A Bully or A Servant – You Pick

For the last week or so, we have all watched the national news and witnessed the conflict that Russia initiated with Ukraine. At the center of this conflict are two men in charge. Two men leading countries that border one another. While the countries have many similarities, they have many differences as well. They both were once part of the old Soviet Union, and they are quite different today with respect to their form of government and with respect to their country’s leader.

While I obviously don’t personally know either of the men in charge, I have witnessed enough in the last two days to form an opinion of each based on their actions, motivations, and responses in the midst of conflict. You have likely witnessed the same things. I have seen the Russian president initiate war with no clear reason other than he had the power to do so. This Russian leader appears to come across very stoic, self centered, uncaring, and cold toward anyone’s needs other than his own. He directs others with intimidation and fear tactics. People seem to do what he wants to avoid punishment as opposed to trusting him and following his leadership. I am not even sure that it’s really appropriate to refer to him as a leader. It is not clear whether anyone is really following him. The Russian people may just be complying with him to avoid the consequences of disobedience. If they aren’t following, he is not leading!

I see just the opposite with respect to the president of Ukraine. While, to be honest, I had not heard of this man prior to the last few weeks. I know very little about his background, can’t necessarily vouch for his character before this conflict, but I can tell you what I have seen recently. I see a leader standing strong with his people providing hope, displaying strength, and leading in the midst of unbelievable challenges. While so many in his position would have fled days ago, he placed others needs ahead of his own and stayed. He is publicly providing guidance through the conflict (addressing issues), encouraging others to join him in the fight (motivating people), and communicating on a world stage to spread their message (unifying a movement). Right now he is the leader I aspire to be.

Let’s move from that comparison and situation and take the significance level down to where we are engaged today. We are likely not engaged in a life and death conflict in the manner that these two men are today. However, we have our own conflicts and issues that we are facing as leaders responsible for other people. The question we have to wrestle with is how are we dealing with issues, treating our people, and maneuvering through our challenges? Are we focused on our own needs, ambitions, and desires or are we seeking the best for the organization and people we lead? Do team members follow us because they trust that we are seeking their best interest or are they avoiding punishment of some sort? Do your team members see you serving them and sacrificing for them or just demanding more from them?

Hey, it’s easy to watch the news, form and opinion, and judge others. It is quite different to observe, reflect, and go be the leader your people need you to be. I don’t know about you, but the more I watch, the more motivated I am to help others be the type leader our people need. I want to do everything I can to help you ultimately be a leader worthy of following!

If you are interested in working through some basic leadership skills with your team or even just focusing on self-development, I put together a concise booklet on leadership skills just perfect for either of those needs. Go to Blurb.com and search for “Leadership Basics for Success”. You will find it practical and easy to identify key takeaways to help you and others grow in leadership.

Balancing Conflicting Priorities

It was November of 1979, and I was a freshmen quarterback on a pretty solid team.  From what I recall, I don’t think we lost but once or twice from 6th grade through 9th grade.  Now I wasn’t the best player by any means on that team.  We had some outstanding athletes on both offense and defense.  I just got the ball to them and enjoyed the success!

There was one special afternoon at the end of our season that I still remember today.  The 8th grade team had an additional game at the end of the season added to their schedule, and our Jr. High coach asked if I was interested in coaching them for that game.  He and the other coaches would still be there, but I would be in charge and call all the plays on offense.  Another player would handle the defensive calls.  Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.  I think everyone knew I wanted to be a coach at that time, and this opportunity was a great one.  I would also find out it was one huge challenge of battling conflicting priorities.

Needless to say, coaching guys one year younger could be a challenge.  That issue was fairly manageable as I evidently had some credibility with that team.  The real issue was balancing my desire to play everyone in the game and still try to win.  We had some guys on that team that worked hard in practice all year long, but rarely got to play. These guys just lacked the talent to compete against the best players for the other teams.

So there was the dilemma as the game went on.  Things happen so much faster when you are actually on the side lines making decisions, calling plays, and subbing players.  I had a huge desire to win and to show others that I was capable of coaching at even a higher level of competition.  I also wanted to get these guys in the game.  The “real” head coach had even commented to me that this additional game should be a chance to get everyone some playing time. 

