The missing rearview mirror…

I believe in having mentors. During the day, at random times and in various situations, I will be reminded of something that a mentor has impressed upon me at some point in my life. These “snapshots” will often help me think through how to handle a particular situation or struggle that I am going through. Something that I have been reminded of lately is what one of my late mentors told me several years ago:

“Handle business so that you do not have to look back.”

The idea here is that when you act with integrity you don’t have to try to remember what you said to someone, because you have conducted yourself in an upright and honest manner. There will be no need for deception, backpedaling, broken promises, because you will have been forthright, transparent and above reproach. Simply put, you won’t need a rearview mirror.

Unfortunately, this is not how many leaders and managers conduct themselves. In an effort to “get ahead” and construct and maintain their public image, many are willing to do and say anything – and to walk over anyone – to promote themselves. The irony is that in an effort to “make a name for themselves,” they sacrifice their own good name.

Whether you are in a leadership position or not, you will be tempted to make unethical choices. You will be tempted to be dishonest. And often, the payoff may seem too good to turn down.  But, sowing seeds of deception will lead to corruption. It may happen now, it may happen later… but it will happen.

So, the next time you are faced with a decision that requires you to sacrifice your integrity to gain a temporary prize… break off the rear view mirror and roll on.


Football lessons…

Years ago in college, I worked various weekends for a one of the major broadcasting networks during college football telecasts. It was a great opportunity to get experience in the field of sports broadcasting, which I had decided would be my career path.  While working for a major network might sound like a big deal (it was to me), in reality, I was just an “extra hand” of sorts. I basically got paid a small wage for the day, got to eat some great food (for free) and be around people who had a wealth of expertise in the field of television broadcasting.  In one particular game, I was assigned to the production truck, which is like “central command” for the broadcast. My task was simple; watch the play clock on every play, and if it got below five seconds, yell “time clock!” so that the director would know to show the time clock on the live broadcast. It was a small, but important task. For those of you who may not have interest in football, if the team on offense fails to snap the ball before the time clock reaches :00, then a penalty ensues. Therefore, those watching at home need to know when the time clock is almost expired. It’s one of those little things you might take for granted while watching a televised game, but nevertheless, it’s an important component of the broadcast.

So here I was, my first time in the production truck, with a bunch of broadcasting professionals, as well as a director who was well-known as one of the best in the business. The scene was pretty intimidating. There were more screens, cords and levers than I had ever seen in my life, and needless to say, I was a little nervous. OK, I was scared. Scared to so much as utter a word, scared to make a mistake, scared people would think I had no idea what I was doing (I didn’t)… just plain scared! The game began with kickoff and when the first offensive play rolled around, the time clock fell below five seconds. In a rather nervous voice, I managed to eek out the words, “time clock.” Nothing happened. The director, very adept at noticing and managing every detail of what happens in the broadcast, had realized that the time clock had fallen below five seconds. In an irritated voice he hollered into space to no one in particular, “I need the time clock!” On the next play, it happened again. The time clock fell below five seconds and this time, a little louder, I said, “time clock.” Once again, the director had not heard my cue. Now he was mad. He turned around, looked at me and said, “You’ve got one [expletive] job to do, and if you can’t do it, then get the [expletive] out of this truck! Talk about embarrassing. I wanted to crawl under the chair and hide. I looked behind me to one of the production associates, who I could tell felt sorry for me. He whispered, “just say it louder.” I was thinking, I can hear this guy whisper… why can’t the director hear me say “time clock!” Shortly thereafter, the time clock fell below five seconds again and still reeling from the director’s chastising, I said louder, “time clock.” This is where I’d love to tell you that the third time’s a charm. Nope. When the director realized that he again had not heard me, he turned again, pointed at the door, and yelled, “get out!!” And just to make sure I heard him, he yelled it again, “Go! Get out!” Needless to say, that officially (and emphatically) ended my production truck assignment.

