Leadership

1 + 1 + 1

It has been said that leadership is the art of doing things with, and through, other people. The idea of a solo entrepreneur is a misnomer because others are always needed for movement to occur. The other person is often someone inside the organization, so developing people within the organization is vital. 

Given this reality, leaders often talk about the process of delegation. It is, given what I just outlined above, necessary. But, the word “delegation” can have a negative connotation. 

At one point in my life, for example, I was the person on the receiving end of someone else’s delegation. In various “intern” roles, this did not feel good. Over the course of a few summers, I did everything from making copies to completing useless Excel spreadsheets that made absolutely no sense to me. 

Delegation at its worse feels like this, an unexplained task dump. But, even at its best, when the task delegated is meaningful and explained, it leaves something to be desired. What if something more than the task was delegated? What if the leader delegated both the task and the authority to make it happen? What if they empowered the individual to act on behalf of the organization? 

Here is a brief example to help illustrate what I am getting at:

Delegation: Sales Leader asks Salesperson to fix pricing issue with Customer A. The Sales Leader defines what the goal is and then delegates the process of creating a strategy to the Salesperson. The Salesperson then asks for feedback regarding the strategy, makes adjustments, presents it to the customer, and then reports back to the Sales Leader.

Empowerment: Sales Leader asks Salesperson to fix pricing issue with Customer A. The Sales Leader then asks for action, promises support, but leaves all creation of the “how” to the Salesperson. This sounds similar, but with one major difference: the Salesperson has been empowered to define the goal. They are “empowered” to make the call, one way or another. In sports terms, they are now calling the plays as opposed to just “running the offense” dictated to them. 

In the delegation scenario, the Salesperson needs a lot of hand-holding to get what they need done. Significantly less help is needed in the empowerment example, unless it is asked for. The key for the leader is to still check-in routinely. But, the goal is not to dictate the outcome. Rather, the goal is to offer support.

Before moving on, if any part of you (the leader) is hesitant to give this kind of authority to a team member, I would ask you to consider whether you have the right team member to begin with. Trust is essential to being someone worth following. Obviously, I would not recommend over-empowering someone lacking experience because to do so is not loving. But, the majority of your team members can take on more than we (leaders) allow them to. And this point leads to something I want to spend the rest of the post explaining:

1+1+1 

Put succinctly, 1+1+1 is the formula for leadership development, or the process when one person builds into another person who then builds into another.  

At its essence, empowerment frees one to discover how to accomplish whatever it is they are attempting to accomplish. This must involve complete freedom. What I mean is that they must decide how to go about doing whatever it is they have been empowered over. Or, using the example above, empowerment frees the Salesperson to make any call necessary, even one that differs from the leader’s point of view. 

I want to be crystal clear on freedom because freedom forces accountability. Think about it, once empowerment occurs, the person is not simply doing a task, but in charge of a problem. They have both agency and authority. This forces them to lead the third “plus,” or 1+1+1, because they need the help, and support, of other people to move whatever it is forward. The Salesperson, for example, may need the help of Customer Service, Quality, or Production. So, they will need a “plus 1.” 

Remember, leadership is the art of doing things with and through other people. The only way for the empowered person to move forward is by doing things with and through other people. What’s better is that this empowered person most likely does not have positional authority. Therefore, they have to develop, and use, real leadership skills. They have to earn the buy-in of key stakeholders, they have to solicit the help of others who are probably “busy” doing their own job-related tasks. All of this is met with resistance because anything worth doing always is. Overcoming this resistance helps them become a leader. 

This may sound harsh, but only those worth following are going to have success in making things happen in this model. I do not say that to be mean, but rather, from what I have observed. Over the last year, I have been amazed at how certain people on our team have stepped up when empowered. I have watched two young Salespeople use their leadership skills to gain the buy-in of others throughout the organization—keep these two Salespeople in mind as I will return to them in the closing paragraph. I have also observed one of our Plant Managers take the next step in their development through empowering others to do things on their behalf. All of the sudden, this Manager has time to build into his team, rather than being the chief “doer.” The morale improvement is palpable. 

Conversely, I have also seen others on our team struggle to move the ball when they are empowered. I have observed how the organization does not respond positively to them, which means that others often have to get involved to alleviate issues or bottlenecks that arise. To be 100% sure, and please do not miss this, these people are image-bearers of the God I follow. More so, and this is also key, they are treated with grace and respect throughout the organization. Their contribution to the team is also not questioned. In fact, the people I am thinking about do good work. The reality, however, is that they are simply not leaders, and not people others follow. Therefore, it is best for them to exist in the 1+1 world rather than trying to force them into the 1+1+1. 