As leaders, we will all face conflicting priorities at times, and the consequences will likely be much more important than an 8th grader getting to see the field during a game!  The issues could be extreme and could be very impactful to the people you lead or those that supervise you!  I don’t have the “silver bullet” that will guide you through every one of these situations, but I will share some thoughts that I hope will be helpful in these type situations.

  1. Know your purpose and convictions.  Let those factors that are defined beforehand be your guide here.  Don’t let emotion take over.  You lead from conviction and not emotion.
  2. Take some time to understand the source(s) of what may appear to be conflicting priorities.  Can you address one or both of the issues to create some common ground to eliminate the conflict or at least lessen the significance of the conflict?
  3. Always make short term decisions with long term interests in mind.  You have to survive the short term crisis, but never forget you are in it for the long term. 
  4. You may have a strong preference with one of the apparent conflicting priorities, but you may be caught in the middle of various schools of thought with those superior to you in your organization.  Those are tough situations.  My advice here is to make small moves, communicate concerns, stay close to the situation, and let time be your ally.  Generally time and continued communication helps ease the tension of conflicting priorities.
  5. Always look for common ground.  Build on common ground where you can and stay focused on what’s important.  Don’t let the conflict distract you from leading well. 

By the way, we lost the game that day.  We did get everyone some playing time, and I gained some perspective.  8th grade football games are important to 8th grades in the moment; however, no one remembers, other than me, who won that game.  I do hope it made a difference to some young men that day getting on the field!  

One lessen it has taken me a long time to learn is that long term focus should always direct our short term decisions.   I have to keep asking myself if I am doing the right thing today to ensure the right results long term!  A similar question applies to all of us leading others – Are we doing the right things today to ensure the best outcome for the organization and our people long term?

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 development.

New Year – Same Challenges

For many of us, we used to think of the new year being a time for New Year’s resolutions and making some improvements in our life.  It was also an opportunity for a fresh start with new goals and a chance to essentially start over.  With all that has gone on the past few years, I think some of that thinking has really been diminished.  In reality, the new year on the calendar really hasn’t changed much.  The same challenges and problems that we faced in December are still there!  There actually may be more issues for many of us.

For that matter, how many of those old New Year’s resolutions were really kept anyway?

Let me share just a couple of thoughts on the new year for you to consider:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, take a quick review of last year.  Evaluate how you did in key areas of your life that are important to you, including your leadership of others.  We need to regularly stop and evaluate.  A new year is a good time to do that.  Give yourself an honest assessment of how you are doing in those key areas.
  2. Once you have taken that look back and made that assessment, that’s it for last year.  Those are memories now and not something we are going to let hinder us going forward.  Don’t let last year’s disappointments or struggles hinder your focus this year. Learn from the past but don’t let the past harm the present.
  3. Evaluate what you may need to do differently this year to move toward the results you want.  Spend some time here.  Results don’t just appear, but rather are the outcomes of some very intentional decisions and commitment over time. 
  4. Think in terms of what is the one thing you need to focus on in the next 90 days to make a noticeable, impactful improvement in a key area of your life.  Notice I said one thing.  Being very specific and targeted at one key area that would possibly change your life. 

While the above is applicable to anyone reading this message, for those desiring to be more effective in leading others, go back and work through those four steps focusing specifically on your leadership of others.  Identify key areas, evaluate last year’s performance, adjust where needed, put the past behind you,  and find that one thing to focus on to make meaningful impact.

Hey, I know we have many things to deal with every day; however, if we can just find that one thing to attack over the next 90 days, our chances of making a real difference as a leader will be much greater! 

So what’s the one thing in the next 90 days that you could really attack that would change things dramatically for those you lead?  Is it a staffing issue?  Is it the culture in your work environment?  Is it a reliability issue?  It could be any number of things.  Identify what your focus needs to be and then attack it with relentless focus with your team.  If you approached each 90 day period in 2022 with that level of intentional focus with your team, regardless of what 2022 holds for us, it will be one outstanding year for you as a leader!

