Leadership Personalized

The guy I work for has a surprising ability to ask deep, unexpected questions. I’d sell him short if I called him a crap-cutter, but that’s really what he does better than just about anyone I know. I’m sure he ticks a lot of people off–bluntness and crap-cutting being such an unappreciated skill these days. Personally, I believe he saves a great deal of time and emotional energy, and his approach gets me home earlier.

Last week, our group was going through a leadership book. If one were to believe the author, all humanity shall die a hundred deaths quite soon if we (our group) does not (all of us) get very serious about developing leaders, and not much else. The real leader in our group pointed out that while it’s my job to develop leaders, other people have other things for which he is paying them – revenue generation or financial management, boring stuff like that, you see.

I was thrilled, of course, to be the ONLY ONE CHOSEN to do the fun stuff. Kisses from heaven, thank you very much.

Anyway, he cut through all that crap and asked each of us to spell it out on paper. “It” being to personalize our view of our leadership in the company. And a week later, all those kisses have turned to bad breath. You’d think “it” would be easy but it’s not.

For one thing, I have lot to think through before I commit. What if I marry this thing and we don’t like each other later? Can’t we sleep together and play house for a few months, first? (smile)

No? Not consistent with my proclaimed faith, you snicker? (Well, aren’t you the judgey one?)

OK, here goes:

Develop leaders, one-at-a-time. I feel like I’m the one most responsible for creating a highly functioning leadership culture at Strong Electric. That happens slowly and gradually. To flesh it out a bit, I’m seeing three, overlapping domains of responsibility:

  • the discipline of leadership development;what I do
  • executive coaching; and
  • measures

Stay aware of current research and best practices in the overlapping areas of leadership and development. Know about adult learning, motivation, and habit-forming. Regarding leadership as a discipline means thinking of it less as an innate quality and more as a set of skills that anyone may develop over time.

People are motivated by what they want. To find what someone wants, use executive coaching, which includes skills like building rapport, listening, asking powerful questions, and action planning.

Measurement helps employees and their supervisors engage at work. Good measurements tell us what a person is paid to do and the level at which someone gets what they paid for. Measurement takes much of the guesswork out of performance evaluations, leading to deeper engagement. Engaged people develop their leadership (or any) skills more quickly.

One might call this being the people guy, and in the sense that helps people engage at work, and in the sense that engagement leads to greater happiness, being the people guy is a wonderful thing. Most disengagement results from weak leadership—so develop leaders one at a time.

Thank you for commenting below.

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The fog means slow down or go home.

It was foggy on my way to the office this morning. Most of the people on the highway drove more cautiously than usual. Perhaps that spread them out, but it seemed there were fewer drivers than usual today. I guess the fog means slow down or go home, and it occurs to me that the same is true in work, school, sports, church, and relationships. Though I’m sure most of the people on the road knew their route well, fog brings up caution in reasonable folks. Fog reduces vision–it offers a good reason for some people to just stay home until it clears.

Vision is wonderful on the highway, and even more wonderful in other areas of life. Skill to see ahead helps everything grow whether we’re talking about a relationship, career, health, family, finances, education, or church—where there is no vision, the people perish.

I drove through the fog to attend a meeting. At one point in our conversations, we exposed a gap where the vision for our company seems fogbound. (Strong Electric envisions becoming the preferred electrical construction company based on client satisfaction.) It felt, to me, like a few people were foggy on being preferred.

It might not be that they lacked vision. It might just be that their vision was different than ours, which is certainly their choice to make in a free republic. Perhaps our vision requires better, clearer, or more frequent communication than these free thinkers received (though preferred seems pretty dang clear to me). Perhaps they’re stubborn, not realizing that the employer/leader gets to set the vision, in which case they need instruction. Maybe they’re slow of mind and need a simpler job. Or, perhaps their vision fogs up on anything beyond their own paycheck and, thus, it competes with the corporate vision–selfishness is highly competitive, is it not? In the latter case, they’d be better served to just stay home.

Remembering a favorite term of mine—dating back to my days as a pledge trainer (yes!)—perhaps it’s time for a “come to Jesus meeting.” Jesus stated his vision often, and never hesitated to send away people content with wandering in fog. Yes, he was gentle and kind, but also firmly in control of his vision that he was headed to a cross to die and be resurrected to reunite humanity with God. Anyone bucking his vision was sent away.

Coming to Jesus means getting on board with the vision to make it happen. Our company does not promise hundred-fold increase in this life and eternal life in the next; we just envision being the preferred electrical construction company. People who will propel us toward the vision can stay. Those who prefer fog, can fog up some other company.

Posted in Everything is Ethics

How’d you like a free week?

I’m on the Communications Team at work. We have an email problem—maybe you do too. It’s like a virus that we haven’t been able to shake. One way it manifests is by people defaulting to Reply All.

