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Planning for Your Leadership Successor?

During a recent Leaders Ought To Know retreat, I had the good fortune to sit down with the President & CEO of Helena Chemical Company, Mike McCarty. We discussed a number of leadership development issues. Here are excerpts from our conversation on the importance of organizational succession planning.


Phil:  Mike, you were asked a number of questions a few minutes ago, but one of the questions that intrigued me was what’s it like to be the president of a $1.3 billion multinational company, primarily, in the United States, but serving countries around the world. How do you answer a question like that?

Mike:  Well, I think the question was what is my biggest challenge of running almost a $4 billion dollar corporation and the response I gave to the individual was people is probably the biggest opportunity and challenge. When you have that many folks out there, you’re going to have a tremendous amount of opportunities. You’re biggest asset in the company are people, but your biggest opportunity are also people because with people, it also leads itself to change with companies. We’re in a constant state of change in our personal live, professional lives and we need to help, I need to help, guide that and lead that, which then creates the opportunities on the people side of the business and why we need to do these things.

My job in the company is to look out at where we’re going to go in the next five or ten years. I’ve got all the confidence in the world that all our managers and all our employees are going to take care of the day-to-day business and the annual business. We’ve got to look and I’ve got to look at the management team for the future. So the challenge, again, comes back to where do we go, how do we change and how do we communicate that change.

Phil:  You mentioned just a minute ago the importance of the people and also the challenge associated by people. Talk to me a little bit about succession planning within Helena Chemical. You know that most of the people that will be watching this are people who are focused in on leadership and leadership development, so on and so forth. First of all, how do you identify leaders within the organization both current and future and then how do you develop them so that you can prepare them for the challenges that are to come, as well?

Mike:  That’s a good question and a timely question for us because we’re in the process right now with my executive team. We’re going through a new strategic plan for our next five years. One of the things that has surfaced and we knew this is the area succession planning and it goes back to my generation of the company when we joined the company. I jokingly say we’re a bunch of young kids. We’re a bunch of 25 year olds that joined the company. We’ve all been here a long time now and we’re starting to see the retirements take place.

This is something that Helena will experience that we’ve never really experienced before and that’s going to be more of a mass retirement staggered over the next five years. Now, that leads itself to the opportunity of who replaces everyone in the company and succession planning. I’ve asked all of them to start to identify the next generation of who has that opportunity, of who may want to move to different geographies because, again, being a nationwide company, I think that, again, is a different opportunity. The younger generation I see today is not as prone to move as what we were when I was coming up in the industry.

Well, we’ve done a relatively good job of identifying those individuals. Now, it’s going to be creating the opportunities for them and as that takes place and we’re in the process of doing that right now. One of the things I’m trying to do is get that next generation in here to the corporate office because when you move to a corporate office, it’s a different environment from when you’ve been out in the field. We’ve all experienced that, but until you’re here, you really don’t know. My wish would be that we would have a very seamless transition of individuals and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish right now where we have staggered retirements of the executive team where they don’t all go at one time.

We’re starting to lose them now and if I just look at it for the 20 or 25 people that we have in that group, I feel we’re in very, very good shape. Where we’re going to have our opportunities, it’s kind of like the domino effect. As people move up into management and then they move up into the senior roles at the field level, who takes the place at the sales rep level and our branch manager level? That means we’re going to have to do a higher level of recruiting. So we’re going to need more people. We’re going to need more of that younger generation coming in, which is contrary to what’s really going on with the business in the U.S. today when we look at unemployment. We’re going to be out there actively recruiting at universities right now to try to take care of this issue that you had talked about with succession planning.


I’ll share more from this conversation in the coming days.

Phillip Van Hooser


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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in Front, Leadership, Planning, Succession Planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Decision Making Tip from an Umpire

decision making tipsDecision Making Tip from an Umpire

Using the techniques learned as an umpire calling balls and strikes, I illustrate an important decision making tip to eliminate opportunities for mistakes and move from reactive decisions to proactive decisions.

The baseball diamond may be a long way from a manager’s office, but this decision making model has been used far more times as a manager than as an umpire.

Phillip Van Hooser

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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in A Recipe for Respect, Decision Making, Front, Leadership, Video and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Leadership Lie

the leadership lieThe Leadership Lie

Were you taught the “leadership lie”? The one that says leaders shouldn’t get close to their people.

In this brief video, I debunk the leadership lie and explain what “getting close to” followers should really mean for leaders.

Watch The Leadership Lie Now

Phillip Van Hooser


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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in Front, Leadership, The Essential Element, Video and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Positive Actions for Professional Success #3

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?

Next Question

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

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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in Front, Leadership, Leadership Characteristics, Success and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Positive Actions for Professional Success #2

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).

The Question

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?

