Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear goes in depth into the difference between motion and action. Motion is essential to gaining an understanding of the situation, knowing risks and potential pathways. Motion greatly increases your chance of success. But as John Wooden said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” You can have as much motion as you want but without taking action, you will never achieve your goals. A plan without action is only a dream.
On the other hand, you can take action and be incredibly busy DOING the wrong stuff. Again, never achieving your goals.”If you fail to plan you are planning to fail,” was credited to Benjamin Franklin and appropriate for one of the leading intellects of his day. But he was also a man of action and achievement.
It May Not Be Right, But It’s Not Wrong
When faced with a decision in which I don’t see a clear option or answer in front of me, I pose this question “it may not be right, but is it wrong?” I have used this principle successfully throughout my career because it moves us from our current position. Maybe not on the correct path, but if it’s not wrong then it definitely isn’t a step backwards. It may be to the side or a roundabout way to get there, but there are benefits through taking action.
Planning & Re-Planning - Caught in Motion
Reflecting on examples in the workplace, you can imagine the challenge when a customer negotiates a larger safety stock of products that will require you to expand your storage area beyond your current capability. A facility expansion was not part of your strategic plan going forward.
So now what?
You can go full Ben Franklin and start the motion train for your planning process. Set up meetings with cross functional teams. Assess your current capabilities and see what areas can be used that meet code, where can you upgrade, where could you expand and build. You will have to revisit all of the capital planning activity and rework the budget to identify when you could squeeze in another building.
Then once you have identified some potential avenues through multiple meetings you begin the painstaking quote gathering process that changes weekly with dangerously long lead times. Oh, and you’re doing this while moving forward on all of the other projects. But now, you can at least put together a proposal for review with management. Then redo it with their input and repeat the process again. All of this before you ever get back to the customer with a “yes, but…” or some other negotiation of time.
Just Get it Done - Take Action
Or, while putting things into motion (which we already established is critical to the success of a projection) we can take action that comes from a simple question.
“How do we get additional capacity today?” What? Today? No way!!!! Correct, but the time period is not critical by itself, it is the call to action that is important. By stating today, it reinforces the need for action, not just planning.
That question leads to two quick possible solutions:
Find someone who has additional capacity and rent space
Bring in a storage pod and park at our facility
Is the problem solved? Not necessarily, but we do have containment in place like you find in your 8D problem solving approach. The call to action puts us in a position to meet the customers' needs in the near term, buying us time to evaluate a longer term, optimal solution that can be more cost effective, strategic and lean.
While some are talking, others are doing. While some are planning, others are executing. While some are in motion, others are taking action. In a company, some positions naturally spend more time in motion to support those who are spending more time in action and that balance, as we talked earlier, is critical to the overall success. It is not either/or, it is both.
It’s interesting how this is clear and comfortable for me in my role at work for the most part, but I know I have been guilty of giving responses to the Owner such as “We are meeting next week...” or “We are talking with our vendors…” or “We are planning to …”. In those instances, I’m stuck in motion with too little action.
I struggle with this more in my personal life. I’m sure my wife is reading this and mentally ticking off all of the things I have not completed due to overthinking and planning. I share this so you understand it’s not easy for everyone in every situation. It’s a lot of work. It’s scary. It’s like jumping off the bluff into the water. But if you don’t jump, if you don’t take ACTION, you don’t feel the excitement. Motion with Action is what is needed to move Beyond Today.
Boundaries are found everywhere and serve a multitude of purposes. When you think of boundaries what comes to mind?
What is interesting is how people react to boundaries. As a child you seek boundaries. As a teen you test boundaries. As a college kid there are no boundaries. As a young adult, you once again seek boundaries for comfort and understanding. In the workplace you seek job descriptions and expectations for clarity in your role and those of others.
Using Boundaries to Engage
But what if you didn’t? What if there were no boundaries or constraints? Only engagement.
When I was reflecting on the word “engage” 3 things came to mind: 1) Engage the enemy 2) Put into gear and move forward 3) create a relationship or commitment. In all of these cases, you are moved to action with purpose.
At work, you are faced with boundaries when a process is owned by another organization. If that process impacts your work or team, how do you respond? Do you stare at the boundary and complain to others? Accept it and walk away? Look at the boundary and say “not my job”? Or do you engage the owners of the process and explain the impact on your role? You must engage or move to action with purpose so that the process is not a boundary but a shared process
When there is a tree overhanging the property line, do you say it’s not my property or do you engage the neighbor to find a solution to trim the limbs? When you see a teammate is hurting, do you say, I’m not crossing that boundary between work and personal or do you reach out and engage them as a human and let them know you are there for them?
