Mr T., the Wall Street Journal, and Leadership

Earlier this year, I saw an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about how the American worker continues to be ignored by upper management and owners. Ironically, I read this article on a Saturday morning after an awful night’s sleep; I had been up since 3 a.m. thinking about the announcement we’d made that we were pausing wage increases due to slowing business conditions. 

“Slowing business conditions” is the exact kind of phrase this editorial would probably take issue with. But how else should a leader describe things when that is occurring?

**Allow me to be clear on one thing at the start of this post: I was up at 3 a.m. because while “slowing business conditions” was our reality, it was MY job to co-lead the business in and during, those conditions. NO EXCUSES. I was not blaming Obama, Trump, Biden, or anyone else — and I’ll never understand why business leaders blame the President for their crappy performance? I was up at 3 a.m. because I care about the people on our team. I think about their financial needs and the reality of inflation, and I want to be all-in on helping them win. After all, our mission is to be all-in for people first.** 

Leaders Bring People Together

Fast forward to today. This morning, I made the mistake of turning on YouTube TV while finishing my cereal. I listened to some “posers” talk about how business owners do not care about the American worker. I call the people spouting these ideas “posers” because they are “posing” as leaders. They might have positional authority (or what leadership coach John Maxwell describes as Level 1 Leadership – the lowest kind), but outside of their authority, no one would follow them to Dairy Queen for free ice cream. 

Here’s what I think: Anyone who sows discontent between one group and another is not someone worth following. And at the risk of alienating my readers, there is far too much of this kind of behavior being displayed on television by political leaders on both sides of the aisle. “Us vs. Them” sayings do nothing but add to the vitriol most people feel these days. Leaders are worth following because of how they bring diverse groups of people together. 

The next thing I did was turn off the TV, pour some coffee, and head to work. I listened to worship music on my ten-minute commute to recenter my mind. I was reminded that these people “posing” as leaders are treasured children of the most High God. Feel free to disagree, but I re-centered my thinking on their value in Jesus. He died for them and for me. So, as much as I disagreed with their viewpoints, as much as I would like to take them through our facility to show them the specific actions we are taking to help people (even, and especially in, seasons when business conditions are slow), I must remember their worth. The next time they say that plastic is evil and all business owners are in it for themselves, I have to go back to this position of remembering their worth and praying for their best. 

Making the Connection

After getting to work, I did what I try to do at least once a week by walking our night shift before that team left. It was 7 a.m., and I connected with one lady who was celebrating 26 years with the company. Then, I connected with a foreman who was celebrating 43 years. 

Finally, I talked with another team member who always gives it to me straight: “Alex, when are wage increases coming?” After explaining to her where we currently are and sharing some exciting new business that is almost here, she put her hand on my shoulder. She looked at me and thanked me for the explanation. 

I’ll be honest, I almost broke down.  

I am all-in to helping these people. 

I am all-in on helping our customers. 

That’s my why.

That’s my purpose. 

I usually don’t get this blunt, but let me be clear. 

To quote the philosopher Mr. T.: 

I pity the fool who says I don’t care about the American worker. 

Those are fighting words to me. 

Following His Calling

I originally ended the post with the previous line. But now, a week later, I will finish it with this: Despite our revenue and run hours being down, my sisters and I are issuing a cost-of-living increase for every person in the company except ourselves. I am not sharing this to get a bunch of accolades. I am sharing this to point to the true Giver, and publicly say that I trust in His provision. So do my sisters! 

All praise and glory to Him. We unashamedly believe God will provide, so we will be obedient to what we sense He is calling us to do. 

Ownership Mentality

Earlier this year, Craig Groeschel released a powerful podcast, “The Most Important Mindset You Need to Succeed.” In it, he talks about generational businesses and the differences from one generation to the next. Most companies don’t make it to the third generation — a reality I’ve often heard as a third-generation leader — so I was all ears to learn from Craig on this topic. 

While I am not going to cover the entire podcast here (do yourself a favor and listen to it yourself), I will share that Craig’s “The Gen 1 Mindset” really resonated with me. Craig asserts that Generation 1 has an ownership mindset because they typically are the owners. This means they: 

  • Think higher
  • See broader 
  • Care deeper

Put plainly, Craig says that “owners obsess over what is the best for the organization.” 

And that made me think.

Question for Thought

Do YOU obsess over what is best for the organization? 

