Eight Lessons in Leadership
"I'm going to learn how to kick butt, then come back and try it out on all of you."
My boss, Tom, said this as he was headed into a management training session at the Midwestern University’s hospitals and clinics where we both worked. His comment has stayed with me for more than 35 years and was an early indication that I would not be making a career of working with Tom.
One day, while using a new lab instrument, a scanning spectrophotometer, I noticed the lab procedure recorded the wavelength reading at the shoulder of the analysis curve instead of at its peak. That didn’t make sense so I asked Tom why.
Hire the best and the brightest. Train and develop personnel. People stay where they are appreciated and can grow
Tom’s research found a typographical error had been made. Two numbers were reversed. The reading should have been at the peak. Tom took the credit for finding the error, instead of sharing a bit of praise with me.
Leadership Lesson Number 1:
Give credit and recognize folks for their contributions if you want to keep them engaged and retained.
Leaving Tom’s management style was an easy decision, and I took a job for a heavy-equipment manufacturer. Here, a direct report named Bob taught me the most about leading people during this part of my career. Bob was highly regarded at the company as a subject matter expert. Bob’s credentials gave him the ability to say things others were afraid to voice.
On one occasion, when I was nervous about the “big guys” from corporate coming to our manufacturing plant, Bob said, “Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time,” providing yet another insight into leadership.
Leadership Lesson Number 2:
We are all human beings, regardless of position. No one is any better than another because of their role at the company. Everyone deserves respect and enjoys conversation.
Months later, while rehearsing for an important meeting, Bob shared great advice on making a business case.
“You can baffle them with your bullshit or dazzle them with your brilliance.” I translated this into another leadership lesson.
Leadership Lesson Number 3:
Keep the message short and simple. Sure, it's more difficult to eliminate trade lingo and acronyms, but the results are worth the effort.
In the late ‘80s, I joined a specialty chemical company in St. Louis.
How often have your heard the words “they did it” or “they weren't thinking when they came up with that!”
This become apparent to me while facilitating a team meeting during which our group had quite a debate over a marketing campaign. That robust debate generated a key learning: Decision-making power was within the team, not held by upper management. One member stated, “They” is “Us!”
Leadership Lesson Number 4:
Take accountability. You can influence, be a part of decisions and lead whatever your role.
Why are Enterprise Resource Planning system implementations so difficult?
Aubrey Daniels, author, speaker and generally known as the “father of performance management” would say change is painful when there are too many NIC (negative, immediate, certain) feelings connected to an experience. An example of a NIC is the reaction you have when you touch a hot stove. It hurts! You don’t want to do that again. When implementing change, we need to have PIC (positive, immediate, certain) ways of rewarding users of the new systems. An example of a PIC is the feeling you get by reaching the next level of a videogame.
In Daniels’ book, Bringing Out the Best in People, he says it’s all about tapping into the discretionary effort of your people. The way to do this is build PICs into every new software application or change initiative.
Leadership Lesson Number 5:
Don't expect behaviors to change if there are too many NICs and no PICs.
My next lesson was compliments of an international law firm I joined in the late 1990s.
“If you train them, they'll leave.”
This was a direct report’s response when I asked him about IT personnel training and development during my first week.
I responded, “What if you don't train them and they stay?”
Leadership Lesson Number 6:
Hire the best and the brightest. Train and develop personnel. People stay where they are appreciated and can grow.
As I was leaving to catch a flight to our firm’s D.C. office one day, my boss asked me to prepare a presentation for him to deliver to the partnership the following afternoon. He had known about this presentation for days, may be weeks.
Not having the benefit of the internet in 1997, I prepared a presentation on hotel stationery and faxed it to my boss at 3 a.m. After a couple hours of sleep, I headed into work, exhausted and pretty upset with my boss's lack of planning.
Leadership Lesson Number 7:
Don't expect someone to do something you would not do.
In late 2004, I moved from the law firm to a mining and metals company, The Doe Run Company.
Doe Run traces its roots back more than 150 years in Missouri where it mines lead, copper and zinc, and recycles 13 million lead batteries each year.
How do you lead operational IT initiatives when you aren’t a mining or metals engineer? After years of career experience, I’ve learned that you have to listen, gain trust and genuinely care before an initiative can flourish in an organization with more than a century of successful operations.
Leadership Lesson Number 8:
“The truth is that most people don't care about how much you know – until they know how much you care”. Granville Toogood, The New Articulate Executive.
This brings us back to my first boss, Tom, and his comment about “kicking butt”. We each demonstrate leadership – or a lack thereof – in both the big and small things we do. So watch out, someone just might be listening!