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.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

As I near the end of my time in my current job, I can’t help but think of so many things I would have liked to have done better.  I deal with this problem all the time.  I still wrestle with regrets from decisions I made in high school, through college, and all the way through the early years of working.  These regrets are often tied to my taking the path of least resistance, the easier path, or one may say just the one that provided the momentary appeal. 

I’m not alone in making those type decisions.  Our society drives that kind of thinking.  Take care of yourself first, live your best life, look out for number one, you deserve it, etc. are all mantras of our society today.  The concepts of comfort, easy living, and instant gratification are all around us.

I am not here to say that there is never a place in ones life for any of those things, but I will tell you that avoiding uncomfortable, hard things is not healthy.  Life is hard, and we need to be prepared to attack the challenges.  That statement is even more true for those in leadership. 

Leaders are follower focused and not self-absorbed.  Leaders never think what’s the easy path, but rather what’s best for the people I am responsible for.  Leaders don’t think how does this decision impact me, but rather how does it impact the team.  Let me provide some specific examples that might hit close to home:

  1. Leaders don’t avoid tough conversations, they act on them timely.
  2. Leaders don’t accept on going performance issues, they develop a plan and execute.
  3. Leaders don’t ignore tough decisions, they get wise counsel and move forward.
  4. Leaders don’t avoid things they don’t understand, they get help.
  5. Leaders don’t just keeping failing at the same old known, comfortable plan, they try new options.

We all need to become comfortable being uncomfortable.  We need to be willing to put ourselves in tough, challenging situations to both grow as a leader and to provide the best for the people we lead.  We will never reach our potential if we don’t go through some challenging times.  This concept is true in every aspect of life. 

  1. If you want to be stronger, you have to pick up heavy things.
  2. If you want to be healthier, you can’t just eat or drink anything you want.
  3. If you want to be a better neighbor, you have to get involved.
  4. If you want to be a better leader, you have to be willing to do hard stuff!

Leadership is not for the lazy, self-absorbed, career climbing person seeking a soft, comfortable life.  Leadership is messy, hard, and sometimes thankless.  But it’s also so desperately needed in every facet of our society today.  I hope you can get comfortable being uncomfortable and be the leader your followers need!

Tomorrow morning, I plan on getting up at 5AM again to work out.  There’s no advantage of working out early vs later in the day.  The workout benefit is the same.  However, it’s uncomfortable for me to get up that early and put myself through a tough workout.  It sets the tone for my thinking for the rest of the day!  I want to be comfortable being uncomfortable!

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.

Slow the Game Down

If you follow sports at all, you have probably heard the term “speed of the game” in various contexts.  Normally, it refers to someone new to the level of play having to adjust to the speed of things happening around them (speed of other players, speed at which coaches communicate, speed of how the game is actually being played, etc.).  Although it now been many years ago, I remember having to adjust to that first varsity game speed in high school.  I can still recall how fast things seem to be moving, coaches yelling out direction at rapid speed, my not understanding half of what was going on, my being out of breath from just the stress, and really just wanting to get off the field and regroup!

I wonder if that’s how newer employees may be experiencing our work environment.  We take it for granted because we have been there for a while.  The speed of things may be natural for many of us reading this message.  However, that may not be true for so many today, as we are having so many new people introduced to our work environments. 

I also wonder if we, as leaders, need to focus on slowing things down!  Now, I don’t mean slow the equipment down and produce less product, but rather slow our approach to leading down and ensure we are taking the time to teach, coach, explain, answer questions, and really engage our employees.  So too often we bark out orders and just work at a rapid pace leaving little time to be leaders and invest in our people.  I wonder if we are really that busy, or are we just accustomed to operating at that pace.

When we push forward at a rapid pace, we set the tone for rushing in the work place.  We set the tone for acting before understanding.  We provide examples of working hard for sure, but at what cost?  Picture the results of the environment I just described.  We are much more likely to make mistakes that could lead to injuries, quality issues, reliability issues, or just disengage our people!