There are many things I wish I had done differently that day. I wish I had been more confident in what I was doing. I wish I had asked more questions of what was expected of me, so that I might have been more confident. And plainly put, I just wish I had done a better job. Years later, however, I have found that many others experience, or are experiencing, the same type feelings. Sure, it might not be inside a broadcast production truck, but it could be in their job, their marriage or even with parenting. They may feel overwhelmed, in over their heads, or just plain inadequate. For those in leadership positions, it’s no different. Some, because of their skills and abilities at a particular task, find themselves in leadership positions that they don’t feel prepared for. Even worse, some pridefully think that they are prepared and soon find out that they might have bitten off more than they can chew.

When it comes to leadership, or parenting or yelling “play clock” in a TV production truck, experience is a wonderful teacher. The problem is, you can’t necessarily have  experience without actually doing things for the first time. However, you can find someone with experience and lessen the learning curve. As simple as this concept is, many will not do it. Some won’t because they are too prideful to accept advice or receive constructive criticism of how they are currently doing things. Some, like I was, are simply too scared to ask.

As humiliating as the production truck incident was, I was still eventually able to fulfill a dream I had of becoming a TV sports reporter. However, if I had it to do over, I would have asked a lot more questions before game time that day. You might be just starting in a new leadership position or you might be a seasoned veteran, but there’s always some time left before kickoff to ask a few questions… just be sure to ask them where the director can hear you!

The Pointing Finger…

No one likes to have a finger pointed at them – either  literally or figuratively.  There’s just something uncomfortable about the whole thing. However, when it comes to pointing the finger at someone else… now that’s a different story.  Most of us don’t seem to mind that scenario so much. Maybe it’s because we like to be “in charge.” Maybe we just love being right. Or, maybe we just don’t like to get the blame for anything. The bitter irony in all of this for leaders, is that to truly grow in your leadership capacity, you not only have to be able to take the blame, but you have to be willing to point the finger at yourself.

I’ve seen many-a-leader struggle mightily with this concept (me included). There are some very important things to realize regarding leadership when it comes to blame and correction:

#1 It may actually be your fault.

#2 Your organization or team might fear you, but they won’t respect someone who can never be wrong. You might be surprised how proficient your team can be at smiling to your face and resenting you in their heart.

#3 If the blame lies with someone else, then it’s still your fault. You are the leader. You are only as good or as bad as the performance of your team. That means taking the good along with the bad. Go back to #1.

#4 When you think you are never wrong, your ego and self-preservation mentality becomes bigger than the team. There may be short-term success, but this focus on self is contagious and will eventually cause a team to implode. If just one person is more concerned with themselves than they are the mission, you are no longer a team. What’s more, when that person is the leader, long-term failure is guaranteed.

#5 Leadership is filled with pressure, but the pressure one puts on themselves to have to always be right is unbearable. Individuals who cannot admit they are wrong are some of the most miserable and unfulfilled people.

So, if you want to grow as a leader, you need to learn to accept the blame when things don’t go well for your organization or team. But don’t worry, you can still point the finger away from you… just be sure you’re in front of the mirror.


Being great at everything…

As gratifying and enjoyable as leadership can be, it can also be mentally and emotionally taxing. Bearing the responsibility of others, a department or even an entire organization is not without its side effects. Because of the stress often involved in leadership, many new leaders – as well as experienced ones – can experience burnout. And while there are many situations that contribute to the burnout of a leader, one cause that can be avoided is the Be Good At Everything Syndrome.

BGAE can affect leaders of all ages and experience levels. Because leaders, by nature, are often very capable people, their abilities often contribute to the problems associated with BGAE. In an effort to prove they are worthy of the “expert” label they carry, leaders often feel they have to continue to justify their position by knowing and being good at everything. I will not suggest that those who suffer from BGAE Syndrome are not good leaders, but I would recommend a different approach… one of servant leadership.

The “carrier” of the virus that breeds BGAE is… pride. Pride tells us we have to be the best at everything. Pride tells us we have to “get ours” and to “look out for number one.” However, reality tells us that being good at everything is simply not possible. So, to continue attempting to be good at everything is a recipe for leadership disaster. Servant leaders take the gifts and talents they have been blessed with and bless others. Servant leaders build others up and build teams to accomplish things that no individual could ever accomplish alone. A leader with BGAE is constantly trying to feed the insatiable appetite of their pride, while the servant leader is looking out for the interests of others. This is not to say that leaders with BGAE do not get a lot accomplished. Hard work and diligence are wonderful traits in any individual. But, how that hard work is invested can heavily impact your likelihood of burnout and ultimately, how many people you truly are leading.

