Leadership Lessons From The Fireplace

We are all Tools!

When I was a kid growing up in Southern Utah almost everyone I knew had a fireplace or a wood burning stove of some kind. Almost without exception, sitting next to the wonderful heat producing factory was a kit of tools. In this kit contained a mini shovel, broom and what we called a poker! The shovel was used to remove the ashes from the fireplace, the broom for cleaning the around the fireplace after you inevitably spilled ash and charred wood on the floor. My favorite, the poker, was used to stoke the fire, move burning logs around so you could place additional pieces in the fire.

As managers and leaders in organizations, regardless of size, we have to always be mindful that we are leading people who have specific talents, skills, and abilities. Each of your employees is different! They have different drivers, biases, abilities, etc. and leaders need to take the time and get to know their team members. Who are the extroverts, introverts, the career driven, the content, the charismatic and the list goes on.

Talent management is vital to achieving the goals and overall mission of that organization. We are not the same and cannot all achieve the same level of performance at each task as everyone else. For instance, the shy, introverted, data analyst is not the best person to give a facility tour of your new freight distribution center to prospective clients. You have to pick a different tool for that job. If you have an underperforming branch and need a quick turn-around, who do you send? A poker! Not a broom or a shovel, you need someone to move things around, shake things up and stoke the fire. Who is your poker? When your organization suffers from loss, whether a tragic personal loss or your poker pushed the team and they still did not meet the goal, what leader do you send?

Very few companies are operating at this level of leadership and management. It requires deliberate thought and deliberate action to specific situations. We are tools. I am a specific tool for specific jobs. I know my limits and will not let personal pride hinder my team from accomplishing our goals and the overall mission of my organization. I will call in other leaders/tools to deal with specific situations when I am beyond my limits.

Be aware that some of your brooms want to be pokers and vice versa. This is dealt with during feedback and in my experience will cause conflict, which is good. If you go back to your conflict-resolution training, avoidance, in this case, is not an option. A broom can never be a poker!

The next time you see some ashes try to pick them up with the poker! You will see my point…

I’ll leave you with this;

What tools are sitting next to your fireplace?

-Do you need more options?

Are you aware of the tools you have available to deal with all the situations in your company?

Unfortunately, unlike purchasing a Fireplace Took Kit online for about $100, developing your supervisors and managers to look for the right person to attack specific concerns will not be that simple, but well worth your time to invest in.

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What Comes First?

You are a Manager/Leader of Lies and Lip service and your employees know it! Just take a look at your structure and the lines of effort that come out of that structure.

Many organizations have a structure that supports the development of professional or technical skills. Most of the time this takes place upon initially hiring an employee and is sustained by on-the-job training and measured by supervisors. They also have a Human resources department that takes care of the mundane tasks of who is where what needs to be tracked and when John will hit retirement age. They also track and take care of specific training requirements, such as who needs and has completed Human Relations training. Maybe some will have a Talent Management division who endeavor to put the right people in the right place at the right time or delve into recruitment, but after the placement or replacement is complete, it is up to work centers to deal with the employee.

Human resources? Human Capital? Human Beings! People, Your People…

How much time do you spend on your processes? How much time do you spend on production meetings, operations, how high, how far or whatever your business is? I’ll call them functional competencies.

How much time do you spend on your people? People/Human competencies. What do you measure as a leader? How would you know if your organization was successful in this area? What do you expect your first line supervisors to do as it relates to People competencies? Know their names, birthdays, personal goals and desires?

You will do what is important to you, not what you say!

In the military, many organizations have a phrase that tries to keep leaders in remembrance of this balance between the function and people. “Mission First, People Always!” or sometimes it is said in reverse. For the most part, it is a good phrase, but I have found in my experience that in most organizations there is almost zero focus on the People. I have been in fantastic organizations where we spent a lot of time on the people, and the Mission of the unit (function) excelled. I would state the phrase this way “People First to First Achieve Mission Success. A lot can be learned from this.

As Senior Managers and leaders in an organization, we have to begin to understand that our best asset is our Human resource. We should strive to create a desire within our people to want to please their first line supervisors by their duty performance. I want my people to want to work for me, not because I am the boss, but because they know I care about them and their development as people. I have a desire to help them achieve their personal goals, even if those goals take them away from my company! Leaders at each level of the organization need to spend time developing functional competencies and human competencies. In most cases, each organization has programs that pretend to get after the task of human competencies. They may even write policies, hold seminars or conduct development courses but it rarely resonates with the majority of employees. Most of them will view the Senior Manager/Leader as a blowhard that is only focused on production, money or your board of directors.

We need to measure our leaders in our organization with two sticks:

How good are they at function production?
– If they are bad at their jobs, it matters.
How good are they at people production?
– If they don’t have measurable factors here, they have no business leading/managing, anyone. Let them go! It is better to have a mediocre function producer and a high people producer than the reverse.

I will state it again: You will do what is important to you, not what you say! Your people will know it, and it will impact their performance. It will affect your bottom line.

Develop lines of effort to directly get after each member of your organization. Get to know them as people, what makes each one tick. Know their kids’ names. Give them a day off for their spouse’s birthday and consider it an investment to your bottom line. They matter and without them, your functional competencies will only get you so far.