Yep, I’m asking you, the reader of this post. 

Do you just have a job, or do you have a calling? 

Are you the kind of leader that looks within and examines their leadership failures? 

My Challenge to You

I am posing these questions as a wrap-up for topics I’ve discussed in Q2. I believe you need to have an ownership mentality — an obsession over what is best for the organization and its people — to be someone worth following. 

I challenge you to take time this week to reflect. 

What needs to become true for you to take an ownership stake so that you can think higher, see broader, and care deeper?

“The Process is Fearless”

I recently read a biography of baseball manager Joe Maddon called “The Book of Joe.” The book is filled with actionable leadership advice on topics ranging from how the baseball manager creates the team culture to how to put players in positions to be their best. If you think about it, a baseball manager does things with and through other people 100% of the time. After all, the manager is not the one batting at the plate with the game on the line — the players are. 

Of the many things Joe Maddon is known for, his catchphrases stand out. When he was managing the Cubs, “Try not to suck” became a t-shirt seen all over Chicagoland. Others that stand out are “Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure,” “Don’t interfere with greatness,” and “The process is fearless.” I’ll focus on the latter in today’s post. 

The Mid-Year Unhinging

I am posting this blog toward the midpoint of the year on purpose. Is it me, or does this time of the year always feel like when things become a little unhinged? The winter months tend to make us slow down, whereas the onset of better weather usually brings more to do. Whether that’s kids’ activities, the business conference “season,” or a variety of other factors, it is easy to start feeling overwhelmed and tired by June. It is easy to ask ourselves, “What were my intentions going into this year anyway?” 

If we are not careful, it is easy to start thinking about all the demands of the future.

  • Will the economy ever rebound? 
  • How will our business grow with these conditions? 
  • How can I keep going amid all the to dos that don’t stop even on the weekend? 

Or, we may be tempted to think of the past.

  • As hard as the supply chain crisis was, our business was thriving in 2021. 
  • The early days of our product line brought so much opportunity and excitement! 
  • I don’t miss the winter weather, but I actually had weekends in January. 

Stay in the Moment

The process is fearless was Joe Maddon’s way of reminding his team to first stay in the moment. Second, it is a reminder to focus on the process, not the results. Finally, it brings the brain and emotions back into alignment. 

After all, the ego enjoys the past, and thoughts of the future feed anxiety. Staying in the moment calms the ego and uproots anxiety. 

A fun thing I am doing on the side this spring is helping assistant coach my son’s baseball team. One of our goals as coaches is to try to help our kids stay in the moment. Our head coach, who hasn’t yet read Maddon’s book, still began our spring with a similar saying for our kids to internalize: “Win the next pitch.” 

I will close this post with this idea because it is the exact sentiment that Joe Maddon was trying to convey: “The process is fearless.” Whether you are an 11-year-old who just struck out or a professional that just hit a ball 500 feet, “Win the next pitch” is a mindset that keeps one focused on the present.

Thank you for taking a few moments to read this post. I encourage you to take a deep breath and focus on the process of your work. Win the next “pitch. Repeat the deep breath, and go again. 



But staying in the moment was how the Chicago Cubs ended 100-plus years of futility. Maybe Joe Maddon was on to something after all? 

The Identity Mall

There is a mall that I go to often. My daughter does not even know what a mall is, so I should explain for any of my younger readers that it is a place people used to go to to buy things. The mall I unintentionally go to is unique, and it is called the Identity Mall.

The Identity Mall is open 24/7, and shopping there is especially inviting when you are feeling low. It is a place where everything is on sale, yet everything ends up costing more than the price you pay. Still, its shops are so enticing that I am often tempted to shop.

The Success Shop

There is the success shop. It promises that success will help me feel secure and satisfied. It is a place where all my dreams will come true! If I am honest, I have often been tempted to blow all my savings here. “If only,” I think.

The Approval Shop

Sometimes, however, I shop at the approval shop. It can be awkward with its floor-to-ceiling mirrors. However, I can get past this as people are inside the store cheering me on no matter what I do. They don’t even care if what I am doing is healthy. And their cheering certainly feels good to me. But the only way to keep it going is to keep shopping there.

The Pleasure Shop

This gets tiring after a while, so I head to the pleasure shop. The seats inside this shop are the most comfortable seats I have ever sat in! To top it off, the people inside the store serve the best wine, and give me a catalog outlining potential golf trips I could take, or new cars I could buy. The possibilities for pleasure are immense. But I often start feeling guilty about all of it, so I move on to the next shop. 