Hey, I get it.  We want to meet our daily goals and do well in our job.  I love the concept of “define the win each day”, “win the day”, etc.; however, we have to properly define success and realize that we won’t ultimately be successful by winning each minute at the expense of long term investment in our people.  For too long, I operated under the premise of success being defined by daily and/or monthly results, just to come in the next day/month and have to do it all over again.  Those days and months matter, but they are just mile markers along the path to help us evaluate how we are doing and make adjustments where needed.  The finish line is somewhere far out in the future. 

We want to hit those targets as often as possible and learn / adjust on those days we don’t.  There will be days on both sides of that spectrum, I can guarantee that for sure!  Don’t overreact.  Don’t get in a hurry.  Take the time to teach, coach, explain, answer questions, and really develop people.  We are in this game for the long term; not just today. 

Slow the game down for our people.  I think you will get more out of it too!  We will all like the results better, both in the short term and long term!

And yes, things did slow down for me after some time on the field.  With a little more practice time (training) and some help from others (mentoring / coaching), I rediscovered  that the game could be fun again. 

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.

It’s Time We Figure This Out

My daughter, a freshman in college, recently told me about an opportunity on campus to be part of a special leadership development group for freshmen.  The organization would select a given number from the applicant pool and provide various developmental opportunities for them during their first year of college.  It sounded great but when I asked who would be conducting the interviews, she said a group of upper classmen.  I obviously was somewhat skeptical when I heard that information, but I thought I would wait and see how this process progressed.  I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I asked her what question(s) this group of upper classmen asked them during the group interview.  She said it was just “what leadership positions did you hold in high school”. 

There’s the problem!  There are no leadership positions.  Leadership is influence, not a position.  Leadership is a “verb” not a position.  Followers make one a leader, not a position.  Now, there are positions that provide an opportunity to have a broader scope of influence, but the position is not the key.  A much better question would have been tell me about the impact you had on your high school campus and why you want to pursue growing your leadership skills on this campus!

Hey, I don’t need to blame these young people for not understanding.  We have a world full of “grown-ups” that don’t get it.  Leadership is not about position, power, being the boss, telling others what to do, getting attention, making more money, being in charge, being well known, getting perks, getting our way, self-promotion, and I can go on and on, but I think you get it.

Leadership is about influencing people regardless of position.  Leadership is about focusing on the people in our charge, not being in charge.  Leadership is a selfless task of focusing on other’s needs and well-being over our own.  Manager and supervisors (positions) are responsible for getting work done through others.  That’s what they do, and we need those things done.  Leadership; however, goes beyond managing and supervising and focuses on influence, impact, and developing a culture of engagement. 

Here’s a few characteristics of leaders for you to consider:

Leaders focus on people first and go after their mission/goal with their people.  People are not another obstacle to deal with but rather the center of our purpose. 

Leaders give their teams all the credit when things go well and accept the responsibility when things go poorly.

Leaders anticipate issues and develop plans to address the challenges before others.  Leaders are out front setting the course for others to follow, not waiting for everything to be clear before making a decision (while people in their charge struggle/suffer).

Leaders continually look to make the complex more simple for others to understand and execute.  They look to streamline and simplify everything they can to promote better execution.  They are not caught up with being the smartest one in the room, but want to help others understand and contribute.

Leaders are comfortable with others providing opinions, getting help from others, learning from others, and seeking advice.  They are comfortable because they are not feeding an ego, but rather serving their followers. 

Leaders continually focus on the long term well-being of the followers and the organization.  While they deal with short term tactical issues, they never lose sight of the long term focus.  They don’t allow themselves to be caught up in short term thinking that leads to long term regrets.

Leaders maintain a proper perspective that keeps long term focus in mind and don’t overreact to short term failures.  Leaders understand that mistakes will be made, and they make the most of the coaching opportunities to improve long term results and build stronger teams.  This perspective leads to a “we” focus and not “me”.

I just share these thoughts to give you an opportunity to reflect on your current impact and evaluate how you are progressing as a leader.  So forget the focus on position and refocus on having a meaningful impact with those in your sphere of influence.  Add value to someone every day!

And if you are curious if you are leading effectively, take a look and see if anyone is following….

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.

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!