Leadership

Greeting 2022 With New Hope

When I think of a new year, I think of fresh snow in a nature preserve. There are no footprints in the snow. Standing at the edge of the trail, the options of where you can head are endless. The surrounding area is still, and oddly peaceful. Hope is felt deep within, despite winter’s fury. 

Taking the first step takes some courage. But you step out nonetheless. The feeling of your boot disappearing into the snow travels up your spine. As you step forward, you hear the crunching of the snow. Off you go…But, where to? 

That is the question, isn’t it? 

Where to in ‘22? 

Intentional living can easily be defeated by daily obligations. The buzz of the phone can even tempt the hiker to abandon the trail and head back home. A bummer it might be, but they will have time for a hike some other snowy morning — so they think. But soon spring will come, then summer, and then winter. 

Another year. 

What happened to ‘22? 

This is why we start back at the beginning, before any interruptions and demands. We have to be intentional about where we are going in ‘22.

Intentionality is different than “resolution.” Resolutions often revolve around the cessation of some activity. For example, I may “resolve” to stop eating sweets. Intentionality is something grander. In this example, it is the desire to live healthy and the actions required to do so. A “resolution” to stop eating sweets might be a tactic, but it is not inspiring. Rearranging your life to create healthy habits so that you can play with your grandchildren, however, is grand. It is the kind of intention that is worth pursuing no matter what, even if it means giving up sweets for a season!

Similarly, I have found year-long goals difficult to maintain. Instead, I have used Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner for the past several years. It has helped me create 90-day goals that I review weekly. 90-day goals are akin to signposts along the “hike.” They let me know if I am headed in the right direction. They also help me get back on course when I stray. 

Yet, 90-day goals are only good when used to measure how they position you for some ultimate destination.

So, we have come full circle back to intentionality. What guiding question can we use to chart out our course?   

I propose the following: 

What is the one thing you want to be known for by year’s end? 

Admittedly, there are variations to this question that you can use. But, I am using this one and encourage you to do the same. Whatever you come up with needs to be simple enough for you to write on a small index card so that you can carry it around all year. Simplicity will drive action. 

Since this is my post, I will show you how this is done by answering the question myself. 

“In 2022 I want to be known as someone that brings LIGHT where darkness exists.” 

I know that sounds lofty. 

Some of you may have even rolled your eyes. 

I am okay if you did. 

Here is how this works in practice: 

I want to bring light to my marriage. 

I want to bring light to my kids’ lives. 

I want to bring light to those I lead at work. 

I want to bring light to my sibling relationships at work. 

I want to bring light to my local church. 

I want to bring light to my friendships. 

The 90-day goal possibilities are endless. 

Don’t think this applies to leadership in manufacturing? Here are some potential examples of how this can translate to work: 

Goal Idea: Help my direct reports identify their Working Genius and help them organize their tasks so that they operate inside their genius. 

Goal Idea: Continue to meet with members of the leadership development team to coach, encourage, and equip them for future opportunities. 

Goal Idea: Meet with Senior Leaders at Customers to build relationships, share best practices, and express gratitude. 

All three of these goal ideas are work-related and inspired by my intention stated above.  

In conclusion, I have arrived here after traveling two years’ worth of trails that have been too dark. They have weighed me down, at times even tempting me to give up. 

But, as I take the first step in ‘22, I want to take it with renewed hope. 

I will bring light to darkness wherever I go in ‘22. 

To that end, I will be intentional about bringing encouragement and hope to these posts. 

Now, go decide where you are headed in ‘22. 

It is the only way to ensure you will get there.

Greeting 2022 With New Hope

When I think of a new year, I think of fresh snow in a nature preserve. There are no footprints in the snow. Standing at the edge of the trail, the options of where you can head are endless. The surrounding area is still, and oddly peaceful. Hope is felt deep within, despite winter’s fury. 

Taking the first step takes some courage. But you step out nonetheless. The feeling of your boot disappearing into the snow travels up your spine. As you step forward, you hear the crunching of the snow. Off you go…But, where to? 

That is the question, isn’t it? 