The Family Shop

Around the food court and playground is the biggest shop yet, the family shop. Finally, one that feels just about right. To my surprise, my three kids are already inside this shop. There is nothing to buy here, however, only the kids. The kids become the product, as it is up to them to make my identity feel good. My goodness, one of them is running to the success store to buy something. The other just sprinted to the approval store. I am getting out of here before the third runs somewhere else.

But where do I go now? 

The Past and the Future

At the end of the hall, there is even a bigger store simply called “the past.” It looks like an old movie theater. Actually, it has all the good smells from 1980-something — buttered popcorn, candy, and sugary soda or pop (not deciding that argument here). And the previews show the highlight reel from my golf “career.” It is kind of awkward that it is showing that. It must say something about me?

Next door is the same setup, but it’s called “the future.” No one is going inside this theater, however. People are just pacing and talking to themselves. The future seems to make everyone nervous. I think I have had enough of this place.

This place always costs more than it is worth. 

Where Are You Shopping? 

Welcome back to reality. The Identity Mall may not be a real place, but it is certainly a place I have been before. Of course, it always happens subconsciously. I share the above to simply ask this question: 

Where are you shopping for your identity? 

Spend time reflecting on this question this week. 

While I cannot answer for you, I find the most peace when I return to my faith in Jesus. You can judge for yourself, but for me, it takes looking to him and understanding the price for which I was bought, to free me to be free.

The Leader Layer 

I often bear my soul on this blog, and today will be one of those occasions. 

I was walking our production floor the other day, and it got me thinking about how a leader needs to listen to feedback in real time. They have to do more than just hear this feedback. They need to be able to relate to the person giving feedback and willing to occasionally change when change is needed. 

As I’ve thought more about this, I started to think about this in terms of leaders developing a layer of their personality that allows them to listen to, relate to, and accept the feedback of others. I’m calling this the “leader layer,” and I found myself relying on that leader layer several times last week; here are two examples.

Feedback and the Leader Layer

The first example is a positive one. I went out for my production floor walk at 7 AM on Tuesday and was forewarned that one of our long-time team members was going to seek me out to share their thoughts on a policy they’d been gently reprimanded about the previous week. When I arrived at their work area, I sought them out instead. I asked them how they were doing, which allowed them to tell me why they were not doing well. I listened. I sought to understand their point of view and even agreed with some of their frustration over how the message had been delivered. Still, the policy needed to be followed. Now that they felt heard, they were on board. 

This was an easy win. But what happens when the feedback is a little more personal to me?  

Example two: Also last week, I was working on a company update. I shared it with my sisters, and their feedback was it was too long. This wasn’t hard to accept — I realize brevity is not one of my strengths! 

At the same time, I’d shared a blog post with friends whose opinions I deeply value. Two are book authors, so I was anxious to get their views. And guess what — they thought the blog post was too long! For the second time in twenty-four hours, I received the same feedback in terms of length. While their feedback about the overall content was positive, one of my friends pointed out that it could be even stronger if I cut about two-thirds of it. 

Here’s my confession: Hearing this feedback from my sisters and my friends gave me pause. Neither was especially harsh; they weren’t criticizing the content, just expressing concerns about the length! But as I mulled it over late one night, I realized their feedback brought up feelings of insecurity about my writing. 

Only after stewing over it for twenty-four more hours did I realize that internal struggle is the only path to growth. In fact, I had to ask the following questions to lead myself out of insecurity and back to the path of growth:

  • Is this feedback actionable? 
  • Is this feedback fair? 
  • Is this feedback a chance to grow my leader layer? 
  • Am I open to this feedback? 

The answer to all these questions was a resounding yes. 

Developing Your Leader Layer

The leader layer is comprised of feedback, coaching, and in some cases, scars from the past. It is a growth layer born from listening, relating, and acting on feedback. The thicker it becomes, the more you grow. But it’s different than having a “thick skin,” which implies that you can hear anything and let it bounce off of you — having a thick “leader layer” means you can hear things, think about them, and then change for the better when it makes sense.

The question you have to ask yourself is, are you open to this kind of feedback? Are you open to growing your leadership layer? 

