Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
Let’s be honest, it’s never easy when someone points out to you that you are not the expert. Whether or not it’s true doesn’t really matter, but it really attacks the pride and even more so when you are a young, new manager.
Now imagine having the Founder of the company who changed the industry with his patent, look you in the eyes and say, “Tom, you see, you’re not an expert.” I don’t know if his spider senses started tingling or if it was the sound of my jaw hitting his office table that made him realize I was crushed, but he immediately reassured me that this was a good thing.
He went on to say that because of this, I wouldn’t get sucked into my own biases and the need to provide solutions that the hard-core scientists and engineers would. He said my lack of expertise would set me apart from others so I could ask questions, read the room, and trust the team.
But he didn’t say it would be easy.
Prepare to be Overlooked
While they may not go as far as disrespecting you, it might be possible that they discount you and don’t see you as a threat, so they are ambivalent. This isn’t a bad scenario as everything you do will surprise them. Your progress and insight will increase your impact to the team and gradually they will become a big fan.
Don’t Carry a Chip
Just because you know that they don’t see you as an expert, you can’t carry that chip on your shoulder. If you do, it can cause unnecessary conflict and tension on both your work team and among your leadership peers. You will be tempted to prove your worth and value which at its best will be annoying and at its worst will be seen as lacking integrity trying to be something you are not.
Don’t Be a Pushover
While you can’t fight every fight, you don’t have to let people discount you with every breath. It’s tempting to retaliate with a witty comment about “if they know so much, then why are you not in charge?” but you know that it will go south really quick. Subtle opportunities to reinforce what you are bringing to the table while highlighting the impact it has on the team, is a way to align both of your efforts to support the team’s goals.
Your Value Will be Questioned
This will happen by both the leadership team and your team. Many managers work their way up through having expertise in their field. Their reputation and status are based upon what they know. I recall a story shared at a conference by a Senior Facilities Executive, where he described having a disagreement with the Senior Executive leading their Technology department. The Technologist dismissed the solution proposed by the Facilities lead with a simple comment, “you see, our group has the “big brains.”
Oh, and those reporting to you won’t be happy either. People who are experts tend to measure themselves on what they do and accomplish, not necessarily on impact. How can you, someone who clearly doesn’t know anything about this, lead them? You will need to demonstrate your value over time, by embracing their expertise and thriving in the role of leader. Use your skills to remove obstacles so your team can create a bigger impact.
Initially, I focused on maintaining grassroots contacts across the company. Technician level people that were the heart of the workforce that I could count on to share the pulse of the employee with me. Plus, it gave me “street cred” when I would make comments or ask questions because those employees would vouch for me.
There was a transformational moment for me when I was transitioning into upper management. The owner approached me and was critical of my approach to build key connection points within the group. My first instinct was to become defensive. But as we talked, I gained clarity that his point was that the single connections moved too slow and wouldn’t serve as well in the larger organization. He likened it to transplanting a plug of grass and waiting for it to take hold and spread or putting down fresh sod. That conversation enabled me to expand not only how I build connections, but why connections are important.
Lean in to it
Embrace it. Double down. Own every part of it and put your faith in your team… who ARE the experts! Give them the opportunities to showcase themselves to management. Coach them on delivery and support them as they navigate presenting to management. With your leadership peers, you can stress the importance of empowering teams, how you practice trust, and the importance of using good communication to build connections.
Leverage it to Receive Grace
You can’t use it as an excuse or crutch, but you can, on occasions, leverage it to have others extend to you grace. “As you know, I’m not an expert…” or “we knew this was going to be a learning curve…” or maybe, “As I continue to get comfortable in this role…” But let’s be very clear, if you use this too often, you are reinforcing their concerns and fears. This is ONLY effective when you are actually making progress.
Never think less of yourself for not being an expert. While your expertise may not be in a specific functional area, you need to grow your expertise in the traits that make you a leader: Builder of Trust, Being a Connector, Empowering Others, Sharing Your Vision, and Being a Servant Leader. By focusing on the employees, your expertise will grow, and you will be an expert, Beyond Today.