The majority of the readers of this blog are leaders themselves so let me close by clearly spelling a few things out so that we are all on the same page. 

The most important thing to remember is that this is not some gimmick, or Jedi-mind trick. This is actually hard to do because you, the leader, have to give away something that you probably hold on to closely, namely authority. To be sure, without empowering others to make decisions, they are stuck in a world of simply doing tasks. I will go so far to say that promoting these kinds of people may eventually work, but you (the leader) are causing them all sorts of pain by robbing them of the opportunity to develop leadership skills before they have positional authority. 

Leaders, I know it is does not feel good, but we have to give away power every single day. Let’s stop giving lip service to “working ourselves out of a job,” and let’s actually live it. If we do, our organizations will be thriving with new leaders. 

Finally, remembering the two young Salespeople I mentioned a few paragraphs up: What I am describing above, as it relates to the 1+1+1 model, only addresses empowerment around decision making, and the development of leadership skills necessary to achieve whatever the goal is. The real magic, however, happens when the new leader starts building into others and starts learning how to help them develop more leaders. To keep with the formula, the real magic, then, is when 1+1+1 becomes 1+1+1+1. To this end, I have been challenging these young Salespeople to do exactly this. I hope to report back in the months to come as to their progress. 

Let me close with some encouragement. 

I did not come up with this idea on my own, but rather from the one I most follow. Matthew 28:18-20 outlines Jesus’ Great Commission, and regardless of what you think of him, it is hard to deny the impact his movement, and Church, has had on history. 

This should encourage you because “making disciples that make disciples” overcame Rome, overcame countless cultural forces, and was initiated by outcast people of all genders and backgrounds. 

Setting faith aside, the reality is that people can be empowered to do more than any of us think possible. 

To that end, let’s expect the best of those we lead. 

And let’s give them the opportunity to become leaders themselves. 

The Most Dangerous Lie A Leader (Might) Ignore

The older I get, the more experience I gain, the more I have come to realize the power of the mind. The thoughts we think impact everything from our outlook of the world around us, to our individual performance and almost everything in between. As Henry Ford allegedly said, “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” 

Most leaders realize that their thoughts have the power to either enhance, or hinder, not only their performance, but also the performances of those they lead. In fact, most leaders I talk to think about what they are thinking about, as strange as that sounds, and work to make sure that their thoughts are enhancing the environment around them. And when their thoughts hinder either their performance, or those around them, they work to change those thoughts. All of this is vitally important, and fundamental, to a leader. 

But, this post is about a different kind of thought. While the thoughts I am referring to above are conscious, meaning we hear them in our heads, the singular thought I am referring to today may or may not be. It may not be heard because it can, at times, be suppressed deep inside you. If so, it only becomes heard during times of stress or frustration. Because of this, it holds more power than it deserves. For this reason, it is the most dangerous lie a leader (might) ignore. 

I won’t tease out what it is any longer. The most dangerous lie a leader might ignore is the following:

It is always going to be like this.”

To be clear, there are hundreds of contending lies that leaders can tell themselves, but I am taking the position that this one—“it is always going to be like this”- is the most dangerous one a LEADER can believe for several reasons. 

First, by definition a leader helps people move from point A to point B. Leadership is never sedentary and always requires movement. So, the word “always” in the statement, “it is always going to be like this,” implies that the leader no longer has agency to move whatever they need to move from point A to point B. Believing this lie, then, is the socially acceptable way for a leader to subconsciously say, “I give up.” Therefore, we need to root it out of our mind so that we continue to lead ourselves and others.  

Next, this statement is the most dangerous lie because it can be buried inside our subconscious, as I already mentioned above. Think about some similar statements like, “I am not good enough,” for comparison. “I am not good enough,” is never subtle. It is usually heard very audibly in one’s mind, whereas “it is always going to be like this,” is less so. It typically comes in a time of seclusion, or late in the evening, when the day is done. It is the ultimate “give up” moment.  

As I will mention below in the application section, we need to combat this lie with truth. This starts with recognizing the statement for what it is—a lie!—and reminding ourselves that things can change! That is, if we want to continue leading ourselves and others. 

Finally, “it is always going to be like this” is dangerous because it is an opinion. I am going to capitalize whose opinion it is so that you do not miss it. It is YOUR OPINION of YOUR SITUATION. What makes this so dangerous is that you tend to agree with your own opinions! What I mean is that when you hear it, you believe it, because you thought it! 

But, it is still a boldface lie! 

Therefore, I want to pivot to application because leaving you here would be like saying “it is always going to be like this, so good luck.” Not only is that not cool, I do not believe it for one second. 

