Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Lawn and Leadership Part 2 – Lawn Rehab

The first house my wife and I bought didn’t have much of a lawn. The coverage of the dry, long bluegrass/rye grass mix was thin throughout proving its lack of proper care, but then again it was early spring. Obviously we didn’t buy the house for the lawn. My younger brother, Jon, was working for a lawn company at the time. I had him come over and check it out. He agreed that it needed a lot of work. We felt that if we did the right things we could produce a turf most neighbors would love to own.

The first order of business was to do some seeding.  There were multiple large bare spots in the back yard. The largest was a 6 foot by 2 ½ foot rectangle which obviously was the former location of a play structure or outdoor storage box.  I thought we would just throw some seeds down and start watering.  I was wrong.  Jon showed me that I needed to “disturb the ground” by pulling the weeds and any weak-looking grass to make it a cultivated mix of dirt and air.  We then sewed the seed in with a garden rake moving it continuously over and through the ground as if we were folding an enormous blanket until it looked like a beautiful marriage of rich soil and tiny seeds.  I know I’m a bit of a freak, but I was overwhelmed at the potential of that rectangle.  Could it really grow in as thick as we hoped?  I watered it for 5 minutes and then went and replicated the same process over the next few bare spots.

Jon stopped by and dropped some starter fertilizer a couple days later, and I continued to water the spots at night after dinner wondering if it would actually work.  Sure enough, about 10 days after the initial planting I started to see tiny, focused blades of grass fighting for the Sun. It was working!

The next 3-4 weeks more and more blades began to push through the soil until finally the bare spots were replaced by thick, brilliant, kelly green patches of grass.

Part two was killing the weeds. Jon took care of that with his weed death serum. Thanks bro!

By the end of the growing season the lawn looked like that obnoxious green lawn on a certain fertilizer company’s tv commercial.  Maybe it’s just me, but every time I see that commercial I question the legitimacy of the turf.  I swear it is computer generated.  That summer Jon and I rehabilitated my lawn. It was not easy and it took time, energy and focus, but the end result was magnificent. Do you ever look at the line where your lawn meets your neighbors’ and quietly celebrate your victory because yours looks so much better than theirs? I know…I’m sick.

Have you ever undertaken an opportunity where the landscape of your business, church, or team resembled the original state of my lawn? Was it bare, uninspired, and underachieving? I did. Check out my next blog entry for the rest of the story.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You Can't Microwave Golden Brown Goodness

Can you imagine life without a Microwave? Percy Spencer hooked us up when he invented that lovely heating machine in the 1940’s. We don’t go a day without using it to do things like heat up drinks, warm meals, and cook popcorn. When my first son was born I figured out the exact amount of time it took to heat a bottle perfectly. Needless to say, my burned forearms got me into enough trouble during the testing phase to get my mental health questioned a few times…and times haven’t changed...that much.

Can you imagine not having a Microwave? We would be stuck relying on the old stove, the grill, or even starting a fire outside in a pit and it would just take too long. We hate waiting. It’s not convenient nor is it practical in today’s world. Unfortunately we don’t like waiting as our leaders grow and develop either. We spend time figuring out how to speed up their growth when we should instead be spending time figuring out how to enhance it.

Did you ever promote Johnny Poser before he was ready? Who would want to take the time to do it right? We have goals to hit, budgets to dwarf, and gross profit to drive. Very little equipping went into Johnny’s development, but you were convinced he would succeed. After all, he did his current job so well that you knew he would fit right into his next one with more responsibility. You kept telling yourself, “This will work out great! Johnny is perfect for this role!”  Then reality decided to show up after you made the promotional switch.  He wasn’t ready and his immaturity slapped you silly. You didn’t truly equip him so you try addressing the major red flags and Johnny doesn’t think he needs any more “help” because he has arrived. You begin to realize your desire for speed and ease blinded the reality of his developmental deficiencies. More and more issues begin to surface until you have no choice but to remove Johnny Poser from his newfound leadership role. I have made this mistake and it isn’t fun living through it having to undo something you never should have done. The problem is you put them in a growth Microwave and expected them to be ready in 45 seconds on 100% power.

I love roasting marshmallows.  My friends make fun of me because I get down and find the best part of the fire where there is no flame with even heat emitting from the coals.  My goal each time is to make the perfect blend of brown crispiness with zero burn.  The process of building the fire, lighting it and waiting for it to blaze to the point so it is ready to roast marshmallows takes time.  You finally get your little puffy ball ‘o goodness on the stick and begin roasting.  It isn’t ready immediately.  It takes time to get all the sides just right – golden brown.  What if you used the same patience and focus in developing your leaders?  Have you ever tried “roasting” a marshmallow in the Microwave?  It blows up.  The heat is too intense and you’re left with a sticky mess.  Take the time to invest, equip, and develop your leaders into golden brown globes of tasty goodness because if you try to Microwave them they’ll end up blowing up into a sticky mess that your wife will make you clean up. Trust me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Be the Leader Your Team Wants to Follow – not Porky Pig

One of the key differentiators in today’s work world is environment. It’s a common topic covered during the interview process. People want to work at a place they enjoy. The ultimate challenge for leaders continues to be architecting an environment where people arrive every day with anticipation of what could be, should be, and will be while making a difference and having fun. Ninety-five percent of people in leadership roles today don’t get it. They solely focus on the bottom line while forgetting that they are working with actual people – not robots. What if they focused on the bottom line AND focused on building an engaging, enticing environment for their employees? I have asked many leaders what keeps them from building an irresistible environment, and have received my fair share of excuses - “It’s too hard. I’m not that creative. I don’t have time. What would my peers think?” are just a few. The funny thing is that it isn’t that hard. It comes down to three things: investment, empowerment, and creativity. This blog entry will focus on investment. We’ll tackle the other two later.

I’ll be honest; I have written my fair share of training material and each time I ask myself if my team and/or audience will find it valuable. The fact is that when you spend time investing in your team's development they appreciate the gift they are receiving. They recognize it takes time, thought, preparation, and a smidgeon of risk. The majority of your employees will not come up and thank you right away, but if you converse with them over time and ask if your content was meaningful and applicable they will admit its value and you will see it payoff in their performance. Do you remember when you finally realized how smart your parents were? It happened over time and even when things started to take shape, I doubt anyone went and told them how amazing their wisdom was – I didn’t.

People want to be invested in. If you were to take a sample of employees out of an environment of investment and another out of an average environment, you would find that the “invested sample” would be far more interested, engaging and productive. Why? They are being fed and grown (I feel a lawn reference coming on, but I will wait to use it for another installment of “My Lawn and Leadership”). I know I referenced this book in the last blog entry, but Steve Farber’s new book Greater Than Yourself illustrates the idea of investment beautifully. I highly recommend reading it.

Investment is worth the time because if you, Johnny Leader, are continuing your own personal growth and development, you should have more than enough topics and ideas to teach. So, it all comes back to you. Are you learning and growing? If so, start finding a way to deliver those lessons back to your crew in a simple, easy-to-apply manner. It’s scary and stretching, but they need your knowledge and experiences to aid in their growth. Extreme leaders do this – average ones don’t. If you aren’t growing with purpose then you need to start, because that’s the reason why your turnover is so high and your employee satisfaction is in the toilet. You can only bribe them so long to give you the highest marks on your performance evaluation before the truth comes out, and you start stuttering to your boss in defense like Porky Pig. Make investment in your team a priority and be the leader they want to follow.