This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m writing from my home in Texas and yes Thanksgiving, at least the one I’m talking about is American.
In preparing this piece, I looked back at my annual Thanksgiving messages. I was struck by what I thought was simple prose at the time, but turned out to be more prophecy. (On my blog page, use the search box above and type Thanksgiving to see what I mean).
In the past I have written about social conditions, political conditions, the need for leadership, and of course family.
Somehow the events of 2020 make everything pale in comparison.
The Top 10 for 2020
If you will allow me, here is my Top 10 list of things to be thankful for in 2020.
10. We still live in a free country where opinions are able to be expressed despite growing tension about doing so. I fear we’re losing that ability to come together to discuss and honor opposing opinions. So I pray we change that soon.
9. We have a diverse economy that can sustain pandemics. It may take a hit, but we don’t sink the ship.
8. I have friends and colleagues to remind me to be humble.
7. I still have the ability to learn; learn to be a better coach, a better teacher, and a better person.
6. I have clients who seem to appreciate what we do together. I never take that for granted.
5. I have you to read and follow this blog and my podcasts. Your feedback keeps me on my edge and hungry to do more.
4. I have a valuable network of mentors who help me grow. You know who you are. You challenge me and keep me strong.
3. I have some very special friends who are loyal, supportive, caring, and honest. That’s the most important part, honesty.
2. I have a beautiful family; my wife Susan, my kids, and grands. You all keep me on my toes. I love you tremendously.
1. I thank my Lord and Savior for His unconditional love.
Some may take offense. I don’t intend to be offensive. I’m sharing my list. You can share yours in the comments below.
The Leader’s Obligation
As I think about this list, the big question that emerges for me is this “How will I show up?” For all the things people do for me and with me, will it matter?
You see I believe I need to show up better each day. I need to do that for myself. But more importantly I need to do it for those who are counting on it.
If I roll out of bed and decide to ‘mail it in’ one day, who gets hurt? They do. The people who are counting on something from me.
That is what leadership is about. If you lead people, they are expecting something. You better show up and deliver.
If you’re not ready or willing to do that, you need to step away from your leadership role. If you’re just there for the payday, step away. If you only want the recognition, step away.
Step away and let someone who wants to serve others take the role. The people deserve that. We need those kinds of leaders, everywhere.
Will you show up? And be that kind of leader? I hope so. My pledge is to be there. Will you be alongside?
If you took a team of smart, capable people out to the wilderness and showed them an ox, could they accurately estimate the weight of that ox?
Working by themselves, ask each person to write down the weight they believe the ox to be, then seal it in an envelope. Collect the envelopes. As you start opening the envelopes, you’d find the guesses would be all over the place. Some too low, some too high.
But if you ask the same group to work as a team, they could share experiences and learning to come to a much better answer for the weight of the ox.
The same principle holds true with solving big problems at work. Any member of your team working alone can come to an answer. But is that answer the best it could be?
The Back Story for Business
I was told this story the first time by an investment advisor. He shared that his colleagues routinely gathered to analyze and explore optimum solutions for asset management of key accounts they held.
It was reassuring to know that the collective wisdom of his team was being used to make better choices and create the best possible advice for stakeholders.
Leaders need to open themselves up for similar group activities. While you might be the owner or CEO of your respective company, you can still leverage the wisdom of others to help you make better, more informed decisions.
Ways to Help You Make Better Decisions
Here are some simple ways to get it done.
First, if you are truly alone at the top, you need an outside resource to help. A trusted advisor whether personal or professional can be that ear to hear what you are thinking. You can use them as a sounding board.
A trusted advisor can be there for you to explore options, vet decisions, and suggest other things to consider before making a final decision.
Or you might pursue a peer advisory group. In “Think and Grow Rich”, Napolean Hill introduced the idea of Mastermind Groups. This is a gathering of like-minded individuals to come together and share experiences, ideas, and wisdom so as to help others grow.
Another idea is to turn things over to your own leadership team. Depending on the size of your organization, you may have access to a team of direct reports who could be that group to review the details and evaluate ideas.
A Caution on ‘Group Think’
Allowing a group to do anything can have its risks. But with proper guidance and collaboration, leveraging the combined expertise of a workgroup can pay dividends.
