Play Your Role

This one will be a short one, but I think the lesson is big. I heard an interview with Luke Walton recently, where he was describing the mindset of a talented athlete. Athletes who make it to the professional level in any sport, and end up playing on an international stage, have to manage the ego that success creates. And I can equate some of this dilemma to the journey of an emerging leader.

As success is achieved, the star athlete (and the emerging leader) has two choices…

“I’m the greatest thing there is, and it’s all about me”, or…

“I have talent, but I’m surrounded by others who also have talent. Wow, if we work together we can be unstoppable.”

Walton was an All-American at Arizona, and was a huge part of Arizona’s success in the early 2000s. Bleacher Report calls him “the most versatile player in Wildcats history”. That success led him to the NBA. Walton played with the Lakers during two National Championship seasons (2009 and 2010) playing next to some other incredible athletes, including Kobe Bryant.

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He’s in the team picture as part of the championship group. But do an image search for “2009-2010 Lakers” and you won’t see him in many of the pictures that show up. He wasn’t one of the main guys to get a lot of the glory.

Yet, he and his coaches attribute the success of that team to each of the players committing to play the role the team needed them to play. Several guys on that team had the individual talent to make it all about themselves. But by playing together, they won championships.

And every year, another round of athletes joins the pro ranks with the same two choices.

The leader has the same opportunity. Collaborate with other leaders around you, play off each others’ strengths, and together you can accomplish much greater results than any of you could alone.

The one thing I’ll add that Luke Walton didn’t is this. When you experience success, make sure you push other people on your team, especially those who were a part of the supporting cast, into the spotlight to share in the credit. That’s one thing that business and sports don’t always get right. But you will get massive joy from sharing the credit with others, and they’ll join you in any adventure you come up with down the road because of it.

 

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Be Approachable…

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I realized that most of the advice I’ve passed along through my experiences has come from the positive stories, for the most part. So today’s Simple Advice comes from a recent experience I may not have been able to change, but one where I could have done things differently as a leader in the past, for sure. So I hope you can learn from my mistake on this one.

As you grow in your leadership role, it won’t take long until you’re faced with someone putting in their notice to leave the company. This month, we lost two team members who had been with us for over 3 years. As a leader, you hate losing anyone, but it’s especially painful to lose someone who you’ve invested in for several years.

Multiply that by two for this story.

Today’s advice is this…

Do everything you can to ensure your followers know you are always approachable and will allow them to be honest with you about anything in their professional situation.

Back to the story…

These guys resigned to go into business for themselves and build a company. This fact alone brings a few different emotions. As a leader, I hope I had some impact on their development that will prepare them for success as business owners.

That’s the positive emotion.

But…

As I thought about it later the day they resigned, I asked myself what could I have done differently to make them feel they could have come to me earlier, without fear of consequence, and let me know this was in their plans.

Because the rough part of losing someone (much less two people) is the time it takes to hire and train a replacement. And a two week notice just doesn’t give you the time.

So what can you do day to day, to create this environment of trust?

First, that trust goes both ways so your team has to know you trust them. If you’ve demonstrated a lack of trust in any of them, you can forget about them being honest with you in a situation like this.

Second, tell them it’s OK.

Really.

Tell them you want them to come to you if they’re ever thinking about leaving.

If it’s to go into business for themselves, you have an opportunity to do what few leaders will do…help them transition for success. And they just might help you find and train their replacement.

If it’s that they’re unhappy in their current position, or that they don’t see a clear path to the next opportunity, the fact that they can come to you and be honest gives you the chance to help solve that problem for them. If you can help them be successful within the organization, everyone wins. They get a role that fits them better, and you don’t have to lose someone who has value in the organization.

Now, some more honesty. It’s a little naive to believe that everyone in your care will be willing to come to you and open up, even if you’ve done all this well. Some people will never be comfortable taking a risk and opening up about a possible career move.

But this Simple Advice isn’t for them, it’s for you. Whether or not everyone on your team will take you up on it, it’s still important for you to provide that environment. And to let them know it’s real. You can control that, even if they don’t take you up on it.

I hope you never have to experience losing a high quality team member, especially if there’s something you could have done differently to prevent it. But as you advance as a leader it will be likely to happen. So before you’re faced with that situation, extend trust to your team, and be trustworthy with the little things so they’ll know you can be trusted with something much bigger.

The Person You Want to Be – Part 2: Alan Mulally – CEO of Ford Motor Company

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If part 1 of The Person You Want to Be had a theme, it was servant leadership. Ray Conner modeled the traits of a servant leader as well as anyone I’ve studied. And his successes prove that serving others, having compassion for those in your care, and working hard to provide each of them an opportunity to grow can help a leader climb to the top of even the largest organizations.