So, here are some applications: 

First, start thinking about your thinking. Yes, think about what you are thinking about. Notice what you believe about situations. In fact, I recommend that you write down the themes that emerge. Spend time acclimating yourself to the trends of your thinking. Do you get negative when you are tired or stressed? Do you tend to make better decisions in the A.M. or P.M.? Simply notice how you think and how hard (or easy) you are on yourself.  

Second, reflect on your own leadership. What initiatives are you ignoring? What people, or change, have you given up on? Ask yourself whether you subconsciously believe that it is always going to be like this? Be honest here. It is easy to gloss over this one. It is easy to even lie to yourself, which is why you cannot stop here (see number 3).  

Third, ask someone else for help. I meet regularly with an Executive Coach and also an accountability partner. I highly recommend that you find one, or both, for yourself. If you think you can’t find one then find a coworker that you can trust. Or, ask your spouse to expose the trends of your thinking. After all, they most likely know you and your thought patterns better than any other human on the planet!  

Take time to reflect on the 3 points listed above.  Are you voicing a subconscious belief that “things (in whatever situation you are describing) are always going to be like this?” Take it from me, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking you do not think this way. Sometimes I need my Executive Coach to call me out, like he did last year when I (subconsciously) voiced an opinion that our sales were always going to suffer because of COVID. He immediately challenged me back, “it is your job to lead and make sure that is not the case!” 

In essence, he was reminding me that “things do not have to always be this way!”  

Finally, and the applications listed so far are not intended to be an exhaustive list, I would highly recommend taking a deeper dive on the topic of the mind. The best book I have read on this subject is Craig Groeschel’s, Winning the War In Your Mind. I highly recommend reading this book and following the exercises prescribed in the book. 

In closing, there is one thing I know about leadership that I want to leave you with that I hope will encourage you. As I stated above, leaders move things from point A to point B. They do this because they are always surrounded by people, the very people they are leading. 

So, with others around you, things do not have to always be the way they are. Things can change. 

Whether your version of “things are always going to be this way,” is something related to you personally, or your organization, I can say this with confidence. With the help of others, you, or your organization, CAN change. 

Believing things can change starts the process of, you guessed it, changing! 

It is equivalent to the farmer planting the seed. 

So, remember that you are not on this journey alone. 

You have more people around you that care than you most likely realize. 

These are the truths that you need to remind yourself of regularly. 

Things can change. 

It may be this way today, but things can and will change tomorrow. 

Meetings are where Leaders LEAD

I used to absolutely dread meetings. I am task-oriented and like to check off my various to-do’s throughout the day. Meetings used to find their way onto the to-do list, but only begrudgingly so. I was never fired up to go to meetings, outside of the strategic planning meetings that clarified what mountains we were going to climb. 

Can you relate to my dread of meetings? Do you get tired of the monotone reading of the last meeting’s minutes? What about the overview of the action items? Has a part of you ever cynically wondered to yourself why they are even called “action” items given how little “action” is taken upon them? Maybe a better word choice would be “chore list,” because they typically are met with the enthusiasm kids have when their parent asks them to do a “chore.”

The problem is that meetings are where leaders LEAD. 

Think about it. 

A good meeting can: 

Cast vision

Clarify direction 

Asks penetrating questions 

Build people up

Share what’s going on in different parts of the organization 

Set strategy 

Adapt strategy when things in the environment change (COVID-19!)

Resolve tension 

And this is just the start. 

These are the things that leaders DO. 

Obviously, a leader cannot do all of this in the same meeting. Doing so is not only foolish, but it leads to what I refer to as “meeting stew,” or a mixture of multiple meetings in one. Unlike your mom’s stew, however, it never tastes good and leads people to the “meeting hangover” effect. The kind of hangover where they say, “I’ll never do that again…” 

But, they will. 

And in the context of organizational life they have to because it is part of their job. 

That said, it is our job as leaders to make meetings no longer suck. 

Yes, suck. 

This may be harsh, but the complaint from others that they’re in “so many meetings” that they can never get anything done, might be a cry for help for us (the leader) to run better meetings. 

So, why don’t we? 

The point I am driving home in today’s post should be obvious by now. But, let’s be crystal clear. Leaders need to believe that it is their job to run productive meetings. Further, they have to buy-in to the reality that meetings are where they actually get to lead others. It is their playing field. It is the golf course, football field, or pitch (your preference). Play the game. Set direction. LEAD. 

I get that not every meeting is run by you, the leader. The point is that when you, the leader, run a meeting, you need to step up and run it with excellence. Your meetings should feel different. 