No one is immune to BGAE. If your heart is ticking, you are a candidate to get infected. Keep pride in check and always be thinking TEAM, not ME.

Leaders, develop your people!

Sometimes when talking to other managers and leaders of businesses, they will say things like, “I can’t get my employees to do anything,” or “they don’t listen to a word I say!” When I hear phrases like this, my first thought is: There’s a leadership issue here…

Sure, there are employees and team members out there that seem to be naturally motivated and compliant. But most people just need and want to be developed. In fact, the issue is often not with unmotivated employees at all, but rather unmotivated leaders. One of the real dangers in leadership — especially when things are going well — is to become complacent and lazy. Leaders often have the mindset that they will walk in, solve whatever problems there are and Presto!… everything will run like a well-oiled machine from that point on!  Reality, however, begs to differ. Cars need maintenance. Houses need upkeep.  Employees and team members are no different. So the question for you leaders is, what are you doing to actively develop those you have been entrusted with? This is a hard question for many leaders to hear — much less answer — because they are simply trying to make their organization or team profitable and productive. But the pathway to sustained profitability and productivity often runs right through development. Development requires a commitment of time and resources. Maybe your team needs more training. Maybe they need encouragement (are you doing this?) Maybe they need inspiration (this might come from you OR from outside sources. Don’t be so proud to think you have to be the one to inspire them all the time.) Ask your team members what would help them to be more productive and to become better employees. Then, do everything possible to give them what they are lacking. In doing so, you will be on your way to developing, — and not just managing — people.  And then maybe I’ll hear you talking about how awesome your employees are!

Are you too busy “teaching” to learn?

With many leadership blogs like this one, the authors are trying to bestow some knowledge to the audience. We are trying to teach others how to be better leaders. Truth be told, most of the knowledge we have we either learned the hard way by making mistakes, or we learned from someone else. The knowledge gained from “messing up” isn’t hard material to gather for this author; I’ve got plenty to spare. But while it can be easy to take notes on your own mess-ups, it’s sometimes more difficult to get the “easy” lessons; the ones from those who have “been there” and “done that.” As I’ve gotten older, I really enjoy these lessons the most. When you’re young and proud, you like to think you’ve got all the answers already. Somewhere along the line I probably said to myself, “this is not the most efficient way to learn something. Maybe I could take some advice and keep this kind of thing from happening so often!”

I have been blessed to have great role models and mentors in my life. Some came along later in my life. Some were there all along and I just didn’t realize the goldmine of information and wisdom that was right under my nose. The turning point was a decision to listen and learn. Fighting pride is a constant struggle, especially in a leadership role. Leaders are often expected to fix, instruct and guide. Sometimes, amidst all the fixing, you forget that you still don’t know everything.

I encourage you leaders to always be in a state of learning. Don’t be so busy teaching that you forget to learn. Model other successful leaders. They might be authors of other leadership publications or they might be CEOs of huge corporations. Often, they are quiet, unassuming people with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that will only share when asked. Why? Probably because they are humble people. And, maybe they have learned that words are made valid by actions.

Whatever your ideal mentor looks like, be purposeful about seeking them out. Observe them. Ask them questions. You will avoid some tough times. And, you might get some material to write about:)

Connecting with your team…

I drive a pickup truck. It’s not for everyone, but I like it. Where I live, when I pass a car on the road, it’s just another car. But, when I pass a pickup truck, there’s a good chance we might wave at each other. Why? Because we’re both driving trucks, of course! Now, if we happen to be driving the same model of truck, the chances of exchanging the dashboard wave just went up dramatically. So what is this pickup truck phenomenon? Well, actually, it’s not about pickup trucks at all. It’s about something even more basic. It’s about  connection. By nature, we enjoy connecting with people that have common interests. Paying attention to this simple, yet important fact can help you in your quest for improved leadership. If you have great team members, they most likely enjoy being part of something larger than themselves. Quite simply, it’s part of what makes them great team members. But great teams don’t just happen; their success is dependent on many factors. One of those factors is, how well do the team members connect to one another? When team members connect, they are much more likely to trust and depend on each other.  As the leader, it’s your responsibility to foster this type of environment.  That means you need to set the example of connecting with your team. For some this might feel awkward, but it’s not that complicated. It starts with simple conversation. You might strike up a conversation about an individual’s favorite food, where they were born and raised, or what hobbies they might have. And don’t manipulate. Be genuinely interested. In doing so, you will begin to build trust amongst each other, and in turn, begin to function better as a team. And you might even find out that there are more truck drivers out there than you thought!

