in a way that’s respectful to the individual.   “Respectful” has various meanings depending on the circumstance.  I always ensure that any negative feedback is provided in private and I never use a condescending tone.   My approach is to be completely honest and respectful – leaving out any emotion.   The individual deserves to know the facts and should have the opportunity to learn these facts in an environment that does not damage their standing with other members of the team.

While it’s often difficult to provide completely honest feedback to individuals, this is the responsibility of a leader.   When considering leadership roles, be honest with yourself relative to your willingness and ability to step up to this responsibility.   Great teams deserves a leader who is honest and respectful.

Posted on 09/04/2011 4:41 PM by Scott Carlton
Friday, 2 September 2011
Leadership is a Journey


I was sitting in an orientation class recently with our newest students, talking about the attributes of a leader as identified by the 35 CEOs we interviewed before we designed the Signature Executive Program.  The list was quite long and contained  descriptors such as great communicator, good presenter, servant leader, coach, mentor, and a host of others. At this point one of the students raised his hand and said, “Does any one person really demonstrate all these attributes?”   We answered “no” but they are things that leaders—both current and future—need to aspire to.  Is it possible to do all things well?  I suspect not.  But isn’t that the point of development anyway?  We all need to continue to get better.  If there was one right answer there would be no need for the thousands of leadership books that are available today.  

And so leadership is a journey—some of us farther along than others, but no one ever completely achieves the final goal.  We put a lot of emphasis on each student having a learning agenda, and in fact devote one of our executive panel discussions to the topic.   Each time we find that the executives on the panel—successful executives in their respective organizations—have their own learning agenda.  We never arrive, we just continue on the journey.

What’s your learning agenda?

Posted on 09/02/2011 12:48 PM by Mary Fink
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