Attack The Hills

So I recently celebrated a birthday.  One of the goals I set for myself for this birthday was to run my first 10K (6.2 miles).

So I have shared before that seven or so years ago, I starting getting up at 5AM and praying for 30 minutes or so (some days more to cover than others!) and working out for 60-90 minutes.  I chose early mornings because it would both be hard for me and allow me ample time before work day requirements would get into full swing!   I do this practice seven days a week with some minor adjustments on weekends.

In preparing for this race, it wasn’t like I had to get ready in a day.  I have been training and preparing for events like this one for years now so to speak.  I did adapt my workouts to include longer runs and more challenging cardio workouts on the bike.  Again, it was the consistency over time that prepared me for this challenge. 

Leadership in today’s climate is similar.  You aren’t going to be ready overnight and won’t have an immediate impact with the folks you are responsible for.  It takes time to gain credibility and time to be an effective leader.  So the first word I will share is Consistency. To be a leader worth following, you have to practice those disciplines of leading others over a period of time!  Don’t get discouraged in tough times.  Just keep grinding every day, taking care of your people, and looking to have influence all the time!

This race was advertised to be a challenge due to the hills involved along the course.  With that in mind, several times a week I would run this ½ mile hill near our home over and over again.  It is grueling some mornings running that hill in the dark (it’s in a cemetery no less).  So this 10K would have those extra challenges or obstacles (hills) along the path.

Similarly for leaders, we will find those obstacles tougher at some points along our careers.  I can’t imagine too many times as tough as what many of you are facing today.  In facing these obstacles in this race, it was key for me to clearly Define The Win.  It would be ridiculous for me to set a goal of winning the race.  There were too many people much younger and more proficient at running than me.  My win was twofold:  reach my potential (run it in under an hour) and no one passes me on a hill (toughness moment).  You all need to clearly define that win for your team based reaching potential each day and not based on what others are doing or some other metric.  Everyone needs to know what success is, and we need to keep that target within reach!

During the race, I checked my time at each mile marker.  At the first mile marker, I was 30 seconds ahead of pace.  At the second mile marker, I was now about 30 seconds or so behind pace to reach my goal.  At neither of these instances did I celebrate or panic.  You see, it’s a 6.2 mile race.  You don’t win or lose at a mile marker.  You make some adjustments and stay focused on the goal.  It’s the same way with leadership.  Don’t overreact (good or bad) based on a day’s performance.  Recognize great effort, learn from mistakes, adjust where you need to, but stay focused on the goal and just keep running.  It’s a long race!

About mid-way through the race, I started to see water stations at every mile marker.  I’ve been in shorter races before and never taken advantage of water being offered.  However, this time, due to the heat, I accepted the water and was glad I did.  I didn’t break stride, but I sure took that cup of cold water!  As leaders, we need to be humble enough to know that there are times that we need to both Seek and Accept the Help of Others along the way!

As the finish line drew near, I emptied the tank and sprinted with whatever I had left to cross that line as quickly as possible.  58.50 time and no one passed me on a hill.  There were much better times that day and all kind of recognition for age groups after the run, but that wasn’t the point of the day.  Just a Simple Focus made the day a great experience!  Similarly in leadership, just keep simplifying the key focus areas for your team and improve their experience at work!  Managers that are either self-serving or just insecure thrive on complexity (desire to be the expert).  Leaders look for ways to simplify so that everyone can benefit and be a part of the success! 

We can learn a great deal about leadership from a 10K race:

Consistency is Key

Define the Win Daily

Don’t Overreact – It’s a Long Race

Seek and Accept Help

Simplify the Focus

For a copy of the book “Leadership Basics for Success” see:  Blurb.com and search for the title.  I wrote this short book several years ago to be used in supervisor leadership development.

Purpose, Priority, and People

Several months ago, I went to my high school for a reunion honoring the state baseball championship teams that I was fortunate to play on.  It was great to see many of my old teammates and getting caught up on what they have been doing the last 38+ years.  It was also great to see our coach!  He had spent so much time with us over those three years.