Be Yourself! … but…

It’s not very hard in today’s world to make a name for yourself. The age of internet and social media has created outlets for individual expression never before possible. Want to have a hit music video? No problem. Just lip sync a song and post it on YouTube and watch the views pile up. Want to get noticed? That’s easy. Just take countless selfies and post them on social media every chance you get… Someone will notice. But, as neat as it is to be able to share one’s life digitally and instantly in today’s tech-driven world, it’s hard not to think that all we’ve done is to make it easier for people to say, “hey world, look at me, I’m important!” Now, I’m not a hater. I think technology can be leveraged for great good both economically and socially. However, it also creates an atmosphere for people to be able live like they are in a movie about their own life, where everyone else is just an “extra.”

At its core, this speaks to the selfishness of humanity. I want what I want, and I want it now. This mentality of “me” is the arch enemy of the concept of “we.” In any business or organization, being successful as a team hinges on the ability of individuals in a group to die to self and function productively together. When individual motives begin to shift to the “me” part of the spectrum, the group begins to have parts that are moving in opposite directions. This is where leadership is so critical.

Leaders must be in touch with what is going on inside the teams they are responsible for. They also need to understand that they themselves are selfish people and the teams they lead are made up of selfish people as well. This guarantees that there will be tension and disunity at times. Expect it, but be prepared for it. The key is to deal with these issues promptly before they become much larger issues that threaten the success of the team. Leaders must instill an “others first” mentality in team members. If everyone is thinking about how they can support the other team members, there is no time to think about what is “unfair” or “not right.” The beauty and irony of successful teams is that they are often comprised of members with varying skills and personalities. And while this individuality can make leading and managing difficult at times, when woven together in the context of an unselfish team, it is also what provides the greatest chance of success.

So, leaders, encourage your team members to do the following:

“be yourself… just be a part of something bigger than yourself.”

Now, go take a team selfie!

Dealing with Negativity…

I tend to be a tough sell. Send me a salesperson to convince me why I should buy something and I’ll likely send you back a “no thank you.” Why? Well, if I thought I needed it, I would have bought it already, right? I’m the same way with advertisements. I simply am not an impulse buyer. I can throw mail advertisements in the trash faster than you can say “2-for-1 deal!” But this morning… I cracked. As I was eating breakfast, I looked over and saw a newly received copy of a popular product magazine. Disinterested, as usual, I began to turn away when something caught my attention… the words, “Your WISH LIST Headquarters!” There was something about those words “wish list.” I looked at them for a second and thought, “you know, maybe I need a wish list!” The next thing you know, I am thumbing through a magazine that I’ve thrown away more times than I can count. Ah, the power of suggestion.

Negativity in any workplace or organization works much the same way. Even in a positive environment, negativity can weasel its way in, little by little, by way of nothing more than a suggestion. It only takes one negative or disgruntled team member to start the cycle; One individual unhappy about his or her situation. This person becomes verbal with other team members about their unhappiness. The next thing you know, even a happy and contented team member can think, “you know, maybe I’m NOT happy… maybe I should be bothered by this too!” If this type of negativity is not dealt with swiftly and decisively, any team or organization can implode.

As Leaders, we need to be able to quickly identify these “cells” of negativity and immediately analyze them and ask some specific questions:

1. Is this a legitimate concern that is, or has begun, going “viral,” or is it simply a result of a negative individual or group that is cultivating negativity?

2. Is my leadership, or lack thereof, a contributing factor to this problem? If so, what am I going to do about it? (leaders, always keep your mirror handy!)