Boundaries have their purpose and have recognizable value in the basics of relationships. In every case, a boundary serves as a way to separate or segregate. But as we grow, boundaries become opportunities for engagement with others to expand our understanding and influence. So ultimately, boundaries do not limit us but instead expand us to a potential that exists Beyond Today.
Coachability is Critical for Coaches as well as Players
Hopefully, at some point in your life, you have been blessed to come across an impactful leader, coach or boss that was able to put you in a position to succeed and motivate you to be part of something better. I will interchange Coach and Leader throughout the article even though you can coach without leading, but you will rarely be a GOOD coach without the ability to lead.
In High School I played for 3 football coaches in 4 years. My sophomore and junior year I played for an intelligent, young, first-time coach who reinforced the skills, discipline, and mindset to make us better. But he didn’t bother to build a connection. He used old school manipulation to try and break me as a young leader and didn’t bother to spend time investing in us or building a connection. Many of the players quit (18 kids total on our football team as a sophomore) but those who stayed grew as players and young men. My senior year, they brought in another young, first-time coach, but this coach was the opposite. He was all energy and excitement without the discipline and emphasis on the techniques. He motivated the players to believe in themselves and each other. He wasn’t pitting people against each other, he instead reached out to those who left the program to bring them back into the fold. He led us to our first ever winning record in the program. He wasn’t responsible for building the program because without the prior coach focusing on skills and mindset, his leadership style would have made us confident but not with the ability to support the desire. Coaching and leading are not the same.
At work I had the pleasure of reporting to an experienced, hands-off leader that would focus on his vision and then let you find your way. Even if it meant walking to the edge of a cliff, dangerously close to falling off. He would never grab you by the shoulders and turn you to a new direction, instead he would gently nudge you, allowing you to regain your balance and let you keep walking until you found the path.
It seems that the vast majority of coaches and/leaders seem to have the common trait of confidence that borders on egotism and for some, they crossed the border and never looked back! In my experiences, many of those coaches and or leaders have been successful because they have had good mentors or came through a good system. They receive coaching only from those they deem worthy enough to “educate” them and over the years they find fewer and fewer people who meet that criteria. Which is why those types of coaches and leaders struggle in today’s world and due to their steep trajectory tend to burn out and crash.
In the book Coach to Coach by Martin Rooney, he states “the first major ability of a coach is coachability.” He goes on to define “coachability” as when you learn something new that is the right thing to do, and you do it. The emphasis is to actually do what you learn. You practice so you can be prepared for the game. Players learn and practice. Coaches are no different.
It can be scary to let go of the wheel and trust those riding the bus with you to take over and share in the driving responsibilities. For those of us with more years in leadership, it typically is not what we have experienced in our own development. But showing a willingness to be coached - even by those who are not a coach - can pay dividends in your own development as well as the trust and growth of your team.
During a travel ball game coaching my middle son, Trey, I was forced to call a timeout to settle the team down and make some adjustments. Before I could start my “lecture”, I was caught off guard when I heard a voice say, “listen up.” My oldest son, Zach, who was in high school, worked his way into the huddle and began to explain what was needed for the team to respond to the situation and stressed he knew that they could execute these changes on the next play. Each player in the huddle was locked on to Zach like he was Coach K of the Duke Blue Devils. He identified the issue, he put forth a plan to address the issue, he showed confidence in them. When he was done, I responded with, “You understand?” An enthusiastic team left the huddle.
In the heat of the game, it’s easy to get caught up in the action on the court and lose focus on what is happening on the bench. You could have players that are not getting adequate playing time for their development, or a key player is sitting when they need to be on the court. As a coach, you are busy coaching. Recognizing this, an assistant stood up and asked, “would you like me to handle the substituting so you can focus on the game?” Perfect! He recognized that I was not performing at my best for the team as a whole OR for the individual players. The assistant coach reminded me that as a leader, we can’t do it all and we have to lead collectively for the success is not found in a single game but in the overall journey of those in the program.
Whether on hardwood or on the manufacturing floor, being open to input is key to empowerment of the team as well as shared purpose. Awareness of both the individual and the collective skill sets is critical for leaders to make sure resources are utilized both efficiently and effectively.
3 Key Principles to Being Coached
You don’t know everything. You must be comfortable with who you are and understand that you are flawed. Be open to feedback. Receive it, discuss it, incorporate it. You can’t immediately put up the defenses and discount what is being suggested. You need to listen. Take the time to understand the perspective. Even if your first instinct is that it won’t work, say to them “Thank you for the input. You gave me a lot to think about.”