From that reunion, I noticed a few things that really caused me to think:

  1. The current players weren’t that impressed.  Even though they hadn’t even won a district championship since we left, they didn’t seem to really care about a bunch of old guys delaying the start of their game.  Old accomplishments don’t mean that much to most folks.
  2. I was reminded that relationships with teammates were the best memories!  Yes, winning was great, but winning with these guys was the special part.  We grew up together!
  3. As I talked to former teammates, I was reminded that influence lives on well beyond our presence. 

On my drive home that night, I was reminded of a few things related to my current leadership role that applies to each of us:

  1. We need to have a clear purpose in what we are doing and that purpose has to include people.  Purpose has to include “who” and not just “what”.  Profits without People is not going to be very fulfilling.  Ya, you may think so, but financial or operational success is fine for the moment, but that’s not what provides lasting fulfillment.  Sure, we have to generate business success to stay in the game, but that has to be achieved with people benefiting too!  It has to be both!  People have to be a big part of our focus! (reference paragraph above)
  2. When thinking about measuring success, focus on potential and not what others are doing or what we have done in the past.  Be honest with yourself and your team.  Identify the capability, define the win each day, and continually work on growing the capability.   When you focus on capability, it allows your people to have a legitimate opportunity to experience a desirable work environment and still achieve business results!  There’s only one champion crowned each year in a given sports classification, but there are a lot of teams that can be successful! (reaching potential is the key)
  3. Simplify everything you can and execute every second!  I recall talking to our coach that reunion day about all of those long practices where we just hit for hours.  He told us that we were all good enough on our own to make routine plays, but he wanted to make sure we could hit.  We seldom worked on defense, never worked on base running, and just found a few guys that could throw pretty well; but oh could we hit.  That was a simple plan and with a lot of hard work, we executed it so well.   Business operations are no different.  Simplify to a few things that really matter and execute at a high level every time!  You, the leader, have to figure out what that is for your team, block out the other noise, and then work with your people to execute!

Key takeaways:  Purpose, People, Potential, Simplify, and Execute

Five simple words that can change everything for a leader and ultimately for everyone in the organization!

For a copy of the book “Leadership Basics for Success” see:  Blurb.com and search for the title.  This book was used several years ago in facility leadership development.

If Saban Can, You Can Too – Adapt

So it’s almost August and college football talk and predictions are all over the news.  I was not shocked when I recently saw that Alabama was picked very high again this year.  Coach Saban has seven national titles already and looks like his team will challenge for one again this year – shocker!   The interesting thing is that while he still hold to his “process” for winning, several years ago he completely changed his strategy on how to accomplish key things within that process. 

Most notably, Saban went out and hired some more innovative offensive coaches and really opened up how Alabama played offense.  These changes not only allowed him to adapt to the more high scoring offenses that he would be playing against, but allowed him to continue to attract the modern high school players that want to play in that style.  The results speak for themselves.  He changed what he had done for years and what had won several national championships to a style/approach that would enable him to win more titles.

Now whether you are a Nick Saban fan or not is irrelevant.  What is relevant is the learning on adaptability –  The ability to change focus/strategy when conditions change.

You can say you are just old school and hold fast to all the old ideas, approaches, and strategies that you have historically based your leadership approach on, but you may not like or be getting the results you need by taking that approach.  Remember, leadership is not about you.  Leadership is about two things:  1) Achieving the mission/purpose of the team/organization 2) The people you lead.  So keep that in mind as you consider these ideas on being adaptable in changing times as a leader:

  1. Core convictions don’t change with changing times.  Our approach may change, but not the conviction.  Be sure you know what those convictions are for you, the leader.  Maybe you embody those of your employer.  Maybe you have your own.  You need a foundational conviction(s) to keep you grounded.  For me, it’s to ensure everything we do is people focused first.  That means we provide safe, desirable, and  financially secure (meet objectives) places for our people to work.
  2. Next, ensure you can define the win (success) for your team and communicate what that looks like for every single employee in their role.  Again, this one is just foundation building here.  Maybe the corporate atmosphere and focus has changed and you need to redefine what that win is today.  If you don’t know, get help and find out.  It’s important to know and adapt as needed!
  3. Now that you have those two foundational aspects in place, I want to ask you to do something revolutionary in today’s complex world of business.  Ask your people what they value most from their place of work.  What matters to them and what makes them feel like they are part of a team where everyone matters!  Yes, just ask them.  No fancy survey, online quiz, and certainly no suggestion box in the plant.  Just ask people! You will be surprised at how much you learn as a leader by just asking questions.
  4. Do the same thing with your customers.  You see, if we understand our people and our customers, we have a chance to experience sustainable success (however you defined it – I define it as reaching potential, but that’s a discussion for another time).
  5. Last but not least, and here’s the tricky part, do something with that information you got from asking those questions.  The new generation of employees are very different from the last group.  They want different things from a job.  Can you adapt as a leader and embrace the new generation?

