Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Lawn and Leadership Part 1 “Let the Kid Drive the Lawnmower”

I love taking care of my lawn. The whole process is a metaphor for leaders. This entry will be the first of many paralleling lawn care to “people care” a.k.a. leadership. A good friend of mine once said, “Leaders take care of their people,” and I could not agree more.

The first time I cut the grass I was seven years old. I was watching my dad cut our bluegrass lawn to the recommended height of 3 inches and dreaming about what it would be like to do it myself. He noticed my interest and offered to let me take the self-propelled rotary push mower for a swipe. I must have done it correctly because he let me do it a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time and so on. I remember that day because he got my mom to come out and watch her upcoming first grader cutting the grass. Sometimes I wonder if my dad was really that excited because of my newfound responsibility, or because he opportunistically just sourced free, manual labor which would last for years to come. Either way, I was having fun and enjoying the new experience.

The image of that day and the process of leaders choosing, developing and mentoring their followers is remarkably similar. I watched my father cut the lawn many times, but that day he noticed my interest and chose to act. That’s right leaders, your followers notice what you do and many would love a chance to be the object of your development. Our challenge is consistently paying attention because we must identify the right candidate(s). Nothing warms my heart more than when one of my crew tells me that they want my job. The admission of desire gives me permission to begin molding them into something greater. What happens if the desiring individual is just not cut out for the role? Good question. My younger brothers were not invited to play with the Toro. Can you imagine a five year old and an infant trying to cut the grass? I don’t think my dad was interested in being the object of a parental stupidity story on 20/20. Sometimes people just aren’t ready for the investment. Timing is everything. You must assess the person’s readiness before you proceed. Ask questions in order to dig deep and see if they are truly willing to put in the work and dedication.

The second step is once you decide to move forward, start giving your world away one part at a time. I am not saying to turn over the keys immediately, but instead provide challenging assignments and projects that either mimic what you do or provide dynamic development opportunities to help them grow. In Steve Farber’s latest book Greater Than Yourself he takes it a step further. He suggests picking one person and focusing all of your attention to make them, that’s right, you guess it – Greater Than Yourself. You must teach them everything you know, connect them with your best contacts, share your greatest concepts, failures, and achievements, take them through your favorite books, and do everything within your power to equip them to be more of a success than you are today. Basically, open up your playbook. Giving yourself away is not a natural move. We like to hoard our expertise, and then sell it to the highest bidder while constantly reminding them of who graciously and benevolently opened up the treasure chest for a price. Give yourself away.

Finally, don’t stop. My dad didn’t just let me cut the grass and then put a fork in my development. He kept giving me more and more over time. I think sometimes we lose patience and forget that development, mentoring, and equipping is a process not an event – it takes time and cannot be rushed. Have you ever been guilty of trying to “microwave” someone’s growth? I have and it isn’t fun picking up the pieces of your feebly rushed attempt at supersonic development when everything hits the proverbial fan. The process takes time – just like when your lawn is growing in during the spring.

So do what Doug did, when your “kid” is showing interest and ready to test drive some responsibility give them the opportunity to drive the lawnmower and see what happens.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Change: Let Voltron Be Your Guide

Change is challenging for the young and old, the rookies and the veterans, the successful and the defeated, yet necessary. The job of the leader is not just to be a catalyst of change but to also know when and how much is needed. It would be nice if we all had some sort of barometer measuring conditions of change for our teams. Email me when you invent it.

Five years ago I inherited a highly dysfunctional team, and everywhere I turned changes screamed out. At the end of the first year, my leaders and I did an “autopsy of change” and listed every change we had made. The board was full. We had over 25 changes. Work hours, lunch hours, new account management and development methodology, along with fresh layers of much needed accountability dominated the list. What we learned was that both the amount of change and the depth of change are directly proportional to the leadership equity possessed by the top dog – yes friend, that’s you the leader.

The leader must, must, must have the trust and influence to cast the vision, drive the strategy, and facilitate the robust dialogue needed to build a solid operating plan used to execute needed changes. This obviously comes with time. That’s right Skippy, you can’t get this done immediately.

One of the key changes accomplished that first year surrounded changing the way the team interacted with each other through altering the way business was executed. Dictating would have been easy yet costly, so I chose to try something different. I picked two of the key influencers and asked them to help me drive the change. Instead of fighting it, they chose to get on board and help make it happen. In order to drive effective change it is imperative to use both your influence and the influence of your leaders. Together this creates an unstoppable force. For those of you cartoon nuts from the 80’s it’s much like Voltron. Do you remember what would happen when all of the lions came together? They created an unbeatable robot that nothing could destroy. Don’t worry. You won’t see me at DragonCON this weekend.

So here’s the punch line: if you are trying to drive change, assess your leadership equity. How much do you have? How much do your people trust you? How cohesive and focused is your leadership team. Where does their leadership equity fall on the grid? If you get high marks, go for it. If you are weak, then start building some muscle in these areas and start leading so you can be the catalyst of change your team needs.