When teams have not been built around solid core principles for trust and collaboration, then ‘group think’ can go wrong. If team members are uncertain of their standing in the group or people feel alienated, then they might ‘go along’ with the dominant voice at the table rather than speak their mind.
If that happens, you as a leader have a much bigger problem. It is for this reason I have been using the Team Trust Model.
The Team Trust Model explains six key steps for every team to use to build TRUST. Teams who operate with high levels of trust can achieve much greater results than those operating without trust. More on that here.
If you’ve never considered having an outside advisor to help you through your decision-making process, now may be the time to ask.
The following article is contributed by a dear friend and fellow Silver Fox Advisor, Dick Hendee. He captures some important thoughts about the holiday season that starts with November.
November is a month with many things going on. The month starts off with All Saints Day on the first day of the month, Election Day on the first Tuesday of the month, Veterans Day on November 11th, and of course, Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of the month followed by the very special day for all retailers, “Black Friday”.
This year probably more than most recent years, each one of those days has a very special meaning. Almost everyone knows someone who was lost to Covid 19, so All Saints Day is a time to remember those loved ones.
Election Day is always filled with excitement and anxiety, and this year that anxiety looks as if it may extend into 2021.
On Veterans Day we honor all the brave Americans who fought for our freedom and way of life. Thanksgiving will be different this year, and although we all have much to be thankful for, we may still be likely to question why we have had to endure this pandemic.
Finally, if you are a retailer, you undoubtedly will be hoping “Black Friday” does in fact put your business in the black for the year.
This Thanksgiving I will be giving thanks for all the business owners who stepped up to the challenges they faced in 2020. They made the extremely tough decisions to cut their expenses, change how they delivered their products and services to their customers, and in many cases, to completely re-engineer their businesses.
We are all aware of what small businesses mean to America, and once again America’s small business owners rose to the challenge and demonstrated they can do anything and overcome any obstacles.
I am so proud of all the small business owners I have worked with this year, and I am so pleased and humbled that they allowed me the opportunity to be part of what they did and had to do to keep their doors open and the cash register ringing.
Some of these business owners took advantage of the assistance programs that were made available, but many of them chose to make it without any assistance. I applaud both options and must certainly give credit and support to the decision each owner made.
In closing, please let me offer a quote from Jon M. Huntsman, Sr. who said,
A crisis creates the opportunity to dip deep into the reservoirs of our very being, to rise to levels of confidence, strength, and resolve that otherwise we didn’t think we possessed.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. We look forward to continuing to provide the small business owners of the greater Houston area advice, consulting, and mentoring throughout the remainder of 2020 and in the new year ahead. I encourage you to visit our website at www.silverfox.org or www.silverfoxadvisors.com to learn more about the Silver Fox Advisors.
2020 has been a dumpster fire. Pandemic, economic trials, election battles, remote working, killer hornets, hurricanes, and mandated lockouts. What else can go wrong, right?
And it’s hard to believe we’re poised to launch into 2021 just a few short weeks away. Can you say “Yippee”!
With year-end upon us and a new year right ahead, people start thinking about new year planning. This article is not another push for goal setting. It will not be about the next great program or self-help eBook. The topic I’d like to share seldom gets mentioned in any Top 10 list of attributes for managers. Yet, I feel obligated to bring it up. What am I talking about?
The topic is GRACE; not a person or a thing. Rather, in my humble opinion, grace is a state of mind. We can’t earn it. Many feel they don’t deserve it. So, I believe that is why I have yet to find the topic of grace being spoken about in any of the management and leadership books I follow.
Maybe you first heard about grace from a Pastor, Priest, or Rabbi. No, this will NOT be a Bible study article. I simply want to tell you about adding grace to several parts of your life as you close 2020 and enter the New Year.
What is Grace?
Please allow me to explain my thoughts about grace, then we will apply them to your situation.
First, I said grace is a mindset. It lives halfway between your head and your heart. You can over-think it, thus killing the spirit of it. Or, you can over-give it, thus defying the logic of what you might need to be doing with it. It is a delicate balance of thought, logic, emotion, and self-worth.
Next, it does include a dose of forgiveness. Forgiveness not just for a moment, then later to be revoked, but permanent. Wiped clean, wiped off, wiped out.