While I’m publishing this on Halloween, it isn’t meant to be scary like the H.G. Wells classic, The Invisible Man or like the forgettable comedy, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, but a continuation from last week's blog, 3 Leadership Gaps to Close in 2024.
Employee engagement has been a challenging factor that continues to decline for companies across the globe. Studies by Gallup show a decline to a 32% engagement level in U.S. workers in 2022 with only two in 10 employees feeling connected to their company culture. In a December 2022 report published by Hubspot on Hybrid Work, found that only 34% felt a strong connection to their coworkers.
I spoke about this at the IMPACT Leadership Summit in October and I highlighted 4 things you can do as a leader to be more visible:
I chose to set expectations when I first made my introduction. I would call every potential employee that we intended to make an offer to and explain my expectations for them as a future employee, which became the basis of my 3 Pillars of Impact. Before they started work, they knew who I was and what I stood for as a person.
I started writing a column for the company's internal newsletter and then established my own blog. I wrote about leadership and personal experiences at work which helped them relate to me as they learned about insight on specific situations. We used videos to give updates on big and little things we called Operations by the Numbers.
You need to be more than your title; you need to open up and give them a glimpse of who you are as a person. In the blog, I also shared life lessons from the personal side. Challenges I faced as a father and husband. I shared my failures, some of which were painful and embarrassing, but by being vulnerable and transparent, I demonstrated that it was okay for them to struggle as well.
I began mentoring people across the company as well as former employees. While we had a formal internal mentoring program, I also elected to do informal sessions as well for those who wanted a safer and more personal connection. A former leader in HR, Amy Skyles, started a micro mentoring program which was similar to “speed dating” that allowed a broad interaction between a variety of people that opened the door for future discussions between employees and leaders.
I created and gave formal training directly to employees on topics that I felt were critical to future success like Leading Change, Planning with the End in Mind, and the 3 Pillars of Impact. By sharing experiences in such a manner, it enabled me to interact directly with employees from across the company, connect with them in small group settings, and hear their feedback directly.
ENGAGE WHERE THEY ARE
You can’t build the connections from the comfort of your executive lounge or from your office. You need to walk where they walk. Connect with them by engaging them where they work.
We started the Tsungani (Cherokee word for excellence or above all others) that was essentially our weekly meeting to promote Operational Excellence. It didn’t take long before groups from across the company were attending as we focused on awareness and alignment. Because of the broader appeal of the meeting, we changed the name to WIN the Day and used these meetings to connect employees to the larger purpose of the company vision.
In Operations, we implemented Gemba walks that we converted to virtual during the pandemic to help maintain connections. It continued to expand including groups and teams from outside of Operations as the value became apparent to employees and management.
Our Waste Watchers program, which combined Kaizen with Lean waste activities, became a must see monthly event that would be attended in person as well as virtually as employees shared the ways they eliminated waste and would capture the financial impact. The highlight was the addition of the 2 second lean videos, which became a fan favorite as the employees competed on entertainment value so they could receive recognition at the year-end Oscar style event.
TRUST & INTEGRITY IS BUILT FROM YOUR ACTIONS
The first three ways that I wrote about being visible are examples of the actions that employees see. It’s the walk to the talk that is sorely missing from most “leaders” today.
Every engagement you have, every connection you make is an opportunity for you to showcase and build trust. To demonstrate and reinforce your integrity.
Or it’s the opposite.
You don’t engage. You disconnect because you don't share yourself. You reinforce the lack of trust in leadership because your actions are not visible. You don't walk the walk.
The days of blind trust and position authority are over. If you want an engaged workforce, you need to be an engaged leader. It’s the connections you make as a leader that makes you visible Beyond Today.
I recently gave a talk on the 3 Pillars of Impact with the focus being on leaders actually walking the walk and putting the Pillars into action. During the talk, I spoke about the challenge facing leaders today is closing the gap between the vision of the organization and where the employees are operating. While this leadership gap has always existed, heading into 2024 highlights the evolution of the gap.