To get you started, here are some of the types of meetings that I run:

Weekly meetings with direct reports (Having fun with these has been mutually beneficial) 

Monthly meetings with people I want to build into (“Nextgen” meetings)  

Weekly meetings with my two sisters where we support each other, hold each other accountable, and then I lead us in prayer over the business. 

Monthly operational meetings that goes over metrics, and gives the team a chance to fire questions at me. I learn a ton in this one! 

There are also a bunch of weekly meetings that I also participate in that range from our daily operational meeting to various weekly operational meetings. All of these are also important, so I have to show up with focus and energy. 

Regardless of what you think about meetings, to be someone worth following you have to create meetings that inspire, challenge, and set the organizational tone. 

Then, others will follow. 

Loving Transitions

I do not think I am an overly emotional person, but I recently found myself fighting back tears listening to the podcast, “The World and Everything in It”, (Episode 4.30.21). The last sixteen minutes of the podcast was a “farewell” to one of World Magazine’s reporters, Megan Basham. Among many different roles with World, Megan wrote entertainment reviews and gave movie reviews every Friday on the podcast that were extremely helpful to Sarah and me. So, I was sad to hear that she was leaving World for a new opportunity. 

What I was unprepared for, however, was the emotional send-off to Megan. Various colleagues recorded messages that were played the last sixteen minutes of the podcast. It was poignant, emotional, and touching. The love being shared was not of this world. As my burly next door neighbor likes to say occasionally to me, “it hit me right in the feels.”  

It also made me ask a horrifying question: How do we do transitions at Hoffer Plastics? Do we send people off with love, or are we bitter they are going to the next opportunity? 

Did I mention Megan is going to work for a quasi-competitor? (To clarify the new company is in the media field, but in a different lane than “Biblically-based journalism.”)

Another question I considered: Forget everyone else, do I love God enough to be open to the reality that his plans for others might be different than my preferences for them? 

I’ll be real as always. 

There are three typical reactions I have when someone is going to leave. 

  1. Relief. Let’s be honest, there are some people that are just in the wrong job. If they leave, everyone is relieved, including them. My experience suggests this is less than 10% of the time. 
  2. Somewhere between relief and sadness: This is the land of complex emotions. My experience suggests that most transitions are this one, let’s say 80%. 
  3. Pure sadness: The kind of transition that impacts your sleep for months. Or, maybe that is just my experience with one necessary transition last Spring. I am still not over it. 

Admittedly, my emotions used to change based on what kind of transition I was experiencing. In retrospect, I was too often frustrated and selfish. Rather than dealing with my complex emotions, I would rationalize things to make myself feel better. This is a fool’s errand because it does not deal with the matters of the heart. I would have been better off writing in a journal, or talking it out with someone like my wife.

Realizing this, I am asking myself a few more questions after listening to the aforementioned podcast.

Do I love people enough to want what is best for them, even when it hurts Hoffer Plastics in the short run? 

Do I trust in God enough to provide, even when the path forward is potentially dark, confusing, and scary? 

Do I idolize people? Tim Keller reminds that anything you cannot live without is by definition an idol. To a business leader, that includes people. 

These questions are instructive to me, and bring to light the kind of person I want to become. I want to be someone that embraces loving transitions. 

You might not like all my questions, so I challenge you to create your own. More to the point, I challenge you to rethink how you do transitions. 

I am accepting my own challenge. 

While I do not speak for others, I see this as a faith issue because anytime I do not love the person over my own preferences, I am failing to love my neighbor as myself. Further, anytime I lack trust, I am falling into the trap of self-sufficiency and idolatry. 

Let me be clear, I am not self-sufficient. Also, my way is most often not the best way. 

Any success of our company is not mine. I was reminded of this last Fall when we had a record month while I spent 1/4 of it with a feeding tube in my nose. I know that is a blunt assessment, but I want to be clear here. I believe the experience was one way of God gently reminding me that I am not self-sufficient, and that He is in control. 

Here are some commitments I am embracing. I invite you to do the same as we close this post:  

I commit to erring on the human. 

I commit to trusting God, even when people that I do not want to leave are leaving. 

I commit to love. 

Transitions are never easy, regardless of what category they fall in. Therefore, we have to choose how we will respond now.  

We can be bitter. 

Or, we can be loving. 

I am embracing loving transitions. 

Will you commit to doing the same? 

(Author’s note: 5 days after writing this post, I have experienced two unforeseen transition announcements. So, God was preparing me for what was to come).  

The Choice

This post is going to get straight to the point. Do you want to be a leader? 

Are you sure? 

The more I think about leadership, the more I think it comes down to one choice. This choice decides everything. It is the difference between being an actual leader, or a person others follow, and just someone with a title. 