Where to in ‘22? 

Intentional living can easily be defeated by daily obligations. The buzz of the phone can even tempt the hiker to abandon the trail and head back home. A bummer it might be, but they will have time for a hike some other snowy morning — so they think. But soon spring will come, then summer, and then winter. 

Another year. 

What happened to ‘22? 

This is why we start back at the beginning, before any interruptions and demands. We have to be intentional about where we are going in ‘22.

Intentionality is different than “resolution.” Resolutions often revolve around the cessation of some activity. For example, I “resolve” to stop eating sweets. Intentionality is grander. In the example above, it is the desire to live healthily and the actions required to do so. A “resolution” to stop eating sweets might be a tactic, but it isn’t the foundation. The point is that a grand destination is needed for the “hike” to be worthwhile. 

Similarly, I have found year-long goals difficult to maintain. Instead, I have used Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner for the past several years. It has helped me create 90-day goals that I review weekly. 90-day goals are akin to signposts along the “hike.” They let me know if I am headed in the right direction. They also help me get back on course when I stray. 

Yet, 90-day goals are only good when used to measure how they position you for some ultimate destination.

So, we have come full circle back to intentionality. What guiding question can we use to chart out our course?   

I propose the following: 

What is the one thing you want to be known for by year’s end? 

Admittedly, there are variations to this question that you can use. But, I am using the one above and encourage you to do the same. Whatever you come up with needs to be simple enough for you to write on a small index card so that you can carry it around all year. Simplicity will drive action. 

Since this is my post, I will show you how this is done by answering the question myself. 

“In 2022 I want to be known as someone that brings LIGHT where darkness exists.” 

I know that sounds lofty. 

Some of you may have even rolled your eyes. 

I am okay if you did. 

Here is how this works: 

I want to bring light to my marriage. 

I want to bring light to my kids’ lives. 

I want to bring light to those I lead at work. 

I want to bring light to my sibling relationships at work. 

I want to bring light to my local church. 

I want to bring light to my friendships. 

The 90-day goal possibilities are endless. 

Don’t think this applies to leadership in manufacturing? Here are some potential examples of how this can translate to work: 

Goal Idea: Help my direct reports identify their Working Genius and help them organize their tasks so that they operate inside their genius. 

Goal Idea: Continue to meet with members of the leadership development team to coach, encourage, and equip them for future opportunities. 

Goal Idea: Meet with Senior Leaders at customers to build relationships, share best practices, and express gratitude. 

All three of these goal ideas are work-related and inspired by my intention stated above.  

In conclusion, I have arrived here after traveling two years’ worth of trails that have been too dark. They have weighed me down, at times even tempting me to give up. 

But, as I take the first step in ‘22, I want to take it with renewed hope. 

I will bring light to darkness wherever I go in ‘22. 

To that end, I will be intentional about bringing encouragement and hope to these posts. 

Now, go decide where you are headed in ‘22. 

It is the only way to ensure you will get there. 

The Alarming Trend of Distrust

There is an alarming trend that has taken root in our society. It is the distrust of pretty much everything. 

Think about how prevalent the lack of trust has become: 

Collectively we…

Do not trust the news. 

Do not trust medical authorities. 

Do not trust businesses. 

Do not trust churches. 

Do not trust government organizations. 

Do not trust Hollywood. 

Do not trust Facebook or other social media. 

Do not trust Wall Street, Silicon Valley, or any foreign power. 

We simply do not trust. 

Of course, there are some exceptions to what I listed above. I may trust a certain news site, a certain medical authority, etc., but this is largely based on my preferences and beliefs not based on authority. 

The overall trend can be summed as questioning just about everything about everything and everyone. 

I am not immune to this either. I recently slipped into an unhealthy questioning of an event going on at our local church. This was silly because I know the leaders there well and have served as a Trustee in the past (I only mention because the experience allowed me to see behind the “curtain”). My questions were basic and not unhealthy in themselves—let’s be clear that questioning can often be healthy. What was not healthy was that my questions came with cynicism. A cynic is someone who has negative opinions about other people and the things other people do. So, my questions came with an expectation that something negative was going on at church. The event came and went, and it was fantastic. None of my fears (cynicism) were realized. So, the only thing that went through my head walking to the car was that I should have trusted the church a little more prior to the event. 

