Latest "Leadership Characteristics" Posts
Believe it or not, in a previous life, I was formally trained as a professional baseball umpire. (Yep, that’s me — front row, center — way back in the day!)
I’ve umpired hundreds of baseball games. And I was pretty darn good, too! Good — but unfortunately — not great.
And I knew why. Pitches around the corners!
The fact is umpires will see two to three hundred pitches every game. 90 to 95% of them are no-brainers.
Pitches that a batter swings at? Those are obvious to everyone. Pitches down the middle? Piece of cake.
Pitches in the dirt or pitches up in the batter’s eyes? You could make those calls.
But pitches on or around the corners? Those 5 to 10% of the calls tend to separate simply good umpires from the great ones.
Unfortunately, I struggled with pitches around the corners, and that ate at me.
You see, my goal was not be just a good, average, or acceptable umpire. I wanted to be a great umpire! And I knew I needed help.
Jack was a well-respected umpire with many seasons to his credit. I tracked him down and he agreed to meet with me.
He listened patiently as I went on and on about positioning, timing, mechanics and the like. Finally, I reached the climax in my personal quest for umpiring clarity.
“Jack,” I almost pleaded, “please tell me once and for all, these corner pitches — are they balls or are they strikes?”
I remember Jack paused and smiled, before stating flatly, “It doesn’t matter.”
What! I couldn’t believe my ears! It doesn’t matter?! Had he not been paying attention to me? I had just bared my soul. I’m getting my butt chewed with great regularity out there. And somehow that doesn’t matter?! Well it matters to me!
But before I could articulate my building frustration, Jack added his final observation.
“Phil, it doesn’t really matter because of who you are.
“Remember, you’re the umpire — the decision maker!
“That pitch — ultimately, it’s whatever you say it is!”
Then he paused — I think for effect — before adding,
“Phil, what’s far more important than whether a pitch around the corner is a ball or a strike, is that you call that pitch the same way — all the time!
“Remember, when you’re consistently consistent, people will adapt and adjust their behavior to yours!”
Consistent leadership is a skill any leader can practice.
And there you have the takeaway for umpires and leaders of any stripe who want to great at what they do. Don’t worry about perfection. Perfection is a myth. Focus on being consistent. Consistent leadership is a skill any leader can and should practice.
In the course of your career — like any good umpire — you’re bound to make hundreds, thousands, even hundreds of thousands of independent decisions.
The majority of these will go unnoticed, unmentioned and probably unappreciated by almost everyone.
Why? Because good leaders are expected to make good, basic decisions — that’s our job.
But with great leaders — most people will accept decisions great leaders make — even questionable decisions or decisions with which they might personally disagree if that great leader has developed a commitment to consistent leadership. Day in and day out — regardless the situation — irrespective of those involved — in every circumstance encountered.
It’s really pretty simple.
Great leadership reputations are not built by being perfect at the plate. Great leadership reputations are built by being consistent around the corners!
Demand Better Service Than You Deliver?
It happened for me just a few weeks before Christmas. The days were getting shorter and weather was cold and menacing. The crowds of holiday shoppers and travelers were swelling. In other words, it was just about the time each year when those of us who make our living in the service of others take center stage. It is our collective time to shine.
Unfortunately, for far too many in service sector positions, this time of year triggers grousing and complaining about long holiday hours that must be worked and aggravating customers that must be served. Such attitudes are certain to eventually surface publicly and become depressingly obvious to even the most casual observers.
It’s in such a dismal service landscape that some service professionals choose to rise to the top and shine brightly. They are the ones you and I notice immediately and remember for a long, long time. They are the ones we determine to be exceptional.
As usual, on this morning I was in a big hurry. While backing my vehicle into my chosen parking spot, I spied the airport shuttle bus fast approaching…quickly. I exited my vehicle and rushed to gather my bags. I knew if I missed this bus, I would be waiting another ten or fifteen minutes in the frosty cold before the next bus appeared. Luckily, I made it just in time to join other hurried and harried travelers for the 15-minute loop through the economy parking lot on our way to the terminal. To be honest, I didn’t even notice our driver. He (or she, I honestly don’t know which) just sat in the seat and drove.
Upon exiting the bus at the terminal, I soon joined others travelers in the airport ticketing line. Once in line I reached for my tickets and cell phone. The tickets were there. The cell phone wasn’t. I knew immediately what had happened. In my haste to catch the shuttle bus, I had left the cell phone in the console of my truck. Now I was faced with the prospect of either a week without cell phone service or a retracing of my steps in a rushed effort to retrieve the phone. Though time was short, I decided I needed that phone.