We talk about the “post covid” impact as if the virus was the cause for a lot of the changes, but this really wasn’t the case. We have a generation hitting the workforce that grew up with social media and influencers. A generation who had been given phones and devices since grade school and were raised by bulldozing, helicopter flying parents. It wasn’t covid, it was us.
People Need to Make an Impact
This has always been the case for employees, but the difference is this generation wants to make the impact now! They don’t want to invest their time and work their way up following a leadership development plan. They could already have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media - more than your company. It is more important that THEY make an impact than for the COMPANY to make the impact.
Furthermore, the impact they seek isn’t necessarily something you will find in a KPI or productivity metric. It might be on the intangible side of relationships or possibly, not even something that will show up in the business plan. The role they play at work may be their avenue to make an impact on the community, the environment, or an industry working group.
Work Ethic has been Redefined
We sit around in our meeting rooms complaining about how this younger generation doesn’t want to work. They don’t put in the hours to learn; they just want it handed to them.
But how different is it to us when we were younger? The Gen Xers grew up with Gordon Gekko dominating Wall Street and the IPOs of the Tech Stock Boom. We all wanted instant success as well. Now, there are electronic gaming scholarships to colleges, YouTube gamers are worth millions, and teenage influencers can make or break a product depending on the way something makes them feel or look.
They are still dedicating countless hours to their craft, but what they see as valuable is different from what is our definition. We are still viewing the world from our perspective and OUR definition. We view it from how we experienced life and not from the way life is today.
Overcoming Invisible Leadership
I said earlier it wasn’t covid. It was our response to covid and the ripple effect of that response. Shutting things down and then compensating regardless of output redefined value. We paid people to stay home, not to produce. The government went full throttle with this approach. As leaders we became invisible, both literally and figuratively, not only because we moved to a remote environment for being non-essential, but because we abdicated leadership responsibilities.
We allowed our employees to move into a work from home mode without maintaining expectations of what productivity means. We failed to demonstrate leadership coming out of the pandemic when we allowed the “new normal” to gain a foothold because we were too weak to fight the battle.
As we face high turnover rates, lower employee engagement, an inflationary economy with low productivity, it all comes back to our ability as leaders to connect the employees to the vision.
Close the Gap by Making Connections
If we think about the 3 leadership gaps highlighted above, all of them fall back on leadership and our ability to make connections. How do we connect what the company needs to what the employees need? It’s no longer about the security and pay of a job. Jobs are everywhere. How do we help employees find their impact or align their impact within the company framework?
How as leaders can we provide focus for the employee to connect them to their strengths to help move the company forward? Is the story of the WHY resonating with them so that they want to put the effort into the work or are you focusing on the company and hoping that they will make the connection on their own?
As a leader, are you visible? Or are you seen as some ancient ruler type of figure making your money on the sweat and blood of the workers? Do you walk where they walk? Do you talk like they talk? Is your WHY connected to their WHY?
We are dealing with not only an eclectic workforce but also a hybrid workforce where building connections is more difficult than ever. That is the challenge to us as leaders. That is the leadership gap that must be overcome.
The connection to the employees can’t be delegated. It can’t be assigned to a title or an organization. It can only be done by us, as leaders, making a conscious effort to build connections with the employees to close the gap to take us Beyond Today.
I am an avid sports fan and we have spent an exciting summer with our 15-year-old son trekking across the nation watching him play basketball. The thing about competitive basketball is that you see it mirror both the best and worst of society. You see the excitement of youth, the thrill of competition, and the bonding of friends and family. But you also see ego, politics, and some of the moral dilemmas we are facing today. It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity, so sometimes you need to refresh your outlook.
Overall, there is so much more positive about the experience and that is where we need to focus and celebrate. We need to foster, share, and inspire positive outlooks so that our light will shine on others.
I love learning; especially when it comes at unexpected times from unexpected people. It is even more special when you have the opportunity to learn from one of your children. Because of our youngest son, I felt the need to share a couple of reminders on how you can refresh your own outlook on life.
SOAK IT IN
Recently, we accompanied our son on an unofficial college visit to Iowa State. It was an amazing visit as the coaching staff showed us their impressive facilities and spent time sharing their culture and philosophy of the program.