This thought is worth sharing because I talk with a lot of leaders and most indicate that they are struggling with trust these days. Not only are they questioning everything mentioned in the list above, they are also questioning the motives of their people. After two years of anything but normal, there is almost a collective expectation that other people will let them down. 

None of this is healthy. Questioning everything is not sustainable in practice. The cost to relationships are probably higher than most expect. The return on the energy spent being cynical is almost always negative and what does the cynicism produce in the end? 

As we turn towards the end of 2021, I am starting to think that the greatest gift leaders can give others is the gift of positivity and perspective. At our core, leaders have to see out and up, meaning they have to look out on the horizon. In addition to this, leaders have to cast vision as to why going from where we are today, to where we need to go tomorrow, is both worthwhile and meaningful. The last two years have conditioned us to be sedentary and wait for normal to return, and ??? We don’t know, so we wait and often we get cynical (as I did above). Many are irritated, or so it seems. Therefore, it will take leaders to pull us out of the pit we are in. Yes, real, gutsy, vulnerable, leaders. Not the positional ones and definitely not the weak ones because this is hard work.  Only the ones that can clarify the difference between what REALLY matters, and what is only noise. The ones that do not react to everyone else, but rather have an inner-compass that keeps them grounded and moving forward. The ones that DO trust because they know the person, or organization’s track record. And, because they also realize that without trusting, there is no leading. No one follows someone that does not trust them in return. It is too simplistic to say that the problem we have can be characterized by a lack of leadership, but, a society filled with distrustful noise is exactly that, a society with no leadership. 

While I cannot speak for you, I am going to look into the mirror, take ownership for my piece, and work on leading others better in 2022 than I did in 2021. 

With a little more trust, a little more grace, perhaps, we can find a little more peace in the year to come. 

The Power of “Why?”

A few minutes ago I was having a conversation with one of our team members that I am building into and they said something that made my day.

They asked their boss, “why?”  

Why do we do that? Have we ever thought about doing it this way? What would happen if we eliminated that process? 

Questions like these are music to my ears. They are the symphony of improvement. 

This exchange reminded me that we need to hire more “five-year-olds” for our team. Or, the kinds of people that ask “why” about seven hundred times per day. It also reminded me that I don’t want to rupture the curiosity inside the three kids I go home to every night. 

“Because I said so,” is the home version of “because this is the way we have always done things” at work. 

Both sap curiosity. Both end the symphony. 

Curiosity leads to more questions. Questions lead to more insights. Insights lead to more improvements. Improvements lead back to the symphony. 

The sound of a living organization getting better… 

What a Team of 7-Year-Olds Taught Me About Accountability

I have given talks to packed auditoriums. 

I have presented to Executives seated in fancy Manhattan office buildings. 

I have navigated the challenges of leading a business through COVID. 

I have even done family succession planning with my sisters. 

Yet, all these fail in comparison to the uphill climb of coaching a seven-year-old baseball team. 

Nothing is more taxing. 

You are probably accusing me of being a little over-dramatic right now, but you don’t understand the team I helped coach this fall. They knew all the levers to pull. Their behavior often had me morph into an American version of “Roy Kent.” At least I said “Oy,” and not any of the other Roy Kent’isms (and if you don’t know who Roy Kent is, you need to stop reading this post and start watching Ted Lasso. Ted will teach you how to become someone worth following). 

Back to my post.

At one of our practices… Yeah, our coach thought seven year olds would want to come to baseball practice after going to school all day. I’m sure they were little angels for their teachers, but for us? 

Oy! 

Anyhow, at one of our practices I was in charge of teaching them how to hit. The talent level on our team ranged from “I have never touched a baseball bat in my life” to “my dad has thrown me BP for the last five years.” 

Did I mention they were seven? 