Then, in modern terms, grace gives us the break you need as in ‘give me a break’. It cuts you some slack. It soothes the hurt. It takes away the sting. It is the essence of ‘let it go’. My eldest son calls this ‘breathe’.
There is so much more to grace, but I will leave it at this for now. So with these ideas in mind, how should you and I apply grace? I have several recommendations.
Where Does Grace Need to Be Applied?
First and foremost, apply it to your own life. No one ever grades us harder than we grade ourselves. Grace allows you to add a curve to the grading. It gives you bonus points.
Giving yourself grace for the things that have not worked out helps to eliminate negative forces that can cripple our effort to move forward. When you look back at 2020 or beyond, are you haunted by things not done? Do you lament the decisions you made? Do you beat yourself up over relationships that went wrong or business deals that did not work out?
If you said YES to any of those, you, my friend, need some grace in your life. Decide when, where, and how you will give yourself some grace so that the New Year can get going without hurdles.
Next, if you manage people, what grace do you give them? We all know there are boundaries and standards that must be applied at work. But your co-workers are human. You need to extend some grace. It is a certainty that someone somewhere in your circle will fall short of a goal.
Once the required administration of the situation is complete, do you offer grace? You can demonstrate grace by establishing a work environment where the employee feels the slate is truly wiped clean once any offense is addressed.
Sidebar – Yes, I know managers must deal with disciplinary matters that set up probationary periods. So there will be a cloud over the employee while that period is in force. While this is happening, will you treat all other aspects of the person’s work effort with grace?
The other area in your life where grace is vitally needed is family; starting with your spouse (if married), then your children. Have these people committed some offense for which you have yet to forgive? Have you thought about giving them grace?
Being a leader requires the ability to give grace.
Here are 5 key questions about grace.
When was the last time you visited the topic of grace?
Has grace been given to you lately?
Do you owe yourself some grace?
Who do you know that needs you to give them grace?
Will you add grace to your leadership toolkit in 2021?
Thank you for your faithful following this past year. Here’s to a bright and prosperous 2021!
PS – Here’s a little fun video for you to enjoy about 2020 by Penn Holderness; an amazing artist.
The other day I was running errands and stopped at my bank. I went inside, did my business, and went back to my car. As I sat there checking emails, I was surprised by my passenger door opening with a young lady standing there.
She looked up at me, shrieked, and said “Oh my God!”
I looked at her then noticed that across the parking lot behind her was a vehicle exactly like mine with her husband sitting in it startled with a surprise too.
She apologized and gently closed my car door, exiting to her vehicle.
I shouted at her husband, asking him if he wanted to keep her. He said “Yes, I do.”
I said “Well, she’s all yours. Have a nice day!”
As we both drove away, I was thinking about FOCUS.
Clearly that young lady was very focused on something. So focused that she ignored the distance between her car and mine, simply letting the “impression” of a similar car influence her choice for opening the door.
I too was very focused on emails form my phone and ignored her approaching my car until it was too late and she had swung open the door.
It made for a good laugh, but could have been far worse.
As leaders, we can get so laser-focused on an idea we lose sight of other opportunities or we ignore facts and circumstances that could impact our outcome.
When was the last time you got focused like that?
I have the odd opportunity to work with leaders on both ends of the business spectrum. I coach executives in some of the largest companies on the globe, like ExxonMobil and UPS. I also coach entrepreneurs and sole proprietors who are busy building new companies.
Yet the similarities I see are common to both. Running an organization requires thoughtful, dedicated leadership. Good management is not enough. You have to demonstrate real leadership. (I’ve written about the differences between management and leadership HERE).
Leaders can get blinded by ideas that create an intense focus on going one way or another. Once choices are made, nothing will persuade them to change direction. That can have a disasterous effect.
It’s one thing to be committed to a decision. Sure, the team wants you, their leader, to be certain on which way you want to go.
However, putting your head down once the decision is made can be problematic.
It’s a Tricky Balancing Act
I realize it can be tricky to be decisive yet open to other input. I do believe there are ways you can still make solid decisions and stay sensitive to things happening around you.
Here are some of the best ways I’ve seen work.
First, keep your team engaged. Just because you made the decision doesn’t mean your team should be shut off from reporting changes. For some reason I’m thinking about the submarine Captain and his crew. You’ve likely seen the war movies, you know what I mean. The Captain shouts an order but the crew is reporting back information they see on their monitors.
