Musings on Leadership

Location: Seoul, South Korea

An American expatriot living, working, and loving life in Seoul, South Korea

Monday, September 04, 2006

NEVER forget that your best people always have other options

I think one of the best ways that leaders can keep their best people is simply by never forgeting that their best people always have another option that they can choose to exercise should they become too bored, frustrated, stressed, or disappointed by the work environment that the leader controls.

They can always quit.

I am reminded of my own case where I was highly productive in a very high stressed environment. Everyone seemed to know that my leaving would create a huge, almost ir-replacable 'hole' in the organization.

It seemed everyone knew this but my immediate boss and the company's main client.

My corporate boss treated me like I did not even exist. While that was OK on some levels because it really gave me the freedom to be highly productive, not responing to me when I was not receiving correct pay was extremely frustrating. I had to threaten to go to his boss before he took any action at all.

And the main client? He thought he could continually threaten everyone on the team with termination if we didn't do exactly what he said or talk to anyone else but him or say anything negative at all, or even complain about his often very unethical behavior. Mind you, he was the client, and not in the corporate chain at all.

The last straw came when the client indirectly hinted that if we all didn't 'toe the line' (whatever that meant), all of us (the contractors on the project), would be seeking new employment in 90 days. That's when I decided to exercise my option. You see, I was being actively recruited by another firm, because they knew and wanted the many technical and management skills that I brought to the table. I had been keeping this other company 'at arm's length', but when the client threatened to arbitrarily take action if we didn't 'toe the line' (I guess that meant 'kiss his ring'), I decided enough is enough, and left to go to a much, much better job.

I use my own personal example to remind anyone who is reading this that your best people always have other options. Additionally, in this day and age of 'at will contracts', your employees can quit at anytime and without recourse. So you might look inward if you are experining high levels of turnover and ask yourself 'What can I do to keep my quality people on board?'

BTW, thats the subject of another blog. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Encouragement - where are your eyes?

When you walk down the hall to your next appointment or to your next meeting - where are your eyes? Where is your head? Are you too busy talking on the cell phone or too busy reading the notes for your next meeting to miss what is going on around you?

"Dave, what in the world are you talking about? These are important calls, important notes..."

I'm talking about noticing the people around you, meeting their eyes, greeting them, stoping and give them a friendly greeting, and taking the time to notice them and encourage them.

The importance of this did not hit home with me until I was talking with a young Air Force airman (when I was in the military) several years ago about a Colonel who I worked for. When I asked him how he felt about the Colonel (whose name escapes me), the airman fairly gushed about him. He talked about what a great man he was, and how he made the young airman always feel important.

When I probed further, and asked him to explain himself, he said "Whenever I am walking down the hall, no matter how busy the Colonel is, he ALWAYS takes the time to stop and greet me, and sometimes we even chat about things. It often is the highlight of my day."

Outwardly, I told the young airman how impressed I was. Inwardly, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I had seen the same young airman several times each day, and many times I had passed him by without a greeting, because my head was down in my briefing notes. I had neglected giving the people around me who were important to getting the job done the simple human curtesy of a greeting or kind word. Before I had heard the young airman talk, I just didn't think it was that important.

But it IS important. People need to be acknowledged. They need encouragement. Great leaders know this. This kind of personal touch almost comes to them as second nature .

So who have you encouraged today? Where are your eyes?

Giving people credit

The true leader is quick to make sure that his/her people get all the credit they deserve for the all good work they do. This is NOT the same as an insincere, pithy little comment like, "You guys are doing such good work. Keep it up". Not everyone does good work, and the true leader knows how to give people specific praise for sepecifc tasks.

One of the absolute WORST thing that ANYONE in a leadership position can do is to try and take credit for the work that their subordinates are doing. The most damaging result of doing this is that it completely destroys morale and productivity. When people realize that none of their work will be recognized, and their supervisor (notice I did not say leader) is going to take credit for the work they are doing, productivity of the entire workforce will dramatically decline. Additionally, while the supervisor may be able to get away with this for a while (some devious managers have made a career out of this), most of the people above the supervisory level already know who is doing the real work. Taking credit for it only damages the reputation of the supervisor.

If you really want to create a positive leadership environment, take time to give people credit for good work. Be specific about the behavior. Thank them for the work. It does not have to be wishy-washy or 'touchy-feely'. Just sincere. "Hey Tom, you have really gone overboard to make sure our computers are always working. I want to know that I really appreciate that. I make sure that our executives know it's your hard work that keeps our IT working so well."

Giving people specific credit for good performance is easy and it's FREE. It only requires that leaders invest themselves in the process. More importantly, done consistently, it creates a great work environment where people are free to perform their best.


I think one of the clear, defining attributes of true leadership is Vision.

The Vision of the leader is so vital to accomplishing any task. The larger the task, the larger the leaderhip vision needs to be.

Why is it so easy to talk and pontificate about vision, and so hard to put it into practice?

Because in order to have a large vision, the leader must be a visionary and practice visionary leadership. Not only does the task have to be worthy, but the leader must be so passionate about the task and it's vision for completion, that he or she will create almost a 'cult-like' environment among those who are responsible to seeing the task through to completion.

That's hard work. Not only is it hard work, but it's physically exhausting and requires the leader to invest himself or herself into the task or project . This investment can often be emotionally and spiritually exhausting. From my thirty years of observations of leadership, this investment of one's self is something that so few people are willing to engage in, that it makes even moderately competent leaders stand out 'head and sholders' above the crowd.

Why are visionary leaders so different from the rest of us? It's because they have developed a passion for what they do, sincerely care about people, and most importantly, know when to seek solitude or 'down-time' so that they can keep their batteries constantly charged.

I also think that visionary leaders really enjoy life and are determined to pass some of this energy on to others.

Friday, May 19, 2006

You can't lead unless ....

I have read, written about, debated, and passionately discussed the subject of leadership for more than 20 years. Yet, for all the experiences I have had with the 'theory' of leadership, I have only been inspired by a very few leaders during that same time.

In the last few months, I have found myself pondering this dilemma a lot. I would like to offer some of my conclusions in a on-going blog on leadership.

One of my big 'aha' conclusions is this.....

You can't lead people unless you first both know yourself and love yourself.

Unless you really, really know in your heart of hearts that God created you to be a person of infinite worth, you can't really love yourself. And if you can't love yourself for all of your warts and faults, you will be reluctant to take time to do the reflection you need to do to know yourself - to understand your strengths and weaknesses.

So how in the world can you lead other people, trying to influence them to want to follow them to accomplish a major project or task, if you don't know or love yourself first?

The answer is simple - you can't.

So what most people end up doing is managing through their authority, not leading. They either benignly let everyone know that they have the power to adversely affect the careers of the people they manage or supervise, or in more toxic cases, they use their authority power to adversely impact the lives of the people they supervise.

Most employees, as a result, end up doing whatever is necessary to appease these managers, so that they can get a paycheck, and get on with the rest of their lives, away from work.

That is certainly not the way it was meant to be. We were meant to work, and to be productive and fruitful in our work lives. Unfortunately, most of us end up having our passion and productivity 'managed' right out of our lives.

I hope that these musings will provide a positive alternative to the current situation that many managers, supervisors, and employees find themselves in every day. I hope that by offering some musings on leadership, I will do my part to influence a change from ho-hum everyday management and employement to a truly empowered workplace.

Stay tuned.....