So, needless to say, I was teaching them the basics. We had broken the group into smaller groups to keep them active. I (wrongly) assumed that since I was leading the hitting station, the kids would pay attention. After going through the proper setup and a few other basic techniques, each kid was given the opportunity to hit off a tee. The goal was to hit the ball straight up the middle at a box on the fence that was about 5 feet away. Naturally, the kid whose dad had been throwing him BP for five years came up first. He had a swing that took days to develop, but he made great contact everytime. This improved my confidence level. Yes, mine. Maybe I could do this I thought. Then I realized that two of the kids were chasing one another with a bat. 

Oy! 

The one thing I do not put up with is safety violations. In my years of coaching, I have yet to have a kid get hurt. Thanks be to God. 

So, after I laid the ground rules (again, I might add), I had the group back together. I tried to go all “Simon Sinek” on them by explaining “why” watching others practice hitting helped them become better. It was a stretch because they were hitting off a tee. But, I had to go with what I had. Amazingly, it worked. They even began cheering each other on as they hit. But about five minutes later, I saw two kids on the bench chatting it up. One of them happened to be MY SON. What!? That little Benedict Arnold, I thought (his name is actually Ben). Sarah’s calming voice immediately came to my head. Still, I was steaming. How could Ben be one of the kids not listening? I sternly informed Ben that he needed to pay attention. He quasi-ignored me. So, I did what all dads have done since the dawn of time, I pressed on. Ben then back-talked to me. He told me that he was bored. I told him that I did not care (always effective) and that he needed to come rejoin the team. He then basically said “no.”

Oy! 

I had all the kids looking at me now. It was as if they had put Ben up to this. It was as if they all were in cahoots to see how far they could push me. How much candy did they offer Ben, I wondered? Thankfully, Sarah’s calming voice once again filled my head. “They are only seven, Alex,” she would say. Still, I informed Ben that he had to go on a run for back-talking to me. But, I said this very calmly as I pointed to the outpost (that really wasn’t very far away) and told him to run to it and back. He then pleaded with me, but, I held my ground. 

The kid whose dad has been throwing him batting practice for five years gave me a nod of approval. So, I finally had one on my side. Ok, I made that up. But, it feels like it could have happened because that kid was a stud. He got a bunch of huge hits for us during the year. I hope to have his baseball card someday. 

Back to the story….. To Ben’s credit, he put his head down and ran. He even ran hard. He then came back and took his turn in the batter’s box. A few minutes later something happened that I was not expecting. Ben came up to me, hugged me, and told me he loved me. I told him that I loved him more than I could put into words. It was a real moment, the kind that makes me think about James Earl Jones’ famous baseball speech in the Natural. Then again, I always think about the Natural when something cool happens on a baseball field… I took this opportunity to tell Ben that my discipline was out of love and wanting the best for him. We are a family, I said, one that is respectful to those in authority. We do not back-talk. We may voice an opposing viewpoint, but we do so with respect. I also told him how proud I was of him for running hard and doing what I asked the second time. It was a real moment for us. 

While the rest of that practice certainly did not fly by, the rest of the season certainly did. Ben grew in many ways, and so did his teammates. By the end of the season, their development was shocking to all the parents, especially me. This happened in part because all four coaches — this team commanded four coaches to keep it in order!—came together and created an environment of accountability. It sounds so basic because it is. Yet, we had to continually push ourselves out of our comfort zones given the hovering nature of modern parents. To be clear, we did not want to be jerks. We just wanted to run an organized baseball team. To that end, I think we were successful. 

I share this story because it reminded me that it is my job to do the same at Hoffer Plastics. Accountability is not rocket science. It is simply honest feedback, done so without being a jerk. When given appropriately, you will gain others’ respect. 

It is also the loving thing to do. 

vintage clock

Focus and Productivity, Or Why Smart Leaders Shut the Blinds

Our first core value at Hoffer Plastics is family, which means that we want to treat each other like family members. This value grounds my leadership in the desire of wanting the best for those that I lead. Two topics, therefore, that interest me are focus and productivity.