Customers have different expectations and wants today.  Don’t assume what we are doing is what they really want.  Our efforts may not equate to their wants.  Can you adapt as a leader and meet their wants?

Adaptability is an attribute that historically received little attention, but I predict it will quickly rise to one of the top 5 attributes of any leader very soon.  Can you be that leader, and while holding fast to core convictions, adjust to changing needs/wants of your people and customers?  It will be critical that you do.

Hey, if Nick Saban can hire Lane Kiffen to run his offense and start throwing the ball all over the field, we can change the way we operate our businesses to meet the needs of a changing workforce and customer base!

A Lesson from IHOP

As I have traveled to plants over the last few months, I see a few common themes in these communities.  One of these themes is a general need for employees and short staffing at all the hotels and restaurants. 

Recently, I went to an IHOP early one morning before a plant visit and saw a note on the door referring to “Help Wanted – Short Staffed”.  I immediately set my expectations pretty low for this visit and went on in anyway.  Over the next few minutes though, I was shocked at the engagement level and energy of the two ladies working the dining area.  While they were obviously short staffed, they were pleasant, engaging, very customer focused, and doing a great job!  I overheard one of them explaining to a customer that the restaurant was out of a few key items, but she suggested alternatives and seemed to appease the customer just fine.  I also overheard one of the waitresses ask a customer if they wanted more coffee only for the customer say they were going to Starbucks for some really “good” coffee on their way out of town.  The waitress was awesome!  She not only replied how much she liked Starbucks too, but gave them directions to the one in town that would have the shortest line early in the morning. 

I couldn’t help but see the similarities here in some of the challenges we face – short staffing/need people – not having key materials that our customers want/need – customers being somewhat difficult, etc.   I have no idea why these ladies were responding so positively to these challenges, but I can tell you it impacted everyone in that restaurant.  Their response to the challenges established the culture.  While they were efficient and pleasant, they never rushed nor appeared to be in a hurry.  The service was outstanding to say the least!

I couldn’t help but sit in the car and reflect on this experience.  I have often let circumstances and other people impact my attitude and ultimately my leadership of others.  I have often played the blame game and just let the challenges/obstacles dictate the results.  What I/we need to realize is that sometimes, we are the real problem!

When I say we (the leader) could be the problem is not to diminish the significance of the challenges we face, but rather highlight the need for us (the leaders) to take action and not just accept things we don’t want for our teams/organizations.

For instance, if we have prolonged attendance issues, what are we doing about it?  If we have folks not showing up at key times, what are we doing about it?  Are we taking the time to educate and inform our people from the onboarding process all the way through their employment time of the importance of being at work and what that means for the overall job security in the plant?  Have we really taken the time to explain why engagement in safety is the most important commitment an employee can make?  Have we really taken time to inform/teach our folks why quality checks are really an investment in their jobs (taking care of customers)?  Have we really taught our folks why all those elements of a solid reliability system create a better work environment for everyone?

What I am asking you to consider, are you taking the time to build a team or just telling people what they need to do?  Supervisors and managers tell people “what” all day long.  That’s fine and needed.  Leaders take the next step and explain “why”; why it matters to each team member.  So often we just turn to discipline as our only avenue to change or deal with undesirable behaviors.  While there is a place for discipline, if we are going to change culture, we are going to have to build a team and get buy-in from our folks.  If our only plan is discipline, get ready to do that for the rest of your time in the role.  Culture change takes an investment of time by the leader.  While we won’t win everyone over, we can impact the majority through targeted leadership focused on “why”.

