Leadership on the Road: 6 Key Thoughts

Here’s something from my archives. It’s worth the read. First shared in 2014.

I have been out on a client assignment at a remote job site. Truth be told not all that remote, but in my book, anything 25+ miles ‘outside of X’ is remote to me. Being that far off a beaten path can often leave you in rural farmland or cattle country. It’s all been great mind you, but for a life-long city boy, the surroundings can be challenging. The locals I had had the chance to meet and work with have been wonderful people. Their hearts are bigger than the big sky we see daily (no, that’s not a hint for the location, just a generalization of the observations). The exact location does not matter. What matters here is a series of experiences I’d like to share. From the start of the project some 5 months ago, to its successful completion this week, there have been ups and downs, twists and turns, but no real gnashing of teeth; just lots of good honest hard work.

So here we go. The experiences in the field often serve to remind me of business leadership principles I learned a long time ago, but have to revisit frequently if I choose to keep them fresh and effective. Through this project, my ‘master list’ of guiding principles was tested on several occasions. I wanted to share my thoughts and refresh my readers about the importance of staying centered with these valuable ideas.

  1. If you claim to be a servant leader, have empathy and sympathy – I had to run headlong into a team of folks who were new to me, but who had worked together for years before I arrived. They had just been informed that their workplace was undergoing a somewhat hostile takeover; not hostile because of the people taking it over, but hostile from the circumstances that caused the life-changing events.

    Former management had been caught doing very wrong things. My team was to serve as interim managers to ‘right the ship’ so to speak.

    I needed the full cooperation and dedication from the staff left behind. I was immediately reminded of the need to empathize by placing myself mentally and emotionally in their shoes. I needed to sympathize with things I was hearing. The old phrase came to mind, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

  2. Make the tough calls – I had to quickly start assessing the situation around me, digest facts and data, then make some quick decisions. Avoiding making certain decisions because I wanted to wait on more data was not really an option. Knowing what I needed to know was important, but more critical was the willingness to take the intelligence I was being given and then make a decision.
  3. Difficult people need to be corralled and managed – The impact of a ‘difficult’ personality in the workplace can have tremendous ripple effects. On this project, a pretty senior designee with whom I was tasked to work proved to be one of those difficult personalities. Fortunately, I was able to read him early on in the project, identify the issues, and make plans for managing across the work team to minimize the influence of the more negative things that were occasionally spewed. On one particularly challenging day, this individual had strewn a lot of venom across the office. When he went home, I gathered my troops for a sit-down meeting. I told them simply that I, as their team leader, wanted to apologize to them on his behalf. The things said and done that day were not appropriate among professionals. I told them I hoped they could see that for what it was and not be deterred in their dedication to the mission by having endured this day.
  4. Rely on your team – Make team projects a true team event by admitting your own shortcomings and use the skills and abilities the team can bring. Do not ever act so big and proud that you have to know it all. People don’t like ‘that guy’. Inspire people by identifying their strong suits early, and then create applicable opportunities where the use of those individual skills can shine. Also share among the team who is doing what and how important the outcome can be. Spread the wealth evenly. Consider this as “know your people”. People respond very well when they know their self-worth is being used appropriately for key contributions to the effort.
  5. Have a little fun – Every day does not have to be all starched and polished. Let your own hair down a little and find opportunities for a little innocent fun. Let the people’s personalities shine too. By creating an environment for a little friendly banter among the crew, you can keep spirits light and fresh. But watch out for off-color jokes and comments or anything that starts to sound cutting or personal. Keep it light. Help make people want to come back to work.
  6. Maintain your own personal integrity – There are many ways to do this, but chief among them is making and keeping promises. Communicating clearly, openly, and fairly whenever possible. Of course, managers sometimes have to hold things close to the vest. But as soon as you can share with your team, do so.

I hope this helps. Please comment below on these topics and others you have used with great success.

For more information visit HeadwayExec.com

First Published June 2014

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