The choice is between two forces that cannot coexist. One always wins out. One always takes precedence. 

The choice is simply this: Whose success do you care more about, yours or others? 

Admittedly, this is one of those questions that you have probably heard a thousand times. So, it has probably lost its power. You know the right answer, but do your actions live it out? 

Take one minute and ask yourself this question again. Whose success matters more? 

Yours? 

Or, others? 

If you are in any kind of “leadership” position in your organization, the chances are that you are, or were, a high performer. While this is not always the case, the majority of companies tend to promote high performers to positions of authority. If business was the game of basketball, the high performer would be the leading scorer on the team.

Leadership, however, is not about “scoring points.” In fact, in light of the basketball analogy, it can be compared to a position change. Instead of being a “scorer,” you now are a point guard. This means that your objective is no longer to score points, but to set teammates up to do the scoring. You are now a passer, not a shooter!

Leadership is the art of setting others up for success. Similar to how a point guard distributes the basketball to their teammates, a leader gets everyone involved and helps them along the way. Modern basketball distinctions aside (where point guards are scoring more frequently), leaders maintain an “others first” mentality and this is what makes them followable. The success of others is more important than their own. 

This distinction is hard to accept. It takes someone who is secure in themselves to go from scoring the game’s most important points, to making the game’s most important passes. 

This is why I am asking you to ask yourself whether or not you really want to lead. To be sure, organizations need good “shooters,” and good “passers.” They are just different roles, so we should be clear on which one we want to play. Then, if we choose to lead, we should excel in passing.

Admittedly, I have struggled with this at times. I would be remiss not to confess that “shooting” feels good, and certainly soothes the ego when the shot goes in. 

But, I am also reminded of the ultimate servant leader, who once said, “if anyone wants to be first, they must be the very last, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 

The choice is to be last, so others can be first. 

This is what leading others means in reality. 

Learning From Conflicts

I was eating cereal and reading Barron’s on a recent Sunday morning when my wife gave me the idea for this post. She was talking to my sister-in-law, who was also in the kitchen, about how our two daughters had been playing that weekend. Inevitably, our two daughters found small things to fight about over the weekend they spent together. My wife commented, “it is good for them to have conflicts because that is how they learn.” 

What immediately jumped to mind was what I said next. “If it is good for them to learn from conflicts, why do adults tend to spend their lives running from them?” 

Obviously, my statement is an over generalization as not every adult runs from conflict, but, my experience suggests that the vast majority of people do, especially in the workplace.

I lead a business with my two sisters and the three of us have equal positions in the company. Confronting them on something can be extremely difficult. I value the relationships I have with them outside work, so it can be tempting to not address an issue because I wrongly assume “conflict” will mean a disruption to our relationship —more on this below. Before moving on, however, it is important to clarify that my sisters and I do not even have major issues, just the ones all human beings have inside a workplace. Still, even issues that are relatively “minor” can be hard to confront.

I imagine my sisters rolling their eyes at the last paragraph because they have always been willing to listen to feedback. Here within lies the rub. The rub is the reality that the conflict, and especially the potential for major relationship disruption, is much bigger in one’s mind than it is in reality. Our mind tends to imagine the big blowup fight when we think of conflict. The reality, most of the time, is that nothing of the sort happens. 

If anything, what tends to happen is the resolution of conflict. 

For me, my subconscious fears some kind of fight depicted between family members in pop culture, perhaps a shouting match at a Thanksgiving dinner or some other family event. Thankfully, our holiday dinners are much more fun than fight! But, my fear can make me believe that I won’t get “seconds” if I have certain conversations at work. Of course, this is not true, and I have to continually remind myself that it is not. I also need to remind myself to do what I need to do, which is have the conversation. 

Remember, if a little conflict is good for two playmates, it is also good for us adults. 

Having conflict is obviously not easy. To that end, my sisters and I have spent considerable time working on how to have healthy conflict. For the last several years we have worked with a leadership coach who facilitates a quarterly meeting between the three of us. This forum gives us time and space to talk about our working relationships, the business, and just about everything else. While not every meeting revolves around having a “conflict conversation,” the time and space are there to do so if need be. You might not work with your siblings, but you do work closely with someone, or some group. Perhaps, you need to establish a time and place to regularly talk with them? If you are intentional, this time could turn into the “safe place” to bring up a potentially contentious issue. 

There is also a lot of discipline that needs to go into how the conflict conversation is handled when it happens. My encouragement on that end is to read something from an expert. Two books that aided me were, Difficult Conversations, and Crucial Conversations. I would strongly recommend leaders read at least one of these books so that they approach these hard conversations from a place of discipline and not recklessness. 

