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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Deliberate Trust & Conflict

It is great to join a new team when you have had education and training in leading teams.  Sitting back and recognizing what the team is doing even though they are unaware.  It can seem a little sinister or arrogant, but I enjoy taking a team through the stages of a team and making them a great team.  I am not what makes the team great; the team is what makes the team great.

Currently, I’m in charge of a team that has made getting along with one another a priority over everything else.  The team believes they are respectful and that they are a well-functioning team because of how well they get along. It was comical seeing the looks on all their faces when I told them they were a dysfunctional team and had not even started to perform as a team. Looks of skepticism, annoyance, and shock were all around.  I explained to them that it was perfectly reasonable and we would work on it.  They were not satisfied with that answer, so I told them “We need to be deliberate about creating trust and conflict.  We cannot be so worried about upsetting each other that it costs us growth, improvement, and team progress.”  Now I have their attention, and they ask, “So what do we do?”  “We create trust and conflict!”

Creating trust and conflict happens mostly at the same time.  Creating trust is easier than it may seem, but is hard if you are not deliberate in your attempt to create it.  The best way to build trust is to be truthful.  Many confuse this with the brutal truth or saying everything just because it is true.  You wouldn’t, or shouldn’t tell your mom her new haircut is bad, so don’t say it to your employees.  Follow through is a great way to build trust.  Saying you will do something and then actually doing it is very powerful.  On the other side of this is not following through.  Doing so will ruin the trust you have gained in an instant.  For those times when you can’t follow through on your words, be honest about it and own it.  Making excuses for your failure might make you feel better, but your people will see right through it, and this will further damage your relationship and reputation.

Create conflict. Creating conflict on purpose sounds counter-intuitive and can be tricky.  Most people/teams/organizations practice conflict- avoidance not conflict-management.  The key is to stop being so nice that you cannot tell someone when they are doing a bad job.  Like I described with my team above, everyone was so worried about avoiding conflict that they accepted mistakes and mediocre work.  I had to force some members of the team to see the harm it was causing the team.  I gave them clear directions on what questions to ask the rest of the team and coached them on how to handle the various answers.

The conflict came quickly, and the team is still working on trusting each other.  We have meetings scheduled, and over the course of the next few months, the team members will get to practice on how to be vulnerable with the team and receive constructive criticism.  I’m excited to lead their progress!

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