Immediately after checking my bags, empty-handed I raced down the escalator and back outside to catch the next available bus to the economy parking lot. This early in the morning, I was pleased to find I was the only person waiting. Thankfully, in just a few anxious minutes I saw the next bus approaching. The instant the bus pulled to a stop and the doors swung open, I was on board.
“Good morning,” I said breathlessly.
“Good morning,” the driver replied.
“Well, I’ve already made my first big mistake of the day. I left my cell phone in my car a few minutes ago and now I hope I can get it without missing my flight,” I explained, hoping he would take the hint, empathize with my plight and voluntarily wait for me as I retrieved my phone. I knew if he was unwilling to wait, I would be standing in breezy 25 degree weather for another 10-15 minutes waiting for the next shuttle bus in the loop.
“Don’t worry, it happens all the time,” he reassured me. “I’ll be happy to wait.”
And wait he did. When we arrived at my designated stop–the first stop on his multi-stop route–the bus had barely stopped rolling when I bolted from the bus and ran the hundred yards or so to my truck. I snatched my phone from its resting place in the truck’s console and was soon jogging back to the bus.
Once back on board, I thanked the driver profusely. His simple response to my gushing thanks was perfect. “No problem. I’m sure you would have done the same thing for me.” I really believe I would have, but both he and I knew he didn’t have to wait for me and that many other drivers simply would have chosen not to.
For the next 10 minutes I rode in silence as we continued his assigned route, all the while I watched this gentleman as he performed his service duties. At stop after stop, he didn’t just stop the bus and wait; he repeatedly exited his seat to help passengers load their luggage. While driving, I watched as he scanned the lot on all sides, looking for passengers, instead of staring straight ahead in an effort not to make eye contact with those he might easily have driven by, leaving them to wait for the next bus.
As the bus began to fill, he greeted and spoke to each of us individually. During various brief, but rich conversations he had with different passengers, among other things, I learned this driver had a son in medical school who he was looking forward to seeing during the Christmas
Finally, the pickup loop had been completed and the driver maneuvered the bus toward the parking lot exit and on to the terminal. I knew what to expect next. I had been conditioned to expect to hear the scripted and lackluster announcement–the same one I had heard dozens and dozens of times before:
Welcome to Nashville International Airport…Up ahead I will be making two stops…I will make the appropriate airline announcements at each of these stops…Upon your return, take the economy, not the long-term bus to retrieve your car…When exiting the bus, watch your step.
Both efficient and comprehensive, admittedly, the announcement covered the necessary bases. Though I had never spent much time analyzing it, I had often thought this mechanical announcement was lacking some necessary ingredient. Was it humor, was it spontaneity, was it soul? Honestly, I didn’t know what it was lacking, but for me it was lacking something. That is until this morning. For this morning at least, the staid old announcement was out. This time I heard something very
different. This time I heard the following:
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for choosing Nashville International Airport and thank you for parking your car in the economy lot and for being on my bus. If you weren’t here, pretty soon I wouldn’t be here either. Because of you I have a job and for that I am thankful. Please let me know if you have any questions or need any special assistance once we arrive at the terminal. I will do all I can to help you. If you wish, once we come to a stop, just step off the bus and don’t worry about wrestling your bags. I will be happy to retrieve your bags for you. There’s no sense in hurting yourself unnecessarily.”
When the bus stopped, I filed off with the other passengers. Though I didn’t have bags to wait for and I still had a flight to catch, I found myself lingering to watch this service professional as he worked to make the last few seconds of each customer encounter uniquely special.
When each of the passengers had been accommodated and was on their way to catch their flight, I couldn’t help myself, I stepped forward to speak to the driver
one last time.
“Excuse me,” I said as I extended my hand, “my name is Phillip Van Hooser.”
The gentleman accepted my hand and shook.
“It’s nice to meet you Mr. Van Hooser, my name is Corwin Hodge.”
“Mr. Hodge, I couldn’t leave without telling you how impressed I am with the way you have gone about helping me and others on your bus this morning. You probably know that your level of attention to the customer is rare these days, even here at the airport on these buses.”
“Yes, sir, I know it is,” he admitted. “But, if I don’t make an honest effort to serve the people I come in contact with, the people who make it possible for me to work and eat, how can I, with a clear conscience, ever expect others to serve me well when it comes time for me to be the customer? Besides, it just makes the day better when you know you have helped somebody, doesn’t it?”
Indeed it does.