New York Times columnist, Jennifer Senior, recently pointed out that “COVID has created an unending series of staccato pulses of two-minute activities.” These messages range from text, email, ZOOM, to in-person meetings. Not to mention phone notifications with the latest Facebook, sports, or other news updates (turning these off is a wise first step to what I am about to discuss). All these messages are interruptions that do not help with focus or productivity. Worse, they leave most feeling bogged down, frustrated, and unhealthy. 

Harvard Business Review (HBR) wrote an article in September about the costs of cognitive switching (i.e., what happens when our attention is diverted by some kind of interruption). HBR cited Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics, at the University of California, Irvine, that it can take “23 minutes” for someone to get back to what they were doing after an interruption of more than 60 seconds. If you are doing a chore in your house and are interrupted by your spouse, this may be a little annoying but not detrimental (in fact, I would advise take the interruption with joy!). But, in an office space? This can be downright defeating if it happens often because it often leads to wasted time. 

And in the context of the COVID business world, it happens all the time! 

Don’t believe me? 

UBER began tracking the use of tools like ZOOM and Slack when COVID began. The same HBR article mentioned above shared the findings: 

  • A 40% increase in meetings 
  • A 45% increase in the average number of participants of meetings 
  • A greater than 3X increase in ZOOM meetings 
  • Approximately 30% decrease in focus time (defined as two-plus hours per day of UNINTERRUPTED (emphasis mine) time that can be dedicated to a task or project. 

The point of sharing all the data above is to drive home the reality of what we are all, to some extent, feeling – our attention is being diverted more frequently than ever, our focus time is decreasing, and often, so is our productivity. 

So, what are we going to do about it? 

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I am both doing personally, and advising our team members to do: 

  • “Shut the blinds:” I close my office door, shut the blinds, and get focused work done. I encourage our leaders to do the same. Focused time almost always equals a better work product. 
  •  I encourage creators to get out of the office. For example, I have advised our product design engineer to work from home when he is working on a design. I do not want anyone interrupting him when he is working on something that requires deep thought. 
  • I challenge the “who,” which is in regard to who needs to be at the meeting. We are like most places in that we invite everyone to meetings. This is often costly. It is the leaders job to determine who should be there and who should not. 
  • I am reducing standing meetings by half in terms of time. 
  • I am meeting more (not less!) in person one-on-one (albeit for shorter durations). This actually saves time because it lessens text messages/calls/and emails. Clear communication (in person) is more productive than any other kind.
  • I fight the urge to skip meetings because a shorter meeting reduces time for later, whereas skipping the meeting slows the pace and often comes with a negative ROI in terms of time/energy/work later. 
  • I set timers on my phone for distracting technology like social media. I advise others to do the same. 
  • I model the end of the workday by not responding to non-emergency emails around the clock. I have discovered that this lessens the amount of time others need to spend replying to me. 
  • I also model the Sabbath (both weekly and on vacation) by not responding to messages all the time. It is my job to model the behavior of rest. 
  • I have communicated that on vacation people should call me for an emergency, text me for something I should probably know but is not an emergency, and email me if it is an FYI. All other messages can wait. And no email sent is expected to get a reply. 
  • I model this last behavior back. I have yet to call a single person while they have been on vacation.  
  • I celebrate our team’s vacations. I wish them well, and remind them NOT to be on email. My motives are mostly pure, but I also realize if their spouse hates our business because we always nag them during non-work hours, the respective team member might leave. Actually, they probably should. 

While this list is not exhaustive, it is a sampling of actions leaders can take to model, and encourage, focus in the workplace. 

Your job now is to create, model, and share your own so that your team increases focus and productivity. 

The Power of Gentle Persuasion

We have grown accustom to seeing persuasion depicted loudly on television and movies: the lawyer forcefully making their final arguments in front of the jury. The Marvel hero rallying their team against the evil enemy. Or, the football coach giving the impassioned speech just prior to the big game. All these depictions are powerful, inspirational, and motivational. 

But, what if they give a false picture of the power of tone in persuasion? Is a louder tone, even a more confident louder tone, more persuasive? 