Next, have a reporting mechanism that works. In Six Sigma process improvement, there is a model known as DMAIC. It is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.
DMAIC is the core of continuous imporvement of your process. By following these steps, you gain insights that you might not otherwise pay attentiion to.
Lastly, maintain communication with your team. Engage them for their valuable input. Even once the “ship” is underway, you have to allow course corrections to maintain a successful voyage. (Watch Greyhound with Tom Hanks to know what I mean here).
The Leader’s Challenge
The next time you make a big decision, don’t forget about keeping your eyes open for situation and circumstance around you changing. Don’t let your focus be so blinding that external factors get missed of overlooked.
Now I have a ‘record’. LinkedIn booked me in their user-jail for about two weeks. What it meant was, I could not send any connection requests to anyone unless I knew their personal email.
Now mind you I am not a spammer. I’ve been a faithful user on LinkedIn since 2005. Yes, I have over 17,000 connections, but that was built over 15 years of regular faithful and, I might add, compliant activity.
I’m careful with what I do there. I respect and honor the “code.” No junk posts, political or otherwise. All business. Yet for some reason, the algorithms kicked in and flagged my account. It took me three tries at appealing the decision. Here’s the storyline in summary.
I got flagged and shut down about 10 days ago. I was aware others have had this happen, so was alert to the steps needed to fix the problem. They say it is just temporary. LinkedIn will let you back in if you just fall on your sword.
First, I checked my pending invitations. The number was zero. I flush that queue every week, keeping nothing pending more than 7 days. Next, I stopped inviting anyone. Also, I turned off all my connected devices.
Mind you I am using the paid subscription to Sales Navigator, a platform that by definition is for sales prospecting. And it’s not cheap. You don’t prospect just those folks you know.
Finally I wrote my letter of contrition, begging forgiveness and reinstatement.
BANG! “No” they said. I was “an egregious violator and this sentence was for life.”
Wow, color me starting to get angry. How could they? After all I’ve done for them! Please allow me to elaborate.
The Back Story
In 2008, when I started Jobs Ministry Southwest, I was the first organization in the Greater Houston area to create a class for LinkedIn. I had met with the regional sales rep of LinkedIn. We collaborated and my effort was sanctioned.
I developed a presentation that when first launched had over 400 attendees at a 2 hour workshop. All of these folks were in career transition and needed help finding jobs. I was advocating they get busy on LinkedIn. My seminal effort was titled “12.5 Ways to Get Ahead Using LinkedIn”.
Later, it spawned a live, hands-on workshop series I led that was hosted by Belhaven University in their computer labs. Hundreds attended. The series caught the national attention of a tech writer at Fortune magazine. That was 2010.
I and my series appeared as part of a cover story on Fortune featuring the meteoric growth of LinkedIn. My organization made Linkedin a cornerstone teaching of ways to land a new job. Over a 5 year period, we coached over 4,500 professionals.
Today, I still evangelize the use of LinkedIn. I am an officer of Silver Fox Advisors, a regional association of business professionals whose main focus is helping small businesses grow. Working there, I coach the use of LinkedIn for my fellow members as well as many of the small business owners we serve.
I inlcuded all of this history in my third and final appeal to get released from jail.
Apparently, the gods found favor and sent me notice of the restriction being released. But there was a stern warning that any future violation would result in permanent restriction without the possibility of release or parole. God love Microsoft.
If you want to stay on the straight and narrow path with LinkedIn, here are my tips (from an actual ‘Linkedin felon’ no less).
First, keep your invitation count low and reasonable. I’d say no more than 5-10 per day. NEVER reach out to a level 3 contact. Stay within your level 2 circle of connections so you can point to the actual name you have in common. Use that name as a reference. Thus you create a warm contact.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, LinkedIn still technically counts this a violation. If the person to whom you sent the invite hits the “do not know” button, you’re screwed. It takes a special, extra click of the mouse for someone to flag your invitation with “do not know” rather than merely rejecting it, but apparently, people are getting more hostile about doing just that.
Next, watch the build-up of stale unanswered invitation requests. You can delete old ones that have not been answered. Here’s how to fix that.