I left my encounter with Corwin Hodge that morning with a slightly different slant on life. At first unconsciously, later deliberately, I found myself walking a little taller, smiling more freely, greeting others genuinely, while on the lookout for someone to help. After all, how could I, with a clear conscious expect help from others if I am not first, willing to offer it freely?
What about you? Can you, with a clear conscience, say you don’t demand better service than you deliver? If so, congratulations! You have joined the unique ranks of Corwin Hodge and others. However, if you must honestly admit that the service you offer is lacking somewhat as compared to what you would hope to receive, my questions are simple. Why and what are you committed to do about remedying the situation? And are you willing to start today?
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Concept Director at LeadersOughtToKnow®
For more profiles and stories of exceptional service, check out my book, Willie’s Way: 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty.
Back in 2005, I read an article in FORTUNE (June 25, 2005) by Geoffrey Colvin. It was entitled, “The Wisdom of Dumb Questions.” The title caught my attention. In the article, Mr. Colvin surmised that “dumb questions lead to smart decisions…” and that a dumb question can “…cut to the heart of the matter, posing a blunt challenge to someone or something–an authority, a policy, the established order. It can make people uncomfortable.”
That made sense to me and I started thinking: What dumb questions should I be asking that might lead me to smarter leadership decisions? I thought you might be interested in some of the “dumb” questions I now suggest proactive leaders consider asking with great regularity.
Dumb Questions Smart Leaders Ask
Dumb Question #1: How am I doing?
This question was made popular by former Mayor Ed Koch. During his term of service to the City of New York, Koch was renowned for stopping average New Yorkers on the street and asking them this, his favorite dumb question. Why would he do such a thing? I think he realized how easy it is for leaders to become isolated, even insulated from the very people they are entrusted to lead. If he didn’t ask the regular “Joes” and “Janes,” his only other alternative would be to trust the opinions of his advisors–most of whom were even farther removed from the man and woman on the street than he.
Dumb Question #2: What have we screwed up lately?
All of us enjoy having rose petals strewn before us. In other words, we like to hear people bragging and commenting on all the great things we have done and are doing. But what do those kinds of accolades really teach us? Not much, I’m afraid. Praise is great for ego boosting, but rather worthless when it comes to building a foundation for continual improvement. Mistakes, errors, miscalculations, screw ups–those are the things that can really teach us something. Admit it; haven’t you learned more from your mistakes over the years than you have from your successes? Well then, why not spend some focused time seeking out areas where we seem to be chronically screwing up, in order to shine a bright light on those areas as we begin to repair them.
Dumb Question #3: What should we be doing better?
Maybe you really are doing a great job and people are honestly struggling to find concrete answers to your Dumb Question #2. Congratulations! You must be doing something right as a leader. Keep it up. But never forget that some wise person once said that “good is the enemy of great.” And it is. There’s always room for improvement and improvement should be our never-ending quest–to be great at what we do and how we lead. Therefore go out and ask your constituencies — the employees, customers, colleagues, partners that make up your professional existence — what they would like to see done at a better, higher, more sophisticated level. Their answers may prove to shake the comfort zones you have allowed to form around you. But their answers may also serve as the catalysts and motivation to jumpstart heightened levels of performance.
Dumb Question #4: What would you like for me to do about that?
This may be the dumbest question of all and yet the smartest one you can ask. Everyone has an opinion. And even the lowliest of employee is known to openly and freely share opinions with fellow workers, family members, neighbors, even innocent bystanders waiting patiently in the grocery store checkout line–everyone, that is, but you, their leader. Possibly the smartest thing a leader can do is to actively seek out the personal, specific opinions of others. Don’t be afraid to ask them Dumb Question #4, then shut up and listen. It’s nothing short of amazing what they might tell you–in startling detail. The chances are stacked in your favor that you will learn something from the conversation. And don’t worry; I know you’re thinking–what about the worst case scenario? What if they share suggestions that are unrealistic, unworkable and impossible? What then? My advice is to tell them so. In an honest, open manner, tell them what won’t work AND why. Most of the people we work with are reasonable people. If it truly is unworkable, based on your complete explanation, they will understand. And for those who just refuse to understand, at least they can never say you didn’t make the effort to explain things to them.
Here’s How It’s Done
Now that we’ve covered four dumb questions any leader can ask, maybe I should tell you how it’s done best.
1. Don’t label your question as a dumb one before you ask it. The fact that you have the courage to ask the obvious questions may actually make you look brilliant in the eyes of others. It worked for Socrates: after all “What is virtue?”
2. Don’t apologize for asking the question. Don’t dilly-dally. Don’t tip-toe around the question until it has lost its power, its uumph. Just step up and ask it. And ask it with sincerity and an open mind.