When my son was asked what he enjoyed most about the visit, he responded with a smile on his face, “walking onto the court at Hilton Coliseum.” With all that we saw during the tour - the impressive facilities, the Stark Performance Center, Jack Trice Stadium, reviewing film with the coaching staff - it was the simple act of walking onto the floor of an empty stadium.
The power of the moment was lost on me until we saw the photos taken by their photographer. It was then that the impact was on full display in the child-like smile on my son’s face. He stood there with the familiar feel of the hardwood under his feet like he had felt thousands of times before in gyms all across the U.S., but the size, the tradition, the echoes of past celebrations, culminated to captivate his thoughts and his dreams. The picture of him soaking it all in was an incredible reminder that in the fast pace of life, we need to take the time to soak it all in.
DARE TO DREAM
As we continued to look through the pictures and reflect on the events of the weekend, I was brought back to a previous blog I wrote called Little Wonders, Big Impact. But our son isn’t a little kid. He is a 6’3” 15-year-old who is still growing, who has felt pressures and challenges that a teenager shouldn’t have to face. The stress that puts butterflies in the stomachs of the parents, but somehow fosters excitement and hope in him.
He is enjoying the moment. Besides soaking in the experience, he also has the audacity to double down on his dream. The focus in his eyes as he watched the Cyclone hype video on the Hilton Magic. It made me wonder what was going through his head at that moment. I reflected on watching him as 4-year-old shooting baskets on the hoops hanging on the door in the hallway. He would keep score using an app on our iPad. Watching him run up and down the court in our backyard, talking to himself, announcing the game he was playing in his head. The 15-year-old boy, who is becoming a man, has found the secret power that so many of us have forgotten… Dare to Dream.
In 2010, I wrote about Not Losing Site of the AHA Moments. Of course, it was written for us, the adults, because somehow as we get wiser, we also seem to regress. It was an incredible gift that my son gave to me unknowingly; to not forget the importance of soaking it all in and to not lose the “dare to dream” mindset of your childhood. It is the innocence of youth and the potential for the future that takes you to your dreams, Beyond Today.
I recently celebrated my 30th work anniversary at the same company. It has been a glorious and amazing journey of personal and professional growth. Starting off as a part-time employee out of college whose main job seemed to be making photocopies, I was able to work in various roles across the company including being a member of the executive leadership team.
It was suggested by our marketing group that a great topic for my blog would be to reflect back on lessons from the last 30 years and share 30 lessons I learned during that time. I am honored to be able to share these with you.
I hope my coworkers are up for the challenge and journey to make it to their own 30-year anniversary. For those of you who work elsewhere, I wish you the best in your own endeavors and enjoying the pursuit of your own anniversaries.
Instead of jumping to another job to grow, take the chance to extend your growth with the company that has committed to you. Take the chance of committing to being part of something bigger than you. Take a chance to help build and be part of a legacy.
I am not my job, and my job is not me. It is part of what has shaped me and my family, just as my family and life has helped shape my job. It’s not just a job, it’s a choice to pursue a life of purpose. To show my kids that being an active participant in your team isn’t only for high school sports, but for your future life as well. I hope these lessons over the last 30 years will be passed on to others to help guide the next generation Beyond Today.
I do my best to maintain a positive outlook and mindset. This has been a topic of past blogs but also, I feel weaves its way into what I write about and how I write. My family members will sometimes show frustration with me as I don’t jump in with them to the deep end of the negativity pool, instead choosing to dip my toe and then talk about the alternatives.
A friend of mine is a particular challenge for me due to their negativity that surfaces in every conversation and text that we share. I know many of you are thinking back to our last interaction wondering if it is you… if you are, then maybe you already see an opportunity to change! But, back to the story. While I care about this person, my initial reaction when my phone rings or when I see a text notification is one of dread. I get angry at myself for that feeling afterwards, but when it happens, it already puts me on edge and in a negative frame of mind which I hate.