Next Question

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

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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in Front, Leadership, Leadership Characteristics, Success and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Positive Actions for Professional Success

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


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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in Front, Leadership Characteristics, Success and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leaders Who Lose Their Temper

Leaders who lose their temper should understand how costly this leadership flaw is. leaders lose temper

Watch This Video Post:  Leaders Who Lose Their Temper

Phillip Van Hooser






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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in Front, Leadership, Leadership Pitfalls, Video and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leaders Learn to Listen

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.


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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in Communication Skills, Front, Leadership, Leadership Characteristics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Building Leadership Bench Strength

Building Leadership Bench Strength

Building leadership bench strength within your organization requires a steady supply of leadership talent. Looking within the organization, managers and supervisors should consider opportunities to prepare those around them for ever more challenging leadership roles. That said how do you take these high potential candidates and move them forward to leadership success?

Consider the following progression for empowering employees. The assumption here is that the supervisor is continuously testing and evaluating each individual employee to determine what level of empowerment he or she is capable of assuming successfully on behalf of the organization. The supervisor or manage will ultimately decide the actual readiness of the individual for further empowerment and at what specific level.

Level 1:
You (the employee) research an assigned activity; you report what you have learned or discovered; but I (the supervisor) will decide what action is to be taken.

This is the most basic level of empowerment. It is used to determine a baseline for how an individual thinks, prepares, works and communicates. It is most commonly used in evaluating the actual skills of new employees or newly transferred employees. If specific flaws or shortcomings are identified, specific plans for further training and development should be undertaken. If it is determined that the individual meets and exceeds expectations in this area, then the next level of empowerment should be considered. Because of the supervisor’s stated intent to make the final decision, there is no relevant risk assumed by the employee at this stage.

Level 2:
You research an assigned activity; you report the alternative actions/options that are available; you suggest one for implementation; but I will decide what action is to be taken.

Here you are evaluating the mental dexterity and awareness of various decision making options and how relevant or irrelevant they might be for the organization’s specific purposes and intents. As before, there continues to be no relevant risk to the employee since the supervisor has reserved the right to make the decision. If the employee is determined to be ready, the next step in the process is assigned.

Level 3:
You research an assigned activity; you report what you intend to do; but don’t act without my approval.

Notice there is a marked increase in the expectation of performance on the part of the employee. This is the first level at which the employee assumes some specific level of risk. However, the supervisor has continued to maintain some level of “institutional control” by making sure s/he is comfortable with the communicated actions. In each of these first three levels of empowerment, continuing one-on-one, face-to-face communication and the conversations that need to take place are absolutely critical. If the employee is determined to be ready, the next step in the process is assigned.

Level 4:
You research an assigned activity; you report what you intend to do; go ahead and do it unless I say “no.”

By this point in the process, the trust level has clearly increased between both parties. The subordinate has earned the right to move to this level of empowerment based on an understanding of the goals and objectives of the organization and his or her proven performance and identified ability to meet those goals and objectives. Communication is still important at this level, but the reins of decision making responsibility are now being passed from the supervisor to the subordinate.

Level 5:
You research an assigned activity; you take the action you deem appropriate; report what you did.

Subordinates are working independently of their supervisor, with the supervisor’s full knowledge and confidence based on the subordinate’s past proven ability and successes. The unencumbered performance of the subordinate, in turn, frees the supervisor to attend to other pressing issues.

Level 6:
You research an assigned activity; you take the action you deem appropriate; no further communication is required.

This is the highest level of empowerment. It is rarely earned and rarely granted–and then only to the best, most tested and most trusted subordinates. With this level, both supervisor and subordinate share the risk of the empowered actions taken.

A few important observations to remember:

This is not an overnight process. It requires vigilant communication, observation, evaluation and training. As previously discussed, empowerment is preceded and supported by significant and on-going coaching and counseling activities. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” process. It requires customized activities for individual employees who may or may not accept empowerment in the same way or at the same rate as another employee. Appropriate empowerment levels are also dependent on individual jobs. In other words, a single employee may be at a Level 5 empowerment level for one task and the same employee at a Level 2 empowerment level for a different task.

Creating a continuous flow of leadership talent from within our organizations can happen and happen effectively when those of us in leadership positions are willing to share our power with those individuals who demonstrate they are worthy of the challenge.

The big challenge with empowerment is understanding the six levels but also understanding where people fit on those six levels. Take some time to consider each of your employees and the empowerment level that’s right for them. That information and these strategies are things that Leaders Ought To Know.

Phillip Van Hooser

Get In-Depth Training on Employee Empowerment with an Online Course Here

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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in Front, Leadership, Succession Planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leaders Can’t Be Weiners

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

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Posted by Phillip Van Hooser in Ethics, Front, Leadership, Leadership Characteristics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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