3. Don’t worry about what the answer to the question might be. You can’t predict nor control the future–the answer will be what it is. You can begin to deal with it once it has shown itself.
4. Don’t be intimidated if people don’t immediately offer a response to your question. Be patient. Let them process the question appropriately. After all, this may be the very first time their leader ever asked a dumb question–on purpose, at least.
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Concept Director at LeadersOughtToKnow®
For more great leadership tips, get the Leaders Journal now.
I’ve got an interesting question for you today, a question that we all have to face one time or another. What are you afraid of?
You know, a lot of people like to pretend that they basically have no fear, of if they do have a fear, it’s minor, and therefore, has very little bearing on who they are and what they do. Well, the reality that I’ve found in life is that we all have fears, some big, some small, but in their own inimitable way, every fear will in fact affect us. We can either grow through it, or we can be, well, we can be shackled by them.
I wanted you to think about a fear though today, specifically a fear that maybe most people don’t consider. If I asked you what you were afraid of and we were sitting face-to-face having a conversation, you might be saying, “Well, I’m afraid of flying” or “I’m afraid of speaking in public” or “I’m afraid of failing at something.” All of those things are things that even those that don’t like to admit their fears, well, they don’t have as much problem or as much hesitancy admitting those as others.
But, the fear that I want to talk about is the fear of success. You know, telling someone that they’re afraid of succeeding is counterintuitive to most folks. Most people say, “I’m afraid of the very thing that I’m working toward, that I’m striving for, that I’m sacrificing as a result of?” And, the answer is, all too often unfortunately, yes. Yes, we’re fearful of succeeding.
I remember several years ago when I was still working as a Human Resource Manager in corporate America, it was my job to post job bids. And, what that meant was when a job came open in the plant, our policy was that we would write up a description of that job and we would place it in a public place so that all employees would have an opportunity to see it. If they were interested, they would sign their name or make me aware of their interest, and they would be interviewed and considered for the possibility of being placed in that position.
Well, on this particular occasion, I had a job, a very specific job that had very unique requirements for it, descriptions for it, very unique skills and experiences that would fit it. And, as I was working at the job description, in preparation to post that job description, I kept thinking of one individual in the company that would be perfect for the job.
And, it was so pressing on my mind that this one individual had all the unique skills and abilities, talents, backgrounds, etc, that would fit very, very nicely into the position, that I did something that I normally, in that role as Human Resource Manager, that I normally would have never done.
I went and posted the job on the board, but then I made a beeline to this particular individual. I sat down across her desk and I said…we’ll call her Wanda. I said, “Wanda, do you realize that there’s a job posting for a job.” And, I mentioned the job. “There’s a job posting up now for consideration.” She said, “Yeah, I knew that that was going up.” I said, “Well, I’m glad. Have you thought about that job?” And she said, “Well, yeah. I’m pretty familiar with the job.”
I said to her then, “Wanda, I’ve been thinking about the job and as far as I can tell from the requirements of the job versus what you bring to your position today, you would be the perfect candidate. You have the right experience. You have the right education. You have the right temperament.” It just went on and on. “You would be the perfect candidate for this particular job.”
To my surprise, she looked at me and said, “Yes, I would. Yes, I would, Phil. I thought exactly the same thing. I read the job description, or at least was familiar with it, and I know that I could do this job. I could be successful in this job. I know I would be the perfect candidate for this job.” I went, “Well, that’s great. So, you’re going to sign up for the job then?” She said, “Oh, no. No, I’m not.”
I said, “You’re not? You just now said you’d be a perfect fit for the job.” She said, “Yes, I would.” I said, “Then, why not sign up for the job?” She looked at me, and she said, “Phil, when I was successful in this job, and I would eventually be successful, the reason I’m not signing up is I would not know what you guys would want me to do next.”
In other words, she was saying, “I have no fear that I would be successful. I only fear what would happen as a result of the success.” In other words, because she could not predict what would happen next, she would choose not to be successful at something she was, well, ultimately confident that she could, in fact, succeed at.
Think about that for a moment. It happens a lot. Sales people do not exceed their quota, even though they could, even though they’re having a wonderful quarter or a wonderful year, they don’t go beyond what their quota is because they’re fearful that exceeding their quota this year means that they might have their quota raised next year. Never mind that they could reach it easily. Never mind that would even benefit or profit from it. They don’t like the idea of being successful and not being able to predict what that will entail in the future.