Per the letter I received from LinkedIn: Invite people from the “Add (member’s name) to your network” link OR click the “Connect” button on their profile. From there you can add a personal note to explain how you know them and why you’d like to connect. The personal note option isn’t available when you import your address book or add email addresses from the “Add Connections” feature.
Oh and be sure you are displaying a photo on your profile. People may not recognize your name, but they may remember a face. If you’ve uploaded your photo, be sure your settings allow it to display across all situations and platforms.
That’s it, plain and simple right? Don’t believe it. The mysterious algorithms have their ways. BWAH_HA_HA_HAAAAA Be watchful.
You and I share many different things. As leaders, we share common needs, goals, and attributes. Depending on who you talk to, you and I score at different levels depending on the topic we choose to ask about. However, there is one key area frequently cited as a critical factor in determining whether a leader is effective or not. That factor is TRUST.
Business leaders don’t consciously go about their day specifically trying to build trust. This would be like having ‘building trust’ on your to-do list. Let’s see, go to the bank, check; wash the car, check; build trust, wait, what? No, that’s silly.
They will let their decisions and their actions impact the level of trust bestowed on them by others. Age-old wisdom says trust is earned. Children are taught at an early age. Leaders know it too.
A Manager’s Challenge
Anyone who has ever assumed management duties understands how critical trust can be in persuading a team to perform. The collective efforts of the team can be hurt if individuals on that team have doubts about the boss.
There is usually some kind of default mindset at work between employees and the employer. Workers often start out not trusting the boss. Sadly, too many bosses start out not trusting their teams either. It truly is a two-way street.
Experts found that trust, social connectivity, and a general sense of well-being are all intertwined. There are scientific studies revealing that two sections of the brain involved in sensing trust.
Based on perceptions of trust, the participants (in the study) reported positive interactions with the “close friend” to be more rewarding than interactions with a stranger—and were more likely to interact with this player. This illustrates our innate human desire to connect with others and create close-knit bonds even if these ties are based on blind trust or lead to [other bad outcomes].
Brain imaging of the participants showed that two specific brain regions were actively engaged when someone thought they were trusting a close friend. Increased activity of the ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex were correlated with positive social value signals when participants made decisions based on a belief they were playing with a good friend.
But science aside, what makes trust so hard to build? Think about all of your own experiences with friends, co-workers, bosses, and leaders. You likely watched three levels of interaction that factored into how deeply you felt you could trust the other person.
In a work setting, the team leader must demonstrate a certain level of technical ability to begin earning trust from the team. New, first-time managers struggle with this because they might have been promoted in recognition of their skills in one area, but they lack comprehensive knowledge of the whole team’s scope of responsibility.
Lacking that technical knowledge, they are deemed incapable of performing as team lead, so trust is denied.
New bosses moved in from outside the department suffer this same kind of gap. Until they can prove they know their stuff, the team will be reluctant to give the trust that might be needed for respecting the ‘new guy’.
I once was a department head of a large administrative group supporting a $5 billion asset portfolio at a large regional bank. I had several teams reporting to me, responsible for 5 different lines of business. One day, while walking through the department, one of the administrators stopped me and asked a fairly technical question. I paused and began coaching him on the topic, explaining the process and the calculations he needed for the problem he presented. He seemed shocked. I asked why? He said, “I didn’t think the Big Dog would know this stuff.” To which I grinned and replied, “How’d you think I got to be the Big Dog?”
The next level is what I will call cultural trust. After technical trust is established there is still a void at the cultural or corporate level. The key question here is whether you demonstrate consistent, reliable actions and behaviors.
No one can trust someone or something that acts inconsistently. Roger Ferguson, founder of ISI HR Consulting and creator of “Big Five Performance” talks about this corporate trust as whether a leader is known to be trustworthy, delivers as promised, and is generally known to be a person of character.
Being consistent in the way you act and interact creates a level of trust that grows with each passing day. As soon as you make a serious deviation from the pattern you start, trust takes a step backward. This is why it is so critical for leaders to be mindful of the direction they want to go, centered on core principles, and committed to consistent behavior as a leader.
This is the mostintimate of trust levels. This is the deep, one-on-one trust. This kind of trust with individual employees has people thinking “I don’t care what others say, I know what I believe about this boss, and I am very good with it.” Further “I will follow them wherever they want me to go.”