So next time you think about pancakes, stop and evaluate your approach to challenges, building teams, and taking complete ownership of your area of influence.  Lastly, remember, “I” might just be the problem and do something about it!

When in the Valley, Thrive not Survive

I can vividly still remember three of the toughest days I have ever had as a leader with IP.  The first was some twenty years ago when I was part of a management team that had to inform 850 employees that the mill was closing.  Ten years later, I would stand before approximately 140 people, some of the finest folks I have ever worked with, and tell them our plant was being close as a result of an acquisition (with better assets) in the same market area. Several years later, I would stand in front of about 80 people in a new acquisition located in my home town and inform them that the plant was closing due to a lack of volume in the market area.  I knew many of those folks from high school, and I was quite frankly the only IP person they ever saw or met. 

Those were tough moments.  I can tell you though that in each case, those employees would work the rest of their time injury free, take care of the customers through transition periods with no issues, and maintain productivity levels at or above normal rates.  They also did an outstanding job of prepping the mill/plants for dismantling.  Those were outstanding folks to say the least!

Now, I hope you don’t have to go through any of those issues in your future as a leader.  You are currently though going through some challenging times right now.  Raw material shortages are severely impacting your ability to run productively and take care of your customer base.  You are dealing with ongoing pandemic related issues.  Customer demand is unpredictable from week to week.  On top of that, we are understaffed (hard to hire folks right now) in every facility and absentee rates are higher than normal.  You have your hands full! 

Whether you are leading a shift or a multi-plant complex, let me share just a few thoughts on how to not only lead through tough times, but come out of the “valley” better than before.  I used some of these concepts in those challenging times noted above and actually using some of these right now as well.

  1. Simplify the focus to what is essential for right now.  Work safe and take care of customer base.  By focusing on these two areas, we take care of our people.  We take care of their physical well-being, and we take care of their long term job security (customers drive jobs). 
  2. Communicate these two priorities to everyone in your area of leadership.  People need to know what our top focus is and why it should matter to them.  By understanding why it matters to them, they are much more likely to engage and help!  (no guarantees, but much more likely)
  3. Shorten the increments of time you manage within.  When uncertainty grows, we have to scale down and focus on the “right now” to ensure we execute at a high level on what’s most important today.  I am not saying big picture doesn’t matter, but if we don’t execute today, the month won’t make any difference.  The question is what do we have to do today to keep everyone safe and take care of our customers.
  4. Utilize this opportunity to streamline your operation to what really matters.  Refine the customer base to what “fits” your plant identity and capability.  Drive reliability focused efforts every chance you get (after people and customers are taken care of for the day).  Don’t just wait to come out of the “valley” better equipped for long term success, make the most of your time in that valley as you work your way out.  Don’t miss this unique opportunity to refine, reform, and realign your operation. 

You are no doubt leading in some tough times.  Embrace it and lead well.  Real leaders come to the forefront in tough times.  That’s when you are needed the most.  Simplify the focus.  Communicate why it matters. Shorten your time focus.  Finally, utilize the opportunity to thrive not just survive. 

Where’s Your Clock

I came to IP from the world of public accounting approximately 30 years ago.  I took a controller job at a multiwall bag plant which operated adjacent to a paper mill at that time.  One of the primary directives that I was given by the corporate finance group (along with the plant manager) was to improve the financial results and get the internal control system and financial reporting in order.

I recall one of the first observations I had during my time in the plant was this long line of employees at the time clock at 2:45 with a similar number of employees hanging around outside the building waiting to go in until around 3:15 or so.  After observing this issue on different shifts for several days, I asked the HR manager what was going on.  He explained that there was some old language in a union contract that allowed for a 15 minute grace period before and after shifts that was misunderstood and resolved years ago, but no one ever dealt with it on the floor with the workforce. 

So, this facility was in effect losing 90 minutes of day of potential production time each day because no one wanted to deal with the matter.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  The management team and supervisory group in this plant were some great people.  Most of them worked their way up to these levels from entry level jobs over the years. I grew to enjoy working with them so much for the five year period I was there.  Also, I got to know many of the hourly workers and found them to be a terrific group of people as well.  We didn’t need to implement more rules or change the contract.  We didn’t need to replace anyone.  We just needed to address an issue with all parties involved and get that production time back for the benefit of everyone in that plant.  You see, the plant was not servicing customers on time (working a lot of weekends), was not performing well financially, and there was questionable job security for that business.  There was a clear “win” for everyone involved.  