Every day, the Communications Team works with the goal of making Strong Electric . . . stronger. We want to constantly improve the way we help our people get stuff done using clearer, more sensible communication.

Strong leaders communicate better than weak ones. Here’s a proven communication tip that will build up your communication power and give you a free week. Not kidding.

When answering email make “Reply” your default, NOT “Reply All”

Ever get a reply that was not meant for you? We all have, and it wastes time—maybe 15 seconds to look at it and hit delete. Not a big deal, right?


If you get 27 unnecessary emails a day—that’s how many I received on average each day for the last three weeks—that’s over 40 wasted hours every year. What?!? Yep—wasted week.

Want a free week? Stop hitting Reply All unless it’s absolutely necessary or the sender asks you to do so. Together, we grow stronger.

Comment below.

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3 Reasons Why You Hate Annual Reviews

If you’re the rare worker who looks forward to performance reviews, congratulations. By my experience, you are more rare than a happy postal worker. I have had five annual reviews toward which I looked forward like a Thanksgiving meal, and many dozen more toward which I felt like a man walking a plank. Three things I hate, and three simple adjustments make the switch from common bad to rare good.

1. If it’s ANNUAL, make it QUARTERLY. Most people need feedback more than once a year. Imagine telling your daughter that you celebrate her existence once a year. That’s like saying, “Happy Birthday, Cinderella. Go get the mop!” The Grimms and Dickens wrote sad novels about infrequent feedback and utter lack of appreciation. Dale Carnegie made a fortune teaching in opposition to same.

A friend once told me that her previous employer used her annual review for an expository sermon on everything she’d done wrong for a year. I had a similar experience once, so I knew her frustration. It felt like being told today what I must change yesterday, which until we get that time machine working, remains impossible. And stupid–talk about sucking the wind out of the sails.

If you employ humans, they need more consistent feedback. When people start a job, they need a half hour conversation a month in: 30 minutes at 30 days. Ten minutes telling them what they need to know, 10 minutes hear from them what you need to know, and 10 minutes to plan the next two months.

Let me be less than gentle. If you’re so busy that you cannot spare 1/2 hour to invest in your most valuable asset–people–then you’re a lousy manager. Get help.

After that first session, meet for an hour or less after another 60 days, and thereafter quarterly. An annual review is fine for an overview of strategy or vision, and quarterly course corrections offer enough feedback to keep people going.

2. If it’s MYSTERIOUS, make it OBVIOUS. Most annual reviews have a funeralistic feeling–no one really wants to be there, and no one really knows what’s about to happen. Is Aunt Phyllis going into convulsive grief again? Is Uncle Joe drunk again? Will the minister make any sense at all? Most of my experience in annual reviews (and most of those reported to me), it seemed like the manager didn’t really know what to say. The direct report picked up on that mystery and likewise, didn’t know how to respond. It’s as awkward as a middle school dance.

Fix it with an agenda. That’s a nice way of saying do your dang work ahead of time. List exactly what you want to talk about and give the list to your direct report. Work is not a mystery novel. Get to the point, don’t pull punches, don’t hide praise or challenges. And above all, don’t make the poor guy wait for it.

3. If it’s OPINIONATED, make it FACTUAL. The worst annual review I ever experienced was conducted by a complete nitwit who told me, “Jack, everyone really likes you around here. Keep up the good work.” That. Was. It.

Pure subjective blather–two minutes telling me I’d won a popularity contest. Nothing about my career path, which is a supervisor’s job to help me map out. Nothing about salary adjustments, which are typically (wrongly) distributed on an annual basis like Halloween candy. (Want to motivate people, adjust pay whenever their work merits it.) Nothing to give any indication that my work was being reviewed. Why on earth would one think the title of the meeting had any resemblance to its content? I left feeling, well, praying really, for a new job.

Look over your direct report’s job description and create objective ways to measure their work. For an extra bonus, get them in on developing measurements. Then talk about those when you meet. Objectivity is your friend if you actually want to accomplish something.

Want to make your people glad they work for you? Show people a path to success that makes sense, and show them often.

Please comment below.

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Leadership Books – Jack Welch’s “Winning”

I recently finished Winning, by Jack Welch. Far from the “Hatchet Jack” I remember hearing about in the 80s, this guy is solid. His transparency and integrity are refreshing. I’ve enjoyed the book – it’s one of the few books I’ve read that connects values to behaviors.

Your company probably has some sort of core values statement–even Enron had a core values statement. They claimed to value communication, respect, integrity, and excellence but their behaviors reflected concealment, contempt, corruption, and weakness. In hindsight, Enron’s corporate culture rewarded something quite the opposite of the normal behaviors associated with its values. Does your corporate culture reward the right behaviors or are you unable to clearly state what those values mean day to day?