This question went through my mind recently while reading Dr. Vanessa Bohns’ article outlining her research on persuasion in the Wall Street Journal. Her study uncovered that people often shout because they lack confidence in their ability to influence others. I will quote Dr. Bohns at length: 

“Overcompensating for lack of confidence in our proficiency as influencers leads us to use overly assertive language, which is actually an ineffective tool for persuasion. We shout because we don’t think people will listen to us otherwise. As a result, we are overly assertive when trying to get our message out there, despite the fact that our arguments, advice and appeals would actually be more effective if we made them a little gentler.” 

Did you catch that last line? Despite the way arguments, and to a certain extent, dramatic speeches are portrayed, research indicates that “advice and appeals would actually be more effective if we made them a little gentler.” This is counterintuitive to our fight or flight. It is also takes more confidence in our ideas to cultivate a spirit of gentleness. 

Think about it: Who is more confident in their ideas, the politician shouting, or the one that softly explains their ideas? Does the latter even exist anymore? 

Or, let’s make this more personal. When are you more confident in your own ideas? Is it when you are shouting or, is it when you can gently articulate them? 

The truth about me is that I often attempt to cover up my own insecurities through loud thoughts. My worse moments as a leader have been when I have raised my voice in a meeting to make a point. I suppose there might be a time or place for it, but it is rare. Research seems to indicate that it is ineffective in terms of persuasion. 

I have discovered that to be someone worth following, I do not to need to cover up my inadequacies. In fact, letting them be displayed ironically makes me someone worth following. I have also discovered that I do not need to shout to make a point. 

The world is filled with loud people that no one wants to follow. You do not need to be one of them and neither do I. You do, however, need to be true. I suppose the word for this is really authentic, but that feels like it gets thrown out too frequently to mean what it used to mean. By true, I mean you have to be real. You have to be genuine. You have to talk like you normally talk. 

By being real, you can be gentle because you do not have to have all the answers. Not having all the answers means that you can have a conversation rather than a shouting match. This does not give you a pass from speaking boldly and clearly. It just means that you do so with a gentle tone. The “what” part of the message may even be the same, it is just delivered differently.  

By keeping a softer tone you still stay open to feedback because you are speaking soft enough to still listen, and comprehend, the other vantage point. This will make you a better leader and a better person. 

For persuasive gentleness is not some gimmick to be used to persuade others. Rather, it is a trait of a decent, confident, human being. A trait this world is missing. So, try and adopt it and become a human being others will follow and respect. 

Taking It All In

One of our team members approached me as I was walking our production floor the other day. They asked to talk and I could tell they had a concern. We had just reimplemented face masks, and they were very concerned that the company had made the decision to go through with hosting our outside BBQ a week later. I clarified that our Executive Team had discussed cancelling the event, but we were instead going to spread out both eating times and eating stations. We were also going to mandate that masks stayed on while people were in lines.  We were also giving people the opportunity to eat privately at their designated work stations if they chose. This eased this person’s concern somewhat, but they mumbled something about the risk as they walked away.

No less than ten minutes later, I was followed into my office by another team member. I could tell this person also wanted to talk. I braced for what this conversation would be, but to my surprise, this person wanted to comment on a recent memo I had sent out regarding our hourly pay increases. They told me how proud they were that they worked here, and how much they felt we valued people. 

This ten minute span is leadership in 2021, an environment where you can feel like a bad leader, and good leader, all in a matter of minutes. 

There are lessons to be learned from these two exchanges. 

First, no decision is going to please everyone. This was true pre-2020, but it is increasingly true post-2020. Our culture used to “agree to disagree,” but now people do not just disagree, they are morally offended. 

Second, leaders need to be careful basing their views on themselves from what others think about them. Neither view above is entirely correct, but I can learn from both. The first teaches me that we should be more careful in communicating both what we are doing, and why we are doing it—at Hoffer Plastics, we believe that we need time together in a social setting and that when safely conducted, it is worth the risk. The latter teaches me to continue to err on the side of people and passionately communicate that belief. 