We took care of that issue with no real scars.  My question for you is where is your time clock?  No, not the actual time clock on a wall, but where is the issue that you are not addressing?  Where is that issue in your plant, your shift, your department that has just been ignored and needs to be dealt with by the leader?

You see, you are building a culture in your plant/shift/department whether you realize it nor not.  What you allow, ignore, or put up with will eventually become the norm, the standard, and ultimately the culture of your operation.

If you talk about safety in a meeting, but don’t enforce those expectations on the floor, then your culture is that safety is just something we talk about, not something we do.  If you rely on others to be the safety police for your people, then your cultural reflects that you really aren’t the leader that they are accountable to, but rather just a supervisor/manager in title only.  If we talk about the importance of machine cleaning and reliability, but don’t make sure it gets done correctly, then our culture will reflect that misrepresentation as well.  I can go on and on about taking care of customers and other operational issues, but I think you get the point.

You see culture reflects more than just what we talk about.  It reflects what we expect, what we enforce, and what we execute on.  Our actions do speak much louder than our words! 

So I ask you again, where’s your time clock?  Take ownership of your area of influence and responsibility.  You need to own it!

A February to Forget

Typically, I write a leadership message based on prior experiences and key learnings that I have had in the past.  This month, I think it is appropriate for me to be fully transparent with my current challenges to help you with potentially similar issues as you lead others.

You see, February was a tough month in many respects.  We had a serious injury in one of the plants, and I hate to see one of our folks seriously hurt!  This injury was also given a severe designation which brings on a host of issues which can create a challenging experience for months to come. 

We experienced severe winter weather that resulted in almost the entire region of plants losing a complete week of operation.  This weather also caused severe damage at one of our warehouses, and we lost a significant amount of finished product.

If that wasn’t enough, we continue to face operational challenges which are driving our manufacturing metrics the wrong direction and placing burdens on our plant folks that I wish they didn’t have to bear.

So, if one were just focused on pure metric results, it would be easy to just give up now.  We aren’t going to be able to make up for these events this year!  Any leader could easily get discouraged and just write this year off.  Many of you have been there before and some may be there now.

That very fact is why we must look at our roles as leaders in a different light.  I am going to share a few things for consideration to help reshape your thinking, to provide meaning/purpose to your role, and to help you with that discouraging burden you may be feeling right now.

  1. We are in a business with an ultimate goal to go beyond just a calendar year.  Think of it as an infinite game.  While we are given annual goals and annual reviews, the business hopefully goes on well beyond that year end date on a calendar.  I am not diminishing the importance of performance, I am just encouraging us to broaden our view of what we are doing beyond some finite time frame that quite frankly doesn’t coincide with the ultimate goal of business.  The principle here is to lead today and not be defeated by the past!
  2. Leaders always need to stay focused on purpose.  We manage process, systems, and even results, but we lead people.  I spoke to James, the injured employee, this week.  That discussion was awesome.  It reminded me of my purpose and helped me refocus on people.  If our purpose is to lead people, then we are not deterred by obstacles, performance challenges, or setbacks.  The principle here is to stay focused on your purpose!
  3. As we work through difficult times, there will be a lot of negativity in a variety of forms.  We can’t get drawn into that vacuum. We have to further narrow our focus, filter out things that aren’t helpful, and provide a positive approach to those we are leading.  I have quit looking at YTD report summaries, ranking reports, and will not forward such information to others.  It’s just not helpful right now.  I am being very strategic and targeted with communication efforts to address current issues and provide a positive approach to what we are currently doing.  The principle here is to eliminate negative distractions and become laser focused on what’s important now (WIN)!
  4. Lastly, don’t go through challenging times alone.  Discouragement often sets in when one feels like they are alone in the effort.  I suggest we get that core group of folks around us that we trust and can depend on.  Challenging times can solidify a team!  The key principle here is we need each other whether we want to admit it or not. 

If you are going through a discouraging, trying time, I really hope you will give some consideration to the above comments.  I don’t share these as suggestions.  I share these from what has worked for me and what is working for me! 