Why would someone be willing to say that? Because the other two levels have been satisfied and now opportunities to deal personally with the person have proven to be reliable and solid. The pattern is there, the details are there, and, even more importantly, the experience is there.
This is why trust cannot be won overnight. It has to be earned. All three levels have to be engaged. You cannot make it to the gold ribbon level of personal trust without first achieving the other two levels.
Think about personal relationships. These same three levels are at work. Anyone who starts dating someone runs the same sequence of steps trying to test for trust. When you are the person wanting to earn someone’s trust, you have to be faithful to build these stages, carefully and thoughtfully.
More relationships crater over breakdowns in trust at one of these three levels. Repeated disappointment is the reason for the eventual failure of any relationship.
We just don’t want to be around people we cannot trust. Certainly not for any meaningful reason.
For team leaders and executives at all levels, I teach a program called Team Trust. In it, we explore ways that teams and their leaders can use a proven, reliable, and repeatable process to build trust, eliminate unneeded distractions, and improve performance.
There are core disciplines that can be deployed to improve team performance by building trust at all levels of the organization.
Starting and running a small business can be a blessing and a curse. The dream can become a nightmare. Yet there can be great rewards too.
There are so many things that can get in the way of running and owning a successful business. You hear people talk about “cash is king” or growing the sales pipeline, closing more deals, making payroll, and creating satisfied customers.
While these are all very significant issues for a business owner there is one thing that is even bigger than all of these put together. Do you have any idea what it may be?
Wait for it…..
Your ego. Yep. Good old fashioned pride.
Let me get straight to the point.
Small Business Owner’s Fear
Letting your pride or ego get in the way can be the exit ramp to disaster. On one hand, entrepreneurs must be fearless. They have to start with a whole lot of courage. For that, I applaud you.
Think about it. You hear stories of people quitting their day job to start a business. That takes guts and sheer willpower.
However, that same dogged determination can become the owner’s death sentence too.
The Paradox of Success
Many years ago I wrote a piece I call the “Paradox of Success.” I got this idea after watching dozens of my banking clients go through similar situations. It goes like this.
For those of you who have actually ventured out to start your own company, you understand the intense effort and tremendous satisfaction you achieve by watching the company grow.
Those first few profit dollars start to roll in. Real profit, free and clear. No debt, no more obligations to pay off, pure, real profit. For all the planning, sweat equity, real equity investment, and down-right hard work, you eventually arrive at the threshold of the very thing you set out to accomplish…. SUCCESS!
Ah, but beware. The very thing you strive so hard to achieve, that is your company’s success, can start the downward spiral to eventual destruction. Perhaps even the infamous “implosion” of the company. That is the phenomenon called the Paradox of Success. In other words, success brings failure. How can that be? Let’s explore the full timeline.
First the Beginnings
As was described, the founder sets out to open his or her own business. Perhaps it is a sole proprietor, maybe “Mom and Pop”. It can even be a couple of good friends who decide to start something together. The actual legal structure does not particularly matter at this point.
The focus is on getting going and having that first order come through the door. Days and weeks go by. The founder(s) perform all the daily chores….everything! Sales, marketing, bookkeeping, systems, purchasing, supplies, advertising, contracts, payables, receivables, answering phones, sweeping floors, cleaning the bathrooms…everything!
Next, business starts to grow. The word is out. Your business has something people want and need. Your service ideas are working very well. Customers like what you have. Word of mouth even starts to grow. You are getting business from sources you had not really thought about at the start.
Finally, the business becomes more than you and your partner can handle. You decide to hire your first employees. This becomes turning point number one. New employees do not bring the same levels of dedication, commitment, and energy you had when you started the business. Your ideas are not their ideas. You must start to train and coach to be sure the new guys on the bus are fully on board.
Moving Further Toward Success
The service levels you created and nurtured must be sustained. The principles on which you founded the business must be reinforced. There needs to be a feedback process and a monitoring mechanism to be sure your values and principles are being followed.
Almost daily you feel the tug of contention for your time. The time spent to make the direct business contacts you enjoyed making at the start must now be juggled with the effort to resolve internal issues. Perhaps you add a few more hours to the week. Certain tensions become more frequent.
With employees present, interpersonal matters start to creep in. Sally doesn’t like Susie. Bob and Ted argue over sports teams and their preference in cars they drive. None of this is contributing the business. The founders become referees. Hostilities can even boil over when customers are present. A lack of leadership or even a momentary lapse of leadership can become significant. Who can handle these things?