Depending upon my initial mood, my approach to those conversations goes one of two ways: 1) I am short, impatient and I add fuel to support their negativity or 2) I turn philosophical and try to talk about the power of positivity and the potential of the future that has not happened yet. Obviously, I much prefer the latter, but it is a test to be in that mode.
In a recent conversation, I was in full positive mode so when my friend started with the sad story and he was feeling sorry for himself, I called him out and talked about staying positive. He responded with, “Good advice but I know me better than you, obviously. Just keeping it real.” Well, I was not going to be denied. So, I challenged them about how they let their frustration get the best of them and then they take it out on others. I said, “Your choice... be a victim of your circumstance or do something about it.” I went on to stress that “you don't have to accept your past as your future. Build new habits going forward.”
My friend then engages me and acknowledges what I am saying and even references some podcasts that I have recommended to help with his outlook. It seems like he is trying to build himself up, to speak truth and positivity into himself, but then finishes with a sentence talking about how hard it is to be positive and that their life makes it easier to be in that negative state of mind, regardless of how depressing it is.
So, I called him out again. I was not going to let him get away with this negative self-talk to lower his expectations of himself. Because the 2nd Pillar of Impact is to Expect Excellence in yourself and others, and right then, we both needed it. “There you go again. What are you focusing on? What you don't have? What's depressing? Or you could focus your thoughts and words about what is awesome. You must enjoy the moments.” I finish off by paraphrasing Jon Gordon saying it’s impossible to be negative and grateful at the same time.
“You’re right,” my friend replied. “That’s just me, I never thought it would be something I had to work at, but I guess after being where I have been for so long, it has enabled me to stay in that state. But trying to NOT focus on the negative is truly a challenge especially when the domino effect starts my days.”
I quickly reflect on many of my past experiences with him. The way his anger would bubble up and then be targeted at you or whoever was around. Full throttle anger that you knew was not really about you, but about him and the world he lives in that was built by the choices he made. You knew instantly when he was not on his medication based upon the volatility of his reactions. At those moments, there was no reasoning with him, you just ride the storm out. But this wasn’t one of those days and I needed to push forward.
“Believe me,” I said, “I understand the dominoes you are talking about, especially in regard to receiving the impact of those dominoes from what you say. Words are powerful. I share this with you because you say stuff that matters. Maybe not to you, because they are just words. But they are your feelings and represent you, which is why it SHOULD mean something to you.”
I went on to suggest that since the words matter, instead of accepting "that's just me" say "that was me, but not anymore". I explained that every time he gives power to the negativity and victim status saying that he can't change, he is taking a step further away from who he can become - a step further away from being happy.
I could tell that my friend was deep in thought, soaking in what we had been discussing, so I decided to wrap up our conversation. “You always tell me that you appreciate what I say. So do me a favor and show it with your actions. Don't make excuses. Don't expect anything less than excellence. Not perfection, but the pursuit of excellence in everything you do. Remember, it's not failure, if you are still moving forward.”
A quiet and caring response is what I got from my friend, “All in time.” I knew that it wasn’t over. That his thoughts were not focusing on the power of the positive or the future that has left to be lived but instead, was still focused on the decisions and situations that had gotten him to this place. The loss. The bad decisions. The hurt. But, despite his reflections, I could see a glimpse of sunshine. The fate glimmer of hope that today would be a good day.
Negative thoughts are going to happen but clinging to and immersing yourself in those negative thoughts will lead to negative actions. That is not good for you or those who care about you. Commit to finding the positive. Commit to moving forward. Commit to being grateful. Commit to focusing on what you can be versus what you were. Commit to be better today than you were yesterday so that you can be better Beyond Today.
You may not know it, but I'm the smartest person in the world. It goes against my Gandhi-like humble nature to say this, but it is something I have long known to be true. It is something that other people, because they lack the cognitive discipline and inherent problem-solving skills, have struggled to accept.
You see, I probably know more about politics and how to run a nation than any of the elected officials in Washington D.C. I have provided recommendations to eliminate the national debt, to fix the border crisis and to deal with homelessness that is plaguing our citizens. I also have shared how to deal with rising medical costs, creating new jobs and fighting world hunger. If you don’t believe that I have the answers., well… just check out my social media posts. Everyone else is an idiot!