Conflict is not fun, but it is necessary. We learn about ourselves and others when we navigate conflict. Done right, both parties leave closer than before. Looking back on the weekend with our adorable niece, there were moments when she, and our daughter, fought about the silliest problems. That said, they learned how to love one another, live together, and even lead themselves, every time they did. 

We would be wise to follow their lead. 

If all else fails, like them, let’s look into the eyes of those we are in conflict with. Let’s take a deep breath, and say we are sorry. 

If it is not too weird, throw in a hug for good measure. 

Be kind and considerate. Relational conflict doesn’t have to be the behemoth your mind might imagine it to be. 

Liked or Respected?

The theme of this blog is to encourage leaders to be reflective. I encourage leaders to think about everything from how they spend the time in their day, to how they measure success. So, today I want leaders to reflect on a question they all must answer. The choice can be summarized as this: 

Do you, as a leader, want to be liked or respected?

The default answer that I hear from leaders is often an immediate, “respected.” I understand this response because I share it. Yet, I have discovered that prioritizing leading in a way that earns respect can be difficult.

We must first acknowledge that there is a part in all of us that wants to be liked by others. In fact, part of being human is being in communion with others. This starts with our nuclear family, spreads to our friends, and eventually involves those we work with. This reality goes so deep that the saying, “we crave being liked”, is too simplistic. In reality, we crave “acceptance” as human beings.   

Social media’s popularity also speaks to our society’s value in being “liked.” Not only is there a button for it, but as social media has increased, so has division. While there are multiple factors for increased divisiveness, one reason could be that words shared on social media are having tremendous influence. In other words, the notion that “words will never hurt me,” is not true on social media! Nor, would I argue, is it true in the workplace. In both regards, our innate human nature is to be liked by others.

Part of being a leader, however, is doing the things no one else wants to do. These are the actions that make leaders worth being followed, but they also can come at a cost. For example, when a leader tackles a difficult HR issue, or a tricky customer problem, they are often doing the things no one else wants to do. But the action they take might not make everyone happy. This, in return, might make them less liked.

This reality is why doing the hard things is not easy. There can be a cost to it. Therefore, some leaders avoid doing it altogether in hopes that they maintain their “likeability.”

Doing the hard things, however, is how leaders become respected. The upside-down nature of leadership is that you sometimes have to set aside what you ultimately want in pursuit of the overall wellbeing of others. You have to set aside your “self,” for the sake of others, especially when what you are about to do is not “popular.”

Make no mistake about it, leadership is hard in this regard.

So, coming full circle, this is why I am encouraging leaders to reflect on whether they want to be liked or respected. While it is natural, even human, to seek being liked, I have discovered in my own leadership that seeking to be liked has made me a poor leader. When the desire to be liked takes me over, I can sometimes avoid doing the often unpopular, and always hard, things. Unfortunately, not addressing issues inevitably makes me less liked, and less respected, anyway.

I encourage you to gain clarity for yourself around the question of what matters more, being liked, or respected? Remember, a leader is not someone with a title. A leader is someone with influence. The gateway to influence is doing the things no one else wants to do.

These are the things that earn the respect of others! 

Bonus Material: 

In a rough draft of this blog, I included the following as two things I do to help me pursue respectability. Please note that even as I write the words above, doing the hard things is, well, hard for me to do continually. Knowing this about me, I need to build in support. What follows are two ways in which I am supported. Leadership is, after all, difficult to do well:

First, I have discovered that having an Executive Coach helps hold me accountable to my intention of being respected. My coach is good at asking for examples with regard to decisions I have made. This forces me to assess, among other things, whether I was acting out of a need to be liked, or whether I was doing the hard things that earn respect. A good coach also looks for blind spots and areas that I am ignoring. Both of these are extremely helpful as well. I strongly encourage all leaders to have a coach in their life. 

Another important thing I do is connect with other Senior Leaders outside of our organization. This is helpful for two reasons. First, it legitimately scratches the “like” itch. As a type-A leader, a weakness of mine is to downplay my need for social acceptance. But it is legitimate and how I was created. To that end, I am thankful for some of the subscribers to this blog that I connect with regularly. Iron does sharpen iron!  

To that end, the second benefit connecting with other leaders brings is the ability to listen to their leadership struggles. This has a way of feeding, and encouraging me to take action on more of my own struggles. Similarly, talking through my struggles with them can have the same effect for them because it reminds them, and me, that what we are experiencing is not unique. In other words, we are not in isolation. There are others experiencing what we are experiencing. This reminder is vital.

young people talking at table with ipad

The Gift of People and Resistance

The two things needed to become more patient are present in every organization. As you can tell by the title of this post, the gift of people and resistance is the focus and how each of these help to grow one’s patience.