Phase Two Begins – Leadership
Then, mid-managers are hired or appointed. Surely the owners can rely upon other seasoned professionals to handle the staff issues and keep the ship sailing. Now a new layer is created.
For all the potential good that can be accomplished here, there comes a trade-off. Again, the founders’ values have to be enforced, promoted, espoused, heralded, and cheered about.
Can the mid-manages carry the same flag? All the while the growth in volume creates a strain on the original infrastructure. Are the same tools and equipment that were used to open the business still effective? Have systems started to suffer? This can include everything from the high end network servers to the staplers.
And more importantly, who is truly watching over these areas. Have the partners brought the right skills on their own to address all the issues? Accountability for all aspects of business growth becomes more meaningful. If cash and checks are being handled, controls must be implemented. Growth across state lines adds to the compliance and regulatory burden. Specialists have to be added to the mix like legal counsel, accountants, IT professionals, etc.
The False Security
The very essentials that can help grow and expand the business become challenges to the owners. Volumes and profits continue to rise. A false sense of security here can be deadly. A failure to admit the changes that are happening underneath and any inability to properly respond to those changes can, at any point hereafter, start the spin downward.
Really this stage represents the first major turning point for the founders. The biggest and most honest question that can be asked is “Am I capable of keeping this going or do I need senior management help?”
All too often ego may enter in and prevent the good hard look at the man (or woman) in the mirror. True Leaders with a solid track record behind them have been the first to ask this question and work with the right answer. And they do it with almost perfect timing.
Yet for the owner suffering a big ego, the right questions never get asked. The talk with the person in the mirror sounds more like this…
“Wow, things seem to be ramping up. You really did it.”
“Yes, I did.”
“It feels different now, but that’s nothing to worry about.”
“Just keep it going. We’ll be fine.”
Then one day the wheels fall off. The big accounts start to go elsewhere. Your pricing gets squeezed and you have no answer. The market shifts out from under you and you missed the warning signs.
Or worse yet, your team abandons you because they hate working with you. The few customers you have left eventually leave because the service is terrible.
It happens in all kinds of business. Every day. The tipping point is where the owner’s ego gets bigger than even the greatest of success.
A Cautionary Tale for Small Business?
Maybe so. But it doesn’t have to be. You can get help. You should get help. Is today the day? Business advisors or coaches can help you make sense of the new levels of growth and prosperity. They can help you see you way to even higher levels of success.
But you have to make the call. Don’t let ego stop you.
My wife said she wanted a new kitchen pantry for her birthday. I like doing what my wife asks. Fortunately for me, ripping out the old pantry and building a new one was something I enjoy doing.
When I was growing up, a neighbor friend was a master craftsman. He had an amazing woodshop that made me get so excited everytime he opened the doors. George was his name.
George took me under his wing and let me apprentice for him for several years. His specialty was building gorgeous custom cabinets that suited just about anything the buyer wanted to do.
Back then, music systems came in huge component pieces. Turntables, tape decks, amplifiers and tuners all needed a cabinet to fit into. Great speakers came in big boxes. George made amazing cabinets out of mahogany, maple and other exotic woods. The custom cabinets George built were features in various celebrity homes in the area; golfers, singers and other entertainers.
It was so much fun to go with George on a delivery. I never knew who I might meet.
He taught me how to work with all of the tools and build solid, dependable joints for cabinets. I learned his ways of measuring and designing very nice cabinets.
All of my adult life I’ve treasured the special tools I have found. I love having a project to do. It serves as my outlet for decompressing and restoring my spirit.
Every time I start a project and as I am working through it, I think of ‘George-isms’. While his teachings were specific to woodworking, they also represented great learning for leaders.
Under George’s tutoring he taught many many concepts. As I’ve gotten older and wiser (I hope), it strikes me that these sayings have a broader fit for life lessons and leadership theory too.
Here are some of the ones I like best.
Use the right tool for the right job. Per George, if you don’t you will either hurt the tool, hurt the material, or hurt yourself.
If you’ve ever tried home fix-it projects, it’s tempting to grab the screwdriver to pry something apart. Screwdrivers aren’t made to be pry bars. Usually, they bend first.
