Leadership in an Era of Followers
Have you ever consider the cause and effect of great leadership? A great leader can rally the troops with a motivational speech, but I wonder why it comes to this? Why is it that so many people don’t have the drive or wherewithal to lead so they follow? I believe the greatest principles one can learn, to help answer these questions is Discipline. I know that many of my most challenging times of my life have been when I lacked restraint or self-control and failed to follow the leadership that surrounded me at those times. Not everyone wants to lead, however if you do and you must surround yourself with other top notch leaders. Then you will see your objectives and goals crushed on the way to the top.
Not everyone is cut from the same cloth and each person has their own story but just take a few minutes to understand this story from my eyes, the eyes of a leader. I was born in Newark, Delaware and the first 8 years of my life I lived in a makeshift 2 bedroom house with my parents and my younger sister. My parents made extraordinary sacrifices so that my sister and I could go to private school and have the opportunity to grow and become successful in life. This is just the beginning of the journey that I have set out to conquer. As I continue to grow older I hope I can continue to look back and say you could have done this different, you failed, and you didn’t give up. You learned from those mistakes and came out the other side a better leader.
I learned work ethic from my parents at my earliest age and too this day they are two of the hardest working and most dedicated people I know. This stuck out to me and from my youth I have had a switch that I can turn on when I am passionate about something. I won’t be outworked and I over deliver on my promises. The thing that had the most impact on me through my developmental years though was baseball. A game that to this day has been a passion of mine and given me so much in my life. My first game was at the age of five and I played for 19 years and this game drove me to want to be better every day. I was fortunate enough to play travel ball, high school, 3 years in college, and 3 more playing semi-pro. I played with and against a lot of talented players. Maybe I was a nerd or just loved statistics so much but playing a game where the most elite players only achieve a hit in 3 out of 10 at-bats. This is considered Hall of Fame caliber. So how could a game that makes you struggle this hard shape your life? I think for me it was quite simple, those individual failures and successes, those outs you make at the plate and those outs you get from the mound they shaped my mind into one that doesn’t easily get dissuaded or give up because I strive to be better.
Today, even though it is years later I still think back to the life lessons I learned. I can’t count how many times I act without hesitating in situations that are difficult because I am not afraid of failure. I have failed so many times in games and in life that I am somewhat numb to that. You may ask well then how do you deal with those failures? Well I am so glad you asked. My favorite problems are the ones that I don’t always get right on the first try. There are almost always multiple ways to solve for an answer and in many instances it won’t be perfect the first time around. However, in everything I work on I strive for excellence. This drive allows me the wiggle room to not delay solutioning the problem on day one, not resting on that, and striving for incrementally better results until the problem is no longer relevant.
Much of what I have seen throughout my career are people who show up to work because they have to. They don’t necessarily want to be there however they need the paycheck. And so this notion of working in an environment that you don’t like and just going through the motions tends to generate people who are willing to follow. Willing to follow because they don’t want to ruffle feathers? Maybe. Following because they need the job? Maybe. But this attitude of just showing up to put in your 8 and head home is a challenge if you want to lead. When you want to lead there becomes this dedication not necessarily to a company but to a craft that you want to hone. And if you aren’t honing it other leaders are going to pass you in the food chain.
I have seen over time that the longer you stay within an area of a company a lot of things change. One thing that rarely ever changes though is the cream rising to the top. Your top performers even if they aren’t taken care of will rise to the top and separate themselves from the pack. One of the best tools you can have for these individuals is mentoring these employees who you hope to one day groom into leaders of your organization. But even if they end up moving on those experiences you are able to share with them will shape how they lead in future roles they take on. I think that many times people want the title but aren’t willing to put in the grunt work that gives them the base to springboard from in the future. And thus they sometimes come up short or take on too much and end up failing because they aren’t ready.
I have moved through the ranks quickly in every organization I have been with. Most of that I attribute to hard work and learning as much as I can in every team I have been with. This diverse product knowledge can give you a broader picture and allows for a greater understanding of the overall organizational goals, this makes you more valuable. That in turn leads to the ability to solve issues more swiftly with your career experiences. Along with these things there is so much more that goes into developing as a leader. The biggest thing in my life developmentally especially in the past 5 years has been reading. Reading on leadership, politics, finance, and real estate just to name a few. This is different for me now than it was even 5 years ago. I listen to more books than I pick up to read, not because I don’t want to read but for the sheer convenience while driving or doing other things that it enables me to learn while doing other things.
How many of us have had a bad manager? I feel like you remember the best and worst managers, and the in-between kind of get lost. Bad managers come in all shapes and sizes and in many cases they aren’t atrocious in every area but then again they don’t work on their weaknesses either. I think there are a lot of managers in organizations that are there because of tenure and to me this is a travesty. Tenure while it should hold some weight shouldn’t be an end all be all in a conversation on promoting an individual. Managing and leading teams is not for the faint of heart and all too often those leaders go with the easy choice instead of making that hard decision of promoting a team member who is less tenured or has a higher trajectory on their career path. These types of decision can cause more issues than you realize with the cause and effect sometimes not being seen for years after a decision is made. Leading and decision making while done constantly, it can have an effect on so many other items within an organization from morale all the way to departures. And while morale can be salvaged at times those departures can have a large negative impact if decisions were made to appease instead of doing the right thing for the firm.
While so many things in my life have been challenging, I look forward to everyday and the new challenges that I get too face. I love strategic thinking and thoroughly enjoy talking about issues and how we can work towards making those things more efficient or better. Some of the best advice that I have ever received was make sure that you surround yourself with people who are smarter than yourself. The reason behind that is those people can and will compliment your strengths and can compensate for your weaknesses and help drive your career forward as well as gain the experiences they need to lead well. My second piece of advice is don’t be the smartest guy in the room, because if you are generally you are in the wrong room. It is always good to be willing and able to learn from every situation and if you put yourself in the situation where you are the smartest one you can help mentor or coach but you lack the ability to gain new wisdom or knowledge and those two things breed power. The last and possibly most powerful tool available is networking, knowing and building relationships with people who are at lower, similar, and higher levels then you enables you to be considered or even bring in talented people who you may have never considered if you didn’t know who they were.
Another key thing to do if you want to effectively lead is learn to listen. And one of the top ways I use is to meet with my direct reports bi-weekly for a 30 min walk (pre-Covid). This enables you to get away from the corporate office and get your employees to open up on a more personal level which in turn helps you in managing that person as you have a better understanding of who they are. There are so many times when you can solve an issue or manage a situation better if we closed our mouths for a few minutes and used the two ears we have. I try to listen twice as much as I talk when I can and at these times I feel like I get a better pulse on the situation. As opposed to just spouting off from experience prior to understanding the issue that is at hand. By no means am I a perfect leader, but I strive to be. Every day I wake up there is a chance that I will fail. But don’t let that chance of failure keep you from taking the swing that will win the day!