Third, both these conversations teach that especially in this season, leaders main duty is to be lightning rods. We need to absorb the strikes (opinions, feelings, perspectives). We need to listen to them, consider them, and fully understand them. Both team members above meant well. The temptation is only to absorb the second one because it is sugary and goes down smoothly. But, the former one is good medicine too. Their opinion is just as valuable as the second one. It may be that our society is more noisy right now because most feel unheard by leaders. Or, instead of being lightning rods, our leaders have often been the ones doing the striking. 

I will continue to repeat this mantra over and over: To be someone worth following, you have to be willing to do the hard things. While neither conversation above was necessarily hard, I could have easily been overly offended by the first one. I was not this time. 

But, there are times when I am. 

It is in those times that I have to remind myself that a leader is a lightning rod. I have to listen, consider, and fully understand what is being said to me. 

I have to absorb it. 

In the old days, people said leaders had to have “thick skin.” 

This is what they meant. 

So, let’s be the kind of leaders that absorb the strike, rather than dishing it out. 

Leading with Reflection and Intention

In order to be someone others want to follow, you have to do a good job leading yourself first. If you are not growing, if you are not learning, if you are not attempting to get better, then you are not worth following. 

There are many ways to reflect as a leader. I utilize Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner and allot time every Friday morning to reflect on the week and plan the next week. At the start of each year, I create a Key Results Area (KRA) for myself and the team. It plainly communicates the priorities for the upcoming year. I then revisit, and update, them several times throughout the year based on new intel and priorities. Finally, I also set quarterly goals in my planner that outline the initiatives for the next 90 days. Some of them extend longer, even a year out. 

The point of these exercises is intentionality. I want to go in a given direction. But, just going in a given direction is not good enough. Reflection is like stopping at a rest stop on the highway, assessing how far you have come, and determining whether you are going in the right direction. Failing to do this may mean that you end up in Paris, Illinois, and not Paris, France!  

So far, most people reading probably are nodding in agreement. Most leaders, I have discovered, know that reflection is important. Further, they know that they need to lead themselves first and that they have to be intentional in doing so.

But, most leaders do not do the things that they know they should do. This is not a judgment statement, but a statement of reality. For, we live in a world more demanding of our time than arguably, any other time in human history. Therefore, we need to resist the urge to gravitate to the to-do list, stop, FULL STOP, and reflect. It is admittedly painful, yet profoundly transforming. 


The best things in life are this way. 

So, with the time remaining in this post, I am going to share the journal entry I created during a recent reflection time. I am doing so in hopes to inspire you to actually do what you know you should do. 

I should preface that the journal entry below comes from my prayer journal. Sarah and I want to be intentional about who, and what, we pray for. So, we both keep a list in a beautifully crafted journal that Sarah (not me!) created. While the notion of prayer might turn some off, take a chill pill as I am not trying to proselytize here. Rather, it bears repeating, I am demonstrating how reflection works: 

July 29, 2021 

As I wrap up another month in a very stressful 2021, I am overlooking the grounds at Saint Charles Country Club. Earlier this morning, I was able to be on the golf course with Will and Ben, and I witnessed Ben draining a 20 foot putt on the last hole, jumping up and down, and running around the green. He ended up winning the event by a single shot. Him winning a 7 year old golf “tournament” is hardly a life moment, but being here to see his joy was. Wow. Before going further, I am grateful for the flexibility my job offers. While I was not at any of the other weekday Junior Golf events this year, I was here today. Life’s best moments happen when I show up! 

Here are 3 lessons I feel like I have learned over the last month or so.

1)God blesses relational reconnection prayers. I have prayed for relationships to be restored this year with a few specific people. One person was someone that used to work at Hoffer Plastics and that relationship has been restored. So while God says “no” to some prayer requests, He seems to relish saying “yes” to ones where relationships are restored. And what joy restoration brings! 