3. If this is not a leadership issue, it will become one very quickly if you don’t deal with the situation. Allowing cells of negativity to grow after they are identified is a leadership problem. Deal with the individual or group promptly and make it clear that this type of negative attitude will not be tolerated.

4. If the source of the negativity is borne out of a genuine concern or issue, identify the cause for concern promptly and fix it. Coach your team on effective ways to communicate concerns with managers and supervisors, who can then take those concerns to those above them so they can be dealt with accordingly. When “concerns” are communicated through gossip, as opposed to being communicated through the proper channels, your team is likely going to begin spiraling out of control. The longer a gossiping trend is allowed to continue, the more difficult it is to correct.

Leaders have to train themselves and their team members to constantly fight against the cells of negativity. It takes practice and perseverance, but it can result in teamwork that is better than you could have drawn up on any “wish list.”🙂

The Secret of Success (and it’s not what you think)…

Our family enjoys a good old-fashioned wood burning fireplace. Gas logs are great too, but they just don’t compare to the warmth, smell and sound of burning wood. If you want to burn wood in a fireplace you have 3 options:

1. Ask someone to give you some firewood.
2. Buy firewood.
3. Chop your own firewood.

An employee came to me one time and asked me what my best advice was for achieving success. This individual had identified me as someone who might shed some light on what the “secret sauce” was and wanted in on the information. While I was flattered, I’m sure my response was not exactly what this person was looking for. I basically let this person know that the “secret” was hard work, diligently performed over and over and over. The individual looked somewhat underwhelmed and simply said, “OK, thank you,” and walked away.

Success looks different to each individual. And, What is the secret to success? is the question that many wonder about every single day, whether in business, athletics, academics, music or life. Countless books have been written about this question and there are certainly differing opinions on it. For the purposes of this post I will focus on the 3 options listed above…

It’s unfortunate, but very true, that many people choose option 1. They simply want everything given to them. They don’t want to work, they just want results handed to them by exerting only the effort it takes to hold their hand out to receive it. The problem with option 1 is that when no effort is exerted in obtaining something, there is little effort put forth to retain or recapture it. Why? Because there is no appreciation for the cost of the result. Those who choose option 1 will often resort to it over and over again simply because it’s all they know how to do. In my experience, these individuals often make sub-par employees and/or team members at best.

While many will try to jump on the “easy” path of option 1, others will choose to “buy” their success (option 2). This is actually a viable path to success. I don’t believe there is anything necessarily wrong with this option. If you are blessed with the financial resources to pour money into an idea or project to ensure its success, then be thankful. But, the problem with this path to success is that when it works, it’s often very expensive. Many who have tons of money and financial resources will often rely on those resources to get them into/out of any situation. This approach can work, but you have to be able to stomach the losses. And, if the money does happen to dry up, option 2 is no longer feasible.

So this brings us back to that firewood. I’ve chosen option 1 to get firewood before and you know what? I felt kind of lousy about it. Someone else did the work for that wood and here I come asking for them to just give it to me? I’ve also chosen option 2. But buying firewood can get really expensive because I’m paying for someone else’s work. I personally enjoy option 3. It’s good exercise and you get to see the results of your labor. When winter is approaching, I love looking outside and seeing a big pile of firewood because I know there will be many fires built in that fireplace during the colder months. And I’m sure it’s my imagination, but for some reason, the firewood that just seems to burn brighter and hotter than the rest is the firewood that I chopped myself. That big pile didn’t get chopped in a day or even a week. That pile of firewood got there as the result of one thing: hard work, diligently performed over and over and over. This applies not only to firewood, but to life as well. Option 3 not only gives the “chopper” an appreciation for what it took to get that big pile of firewood, but also the knowledge of what it will take to repeat the task. The book of Proverbs in the Bible has a great story that reflects the importance of diligence and what happens when it is absent:

I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everyhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man. -Proverbs 34:30-34

This shows us in simple terms how the lack of diligence not only hinders success, but also ensures decline.

So next time you want to know the “secret of success,” don’t ask for it to be given to you… but you might could ask someone to give you their advice on the most effective method of chopping wood🙂