Leadership Failures Part Four: Failing to Lead from the Front

Today concludes my four-part series about leadership failures — here are parts one, two, and three. As a reminder, this series stemmed from thinking about my leadership failures in 2022. I am sharing them because I think the lessons are relevant to all leaders, and I hope this series will make you think about your own leadership and what you can do better.

Part 4: I Fail To Lead From the Front 

It’s crucial to find balance as a leader — not only making decisions, doing hard things, and serving as the leader — but also allowing those you lead to do those things. This dichotomy is something that leaders (including myself) struggle with, which was why I was delighted to read former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s book about this topic, which helped influence and solidify my thoughts. As Jocko and Leif point out, every leader needs to follow at some point. 

Golf Caddy v. Head Coach

One of the things I encourage readers of this blog to do is to get to know themselves, their tendencies, and what they gravitate to. For example, my leadership style is more golf caddy than head coach — I like to set up a game plan with those who follow me (see the KRA mentioned in Leadership Failure Part 2) and then let them do the work or “hit the shots.” 

This is different than a head coach approach in several ways. Unlike a golf caddy, the head coach is there every step of the way. They might call a time-out and change strategy mid-game. They may critique performance during the game. They are much more hands-on in every regard.  

My golf caddy leadership style works well when the person I’m leading is a high performer, but not so well for those who need more constant input. So I need to get the hiring process right (something I’ll cover another time). 

What Does a Leader Do From the Front?

What I discovered in 2022, however, is that there are MORE potential weaknesses in my leadership style. I realized this by leading high performers. None of my direct reports performed poorly in 2022 — in fact, I would argue they performed very well! But this experience helped me clarify what my role needs to be going forward in the C-suite, surrounded by good leaders. (Note: even if you aren’t part of the C-suite, the three things I mention below still apply.) 

Think about this: If a leader is someone worth following, and leadership is the process of doing things with and through other people, what does a leader do from the front?

That depends. If the leader is surrounded by low performers, s/he could easily go back to doing the work. And this is tempting for leaders because “doing the work” is what they used to do and probably helped them earn their leadership position. But when you’re surrounded by high performers who are already doing the work and doing it well, what is a leader to do? 

Daily Vision

I’ve learned that my top priority is casting the vision. I know — many of my readers are saying, “Well, duh!” I said the same thing myself a year ago! But I’ve learned that I need to change the frequency of how often I cast that vision. I need to do it daily. 

Yes, daily. 

I need to cast vision every single day, and if you’re in senior leadership, so do you. The “Where are we going?” and “Why are we going there?” questions are the most important ones we need to answer on a daily basis. 

This is a more specific answer to the advice, “Work on the business and not in the business,” which sounds good but isn’t that helpful until you understand precisely what you need to work on. 

Leader-Only Activities

Next, there are activities that only you, the leader, can do. My executive coach shared with me the criteria that Dave Ramsey uses: 

  • What is broken? 
  • What is new? 
  • What is the brand? 

These “buckets” are out at the front, and the front is exactly where you need to be! Now this doesn’t mean you come in on a white horse when there’s a problem. You are not the hero — the heroes are the people doing the tasks. Your role is to be at the front, shielding the people from the blows. 

What does that mean? 

It means that you play the role of David against Goliath — you go to the battlefield first, willing to take on the giant’s wrath. Think about yourself as the Chief Relationship Officer: you meet with the disgruntled team member, the ticked-off customer, or the concerned community member. You shield your team from these things so they can spend time doing the work. 

This is neither easy nor glamorous, which is why many leaders give in to the temptation and go back to doing the work. The work feels better and is easier to measure. Constantly taking on Goliaths is harder to measure, harder to do, and harder to endure. 

But it’s what you need to do leading from the front. 

Affirm from the Front

Finally, a reminder that you need to affirm from the front. Giving affirmation may feel soft, but it’s one of the most challenging things you do when surrounded by good leaders. You may assume they don’t need encouragement or affirmation, but in reality, they probably aren’t getting it from anywhere else in the office. I make this statement because they, too, are leaders. So unless their followers are genuinely telling them what they are doing right, who is? 

You need to be that person. 

It is what makes you worth following. 

I’m not saying you say something that is not genuine or true. I am simply saying that thanking someone after they spent a week overseas visiting customers goes a long way.

In conclusion, leaders are out at the front, exposed, and willing to do the hard (and sometimes awkward) things. 

It is not glamorous. 

It is leadership. 