2)Rest/Fatigue/Anxiety is a constant battle. I own that 2021 has been more stressful than 2020. And that statement is both shocking and amazing…I have discovered that the sweet spot is being other’s focused. My tendency this year is to analyze within. This makes me more tired, more anxious, and more stressed. Yet, this is what I turn to far too often. Jesus said that I should “love my brother as myself.” Amazingly, my life is often freed of stress when I actually (key word) do this. It is countercultural to the world’s way. It is also life giving.

3)The most impactful things in life tend to be the things that are met with the most resistance. For example, filling out this prayer journal, reflection, daily silence, prayer, scripture memorization, and talking only positively about others. I find the same to be true in leadership: having the honest conversation, standing up for what is right, and going the extra mile for a customer. Yet, these are the things that matter in the long run. 

If this month has taught me anything it is that summer is short and so is life. I mourn the loss around me, share in the grief of our friends, and yet remain thankful for family, faith, and a Savior that loves me unconditionally. 

Walking With Purpose

Leadership is the art of doing things with, and through, other people. Leaders are, after all, those others want to follow. To this end, leadership rises and falls through the process of working well with other human beings. 

Leaders, therefore, need to take intentional steps to connect with others they work with. This is more than “management by walking around,” because the aim is first to connect with those you lead. In fact, what I am about to share stretches your leadership muscles more than “management by walking around” because it forces you to use both your brain and your heart. 

While the list that follows was created from my experiences walking the production floor at Hoffer Plastics, the lessons are applicable to non-manufacturing jobs. In fact, they are transferable to any lines of work involving human beings.

Here are five things I aim to do when walking the floor at our company:

I aim to connect: 

This is stating the obvious, but the point of connecting is to actually connect. In practice, this means that I stop, look people in their eyes, and work to gain connection. Connection is putting to action the idea that the future of work is human. While I naturally have closer relationships with some people on our team, I always try to make eye contact, wave, and smile. I sometimes forget to smile because I am naturally serious, so I have to remember to do this! 

I aim to listen:  

A few weeks ago, one of our longest tenured team members pulled me aside to talk. After a few minutes listening to them, I heard pain in their voice. So, I asked, “how are you REALLY doing?” They then recounted about thirty minutes worth of pain (to keep them anonymous, I will leave it at that). I sat and listened. This does not make me a saint because I often rush these connections. But, I walked away believing that listening to this person was the most important thing I did all day. 

I aim to observe: 

I want to see what it is working on our production floor and what is not. That sounds a lot like “managing by walking around,” but there is a huge difference. The difference is that I want to observe with my own eyes what is working, and in some cases what is not working, for those on the floor. This is different than the stereotypical executive sitting at the conference table and making uninformed statements. Observation is curiosity in motion. It is an attempt to understand what you have already been told. Observation also uncovers what you are not being told.

I aim to understand: 

There are times when I still don’t really get what is going on. Why, for example, are there plastics parts on the floor next to the same press in the same Plant day after day? Instead of making a judgement, I aim to understand by circling back with the people closest to the problem. Having already formed a connection with them, I am free to ask them questions. But it bears repeating, the goal is still human connection! Therefore, it is vital not to ask questions in an accusatory tone. Rather, seek to simply understand and help. Yes, help! 

Finally, I aim to encourage: 

This starts with pointing out when someone is doing something awesome. I have also discovered that a genuine thank you goes a long way. There is a team member in one of our Plants that has worked with us for over 50 years! She always has a word that is encouraging to me and over the years I have developed a close enough relationship with her to be able to speak a blessing to her. She is the saint. If I am telling the whole truth, seeing her on the floor and connecting with her, has done more for my soul during the last 18 months than I can probably describe here. Her example has led me, and inspired me, to be more encouraging to others. 

Encouragement breeds more encouragement. Wouldn’t our society be better off with more of that right now? I know our workplace would.  We live in a world that is dividing more and more along cultural and political lines. What if we used work to unite, rather than divide? What if we connected with those that we work with? 

What if, like my grandfather, we had five hours worth of people willing to wait in line to pay their final respects because we connected, listened, observed, understood, and encouraged? 

Let us be the someone who genuinely cares for those around us. 

Let us be someone worth following. 

Let us be like my friend that always has a positive word of encouragement.