I also might be the most incredible driver that has ever sat behind the steering wheel of a motor vehicle. I don’t think Dale Earnhardt would be able to attack the turns as effectively as I do. My speed is almost always as perfect as my use and timing of the turn signals. My uncanny ability to seamlessly merge into and out of traffic is so much better than every other driver on the road. If you don’t believe me, just ride with me and I will point out the flaws of everyone else that is sharing the road with me.
Don’t even get me started about my ability as a parent. My kids are incredible, just look at my amazing yet blessed posts on social media. I hate to sound like “that parent” but if you would just listen to what I am saying, you wouldn’t have issues with your kids. It’s not how I would handle it and honestly my kids would never do that, well, because I’m a better parent than you. If you don’t believe me, just look at my posts and listen to what I’m saying about how perfect my life is.
What do you mean that isn’t what my kids say? Well, they don’t listen to me either, because if they did, then they wouldn’t say that! Yep, I’m the smartest person in the world, just ask me. I’m not just the smartest person today, I’m also the smartest person Beyond Today.
I thought I would have a little fun as a reminder that your strength and value are not found in the voices or opinions of others, but by your thoughts that lead to your actions that lead to your impact on others. Don’t let the judgment of others keep you from reaching your best Beyond Today.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
I was first introduced to the people-soft vs people-easy concepts in my early days with Brewer Science as a new manager. The owner and founder, Terry Brewer, was unique in how he created a culture of trust, ownership, and service that stood out from the typical companies. It was more than just words as he built that type of environment in how he engaged the employees daily. He went so far as to provide training and discussion on the soft skills in a weekly leadership meeting that he himself led, where we reviewed leading management books such as the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Who Moved My Cheese, Deep Change, and The Fifth Discipline.
Terry focused on creating buy-in and establishing trust to influence the employees instead of using the authoritative position approach. Being a privately held company, he did not focus on bottom line profits but instead felt that if we did things right, and focused on being a Company of the People, By the Technology and For the Customer, the bottom line would take care of itself.
When I was a new employee, I struggled with the concept because I grew up in a family where my parents always had a business, and they were clearly in charge. While my siblings and I worked at the businesses at various times, there was no doubt who was in charge. Despite initially struggling to grasp Terry’s vision, it didn’t take long before I recognized the similarities in the entrepreneurial spirit and the sense of ownership that were shared by my parents. My Dad’s mantra was “if it is worth doing, it is worth doing right” and that is a saying I have used with all my own kids as well as fostering that same ownership at work.
Interestingly enough, there were quite a few people that struggled with the concept of being “People-Soft”. It wasn’t always the new employees that were either new to this culture or new to the workforce as those who had been at the company for some time, still struggled to come to grips with the role the culture played. Many people viewed that the approach taken to empower employees was actually a weakness that lacked accountability as they felt that they couldn’t make people do certain things. They would become defensive and say, “my hands are tied” or “I can’t make them do that” and would accept that things were not getting done on time.
When I was promoted to Director and started participating in these sessions led by Terry, well, that is when I fully understood what he was trying to establish in the future leaders. My buy-in was so dramatic that a more seasoned Director asked me one night over a beer why I had transformed and if I had really bought in or not. I looked at him both dumbfounded but also proud. Dumbfounded because what Terry taught resonated so clearly with me that I assumed everyone was on board and proud because he recognized that I was practicing and living what was being taught.
Terry and I would have long discussions on the various books and topics. When I broached the topic of a “subculture” that existed where people didn’t feel that they could hold people accountable, Terry became animated and said, “Tom, there is a difference between people-soft and people-easy.” He went on to say that people-soft is when we are practicing the soft skills to create an environment where people want to contribute and are free to find the best way to contribute to our company’s success. We want them to feel ownership and treat everyone with respect. We want to be flexible and aware that everyone has their own experience in life and have a life outside of work.