At Strong Electric, our core values are Attitude, Candor, Quality, Integrity, Relationships, and Excellence. We mean them to mean the common sense positive attributes of which one would normally think when pondering fine words.

Our behavioral list is common sense and not written down, which I think is kind of an oversight on our part. As a result of reading Welch, I’m writing the behaviors down and creating a way to measure a person’s observed behavior against the ideals. We all know that what gets measured gets done. We also know that a company with integrity will reward what gets measured and done.

I’d love your thoughts on how behaviors reflect values (please comment below). I’d also love to know which leadership books made the greatest impact on you and why.

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STRONG Leadership Development

I’ve joined a group with three others to develop our leadership skills. We’re working through John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership. Next, we’ll asses our leadership level (1-5, maybe 1-4; or, for me 1-2?). During the next few months, we’ll refine our process, and then unleash a spectacular leadership development program on the Strong Electric team. To say I am looking forward to it would understate my feelings magnificently.

I believe that developing people into better leaders is the most important thing we can do to help them find happiness. At least, it’s the only thing I’ve seen work consistently.

Maxwell’s levels offer easily understood measurements–even I understand 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Our process for this endeavor is based on an acrostic: STRONG = Select, Test, Realign, Observe, Nominate, Get (the reward). Nice, right?

Select leaders to develop in small cohorts (maybe 6-12?). Selection committee includes established leaders.

Test for areas to improve leadership behaviors and skills. Measure behaviors against company values–the ACQuIRE benchmarks–and Maxwell Leadership Assessment.

Realign behaviors to leadership ideals. 1) Address challenges. 2) Train to attain the next level. 3) Check progress quarterly.

Observe behavior and offer feedback from cohorts, supervisors, and Director.

Nominate emerging leaders for the next class.

Get the reward! 1) High level leaders report rewards like greater happiness, more meaningful lives, increased financial independence, more control of time and emotions, and healthier relationships. 2) Graduates at each level get to spend an hour with the company owner reviewing their achievements and future plans. 3) Grads also get recognition in the company newsletter and other media. 4) We’ll have a graduation celebration that includes family and senior leaders. 5) Level 5 graduates get rewarded with “something big involving the company plane;” something worth the energy to get up the level 5 hill.

This ought to be an interesting few years. In coming weeks, I will let out news on the program and how it’s going. Comments welcome below.

Posted in Everything is Ethics

Commenters, trolls, and whistle-blowers

The Internet invites us to talk it out, hash it out, yell it out, or at least to write it out. The air welcomes and absorbs our opinions. It advances ideas and confidence, and–too often–insecurity and weakness.

Perhaps you see these three as you browse the endless stream of Interwebian communication: Commenters, Trolls, and Whistle Blowers.

  • Commenters move the conversation forward. They put their name on their thoughts and allow others to write back. They’re interested in reasonable conversations, what ifs, and critical thinking without the critical spirit. They ask why and why not. Generally, they are positive, encouraging, helpful, and always civil. Even in disagreement, they fail at disagreeableness.
  • Trolls are antitheses of commenters. Trolls, like their namesake, hide in the darkness beneath the bridge. That is, behind the anonymity of screen-names and distance. Rather than move things along, they highjack conversations. They generally lack the courage to write something original preferring instead the self-importance of the crusty critic at the corner of the bar. They throw mud and run. They often have repulsive manners, broken relationships, foul hygiene, and sallow skin. Unless of course they have become food critics or sportswriters in which case, they also posses jaundiced livers and liquid courage. They are the person at the party you wish to avoid.
  • Whistle blowers possess courage. They make America greater. They see what we all see: lying, cheating, stealing (and tolerance of lying, cheating, and stealing), but they speak up. They ask hard questions and pursue truthful answers. They gather facts, and withhold judgment until the truth comes out. Few of us rise to their stature. They are often mistreated. The world does not deserve them, but I, for one, hope their tribe increases.

Blog writers may be any of the three. When one posts a response to a blog, he or she may also fall into any of the three categories. I have occupied all three places and confess shame to the point of vowing never again to troll. I will, however, pray carefully before blowing another whistle (that pain lingers) and comment with as much grace as I can find before clicking “submit”.

It is because trolls exist that I monitor comments to my blog. I can, and have, learned from people at so many stations of life that I believe I can learn something from anyone. Feedback in the form of constructive wisdom that corrects my wrongheaded meandering is a flying star. Mulish belligerence is a manure plop, and, God willing, the poor, sad trolls will starve if no one feeds them.

If you work in a place where people tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing, I wish it were different. Perhaps God will send you a life boat out of there. Perhaps you will take to the airwaves to blow the whistle loudly. You have my respect either way.

Comments welcome.

Posted in Everything is Ethics