Leadership Failures Part Three: Failing to Affirm

Leadership Failures Part 3: Failing To Affirm  

Today features part three in our four-part series about leadership failures. Our topic? Failing to affirm. 

Part 3: I Fail To Affirm 

This winter, our family made Sunday night “movie night.” But instead of watching a new movie every week, we have been watching “The Chosen.” The Chosen is a mini-series that depicts Jesus through the eyes of those that met him. Not only is the series extremely well done, but it also leaves you with the desire to drop everything and follow this Jesus. 

As I’ve watched the series, I have become convicted by the example of Jesus’ affirmation of those who followed him. His gentleness to Mary Magdalene, his acceptance of Matthew (the series does a good job of showing how vilified tax collectors were, and Matthew was a tax collector!), and too many other examples to share here. In all cases, Jesus affirmed the person whether they were outcast by society, cursing God for their plight, or just strong-willed like Simon Peter. I simply cannot get enough of this Jesus and want to be compassionate like him. 

The Last 5% of Affirmation

This series has made me look anew at my leadership, and I have to be honest, the realization I’ve come to is that I don’t affirm those I lead enough. There are no excuses for this, and this isn’t intended to be one. I am task-oriented with goals to conquer, and while I regularly spend time with those I lead, I fail to say the “last five percent” of affirmation.  

The last five percent are oftentimes words that the heart feels, but the mind says, “You can’t say that because it’s awkward.” Allow me to give a few examples — and ask yourself, when was the last time you said something like this to someone you lead?

  • You mean a lot to me. 
  • I appreciate having you on the team. 
  • Your presence on the team makes my work life better, and everyone in my life appreciates it. 
  • I am proud of the work you are doing. I see it. You are crushing it. 
  • There is not a day that goes by that I am not thankful to have you on our team. 

When was the last time you said any of the above? Maybe the words I used aren’t the words or phrases you would use. That’s fine — create your own. Make them your own. Unveil the real you, the “last five percent” you.  

Work is Human

I am not advocating that you do anything against your HR policy. Nor am I suggesting you do something that comes off as not genuine. I am simply suggesting that work is human, and humans crave affirmation. This has always been true, and I believe it is even more true now in our increasingly divisive society. 

Leadership is about doing the hard things because that is what makes you someone others want to follow. Affirming other human beings is one of those hard things. It shouldn’t be hard, but somehow it is. As awkward as it feels, push past your hesitation and open your mouth up. Tell people how much they mean to you. 

Say it from your heart. 

Share yourself fully in support of others. 

Doing this won’t guarantee business success, but it will make you the kind of person others want to follow. 

Leadership Failures Part Two: Failing to Give Direction

Today continues a four-part series about leadership failures that I started last week. The focus of today’s post? Failing to give direction. 

Part 2: I Fail To Give Direction 

Today’s lesson is so basic that it is easy to discount. But it’s at the heart of the biggest organizational issue I hear repeated time and time again: communication. Whether I am in a benchmarking group surrounded by other business leaders, in an interview with a prospective candidate, or working on strategic planning with our executive team, communication is the culprit most point to in terms of organizational problems. We keep talking about it because we are not good at fixing it — fixing it is so basic we fail to do it. 

Allow me to explain with an illustration. 

More Important As Time Goes By

The day after I met my wife Sarah, I called her to try to arrange our first date — I wanted to make sure I acted quickly. Unfortunately, she didn’t pick up the phone when I called. So I did something I’d rather not admit: I left her a completely rambling voicemail. And I know this will sound cheesy, but at some point in my rambling, I told her that I thought she was amazing and unlike anyone I’d ever met. 

Thankfully, she called me back and didn’t think I was crazy. In fact, she told me months later that the word “amazing” got to her (note: this is probably the only time in my life I’ve ever left an effective voicemail!) 

At some point along our path, “amazing” turned to love. When we crossed into the “love” threshold, we used that word all the time  — as I’m sure you did when you first fell in love! We’d hang out on Tuesday nights, then would have to wait until Friday afternoon to see each other again. We counted down the minutes in between, surviving on phone calls. And, of course, each conversation ended with us telling the other how much we loved them. (Gosh, this is sappy — even I’m rolling my eyes, so I’ll totally forgive you if you’re doing the same.)  

Fast forward to the present, and we’ve been married for many years. We still say we love each other, but let’s be honest — it isn’t exactly the same as the “puppy love” stage of infatuation.