Part 2 is an epic turn-around story. And at the center of the story is the theme for today’s Simple Advice: Positive leadership. Alan Mulally led Ford Motor Company through what many analysts call the most impressive turn around in business history. And he did it in the middle of the worst economy since the Great Depression. How? With laser focus and clarity, and with a positivity that was contagious.

Alan Mulally was well-known for leading the turn-around at Boeing in the early 2000s. It’s what put him at the top of the list when Ford was looking for the right leader to do the same thing. When Ford brought Mulally in as the new CEO, the company was losing billions of dollars a year. Most people close to the situation, both inside and outside the organization, felt like he was the only option, and the last hope the Ford family had to save the company and their legacy as an American icon.

To make a 400 page story very short, Mulally was hired and given the reigns along with the full support of the board of directors and the Ford family. Basically the message was “you did it at Boeing, do it here too please”.

And he did it.

Full turn around in 3 years.

From losing billions of dollars a year (I believe the low point was $13Billion in one year) to a nearly $3Billion profit.

In 3 years.

Thousands of employees, a team of leaders entrenched in old habits, and a failing company with all the world’s eyes looking in on every financial detail.

And one shot to get it right.

Let that all sink in, and then add in the mix that he did this as the country and the automotive industry entered the worst economy since the Great Depression. Sales of new cars dropped off the face of the earth. Consumer confidence was at rock bottom. And he led the leadership and team members at Ford through it all with a positivity that had to be inspiring to everyone around him. It was for me, just following the story.

The simple advice extracted from this story is that a positive leadership style can help you lead your organization through change, uncertainty, or sheer chaos. For Mulally, there were a few things he brought to the table that helped him lead Ford through this tough time…

a clear vision,

a detailed plan,

a very necessary and effective meeting rhythm,

and the focus to stick to it all, no matter what was thrown at him,

…but positivity is what held it together. And that’s key for any new leader as you guide your team through a tough situation.

The other thing he did well that was sort of glossed over in the book was something that I also believe is crucial during times of change. He remained visible and accessible to the people. Times were tough for shareholders and the Ford family, but they were even tougher for the working class employees of Ford. There were layoffs and union negotiations and major restructuring. Ford dropped everything from the automobile lineup but Ford and Lincoln, cutting entire divisions and closing entire facilities. But he remained accessible and was never too important or too busy to talk to the people who continued to work hard for him through the changes. And that takes an entirely different level of positivity and courage.

I recommend the book (click the link above), because my little short story here doesn’t do it justice, but there’s enough here to lean on in times of change, as you lead your team with positivity and clarity that will help them want to follow you.

 

The Person You Want to Be – Part 1: Ray Conner – Boeing Vice Chairman

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Having over 20 years of leadership experience, I love to tell stories of my success and the successes of those who have impacted me. But when I reflect on those stories, there is always conflict. And it’s the conflict that makes a good story great.

Today’s Simple Advice is Part 1 of 2. The theme of these two stories is to focus on being the person/leader you want to be, and that will lead you to the work you want to do. The conflict faced by the leaders in these two stories tested them to the core, and presented challenges that would break anyone without the fierce focus on exactly what kind of leader each one wanted to be. Enjoy.

Ray Conner – Vice Chairman of Boeing

A light bulb went off while I was listening to an interview with Boeing Vice Chairman Ray Conner recently. He told the story of his journey from the shop floor to the top office and what factors he believes contributed to his success.

He credits having a sharp focus on the kind of person he wanted to be, and letting that lead to whatever kind of work he ended up doing. The kind of person he knew he wanted to be from day one was a servant leader. He focused everything on being that kind of person and it led to upward moves, one after another, throughout the organization.

He literally went from working on airplanes as a mechanic for Boeing to holding one of the top offices in the entire organization (a $100 billion company).

In hearing Conner tell his story, the real light bulb for me was from a specific point in his journey, overcoming a massive point of conflict. He had to lead his company through some very tough negotiations with suppliers and unions, and either outcome was going to hurt the company and its people. The company had to restructure its pension plan and agreements with the workers’ unions, or move jobs oversees.

Conflict reveals a leader’s true character. Conner says this about his focus through that conflict:

“I wanted the keep the jobs here, in Seattle. That was the most important thing. That was the best outcome for everyone. I knew it was going to be tough. I even got emails from people saying they hoped I died of cancer. I answered every email personally, with the answer I believed was the best solution for everyone.”

A leader who doesn’t value serving others isn’t going to sit there until all hours of the night and on weekends and answer emails from people wishing him death.

But he never changed his approach, and stayed true to the person he wanted to be from the very start. And he credits his entire success to that fact, all the way through his story.