In contrast, we are not people-easy. We shouldn’t lower expectations or let people get away without doing what needs to be done. He told me that we have the obligation, as leaders, to provide guidance and expectations so they understand what needs to be done. If they are unable to do the work, then we are responsible for training and educating to make sure that they have the skills. It’s not that you can’t correct the behavior, but more about how you correct the behavior that matters. We won’t tolerate people taking advantage of our company. But we want people to enjoy the benefits of our company.
A great example of this was one of my early leaders. He was very hands-off and focused on where he expected the company to go and not so much on how we would get there. I describe his leadership style as someone who would let you walk right up to the edge of the cliff without saying a word. Depending upon how high the cliff, dictated his action. If it was only a small drop-off, he might let you fall knowing that there was low risk of injury and after dusting yourself off, well, you probably wouldn’t do that again. If it was a tall bluff, then he would give you a slight nudge to keep you from falling off, but not enough to change your direction. If you kept hovering along the edge, he would still, just casually give you a nudge until you finally found your path.
Early on, his approach was frustrating, and he seemed to be wasting my time. I even asked him, why don’t you just grab me by the shoulders and point me in the right direction. He responded, “but then you won’t learn and grow from finding it on your own.” That really hit home for me. He could have been people-easy and not expected anything from me and just put me in the middle of the plateau away from the edges, but then I would never have enjoyed the view of the edge, the exhilaration of surviving the edge or the life lesson of knowing that while there is always an edge, there may not always be a rail preventing you from falling over.
It is the people-soft approach that promotes ownership and learning, that provides a foundation for personal growth that can impact so many others. A people-easy environment is not one of excellence, whether it is from the perspective of the employees or from that of leadership. A people-easy approach whines about accountability while a people-soft environment promotes and encourages ownership. It is with that sense of ownership that a people-soft environment fosters and enables a culture to truly last Beyond Today.
Coming out of the covid pandemic, you kept hearing the phrase “new normal” which for some people brought a breath of fresh air yet for others, created anger and frustration. It escalated as people began to return to the workplace and we started to hear new phrases such as “Quiet-Quitting” and the “Great Resignation.” Regardless of the phrase being used, what became evident is that there was instability and a shortage in the workforce as restaurants and businesses were forced to change their hours and approaches as positions either went unfilled or opened up because an employee decided not to show.
As a person who spent 30 years at the same company, this was the part that was the hardest to watch. It’s not that I don’t think people should pursue new and better opportunities or expand their experiences, I am all for personal growth. But what I have witnessed and experienced in sharing with other people in industry is the need for instant gratification and not appreciating the importance of investment and work to build future success.
The young workforce today is getting a bad rap in the media as you can search articles and hear about young people expecting to get a promotion soon after starting a job. They don’t see the value in “working your way to the top” but instead should be recognized for what they could achieve if they were promoted. The instant gratification that comes with likes and heart and other social media emojis seems to be supported about a desperate business climate that is throwing bigger salaries and signing bonuses at unproven commodities because they need bodies.
But is it really something new?
Kids have always been know-it-alls. I remember classifying my family after a few weeks into my freshman year of college after attending a Psychology 101 class. I can still see my dad shaking his head as if I was an idiot. I remember thinking about how little my dad knew as he had never been to college. Well, now I know. His life was lived through experiences, not by reading about someone else's experiences.
In my Pillars of Impact series, I talk about the Courage to Challenge and that as a leader, you must be prepared to challenge the status quo. This is one of the key aspects when I look at new employees. Do they have the ability to assess a situation and find a better pathway forward? But I also need to see HOW they will challenge the status quo. Will they discount what was done previously or the people who chose that path? Will they first seek to understand the why or just push forward with what they believe is the why?
There is a reason you can get online degrees in a bunch of disciplines but not to be a surgeon. They need the experiences, the challenges, the stress of making decisions, of living life. When you follow the 2nd Pillar of Impact and Expect Excellence in yourself and others, you realize that nobody at work cares about your GPA. They care about what you know, what you can learn, and most importantly can you apply it to the challenges you face to help the team win.
As parents, we have experienced these hard lessons in life firsthand and apparently, a lot of us were so traumatized that we are doing everything in our power to avoid our kids having to experience it themselves. Somehow forgetting the importance of experiencing challenges to help build character and work ethic on which we have built our lives.