Oh by the way, I failed to mention that on top of everything else noted, I dealt with mean kidney stone for three weeks in February.  Oddly enough, it left on March 1st.  It was a February to forget!

Attitude Reflects Leadership

My favorite all time movie is “Remember The Titans”.   Based on a true story, the movie is about a couple of football coaches in Virginia that successfully navigate through desegregation in the early 1970’s to bring a group of high school football players together to change not only their school, but a community.  While I think coach Herman Boone, portrayed by Denzel Washington, is a modern day hero for what he led in that school and community, it is an interaction between two players that I will forever remember.  The interaction takes place during a volatile period where the team is divided along racial lines and the two “leaders” confront one another.  “Gary – the team captain” tells “Julius” that his attitude is terrible and that is the main issue with the team. “Julius” responds that attitude reflects leadership. 

That comment is not only a powerful point in the movie, but a great reminder to all of us that lead people.  It causes me to stop and self-evaluate how my attitude or demeanor may be impacting others.  I too often want to just blame others for their attitude, but I wonder how I might be impacting those folks; either by causing their current attitude or by not leading in a manner that would help that individual.

Rather than just suggest that we all be more aware of the “attitude reflects leadership” comment, let’s take a look at some ways that our leadership effectiveness could be impacted by circumstances and how we can navigate through those challenges to be a more effective leader:

  1. The Frustrated Leader:

Sometimes things don’t go as you want and you find yourself frustrated.  That’s definitely happened to all of us at one time or another.  I would suggest to be sure we are asking the right questions and working on the right things.  Frustration often comes from not seeing the results we want over a period of time and that oftentimes can impact not only our leadership, but the attitudes of those we are leading.  Let me illustrate it in this manner:  Before we keep running that same play trying to get that first down unsuccessfully on possession after possession, let’s stop and be sure everyone is blocking the right folks.  Sometimes just asking the right question can change the approach and relieve the stress.

Be sure you are asking the right questions

  • The Worn Out Leader

Sometimes leaders can just be tired and find themselves running on empty.  I know we have found ourselves to be more irritable and short with folks when we are tired or mentally/emotionally drained.  Leadership is tough and can be wearing on anyone at times.  The more responsibility and level of influence, the greater the potential to suffer burnout, fatigue, or just wear out.  You have to take care of yourself first.  You can’t lead others if you are running on empty.  Let me illustrate it in this manner:  We have all heard the flight attendant explain the oxygen bag process of taking care of yourself before taking care of small children or those needing assistance.  Can you imagine how hard that would be for a parent, but how essential it would be to follow those directions.  We can’t be helpful to others if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first.  We lead and influence others out of the overflow of our lives.  Plan time to get rest.  Listen to folks that inspire and encourage you.  Get away when you need to, get some rest, and build yourself up regularly. 

Be sure you take care of yourself.

  • The Overwhelmed Leader

Finally, aren’t we all prone to lose perspective at times?  We lose sight of our true focus because of outside influences and challenging circumstances.  Those issues can no doubt lead to frustration.  That frustration impacts everyone around us.  To combat this loss of perspective, we need to ensure we have clearly defined purpose in our lives and that purpose needs to be focused on “who” and not just “what”.  If we can stay grounded in that purpose, we tend to maintain focus and not lose perspective.  The proper perspective in leadership allows us to remain calm, stay on course, and provide solid leadership even in the midst of a “storm”.

Be sure you stay focused on your purpose

While I agree that attitude is the one thing everyone has complete control of every day, I do agree with Julius that leaders can have a great deal of impact on the attitudes of those they lead.  The more engaging we are as leaders, the more the culture changes in the plant, and the better the overall attitudes are in the plant.  While we are engaging, be sure we are aware of the above factors as those can undermine our efforts if we aren’t careful.

A Year Worth It

I recently watched a movie over the holidays titled “The Secret – Dare to Dream”.  That movie had several scenes and statements that were pretty profound.  One of these statements from a main character was, “I am not asking for life to be easy, but I do want to know that it’s worth it”.  You don’t have to know the plot of the movie to relate to that comment. 