If you are like me, perhaps the time your impatience is most noticeable is when you are on the road and in a hurry to get somewhere. Naturally, these are the times when other people are on the road also and every stop light turns red. People and resistance remind us of our impatience. So, the next time this happens to you take a deep breath, and grow in patience.

Easier said than done, right?

To be sure, not all impatience is bad. For example, impatience around social justice is healthy. Similarly, improving the speed we have access to information can help both people and organizations make better decisions. There are many more examples of healthy impatience.

But, in the context of leadership, there is wisdom in patience. This is so because leadership is always about relating to other human beings. Leaders who are intentionally patient with people, while strategically impatient with change in their organizations, are the ones worth following.

In relating to other people, leaders worth following strive to be the kind of people who accept diverse viewpoints. Other people naturally have different views, values, and even political beliefs (oh my!). Learning to listen to them, understand them, and value them, is a key element of leadership. Patience is the key that opens the door to it.

Similarly, every new idea a leader has is bound to face resistance. This is so because other people have, as I just mentioned, different ideas, values, and beliefs. Again, this is a good thing because it forces a leader to think differently about the ideas they have. This process also requires patience since impatience plows forward without any consideration. It barges through the door, rather than taking the time to properly open it. When this happens, a leader tramples others rather than leading them.

Occasionally, when I am processing my day with Sarah, usually as she is cooking dinner, I will say something incredibly foolish about how frequently I was interrupted that day by people. Sarah then looks at me with a smile and asks, “isn’t that your job?”

She is right …… like almost all the time.

I share this because my worst moments as a leader are the ones when I am so bogged down by processes and to-do lists, that I am impatient with others. The same can be said when I hold so tightly to my ideas that I disregard the resistance of others. Conversely, I am at my best when I make time for others and hear their ideas. Often, their resistance to my idea helps me make the idea better than it was when it was just mine.

People, and resistance, will grow your patience. The next time you notice them in your life, I challenge you to slow down, lean in, and grow in patience.

You will become a better person and a better leader in the process.

graduates tossing caps in the air

Dear Class of 2021 (And Leaders)

In a few months there will be the usual onslaught of commencement speakers, albeit this time on ZOOM, across the nation. Since I won’t be speaking anywhere, here is the advice I would give to graduates. It happens to be the same advice I would give to leaders.

First off, read insatiably. Living in the Information Age, everyone is bombarded with information. We have more media than ever. Yet, we are becoming shallow and settling for crumbs rather than the full entree. This is why graduates should start with reading. Notice that reading is not skimming. It is also not listening. It is definitely not scrolling. It is reading, or the activity that people have done for thousands and thousands of years. It is a form of slowing, thinking, and contemplating. It is adamantly opposed to immediate reactions, meaning thinking is required!

What should you read? In short, everything. Your learning should be insatiable. It should challenge you, and at times, tick you off. There is a growing danger in our world of only skimming what we agree with. If you want to set yourself apart, read what you vehemently disagree with. Understand the other’s point of view. Don’t be surprised when others judge you for doing this because it will change you. It will also give you the kind of depth that is intimidating to those who are shallow. But press on, because you can only become the real you by reading insatiably. For, it is the surest way to self-discovery!

Next, define the endpoint. The endpoint is your destination. Others may disagree, but I found it impossible to “chase my passion” when I was twenty-years-old because I had so many passions. It was not until I read hundreds of books (yes hundreds!) that my passion became clearer. From there I could define the endpoint and set the course.

This advice seems obvious, but it is easy to fall prey to the temptation of chasing multiple endpoints. For example, some say their endpoint is a successful career in whatever field their passion is. In their next breath, however, they also claim to want to —eventually —be happily married with kids. The conventional advice nowadays is that you can have it all! I have come to discover that is only partly true. In this example, a successful career and happy family can be opposed. The career may cost more than the spouse, or kids, are willing to pay. So, which endpoint are you willing to sacrifice for?

I am not making a judgment statement on which one matters more. Rather, I am asking you to decide and be clear on your decision. What are your priorities, really? What does success look like to you? What can’t you live without? These are some of the questions you need to answer in order to define your endpoint. There is no rush in determining these answers, but they have to be determined eventually. Otherwise, you risk gaining the whole world and losing your soul.

Finally, this brings us to the last point, begin. Be impatient to start! Here is something I learned later, no one tells you when the race begins, so just start! If you want to be an entrepreneur, start a business online now. Learn what works in attracting customers, and also learn what does not. If it fails, so be it. The same can be said for just about any other field; start small, begin, and learn.