Articles and books have been written about helicopter parents hovering over their every move or the dozer / lawnmower parents who are trying to clear the way for their kids. But while they believe they are being helpful, they are setting their kids up for failure as the parents have failed to equip them in the basics of life and being overly dramatic, to survive. At some point, it stops, and the kids are forced to sink or swim. They show a pattern of leaving jobs when they don’t get what they want and then their resume is filled with what appears to be job hopping and when they finally realize they need stability in their lives, they won’t be chosen for that big position because employers don’t want to take a chance on training up someone just to leave. If an employer can’t trust an employee to stay to be loyal, they will put that resume aside and look for another.
In my next post I will talk about People-Soft vs People-Easy. It fits in well with this topic - both from the workforce and from being raised by the helicopter / dozer parents. An example would be teaching your child to swim. Old school was to throw your child into the deep end and let them sink or swim. An archaic approach that is outdated and proven to have more negative results than positive. A People-Soft approach would help them learn how to swim by getting them classes, supporting them as they learned techniques, helping them to find a way, by learning and doing until they become sufficient swimmers that they can do it on their own. People-Easy is to put them in the kiddie pool and not put them in deep water. Ever.
Why did I meander down this path when I started talking about the challenges in our workforce? It might be that after 30 years at a company, well, that’s what we do, we tell stories that wind around before we get to the point. Or maybe, that is the point. Sometimes you just want to get somewhere so you jump on the interstate, and you focus on getting to that final destination. It’s pretty straight, traffic moves along, and you get to your destination. But sometimes, I like to take the Blue Highways and travel the side roads and back roads that are less traveled. You experience the changing landscape and scenery. The hills and valleys. The small towns and drive-ins. Experiences that add to your knowledge base that help shape you and your thoughts.
In Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Less Traveled, he finishes it off with this final stanza, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
It is that decision made by you, not by your parents and not made by your boss, that will help shape your future. A future built upon experiences that you created and lived through, shaping who you will become and how you will impact others. Don’t avoid those experiences. Don’t avoid those roads. Take the time to make memories. Take time to put in the work necessary to prepare you for the deep end. To experience what lies Beyond Today.
It is amazing how people and opportunities always seem to appear at the right place and the right time. I don’t mean to turn this into a religious post, but too many events seem to happen in my life when they are needed most to simply be coincidence or serendipity.
I have written about the alignment of many people and circumstances that enabled my heart to be restarted so that I could have a second chance.
I wrote about a stranger walking his dog on a coastal shore during the early morning hours who spoke truth into my life forcing me to listen. When the realization of his words hit me, I turned around to share my thoughts only to find he wasn’t there.
Last week I wrote about the impact you receive from others, who pay it forward in dark times, when it is needed most to keep grinding forward, committing to continue your efforts to positively impact others.
Today, I share another moment of clarity that has to be more than chance. A short time after I posted my blog last week that I mentioned above, I received a package at my desk. I recognized the handwriting as that of my mentor, who I have written about in the past. Inside was a motivational desk decor titled Stand Firm, a picture of which is above. It contained a verse from 1 Corinthians 15:58.
“Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
I had not spoken to Steve for a couple of months. We had exchanged texts a month ago catching up on personal activities and travels with the plan to connect soon. So how did he know? How did he know that this is what I needed at this moment in time? He shipped the package across the country earlier in the week to show up at my desk, at the right place and the right time. The same day that I posted about the blessing of coworkers, friends, and family challenging me to help me deal with my frustration and to be the leader that they know I can be, I received a gift of love and support saying, Stand Firm.
Contractually, Steve is no longer obligated to be my mentor. While he has mentored me for over 10 years, he has done so through our growing bond and friendship. The note in the package said, “I have always appreciated you as a friend and always will! STAND FIRM in all things that you do!!!”
As I said at the beginning of this post, it is amazing how people and opportunities always seem to appear at the right place and the right time. It is the knowledge built upon experiences AND faith that enables me to STAND FIRM 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.