Taking One for the Team

Sea World vendorThe sun beat down on us as we sat in Shamu Stadium waiting for the Believe show to start at Sea World San Diego.  With a few minutes to kill before show time, I watched the vendors hawking toys, over-sized Sea World novelty cups, ice cream and assorted foods.  Suddenly behind me over my left shoulder I heard a commotion and turned just in time to see a red vested vendor dump his entire tray of popcorn bags onto the aisle steps.  A couple bottles of Pepsi he was trying to balance under the popcorn tray toppled over as well.  I felt for him. Blistering heat, big crowds and only a few precious minutes to make a sale, but now any potential profit he makes is bouncing down the steps.

From my right I saw a flash of red making its way up the same aisle steps.  It was another vendor who was working the ground level of the stadium selling Sea World themed toys.  He saw what happened to his fellow red vest and made a beeline towards him.  He urgently excused his way through the crowd.  Still holding his own tray, he bent down to gather the mess of remaining popcorn bags.  When the last bag was back in place on the tray, the popcorn vendor bobs his head in thanks to his fellow vendor.  At first, this mishap seemed like a small thing, but as I thought about it more I realized how extraordinary it was.

We’re taught to look out for ourselves.

We’re taught to compete.  The vendor’s job is to sell stuff to the crowd.  A successful day means sales and profits.  It’s a tough job because the people you are attempting to convince to buy your product have already spent a lot of money to be in the park.  Those same people have a variety of choices when it comes to spending their limited funds.  Rarely will a person buy toys plus drinks plus popcorn plus sunshades plus ice cream before a show. Realistically, people will buy from one maybe two vendors simply because they can’t afford more.  The vendor who came to the rescue gave up his opportunity for sales so that he could help out a colleague in need.  That’s pretty rare, but that’s exactly the spirit and attitude we are trying to foster in the team members we lead.

Create a sense of cooperation.

We’re trying to move those we lead to embrace taking one from the team to taking one for the team. The leader’s job is to create a sense of cooperation among team members in order to fulfill the vision.  Sure, that day the toy vendor probably lost a sale or two, but what he gained was greater in the long run, the trust of his colleague.  Success for him that day was not found in the counting of profits, but in the knowledge that he was a team member who could be counted on to help out when needed.  The day may come when the circumstance is reversed and the toy vendor needs the popcorn vendor’s help.  When it does, it will be the popcorn vendor who can be counted on to help.  When cooperation exists, a team is one step closer to achieving their goals.

“The greatest compliment you can receive is being counted on.” – John Maxwell

As a leader, what are some things you do to foster cooperation among your team members? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Book It!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
― Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” ― Ernest Hemingway

We’ve heard it said too many times to count that “leaders are readers.” It’s one of the lessons they teach in Leadership 101. Read, read, read. As an introvert, this advice has been easy to take to heart and put into practice. I have friends and family members who don’t like to read and will never pick up a book to mine its wisdom. That’s okay for them. They can grow in their leadership in other ways. For the readers among us, we’ve found some benefits in reading books that we don’t get anywhere else. Here are a few of my favorites.

Reading books helps us stay current.

With the advent of the Internet, books are the slow turtle in the race for fresh information. The turnaround time from the submission of a manuscript to a publisher to when it is available for sale can take up to a year.  Quick information is available 24/7 on the World Wide Web. However, when we want to dig deeper into a subject, we rely on books to help us sort through the weight of research. When we read Jim Collins’ classic, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t  or Chip and Dan Heath’s, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work or Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, we have hours of the most relevant and best research on the topic at our fingertips. We have food for thought rather than a snack for skimming.

Reading books helps us observe different leadership styles.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and styles. The way John Maxwell leads and writes is not the same way Jack Welch leads and writes. (I have an amazing grasp of the obvious.) Through their words, we get a sense of who they are as leaders and how they approach the various leadership challenges that we all face. There is room for a variety of styles at the leadership trough. The diamonds are there for our choosing.

Reading books is fun.

This one varies in degree according to our personal taste. I find reading pleasurable while some of my extroverted friends find reading a chore. There is a joy in discovering new insights as I pore over the latest Malcolm Gladwell offering (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants). Fresh wisdom is mashed with existing wisdom in our heart and mind to give us a new creative edge.

Reading books gives us perspective into our situation.

One of my favorite authors is psychologist and leadership consultant Henry Cloud (Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships and Being Ridiculously in Charge; Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses and Relationships That All of us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward; 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life).  When I read some of the composite stories of clients from his counseling practice or business consultations, I sometimes say to myself, “Thank God, I’m not that messed up.” Other times I say, “God, help me to be more like that person.”  Reading gives us perspective into our situation by helping us meet people we would not have encountered in daily life.  We would have missed out on some much needed perspective for our own situation.