But here is my point: saying we love each other is just as important today as it was way back in the early days of our relationship. In fact, I think it may be even more important as time goes by.  

How Leaders Communicate

How does this relate to leadership? At some point along a leader’s journey, they become convinced that there are things they no longer have to communicate to others. For example: 

  • Affirmation (we will cover this in part 3) 
  • Direction 
  • Vision

And the list above is only the start. The temptation is to believe that the people we lead are smart enough to affirm themselves, know what to do, and understand where we’re going. We have this temptation because if we have hired correctly, the people we lead ARE SMART ENOUGH to know these things. 

But we still need to tell them — just like we need to tell our spouses how much they mean to us. 

Leaders Don’t Insist on Mind Readers

Words matter, so leaders use words. 

Leaders do not rely on their followers’ ability to read their minds. 

The failure above is why so many people point to communication being our biggest organizational issue. 

Just as I would be a fool not to tell Sarah how much I love her still, I would also be a fool for not telling my direct reports what is important and what isn’t. 

Putting it Into Practice

Last year, we lost one of our teammates to their father-in-law’s business. The best candidate to replace them was a very bright individual already working with us — and he’s done a terrific job so far in his new role. Yet, when I was reflecting on his first year, I realized I had failed to formalize a KRA (Key Results Area) with him. To be sure, we had talked through a lot of the things I would have included, but there was nothing formalized. 

I had failed to give adequate direction. 

So we met and talked through the first year. Kudos to him; he had done a terrific job. Our team was moving in the right direction, projects were completed on time and under budget, and his peers praised him. Put bluntly, he had outperformed my leadership. 

Clarity + Affirmation = Effective Communication

As we talked about 2023, however, we co-created a KRA for the year. The way I do this with executives is I allow them to create the initial draft, and then we meet to talk about their three strategic initiatives for the year. Because of our weekly check-in meetings, his three strategic initiatives aligned precisely with what I thought was the most important. Still, this process gave us space to validate it formally and gave us both clarity that this was the direction we were going. Before leaving my office, he commented that he was doing the same exercise with his direct reports. 

Clarity and affirmation are two of the most important seeds of communication. Plant those seeds, and the harvest is plentiful. To this end, a leader must use their words to clarify and affirm. It is not rocket science, so it is tempting to think, “I don’t need to do this.” 

But just like you should tell your spouse you love them, you should clarify the most basic things for your followers. Assuming they know will not only be hurtful but also a failure of leadership.

Leadership Failures Part One: Stop Pursuing When Others Lean Out

Today begins a four-part series about leadership failures. The content that follows the next four weeks is based on my thinking about my own leadership failures from 2022. I am sharing them on this blog because the lessons are relevant to all leaders. I hope this will lead you to think about your personal leadership and what you specifically can do better. 

Part 1: I Stop Pursuing When Others Lean Out

A leader is someone worth following. Leadership is the process of doing things with and through other people. These definitions are important when considering lesson one because lesson one is all about relationships. Said succinctly, the leader cannot tire when the relationship sours. Instead, the leader needs to lean in when things, relationally speaking, become difficult. 

This lesson came to me after reflecting on a relationship with someone in our business. At the start of 2022, I began meeting with this individual even though they were not an immediate direct report. Their job was essential to our organization’s success, and they also led other team members. Therefore, I wanted to get to know them better and encourage them in their leadership journey. 

Our monthly conversations were generally good. Admittedly, we didn’t see things exactly the same. But differences of opinion are a healthy sign of organizational life because they help broaden thinking. Our meetings helped me consider a different perspective than my own, and they also helped me get to know this individual better. It was a win-win. 

At some point in the year, however, these meetings stopped happening. At first, it was just because our mutual schedules did not align. Then, it became clear that this meeting was not a priority for either of us because we could never find time for it. 

Stopping one-on-one meetings is not a failure of leadership. However, in this case, it was due to several factors. First, the functional area this person led was one that shaped our organization. Given that I have oversight in operations and sales, I should have an ongoing relationship with this individual. Secondly, there was sometimes a disconnect between operations and their functional area. Our meetings were helping to bridge the gap, so letting the meetings dissipate was, in hindsight, unhelpful to the organization.