I think that’s very shortsighted for leaders. I think we, as leaders, need to be constantly and continuously striving for success, success in our communications, success in our visioning, success in literally everything that we do as a leader without fear of what will happen, but rather, with faith that what does happen in the future would be able to be attended to, accomplished, and succeeded at.
I’ve always said that success breeds success, but unfortunately, fear also breeds new fears. As leaders, I think we need to lead in such a way that others see us striving for success even when the future is still unknown. In so doing, we may set the standard and we may offer a picture of encouragement for others who would be following us.
Anything we can do to be successful and help others be successful at the same light without the fears that may be associated with those successes, well, as far as I’m concerned, those are things we need to think about. Those are things that leaders ought to know.
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Concept Director at LeadersOughtToKnow®
In a recent conversation with Mike McCarty, President & CEO of Helena Chemical Company, I asked Mike what skills leaders must possess to be effective today.
Phil: Tell me, from your perspective in developing leaders, what are the key elements, one, two, three, top one, top two, top three things that you think a leader, regardless of the industry, but a leader needs to be able to do today that may have been different five or ten years ago and may be different five years from now?
Mike: Yes, again, good question. Obviously, when you look at that of a leader, you need to be qualified to move into a position form a technical standpoint or a knowledgeable standpoint. I think the key, the higher up you move into the management role of the organization, the greater your people skills need to be. Again, I’m a little biased because as I’ve said many times, I think the agricultural industry is so relationship-oriented, but again, you cannot lose sight of the people side of the business and to be an effective leader today, you have to have superior people skills. If you could manage people…because the earlier question, you said what was the bigger challenge and I said it was people.
People drive our industry. People drive any industry in business, so I try to encourage people to…and that’s one of the questions I ask when you move into a role – how have you been at managing people? How do you communicate to people? We’re going to have a lot of people up underneath these managers that have the technical expertise, the knowledge base, to do the daily job, but when you become a senior level, whether it’s a Vice President, Division Manager or Senior Manager, it’s people skills. So that would be the number one trait. Obviously, there’s many other things that go into the qualifications to move into a job, but it’s people skills.
Phil: Well, let me take that broad based question and ask it in a more direct and more personal standpoint. You mentioned to the group earlier that you’d been with the company – I think you said – thirty-two years?
Mike: Thirty-two years.
Phil: Thirty-two years, same company, young man, started early in your career and here you are in the middle part of your career. Maybe even approaching the latter stages of your career or getting closer there, what do you going from a salesman in the business to now the CEO suite, what did you attribute, again, the top one, two, three things for you personally? What is it that you learned that brought you from where you were to where you are today?
Mike: Okay, let me sum this up and I’ll kind of worked backwards. You have to trust other people in the company and let me say what I mean by that. When you’re first promoted into a management position and you’re usually coming out of a field, you tend to be much more hands-on because that’s how you’re successful being a sales rep or a branch manager is you move into manager roles. You have many, now, different people working for you. Initially, most people take the same approach of being very hands-on because that’s the way they’ve been successful when in many times you have to back away.
You have to learn how to delegate and you have to learn how to communicate. That gets back a little bit to what I said earlier about the people skills. How do you communicate with people? How do you delegate with people and not be where, I’ve always said, where people feel that you’re looking over their shoulder. If you can do that and create that team concept and support people rather than being the doer, then it works well. I had to learn that the hard way. I mean I was very young when I got the opportunity to become President. I was forty years old.
Phil: Forty years old, wow.
Mike: I was forty years old, was offered the opportunity to be Helena, very grateful, but I was inheriting, at that time, about a billion dollar company and I was forty years old. Many people asked me, “What did you do to prepare?” Well, there was no preparation.
I told them I would do it because I had enough confidence, when you’re younger. I said, “Look, I’m going to try this and I think I can do it.” Did you have formal training? No. I told people I came out of the field. I was a salesman at heart. I loved dealing with people and I had a desire to succeed. I wanted to succeed. There were a lot of things that drive you and you just say, “Okay, I’m going to do that.” Then you learn, so I kind of learned on the job, so to speak, and I’ve been in the job now for sixteen years. So when I first took it, I said, “Well, we’ll see how long this will last,” because you don’t really know when you’re a forty year old and you take over a company. How long are you going to be able to get along with your shareholders and your stakeholders in the company, but you learn by that and I’ve learned a lot.
Now, what I want to try to do is share what I’ve learned for the generation, so the next guy that sits in my seat doesn’t have to do it the way I did it. Not saying it can’t be done, but we’re a much more complex company today. We’re not a billion dollar company anymore. We’re almost a $4 billion dollar company. We’re so much more diverse. We have so many more employees, so the transition should be different.