The pressure of the prying can warp the shaft of the screwdriver, making your next attempt to actually drive a screw next to impossible.
Leaders make mistakes by assigning tasks to the wrong people. Use the wrong person for a job and you will either hurt the project or hurt the person, maybe both.
You can set people up to fail. A leader needs to watch for moments when an unintentional decision can lead to unexpected damage.
Measure twice, cut once. This may be the most famous of all carpentry sayings. It was not a George original, but nonetheless one very important lesson. If the two measurements aren’t the same, you need a third one to verify.
In the woodshop, materials can be expensive. One wrong cut and you’ve ruined a piece of wood. There is no making a piece longer once it gets cut. On the other hand, cutting too long creates a waste of time.
Delivery of finished projects always had time constraints. Wasting time on extra cuts burned the schedule.
As a leader, you need to check your facts before making a decision. Get extra data just like the second or third measurement.
Save time in the long run by being more accurate with your information. Don’t waste people’s time and resources re-doing a process.
Don’t work tired. George had a day job. So his cabinetry happened during off-hours, nights, and weekends. On occasion, he would go into the shop to unwind. But if he was too tired or mentally fatigued from his day, it was not a good idea.
The inability to focus and pay good attention could cause problems like messing up materials or hurting yourself. Not to be too morose, but George was missing the last digit on one pinky finger. Years prior he admitted losing focus and allowing his hand to get too close to a saw blade.
He claimed to be thankful it wasn’t a more severe injury. But he used it to remind me of potential dangers if you don’t respect the work area.
Leaders getting too tired can lose focus also. Take care of yourself. Find rest. Stay healthy. You can hurt someone or hurt yourself.
Lastly, mind your temper. I saw George ‘lose it’ a few times. As much as I loved the man, he had his occasional moments of throwing his temper. Never at me mind you, but if something didn’t go right, he could have a fit.
A wood shop with a larger array of power-tools is not a good place to have a temper. (Not that anyplace is good to have a temper). Things have sharp edges and heavy weights. Slamming, throwing, or flinging things is just not cool.
George was remorseful at my witnessing such outbursts. And we would talk about the circumstances.
Leaders and business owners need to mind their temper at all times. Nothing is more demoralizing to a staff than seeing the boss lose it. In most business settings I’ve ever known, there is no clawing it back once it is unleashed.
Think about these 4 basic ideas. See how they fit into your leadership framework. If you’ve never considered one of them, try it out.
Oh, and here’s a bonus message I learned later. Not a George-ism but could be.
This week’s meeting with a client reminded me of something so fundamental in running any size of business.
Don’t forget your vision.
John Maxwell says the best definition of a leader is “A leader sees more than the people around them and they see it before the people around them.” That, my friend, is vision.
First the Entrepreneur
If you are an entrepreneur and small business owner, the vision can get lost in the details. Especially if you’ve begun to scale your company.
Time and growth have ways of distracting from the vision.
As your baby begins to grow, you may lose sight of the original vision that got you started. Daily responsibilities, putting out fires, and keeping your head down in the details frequently leads to loosing touch with the original design and inspiration you had.
On one hand, it sounds too obvious. Well of course I know my vision. Do you? Or has the collection of all the noise drown it out?
As decisions compound with company growth, the vision needs to get updated and at least refreshed to reflect what has happened.
It Happens in Bigger Business Too
For managers and executives in larger businesses, too often you never created your vision goal for your team. Sure you have objectives and deliverables but does that line up with a bigger picture vision of your part of the company.
When I meet new clients inside the bigger corporate settings, I always ask whether they have a vision for their unit. It is surprising how many say “Well, no. I’m here to do what the company tells me to do.”
I encourage them to formulate their own vision for their slice of the pie. Get it approved/aligned with their boss. But then run with that vision.
For some, vision sounds too fluffy. It’s not tangible enough. OK fine, make it tangible. Set metrics, KPI, and expectations.
Part of having a successful vision is letting your team know what you think a ‘win’ looks like. Let them share in the vision.
Then spend time teaching and sharing the vision so your team can rally around it.
Periodically you will need to revisit the vision, make adjustments based on real facts and circumstances. Don’t forget about doing that.
Set your course, cast the vision and never lose sight of it.
If you’ve done something lately with your vision, leave a comment.