Lean in When Others Lean Out

What I learned about leadership from this failure was that I need to lean in when others lean out. Notice that the example I shared doesn’t involve anything nefarious — my sense is that this person just had a lot going on, and so did I. The point is that this is always the case in the modern workplace, so it is not a valid excuse!

A good leader is someone who pursues people. After all, leadership is about doing things with and through others. It is not about you! So again, a healthy leader pursues people because those relationships are how things move from one point to another. 

Manipulation ≠ Leadership

I need to clarify one question that often comes up when I speak about this publicly. The question is, “Isn’t this manipulative?” The answer is absolutely not, but it can be. I acknowledge that someone could, in theory, manipulate others by creating some kind of false relationship and trying to do things “with and through” them. I confess this may be possible. 

However, is a person who would do this the kind of person worth following? And using history as our guide, aren’t these people eventually found out? Once they are, isn’t their credibility destroyed? To be crystal clear, manipulation is not leadership. So that is NOT what I am referring to. 

I am referring to the human ability to bond with other human beings and create relationships that move things from one point to the other. Therefore, a leader should always pursue other people, especially when others lean out (even for legitimate reasons like a busy schedule). 

Followers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. What turns you into someone worth following is being someone who cares, someone who builds relationships, and someone who values other human beings. 

You and I need to lean in when others lean out. Doing so helps us build the kind of relationships we need to do the things we will turn to in Parts 2-4 of this series. 

Surveillance is NOT Leadership

Surveillance is NOT Leadership 

Back in January, the Wall Street Journal posted an article that, to me, was provocative. The piece “Mouse Jigglers, Fake PowerPoints: Workers Foil Bosses’ Surveillance Attempts” outlined how employees are outsmarting their bosses’ attempts to surveil them from afar. It turns out that many companies are attempting to monitor what team members are doing from their home offices.

For example, one company installed a program on employee laptops that automatically shut down the machine after it was idle for 10 minutes, thus informing the “control tower” (my phrase) that they were not working. 

There is a lot about this that bothers me.  

  1. Let’s remember what leadership is: the process of doing things with and through other people. Nothing in this definition even remotely suggests controlling other people. And at its worst, that’s what surveillance is. It communicates, “I do not trust you to do your job, so I will set up a system to ensure that you do.”

    To me, this says more about the leader than the person being monitored. How insecure do you have to be to babysit people? Better said, what does it say about your leadership? Is the work product so unclear that surveillance is the only way you can assess the work? That says more about your leadership than the (perceived) need to monitor. 
  1. Second, this perceived need makes me question the hiring process. How effective are your hiring processes if you need to constantly monitor the team members you hire? Certainly, I think that poor leadership is the bigger problem, but I still think this question needs to be asked. What characteristics are you looking for in a new hire? What are your expectations about work, hours, and work product? The clearer you are on these in the interview process, the higher likelihood you will find someone you do not need to monitor. 
  1. Moving from the leader to the employee, it disgusts me that there is a market for tips on how to “outsmart” the boss. One individual interviewed in the article bragged about wrapping the cord of his mouse around a rotating fan to keep the computer from shutting down, all so he could go to the gym. Has work come to this? Really?

    Look, I’m not trying to be overly judgmental here. But as bad as surveillance is, how is deception better? Unemployment is at historic lows, so why not have an honest conversation with the boss? And if they are unwilling to listen, why not find a job that better fits your lifestyle?

    Work should always be changing. What we used to do may not make sense today, including the hours we work. To that end, leaders need to realize that people may want flexibility, even the flexibility to go to the gym in the middle of the day, so they need to hear these desires when they are presented. 

Work is Human

The point of this post is that surveillance is NOT leadership. Period. Hard stop. 

To be someone worth following, you must have real conversations about expectations. Similarly, workers must own up to their needs and be willing to discuss them. Surveilling and deceiving will not make things better. 

I strongly believe that work is human. What I mean is that we are better when we are together. That doesn’t mean I’m against people working from home or holding hybrid positions. It means that even then, human beings need one-on-one relational connection — it’s where we further our trust in one another. And note that my use of the word “further” is totally intentional; leaders have to give trust on day one — one reason why the interview process is so important. From there, trust is earned, but on day one, it is a given, a gift. 

Surveillance is not leadership. I encourage leaders to start from a place of trust, give clear expectations, and provide people the autonomy to decide what works best for them. Of course, this doesn’t mean it will always work out. But it errs on the side of the human. And wouldn’t we rather do that than err on the side of the machine?