Phil: Well, then let me ask you one final question and this question will be on the heels of the comment you just made. You said, “I’m trying to help the next person to know how to do it a little bit differently.” For the people that may be watching and who may have the desires to grow their own career past where they are right now, maybe not to a CEO suite at some point, but to somewhere beyond where they are, what would you suggest to them that they need to do almost immediately that would move them toward whatever that goal or level in their career might be?
Mike: I think it’s making it known what you would like to do because when you have a lot of people in the company. If I know, as the CEO of Helena, people have a desire to want to do more, to move into a management role, I encourage them to tell me that. Believe or not, you remember these things. You remember these individuals because when you’re part of a mass group, there’s so many talented people. Obviously, working hard and achieving success and being one of the top people in the company, certainly, that’s an advantage, but also making it known because don’t take it for granted that people know what you want to do and I think that’s what I’ve always encouraged people.
If someone wants to have an opportunity to work in California, as an example, let us know that or if you have an opportunity to work in a certain segment a bit, let us know that or if you have a desire to be one the senior executives, let us know that. We need to know because, again, we have to identify. Again, when you have a lot of people like that, you have as many individuals as we have, it makes it more difficult. I’ve asked that and people have told me that. In my mind, I know there’s certain individuals now that have that desire to be the next Vice President or the next President of Helena and we’ll do everything we can, I’ll do everything I can to give those opportunities.
All the best,
Phillip Van Hooser
Today we continue our consideration of leadership issues discussed during an interview I recently conducted with Dr. Jay Akridge, Dean of the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. This interview was conducted during a leadership retreat I led for Helena The question we will consider today is this:
What are the three most beneficial habits you have developed to help support your successes?
Dr. Akridge: Phil, this question is fairly easy for me to answer. I’ve thought about it lot over the years. I continuously remind myself that it’s not about me! In my current position as a Dean at Purdue University, I have more than 25 people who directly report to me. They’re all smart, high achieving leaders in their own right. In essence, I am a leader of leaders. I need to do all I can to support their efforts, but then I must remember to get out of their way and let them do their jobs. Our College’s success, the success of our faculty, staff and students, is my success.
The second critical habit that comes to mind is that I am constantly working to acknowledge people—particularly their contributions and successes. I try to learn and call people by their names when we meet. I write countless notes—handwritten notes—besides emails to people acknowledging something of importance to them. I do everything I can to go out of my way to affirm the people of our College.
Finally, I have learned to take every opportunity for communication, regardless how large or small, seriously. Every time I am asked to speak to a group, again large or small, even for as little as five minutes or less, I plan and prepare. I will have a specific purpose and a point to make. I try desperately not to take any such opportunity for granted. I try to always remember that people expect no less from someone in my leadership position.
Dr. Akridge outlined three habits that he attributes to being supportive of his personal success as a leader. Those three again are:
1. Remember, “It’s not about me!”
2. Acknowledge people constantly.
3. Take every opportunity for communication seriously.
What about it? Have these same (or similar) habits worked for you or are these good new habits to be developed? Of course, these can’t be the only habits successful people have. What others habits need to be added to this list of three?
The final question I asked Dr. Akridge during our interview was:
What do you tell your children about the keys to being successful?
You will read his answer in my next post. Until then, I would like to know how you would answer the same question. What “success advice” do you dispense to your kids? Does it do any good? How can you tell? Share your thoughts — we would love to hear from you.
Phillip Van Hooser
In my last post I asked readers to think about and respond to this question:
What are the three most important actions you have taken that have positively impacted your professional success?
You will recall that this discussion began based on an interview I conducted with Dr. Jay Akridge, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Purdue University, during a recent Leaders Ought To Know client retreat for Helena Chemical. Dr. Akridge offered the following responses (paraphrased with his permission based on the emphasis I personally drew from his comments).
PVH: Dr. Akridge, you have experienced significant successes in your chosen field at a relatively young age. What do you consider to be the three most important actions you have taken that have positively impacted your professional successes?
Dr. Akridge: First, has been my willingness to step off the proven, planned path that I was traveling. Too often, I think people may become so singularly focused on the task at hand that they may not recognize any number of other divergent paths leading to many other desirable destinations—some of which may be better or more promising than the ones we originally envisioned.
Second, I have tried to be willing to explore and/or pursue interesting opportunities as they were presented to me. When I left for college I expected to get a degree in agriculture before returning home to work in the family business. Along the way, various professors, coupled with varied experiences I was fortunate to have, led me to continue my education at Purdue, before exploring the working academic side of agriculture. I have been willing to explore various opportunities to see what each might hold. It has been a wonderful adventure.
