THE LEADER IN THE MIRROR

Robert E. Wood

To find a potential leader in an organization, we usually do not have to go very far. Just about the time you think there aren’t any candidates to fill a leadership position, a guy like me comes along and tries to help you see the not-so-obvious. Leaders are all around us, they just have to be proactively sought out and developed. A shortage of leaders is more often than not due to a shortage of leadership and training. Not everyone can look in the mirror and readily see the leader within even though the reflection could build a great deal of influence if properly coached.

Some leaders didn’t even know they were a leader until someone else enlightened them to the fact, then all of the sudden the unwitting leader begins to focus on his/her teammate’s actions and response to his/her approach. This is the usual progression from someone who was satisfied with their current situation, then is offered an opportunity to take on a larger role in the organization.

When we say a leader’s job is to make more leaders, it’s because leaders aren’t natural born; they’re trained to help others recognize and develop their true potential. Most people, who accidentally do something great, get credit and some positive reinforcement from a leader; usually feel good enough to want to do it again. This is the beginning of the shift to greater influence.

I would rather mentor a multi-disciplined employee who has proven their commitment to the success of the organization over someone with a degree or skill. A degree doesn’t prove competence or commitment and skills can be taught. A leadership team that is focused on reinvesting in their own employees will find more of those employees recognizing the leader in the mirror.

Ego Clouds Judgement

When I was active duty Air Force, our organization had an E-9 (for you AF peeps, get over it, he was not a Chief). He would stand in front of the monthly all-hands meeting and put his hands on his hips like Superman. He would then tell the organization and all the leaders everything we did wrong. There was not a positive message….EVER! He was followed because he had the position. Despite his poor leadership the core mid-level leaders put the organization on their back and carried the organization to success. His team suffered because of his ego clouded his judgement. He felt we all needed to bow down because he was the tribal elder. News flash: as Zachary Davis stated, people leave their jobs either because the leader or they feel their work is not valued. There are no bad teams only bad leaders. We had more retirements during his tenure…coincidence? 

Blame game: A leader’s ego will drive them to blame the team. The leader will blame the sales team for not meeting the quarterly quotas. The coach will blame the players the team captain will blame the coach. Nobody wins. The leader owns their space, the leader owns their department, and the leader owns the successes and failures of the team. When the leader gets in the blame game instead of owning the stumbles, the leader loses…the team loses. It is the leader’s responsibility to assess the situation and figure out a way (with the help of the team) to give the team the tools, coaching, and actionable guidance to overcome the challenges. The team and the leader will grow in the process.

Leaders put the team first and hold themselves accountable first. The sum is greater than its parts. Every leader will be faced with the situation when his or her team fails. At this critical point, the leader will decide to blame others or stand up and take ownership of the stumble. If the leader takes the responsibility, the team will rally around the leader. The team will grow stronger and have more respect for the leader. Respect equals success. Ownership equals success. Drop the ego!

Leadership is an active sport, get in the game!

 

 

 

 

Be Where Your Feet Are!

I was recently in a training class and there were just shy of 50 participants. There were 5 ‘participants’ that never looked away from their laptop. They were totally disengaged from the learning opportunity. They wasted their time, the instructors’ time and distracted from the learning opportunity. Their actions suggested they were busier and more important than everyone else in the room. Be where your feet are! Be in the moment, be present.

Zachary Davis wrote an article titled, How to Run a Meeting, he witnessed someone eating tacos during the meeting. This person was shouting I am here because I was told to be here. This person was not in the moment and wasted their time and caused a distraction for the team. What did this action represent? Is there a small crack in his leadership armor?

Leaders have to be ‘all in’ with extreme focus every moment they are with a team member. Leaders set the tone of this ‘be where your feet are’ mantra. Leaders must communicate this through actions and words. Reflection time: During your meetings either in person or video, is everyone engaged and focused on the task at hand? Do you need to take action? Let your actions speak so loud that they can’t help to hear your words.

This mantra is so important for parents as well. I see laptops open and heads dropped looking at phones during their children’s athletic events. What is most important right now? There are so many lessons to be taught by parents by observing and striking conversations but one must be in the moment, you must be where your feet are. At the dinner table, is the TV on, are the phones on the table, is the family present?

Take a moment to reflect. Zachary wrote in an article titled, What Makes a Great Leader, he made a good point, leaders must be self-aware. Whether you are leading at home or at the office, we must be where our feet are because somebody is always watching the leader.

Leadership is an active sport, get in the game.

Skill vs. Will

My high school football coach would say, “is it a skill issue or a will issue?” I borrowed this question and the meaning behind it and applied to my leadership and management arsenal. My coach took a simple question and turned it into a mantra of our team. This mantra enabled freedom and that freedom equaled success.

Now there are many skill will coaching models and management tools allowing a manager to assess an employee’s skill and will. Through this assessment the manager now can find the best approach to take with the employee for the given situation based on the data from the tool, matrix, or model. This seems to over complicate a simplistic leadership and management tool.

The next time there is a safety incident, failed inspection, a broken operational process, lack of performance, or high performance. Ask yourself and the team ‘is it a skill issue or a will issue.’ This approach has allowed the teams I have been on to find the root cause of the problem or define why an individual or team had success. If we were approaching a problem we would quickly identify if the individual or team needed resources to increase their skill or if it was a will issue. If it was a will issue then the leader knew more coaching was needed to put the individual or team in a position for success.

Leadership is an active sport so get in the game!

The New Generation Sucks

I can’t even count the number of times I have heard this or other similar statements from fellow leaders and managers. I always laugh, and they take that like I think they are joking. I know they aren’t joking; I am simply reminded of when I was 19 years old, new to the Air Force and listening to the more senior members make these same statements. During that time I found myself wondering why they thought we were bad or lazy or any other negative adjective. Over time, I supposed I proved myself, and they would stop saying it or at least they stopped around me.

Now that I’m much older in my career, these sentiments are coming back. But the difference this time is I get to help educate my peers into realizing the mistake they are making. Or I get to watch them bumble through their lives as a manager and watch as they hit their ceiling. Little do they realize their own beliefs are what prevent them from reaching new heights as a leader.

The ceiling is different for everyone, but they all hit it and stay in the average leader category. They all believe the problem is with the new generation. The lazy generation that doesn’t talk anymore and only plays on their phones. The new generation that has no passion and constantly asks “Why?” This new generation that has had Google around all their lives and thinks it is funny when we ask a rhetorical question like “Why is the sky blue?” in response to their question as to why they have to do something. They don’t realize that we mostly had no idea why the sky was blue until seventh grade when we looked it up in a science book. So when I ask the new generation, they whip out their phone and google it.

So what now? It is time to stop blaming the new generation for being the way they are. We created them; we are their parents, or at least their aunts and uncles! So the key to this is to change our minds. We need to figure out ways to connect with them. If they won’t look up from their phones, find out why. You must be more engaging than their phones. Stop complaining when they use them. Engage them with the phone. Tell them why we are working so hard and what the purpose is.

I also hear leaders say “We don’t always have time to answer why.” If it takes you more than a minute or two to explain why you are asking your people to do something, then either you need to work on your communication skills or you didn’t do a good job previously connecting their work to the bigger picture. If you spend time talking to your people and explaining why they are doing the work, you will gain time later by not having to explain everything then, when your time is short.

Finally, the sky is blue because “A clear cloudless day-time sky is blue because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter red light. When we look towards the sun at sunset, we see red and orange colours because the blue light has been scattered out and away from the line of sight.” s(math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/BlueSky/blue_sky.html) I just googled it for you!