Reading books affirms who we are.

This benefit is related to the one above. A couple years ago, Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs was a bestseller.  With any individual we read about, there are things we relate to and things we don’t relate to in their story.  I’ll never be Steve Jobs and neither will you. There was only one.  In the same way, there is only one you and only one me.  Reading helps to affirm who we are and who we are not.  It reminds us to celebrate our unique contribution to the world.

Reading books gives us practical ideas.

When we read great books like Todd Henry’s, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice or Peter Bregman’s, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distractions and Get the Right Things Done, we’re taken to the toolbox of the author and shown what has worked for them. Because we share the human condition, their ideas may help us to be more effective in our leadership.  Even if we don’t use the same idea in the way it is presented in the book, it may spark a thought in our mind as to how we can handle a challenge we are facing.

We take the books that we’ve read, mix in our experience, combine it with our personality, add it all together with our skills and talents to be the creative leaders we are meant to be. Those that make a difference in the lives of those we lead.

What books have had the most impact on your leadership? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Action Steps:

Check out my reading list and add your suggestions below.

To go the extra mile see: http://michaelhyatt.com/how-to-retain-more-of-what-you-read.html

A Tale of Two Bosses

hot-air-balloon-compressedA couple summers ago, the movie Horrible Bosses was a financial and critical success at the box office. It was a dark comedy that portrayed three bosses who took their “boss-ness” to the extreme. It exceeded financial expectations in part because so many people could relate to it. Most of us have had a boss that has “reached the level of their incompetence” (The Peter Principle).  We’ve had our moments when we’ve thought, “My life would be easier if my boss was not in it.” I’ve had a few of those bosses and I’ve also been fortunate to work with some excellent bosses. I’ve noticed one big difference between the two.

I’ve worked in entry level jobs where both bosses were micro managers who watched over my work and knew exactly what I was doing and when I was doing it. One boss I enjoyed working with, the other I didn’t. What was the difference, since both were micro managers?

My horrible boss had been with the company for over two decades and wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. One day a fellow employee stopped by my office to drop off a file folder for me to work on. The second he stepped in the door, the boss appears  looking over his shoulder saying, “What is that file and what are you doing with it?” I was tempted to say at that moment, “It’s the nuclear bomb codes and we’re plotting to set one off at noon.” But I refrained.  By that time, I admit, my attitude was pretty poor.

Lurking and readiness to pounce was my horrible boss’ way of life. So were the lack of clear expectations. I never knew what my target was except when I didn’t reach it. I was chastised for not reaching a goal I didn’t know existed. My one on one meetings with the boss were a laundry list of the areas I was falling short in my performance. I’ve since realized that this approach was part of the boss’ strategy to keep employees off balance so that their days are marked by fear, in the hope that they will fall in line. And for those that did, they became the boss’ favorites.  The day I left the job and the boss was a relief. This boss’ leadership philosophy was, “Your success is my threat.”

My excellent boss was a striking contrast. This boss met with me regularly. My first meeting was a “get to know you” session in which I was listened to as I told my story and background. The boss did the same. We met regularly and sometimes, just met for the purpose of having fun. We played video games and talked life in general. Other times we went over my target and expectations of where I needed to be in my performance. The boss regularly said, “I will do whatever I can to help you get there.” I was publically praised when my goals were met. In that environment, team members willingly helped each other and none were considered favorites. This boss supported me to the next level bosses. The day I left, the boss was visibly sad but wished me well. This boss’ leadership philosophy was, “Your success is my success.”

What was the difference? The emotional security of the leader. Horrible boss was emotionally insecure and ruled by fear. Excellent boss was secure and not afraid of each team member’s success and encouraged it.

Leadership expert, John Maxwell, in his now classic, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership talks about “The Law of Empowerment” in which he says that only secure leaders are able to give power away. “Leading well is not about enriching yourself – it’s about empowering others.” (Page 146). It’s a true counter-intuitive principle that when we give power away and others succeed, we become indispensable to the organization.

As leaders, what is it like to be on our team? If we could hear the thoughts of our team members, what would we find them saying to themselves about our leadership?

Some bosses are horrible because they are so insecure they can’t give power away or stand it when others succeed. The empowering leaders among us give us a boost and help us do our jobs with excellence. That’s the kind of creative leader that makes a positive difference in our lives and in the world. I want to be that kind of leader. And so do you.

What did your empowering bosses do to ensure your success?