Conner’s story appeals to me because my journey mirrors his in so many ways. I started my financial career on the teller line at a bank while I was in college and ultimately worked my way up to senior management before going into consulting. In my current roles, I am near or at the top of the organizations and my focus continues to be “what can I do to help others succeed?”.

But even before this story played out professionally, I found early on that I tended to elevate to leadership roles in most groups or organizations I joined.

In high school, I was voted into a group called Teens Need Teens. The school administration polled the entire school basically asking “who you go to if you need to lean on someone?”, and “who has helped you most while you’ve been at Parkview?”. I was one of the eight students appointed to that group, one of two sophomores and the other six were seniors.

In sports, I excelled and was typically one of the team captains, but it wasn’t because I was a good player, it was because I was focused on helping the younger team members develop and feel like they were a part of the team.

But professionally, my story took it’s biggest positive turn shortly after the single largest conflict I had ever faced. Those who know my story know I lost a job in right in the middle of the financial crisis and economic downturn almost a decade ago. But just like Ray Conner, I focused intently on serving others during that time, placing that before “I need to get a job”.

As a result of that focus, my consulting business was born, along with a mentoring ministry that ultimately led to bringing The Mentoring Project to Memphis and launching Virtue Quest Mentoring through a joint effort with Heartsong Church and the Memphis Grizzlies. Had I focused on anything else other than serving others during that time, none of this would have happened. I can’t even stand to think “what if”.

I hope the story of Ray Conner (listen to the interview here) mixed in with some of my story can help you as you begin or further your leadership journey. Through the good times and the conflicts, have a laser sharp focus on the kind of person you want to be, and let that lead you as you influence those in your care. Stay tuned for part 2, the story of Alan Mulally and his masterful leadership at Ford.

 

 

4 Leadership Principles that Really Work

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GUEST POST BY JERRY BAKER – BUILDING CHAMPIONS – COACHING BUSINESS AND LIFE ON PURPOSE

From Kevin: This is the first guest post I’ve done on Simple Advice for the New Leader. I have written a lot about how a great leader is always learning. The coaches and mentors at Building Champions are a solid source for me as I continue to learn and grow, and this post from one of their coaches caught my attention, mostly for its simple but solid message. I also happen to agree with his thoughts on Ryan Holiday’s article. Enjoy and let me know your thoughts.

From Jerry Baker:

We receive so many messages through email, text messaging and social media that it can be overwhelming — but some of them are really good.

For instance, someone recently forwarded me an article by Ryan Holiday (author of books such as “Ego is the Enemy and “The Obstacle Is the Way”). It was called “38 Leadership Principles for The Greatest Business, Military, Political and Sports Leaders.” It’s a good read, and I recommend checking out the whole piece when you have time.

All 38 of the principles Holiday shared are great, but a few of them really resonated with me. Here are those that I’d like to emphasize from many years as a coach and leader.

A Leader is a Learner

A leader should always be pushing to learn more about their job, their company, their industry and other topics to improve their leadership and results.

Back in my twenties, I worked for an aircraft company, and I got interested in building aircraft out of titanium. It was then a new, exotic metal, and I discovered a wealth of information about fabricating and assembling an aircraft from titanium at the Battelle Memorial Institute. That knowledge elevated me in the company. I’ve continued to practice the strategy of continuous learning all my career, even now.

I urge you to keep current and expose yourself to out-of-the-box, uncommon and new ideas. They may help set you apart in your career.

A Leader Does the Right Thing, Even if it Holds Them Back

As a leader, sometimes doing what’s right can hurt — but that shouldn’t keep you from taking the high road.

Many years ago, U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. spoke to a gathering of our management and corporate teams, and he shared two main principles that have stuck with me: always do what’s right, and keep moving forward.

I’ve done my best to stay true to those two principles because like General Schwarzkopf and many leaders, I believe that integrity is critical.

How can people follow you if they can’t trust what you say is honest and consistent with how you go about your job?  And, if you don’t do what you say you will do, why should anyone follow?

A Leader is Humble

A leader recognizes that they get things done with and through others.

When you listen to others on your team, they will learn to trust you. I see far too much ego in some leaders; they make everything about them rather than about the team.

Real success is achieved by helping others get what they want in work and life. Set your ego aside and achieve better results by leading others to reach a common goal.

A Leader Thinks Long-Term

As a leader, you must keep one eye on the present, on what matters now. But you also need to focus the other eye on what’s next, and what will help get you there.

This probably means you need to get better at delegating, and at creating room in your day and on your calendar, so that you can spend time thinking long-term. Where are you headed, what will it take to get you there and what adjustments or changes are required? Thinking ahead more will help you get there.

What This Means For You

Those aren’t the only principles that a leader should follow, but following them will undoubtedly make you a better leader. I hope this list showed you where your leadership is thriving and where you’d like to improve.