Check your ego at the door. It’s not about you and the win. It’s about the growth of your team. You must have a desire to grow so that as a team you will all grow and have a greater impact together. Servant leadership isn’t about the leader. In the example above, I relinquished control of player substitution, and it was a game changer.
It starts with trust. Transparency is needed to trust, and trust is needed to lead. If there is no trust, then you are strictly directing or telling. Not leading. You need to share your fears and shortcomings but be confident in your vision, purpose, and process.
By knowing your flaws, losing the ego, and establishing trust your team will be confident to approach you with insights and concerns knowing that the path you travel is together and for the collective benefit of the team. This is how a coach can coach Beyond Today.
As a wily veteran of parenting and corporate management, what I appreciate most is the ability to watch my kids grow into adults where you can share and engage them in more modern styles of leadership. A shared leadership of trust and transparency where servant leadership begins to take root.
The challenges associated with raising young kids are squarely at odds with leadership today. The autocratic style where you are the ultimate authority setting boundaries and providing discipline is not found in successful companies. Do you want to see someone head straight to ZipRecruiter, treat them like a child.
New managers may not always have the leadership understanding fully in place as it is something that is typically learned through experience and observation. Many times, the experience that they do have could be as young parents managing the challenges of raising kids. The Trust is not built-in as with the relationship with your kids, at work it must be earned by your actions and deeds.
Helicopter Parent vs Micromanager
Just like it is much easier to recognize when another parent is a helicopter parent, so too is it easier to recognize when another leader is a micromanager. We all know the well intentioned parent who schedules every play date and can be found hovering nearby to prevent their fall or paint their picture. Planning out the lives of their kids, orchestrating every step and decision to ensure that they do not fail.
We also are familiar with the micromanager boss who proofreads every report, makes you run every decision through them and wants to be copied on all of your emails. It doesn’t seem like a plan or experiment is ever correct unless they are able to add a change to make it better. You are not sure if they don’t trust you or if they don’t think you are capable of doing the job.
Don’t Make My Mistakes
The need of parents to protect their kids is natural. You try to teach and prevent mistakes from happening. You don’t want your kid touching the stove to see it’s hot like you did. So you go out of your way to make sure that they don’t make the same mistakes you did like quitting the track team, dumping your date the day before prom or jumping your bike off Rabbit Hole Hill.
You have probably heard the definition of FAIL: First Attempt In Learning. At work, we can use processes and procedures to help provide guidelines, but employees need to understand challenges and risk mitigation. They don’t need to be told what to do and simply execute, they need to understand so that they can grow and help their job improve and develop. Sharing experiences and wisdom is a lot different from telling people what to do.
Personally, my leadership mistakes are vast and cover the gambit. I do try to share my experiences with others so that they can add to their collective knowledge base, to help make them aware of potential risks, but in the end, it is their choice on whether or not to accept the advice.
Shared Vision vs My Vision
Studies show that the more recent generations that are entering the workforce have a greater need to be impactful and part of something larger. Because of this, it is extremely critical that leaders are able to work with their team members to create and refine a shared vision. In past generations, the leader would set the vision and everyone would then work towards that vision because it was their job. But today, people want to understand the why and even want to have a say in the vision. Communicating early and often is essential to aligning and growing the vision.
In his book Stop Living on Autopilot, Antonio Neves states ”The best thing that happened to you hasn’t happened yet!” How powerful of a message is that? Whether talking about your kids or your work team, the goal is for them to fly so that they can soar on their own.
My Way or the Highway
“Because I said so.” How many times was that phrase uttered in your house growing up? Again, it might have been effective back then but this is a different time. Heck, it was a different time when I, as a Gen Xer, was growing up as I always wanted to know why - even to the point of frustrating coworkers. But I needed to understand the reason so I could get on board and be part of the solution.
At work, you empower your team and work with them on skills and relationships so that decisions are made by those closest to the action and not having to “run them up the ladder” and await the blessing before moving forward. In a lean, fast paced company, waiting for bureaucratic responses is the difference between World Class and shutting the doors.
Leaders lead. That’s what they do. Whether they have the title to back them or not. Be empathetic. Treat people with respect. Encourage ownership of the problem AND the solution.
At work, you earn the trust of your employees base on your actions. You walk the walk. You live the values and demonstrate your foundational principles. You show respect for the rules and processes. The love you show them and that they see in you. The respect you show them and others and the respect that others show to you. Living life with them and not through them, is the key to seeing them take flight Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.