Finally, I have realized the value of having and, when necessary actively pursuing, professional mentors that have helped me grow and progress in my career. A great number of these mentors have helped reduce my professional learning curves significantly. That has been a great professional advantage.
PVH: Okay then, one follow up question. What do you look for when attempting to identify a mentor?
Dr. Akridge: I look for three things in a potential mentor: someone whom I respect for what they have accomplished or for their values, someone who is non-judgmental and someone who is willing to invest time. It’s a rare combination, but there are individuals possessing these characteristics all around us. I have been fortunate to find such individuals at various junctures in my life and career. Their influence on my ultimate career has been significant.
Let’s take a moment to summarize. Dr. Akridge offered that the three most important actions he has taken which have ultimately supported his professional successes include:
1. Flexibility: Being willing to step off the planned path.
2. Curiosity: Being willing to explore interesting opportunities that present themselves.
3. Outreach: Being intentional in pursuing professional mentors.
So what about you? Do you agree with these three? Do you see any that are glaringly absent for you? Or do you just think Dr. Akridge is full of beans—soybeans probably, one of America’s farmers favorite cash crops?
Another question I asked Dr. Akridge during our interview was:
What are the three most beneficial habits you have developed to serve to support your continuing successes?
You will read his answer in the next post. In the meantime, I would like to know how you would answer the same question. What habits are working well for you as a successful leader? These are ideas that Leaders Ought To Know.
Phillip Van Hooser
During a recent Leaders Ought To Know client retreat for Helena Chemical Company, I interviewed the Dean of the College of Agriculture at Purdue University, Dr. Jay Akridge.
Listening to Dr. Akridge one soon discovers that he is not your typical, stuffy academic / bureaucratic administrator type. Born on a western Kentucky farm, Jay’s family owned and managed a very successful independent farm store in the small town of Fredonia, Kentucky (population 400). By the time of Jay’s arrival, Akridge Farm Supply, founded in 1933 by Jay’s grandfather, was being managed by Jay’s father. It was naturally assumed that Jay would eventually take up the reins of the family business, representing the third generation to do so.
But listening to Jay one soon discovers he is not your typical, folksy farmer / agricultural businessman type either. Upon graduating as the valedictorian from Lyon County High School, Eddyville, Kentucky (senior class population of 58), Jay accepted a full Presidential Scholarship to attend Murray State University where he studied Ag Economics and finished his undergraduate education with a 3.96 GPA. But he was far from finished. Instead of heading back to Akridge Farm Supply and a secure future, Jay headed north to West Lafayette, Indiana, to continue his education at Purdue University. In short order he had completed his Masters degree and by age 26 had earned his Doctorate from one of the most prestigious educational institutions in America’s heartland.
Purdue University and the new Dr. Akridge with made for each other. Jay took his unique combination of practical agricultural knowledge, educational intensity and intellectual curiosity and put them to work at Purdue, first as a professor, next as the Director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business and finally, as the Dean of the College of Agriculture—all before reaching the ripe old age of 50.
Dr. Jay Akridge
I wanted to know how he did it. I always want to know the secret sauce that makes common people uncommonly successful. During the course of our interview, Leaders Ought To Know program participants heard Dr. Akridge respond to a broad range of questions, including these three:
Q1: What are the three most important actions you have taken to positively impact your professional success?
Q2: What are the three most beneficial habits you have developed to serve to support your continuing successes?
Q3: Wanting your children to be even more successful than you have been, what secrets of success do you share with them based on your own individual experiences?
Jay’s answers to each question were candid, thought provoking and to the point. In my next couple postings I will explore each question in depth, sharing Jay’s responses to each along with a few comments by me.
But, first I want to hear what you think. In advance of of Dr. Akridge’s answers, I would like to know specifically: What are the three most important actions you have taken to positively impact your professional success? Feel free to share the question with other successful people in your network. Encourage them to respond based on their own personal and professional experiences. Suggest that they connect with us here in order to engage in the collaborative process of sharing with each other and learning from one another. I look forward to the discussion.
Phillip Van Hooser
Leaders, we’re busy people. We have lots of responsibilities and objectives to accomplish every day. Here’s one thing we can do that will exponentially improve our relationships with employees and provide us with valuable information and insights for doing our jobs.