We have all just come through a very difficult year and have many of those same challenges facing us in 2021.  I know my list of concerns that I reflect on early every morning just seems to get longer!  So life is not easy right now for any of us, but that’s not the point.  The point is to ensure, in light of what we are going through, the impact we are having as leaders make it worth it. 

With that framework in mind, here are a few thoughts for all of those in leadership roles to consider as we start a new year:

  1. Do something hard every day.  Several years ago, I started getting up at 5AM to workout.  Those workouts have a predefined objective to ensure I push myself to be uncomfortable every day.  You see, not only do I want to get the benefit of regular exercise, but I want to continue being comfortable with being uncomfortable.  That hard task every morning sets the tone for the rest of the day.  Your focus may be something other than an early morning workout, but there is benefit for a leader to embrace hard things daily to develop the habit of addressing challenges!  You pick what you do, but do something hard daily!  Be uncomfortable in 2021.
  2. Encourage someone daily.  Several years ago, I put a list of people in my phone that I thought might need encouragement in a specific area of their life.  I review this list daily to see who I can call, text, schedule a meeting with, etc. to be an encouragement for them.  I have added to that list over the years, and it is quite extensive today.  As a leader, make a point to encourage someone every day.  That single act alone may lead to that day being worth it.  Be an encourager in 2021.
  3. Invest in yourself regularly.  I try to read, listen to podcasts, or find some ways to continue to learn and grow as a leader each week.  We don’t ever need to quit learning or growing.  If we stop growing, we are losing ground.  Nothing stays the same; we either grow or die.  Think of it this way:  We lead and benefit others out of the overflow in our lives.  If we are running on empty, we have nothing to share and nothing to impact others.  Fill your tank regularly this year.  Be an investor in 2021.

As you can see, this message is really for anyone, but I do want to focus on the leadership aspect as that factor enables us to impact others.  Life will bring challenges at times.  Life and work will not be easy.  The real question we have to ask ourselves:  Is It Worth It?  Let’s make sure we can answer that with a yes for 2021!

Don’t Quit

Today is Pearl Harbor Day if you don’t remember; the day the US was forced to engage in WW 2.  I recall reading the account in history and watching the movies  depicting that attack on Pearl Harbor.  However, one of my favorite movies relates to a battle that occurred six months later; the Battle of Midway.  That battle was a huge turning point in WW2 (a terrific example of strategy and execution working together), and I have watched both the older and newer versions of movies about that battle several times.  One line I recall from the movie is the  admiral of the US Fleet, when learning the exact coordinates of the enemy fleet, giving the order to turn the carriers into the wind and prepare to launch the planes.

While I am not an expert on carrier takeoffs, I understand that in WW 2, flight decks on carriers were not that long.  To ensure the planes got the needed lift required to clear the edge of the flight deck, they needed the wind pushing against the wings to generate the necessary lift.  Today, even with advanced catapult systems, carriers still turn into the wind for takeoff.

Think about that comment for a moment.  Carriers turn into the wind, to face resistance, to enable the plane to take off safely.  The planes must face resistance to do what they were made to do.  The planes must go into that headwind to achieve their purpose.

Isn’t that also true of leadership.  The need for leaders comes to the forefront when time get tough, when the headwinds are against us, and when the pathway is no longer clear.  It’s these challenges or headwinds that enable leaders to do what we are called to do. 

I can’t think of a time where leaders were needed more. Regardless of your function, there are more challenges now than I have ever seen before.  We need leaders embracing that calling and meeting these challenges!  Just three quick thoughts on embracing the challenges:

  1. Calm the situation
  2. Clarify the focus
  3. Communicate the plan

When times are tough and the challenges seem overwhelming, calm everyone down and ensure we are under control.  Make sure we all are focused on the right things and not letting the distractions of the obstacles cloud that view.  Cleary communicate what needs to be done.  That’s leadership. 

I will close with an excerpt from a poem I recall from my teenage years titled “Don’t Quit”.  I recall the beginning and end of that poem:

When things go wrong as they sometimes will

When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill

When care is pressing you down a bit

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

And you never can tell just how close you are

It may be near when it seems so far.

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

I know many of you are tired right now.  Don’t give up on leading.  We need you now more than ever.  Be what you were called to be!