This last step takes what you have learned in reading, combines it with the direction you want your life to go, and tests it in the way a hypothesis is tested in a lab. Action is humble in its respect for the preciousness of time. For it never presumes time’s availability at a later date. So, out of gratitude it uses what’s there today by beginning.

These three together—reading insatiably, defining the endpoint, and beginning—place one at the start of a trail. Notice that your gender, sexuality, religion, race, or any other marker, does not matter to the advice given above. Nor, do the limiting beliefs inside your head, or of those around you.

All of that is noise.

What matters is your ability to take in the surroundings, absorb what is around you, and move towards your endpoint one step at a time.

So, let the journey begin!

gauge measuring volts

Harshness Reflects the Hidden You

One of the my favorite weeks of the year is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Work seems to wind down, while time with family winds up. Having three kids (9-7-4 respectively) our house was full of energy this year. Unlike other years, however, we had nowhere to go. This combination worked well about 95% of the time, but the other 5% was more indicative of me than our family.

If you haven’t noticed in my other posts, I am a type-A driven leader. My natural inclination is to wake up early and start working the “plan.” Our 9 year old is my junior in this sense. He gets up early, gets his plan done, and he even voices displeasure at how messy the house (sometimes) gets. More so, he organizes and cleans the house himself because “he cannot stand it” (Our parenting book entitled, “Making Children Work For You” hits stores in the Spring – just kidding). Meanwhile, our other two kids are awesome and profound in their own ways, but not as concerned with how orderly the house is.

I mention all this because it sets the scene for my frustration with our kids just being kids one afternoon during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. By kids being kids, I mean three kids running around the house (a clear violation of our house rules – running is only allowed in the basement!), and making things messy. Even our 9 year old gave into temptation and allowed things to go (trust me, he would have cleaned it all up later!). I do not know if it was the cloudy skies outside, or the cabin fever inside, but I turned into a caricature of a grumpy old man. The next thing I knew I was barking orders at the kids that were akin to Clint Eastwood yelling, “get off my lawn.” While some of my lines made Sarah chuckle — she is too kind to say such things — the words were overly harsh. I soon felt convicted that the harsh words said towards the kids were more an indication of where my heart was rather than their actions. This realization led me to do two things: journal and ask for forgiveness.

Pete Scazzero stresses the importance of journaling on the “iceberg,” in his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” 80% of an iceberg is below the surface of the water and Scazzero contends 80% of our emotions are hidden inside us, or below our surface. So, the act of journaling about what we are feeling helps us not only understand what we are feeling, but frees us from being enslaved to those feelings. Or, in my case above, from lashing out at my kids for no good reason. Four questions that help in this process are: What are you mad about? What are you sad about? What are you anxious about? And, what are you glad about?

Answering these questions is vital for leaders because they cannot lead others well without understanding what is going on inside themselves. Let that sink in. Leaders cannot lead others well without understanding what is going on inside themselves. If 80% of your car’s engine was not attuned to your steering wheel, how safe would that car be? Driving down a rural street absent from people might not be too much of a problem and could even be fun for a while. But, take that car into a city where there are people present and disaster awaits. Leadership always involves other people. So, if you are out-of-touch with 80% of yourself, how can you keep from running over those you are attempting to lead?

This brings me back to the second thing I did, ask for forgiveness. One of the things I want to model as a parent is my willingness to say I am sorry and mean it. This is why I mess up so often (I wish!). Whether it is “tossing” a golf club down in their presence, saying a naughty word when the refs blow a call in the football game we are watching, or saying a harsh thing to them as in the above, I always ask for forgiveness. More so, I explain why what I did was wrong in the first place. In the above, I did emphasize the importance of safety (no running), while also giving them space to be kids and make a mess for the time being (my issue). We then all went downstairs to the basement and had a blast!

Before closing, I also want to model this in leadership. I have said harsh things to direct reports in the past and asked for forgiveness. Maybe, this is your application today. If there is someone in your life you need to apologize to, I suggest you stop reading this post and go apologize.

I close with this reminder, harsh words said to others often reflects the hidden you. When you feel, and say, harsh words, I challenge you to ask why? What are you mad about? Sad about? What hurt from the past is bubbling up? Or, what resentment do you need to process in your journal, or with someone else over coffee?

Doing this kind of internal work is not glamorous. But, leaders are always the kinds of people that do the things no one else wants to do, especially the work on the inside of themselves. They do this because in order to be someone worth following, they need to orient 100% of themselves towards other human beings. While the work of emotional health is always ongoing, the process and self-actualization described above helps leaders stay focused on those they are leading.