Learn to listen. Actively listen. Stop what you’re doing when people start to communicate with you and look at them, look them right in the eye. I know the challenges, many of us pride ourselves on being multi-taskers, we can use electronic equipment, we can walk, we can talk, we can fill out paperwork, we can do any number of things all while supposedly listening to the people speaking to us. I’m not even going to challenge the fact that you might be able to do that well, because there are good multi-taskers out there. But it really makes very little difference if you’re good at it or not. The message that we send to the person speaking to us—that we’re hopefully listening to, as we go about these multi-tasking activities—the message that we send to them is that they don’t have our attention and we’re not fully focused on them and from a leader/follower relationship that can be. . .well, that can be very bad.
What I’m encouraging you to do is that the next person that walks up to you and starts talking to you, you stop. You stop whatever you’re doing. You square yourself up and you look right at the person and you continue to look at them for the duration of whatever they’re communicating. You listen to them for the next twenty seconds, the next two minutes, the next twenty minutes, as the case might be, by looking squarely at them.
When you do this, people are going to respond to you differently because they know you’re now listening and listening with effectiveness. And from a leader/follower relationship that can be. . .well, that can be very, very good!
Just one more thing that Leaders Ought to Know.
Phillip Van Hooser
For more tips on communicating for leaders, check out this video segment.
As Yogi Berra would say: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Here’s the scenario. Some high profile individual — could be a politician, athlete, entertainer, business leader — take your pick — says, does and/or posts something publicly that would have been better left unsaid, undone and unposted. The media soon gets wind of the developments. They initially salivate, then regurgitate the lurid details of the transgression in one story form after another. The public’s awareness is raised. Hired guns, critics and commentators weigh in loudly. Public opinion polls are cited. Former friends, colleagues and competitors seem shocked by the news of such inappropriate and unseemly behavior. The perpetrator finally faces his/her critics and apologizes publicly. Crocodile tears are shed. The open flogging continues until some other public wrongdoing is unearthed and the process begins anew.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. As a result we are left asking ourselves why this scenario repeats itself again and again. Aren’t people paying attention? Can’t people learn from the mistakes of others who have preceded them? Why do smart, successful people do such blatantly foolish things? I don’t really know. I suppose there are those who crave attention so badly they will do and say outlandish things, regardless how they will be perceived. Some people seem to believe they are above the rules that everyone else plays by and therefore, they can say or do whatever they like without repercussions. Of course, we can’t discount the rock solid fact that some folks are just plain stupid. As one of my friends likes to say, “If you’re gonna be stupid, you better be tough.”
The most recent foolishness du jour (ala Rep. Anthony Weiner), reminded me that for leaders, the spotlight is always on you, the camera never blinks and regardless your position, there is no such thing as “off the record” comments. If you say or write something inappropriate, it can and will be used against you by others. Therefore, I will remind leaders of four things that should not be committed to writing. Consider the following.
1. Don’t write it down if it is embarrassing.
None of us can escape embarrassing situations or circumstances. It’s a part of life and work. When they occur, they need to be dealt with accordingly. However, it’s hard to find a good reason to commit our own private embarrassments to paper. And it is virtually impossible to create a defensible reason for writing the embarrassments of others. Don’t do it.
2. Don’t write it down if it is unsubstantiated or based on rumors.
Facts rule. If there is something that truly needs to be captured and communicated, make sure it has been vetted appropriately before writing it down. The “rule of two” applies here. For information to be substantiated, it should be confirmed by at least two independent sources, each with facts to support their individual assertions or conclusions. If such substantiated information is unavailable, what you are dealing with are rumors, and leaders should not perpetuate rumors by speaking or writing them.
3. Don’t write it down if it is an inside joke.
A lot of foolish people have attempted to defend something inappropriate that they have done or said by playing the Joker card. They contend, “I was only joking. You have simply misinterpreted what I said or meant.” Maybe so, but if the information is written in such that a regular guy or gal wouldn’t understand the content and the humor immediately, don’t run the risk of writing it down and therefore, confusing readers and embarrassing yourself.
4. Don’t write it down if it is written in anger.
People have told me that writing their anger can be cathartic. Okay, if you absolutely must write your anger out, do so on paper, by hand, far removed from the computer’s “send” button or an envelope and stamp. I suggest you remove the temptation to vent, write and send a message that should have never been committed to paper or digital print in the first place.
Let’s face it, people will continue to behave badly. History will repeat itself. High placed individuals will continue to do and say things that will leave us average Joes scratching our heads and wondering, what were they thinking?
But as leaders, we must be more disciplined and deliberate than that. We must think before we speak and before we write. To do less can cause unnecessary and untold confusion, disappointment and frustration—all leading to the lessening of your leadership opportunities.
Now it’s your turn — what other times should a leader refrain from writing? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Phillip Van Hooser