I will be retiring from my purchasing job in the first half of the next year. I am excited about the prospect of spending more time with my wife, traveling together, finally working on the long “honey do” list that has languished over the years, and generally, enjoying the fruits of planning and sacrificing to make early retirement a reality. But, believe it or not, I am bothered by leaving the workforce but not for the reasons you may think.
I am passionate about leadership. All of my successes in life can be attributed to great leaders who pushed me to grow and reach for the stars. Some of these leaders were gentle mentors, some were wise teachers, and some just pushed me into the middle of chaos so that I had to learn to overcome adversity. I am thankful for each person who touched my life and helped be become the person I am today. In return, I have worked hard to pass on the lessons I have learned so that the next generation of leaders is prepared to succeed in business and in life. When I retired after twenty years in the Marine Corps, I knew I had done everything I could to leave the Corps with the next generation of leaders who would be able to sustain the successes experienced by the Corp during over 200 years of service to our Country.
And there is the thing that is literally keeping me awake at night. I look at people who are in positions of leadership today, both in the military and civilian workforce, and I scratch my head. It is not that they do not possess the potential to be a good leader; it is just that they seem to have no idea of what it means to be a good leader. Somewhere along the way, no one mentored them or even worse, they refused to be mentored.
So, I began writing and sharing my experiences hoping to be a beacon of light in the leadership void. I have tried to write in a manner that would be uplifting by sharing successful leadership experiences so as to encourage the reader to step out of the norm and experience the wonder of being the kind of leader that can inspire and lift people to achieve amazing results.
But the problem is that improving leadership has become a billion dollar industry and quite frankly, leaders today feel that none of the experts really know anything about what it takes to “get the job done”. They feel that each new leadership innovation is just another gimmick to cut into profits and dress up your resume. So free advice from any source is looked at skeptically and stories like I have shared are seen as bragging or just too good to be true. Believe me, I get it and can empathize with these feelings. But, the problem is, bad leaders still abound. So, let me be pointed and just say what I find bothering about our leaders today.
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You wanted a position of leadership – so lead. You have probably dedicated a huge portion of your time and energy to achieving the position of leadership you enjoy today. If it was so important to obtain this goal, why are you not being the leader! Leadership is not about meeting specific sales goals, increasing profit, rolling out new products, staying on the cutting edge of the industry – these things are the responsibilities of your managers and you have every right to hold them to the highest of standards. But your only job is to lead. I don’t know who said it first but it bears repeating. If you are leading and no one is following, you are just out for a walk!
Leadership is about people. In case you haven’t figured it out, leadership is focused on people and only people. That is not to say you don’t need to have a vast knowledge about your industry, business, product, etc. But you use your knowledge to mentor, train, motivate, inspire, and yes, lead your team to be the very best in every possible way and in every endeavor. Do that and all the “success indicators” that boards and investors look at will not only be there but, but most importantly, your organization will attract the best talent in your field because of the reputation you have for outstanding leadership.
If you can’t trust your people, get new people. One of the most important responsibilities of leadership is building a team that works together and is focused on success because they feel a sense of loyalty and commitment to your vision, your passion, and your desire for excellence. If you have a person who is not on board with the direction you are taking the organization and despite your best efforts, he/she is not going to ever be part of the team, you need to replace them – transfer them, encourage them to seek more suitable employment, help them find other employment more suited to their talents, or dismiss them – but as the leader, you have an obligation to the team to remove any stumbling block. The lesson “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” is true and in this case, a bad attitude or person will only bring the whole team down.
You can’t delegate everything. You can delegate authority to the point that your team can make the critical decisions they need to make to do their jobs successfully. You can delegate tasks to different team members or to different teams to ensure a project has all the right players on board for success. You can delegate just about anything but always remember. The final results are your responsibility; that you cannot and will never be able to delegate. So, make sure that your team sees you rolling up your sleeves and helping when deadlines loom. Make the coffee if you know your team is going to have to work overtime to meet a commitment and ask where you can help – that’s right, let them assign you a task to complete. Don’t just be the boss – be the leader of a team. There is a big difference and your people will know when you truly are a part of the team or just the person giving the orders to make yourself look good.
Ignoring the problem will not make it go away – make a decision. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen managers take a serious problem to the leader of an organization and then they wait and wait and never get an answer. Then when the situation becomes so bad that everyone notices and action must be taken, the leader acts surprised and disavows any knowledge of the problem. This is not Mission Impossible! You wanted to be the leader – make a decision. A problem ignored becomes a yellow jacket’s home – everything looks norm as you walk through the yard but one day, you scare them and they sting with a vengeance. This is a matter of trust and if you do not make every effort to show them your trustworthiness, you lose your team forever.
Do what is right. When making a decision that directly affects your people, always do what is right. I have said it before and I will say it again to re-enforce my point. I ask myself these two questions when dealing with my team. First, “Would I want my wife or daughter treated in the same manner I am about to treat this person?” Second, “If my wife or daughters were standing here, would they be proud of how I treated this person?” This does not make it impossible to correct a problem or identify poor performance with a member of my team. If just changes the focus from berating the individual to trying to find a way to encourage improvements that benefit both the person and the team.
Never stop learning. Surprise, you do not know everything. So, make time in your schedule for professional training, professional reading, trade shows, lunch and learn opportunities, etc. Feed yourself daily with new knowledge because you, as the leader have to be the agent of change and to take the fear out of the change process, your team needs to see you as a pillar of confidence that the new and unknown territory they are about to enter is not a scary place but is a pathway to greater success.
Never let a teaching moment pass you by. An error in judgment, a mistake on a report, a question asked, or a misunderstanding of the purpose or direction you are taking the team are all opportunities to teach. Share all your knowledge – hold nothing back. It will not diminish your place in the organization, I promise. It will make you more valuable than you could ever imagine. Help your people grow, learn, gain insight, develop confidence, gain understanding, succeed – teach.
Take the small office. A big office is a status symbol that announces to the world that you have made it to the top. You are successful. The problem is they tend to become very comfortable. You can’t lead sitting down. You have to be out and about to answer the questions like who is adding value to the team, what is being done, where are the problems hiding, when is the most productive and creative time to share ideas, and how do I help my team reach their full potential? So, don’t get comfortable doing everything from your office. Make it a place to store your personal belongings for the day and then get moving. Let your five senses set your goals as you see, hear, and feel the rhythm of the workplace as you smell and taste your morning coffee.
Know who is going to replace you. Finally, you have an absolute obligation to your organization and your team to ensure you are mentoring your replacement. Believe me when I tell you that our time on this old earth is very limited and each day is a gift. So, if one day you retire or one day you are no longer able to come to work due to a health emergency or worse, your replacement should be obvious to all. They should be ready to walk into your “small” office and hit the ground running. The payback is you will sleep better at night knowing you did the right thing for your team and for the organization.[/message][su_spacer]
Being a leader is such an honor but filled with responsibilities that are demanding, challenging, and will test your integrity and strength in many ways. However, when you see one of your people beam with pride because they successfully met a challenge that they felt was impossible for them to accomplish because you talked them through their doubt, you will know that it is worth it. When you see someone you have been mentoring grow and receive a promotion that will begin their journey into leadership, you will know that it is worth it. When you shake the hand of your replacement – a person you have specifically prepared for this moment – and you know with confidence that they are ready to accept this new leadership challenge, you will know that it is worth it.
Assess yourself and be the kind of leader that people are following and not just obeying. There is a big difference and in the end, you will realize, it is worth it.