are leaders born or madeThe three most exciting days in my life have been March 7, 1987, April 19, 1989 and September 1, 1994.  On those dates my three children were born—and I was there, an eyewitness to the miracle of three human births.

I remember staring down at those little pink, wrinkled, newborn packages of undeveloped potential, trying to imagine their futures.  Clairvoyant I wasn’t.  But I believed then and now that their futures would be determined less by their DNA (looks, IQ, or personality) and more by the formative support and encouragement they would receive and the individual choices they would make.

I believe the same to be essentially true for leaders.  Let’s face facts.  All leaders are born—but none are born leaders.  Leaders develop over time, in stages much like babies.  They must learn to crawl before they stand; stand before they walk; and walk before they run.

The best leaders learn to lead through the support and focused encouragement provided by experienced leaders.  As an experienced leader, we should embrace the opportunity and professional responsibility to live out the credo: Each one, teach one.

But like children, young leaders also learn by experimentation—trial and error—absorbing their fair share of bumps and bruises along the way.  All leaders make mistakes.  The best leaders look for the lessons in those mistakes, making adjustments for the future and maturing accordingly.

Every day a leader is born.  It is our privilege to help guide that individual along his or her path to learning to lead.

Discussion: Are Leaders Born or Are Leaders Made?

Today marks the beginning of a weekly series of discussions on the 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership. I would like to hear your opinions and comments so I invite you to join the discussion.

Please comment here or if you prefer, join the discussion in our Leaders Ought to Know group on LinkedIn.

Linkedin Discussion: Are Leaders Born or Are Leaders Made?

Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Author – Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership
[email protected]

A while back, I found myself engaged in a rather spirited conversation with an admittedly frustrated manager. He had spent the better part of the morning sitting through one of my leadership training retreats. One in which we dissected the concept of various leadership roles, responsibilities and results. My single-minded focus had been to help those present develop a blueprint of sorts that could enhance their own daily personal leadership activities. It was a positive exercise. But, all morning I could tell the concepts weren’t exactly clicking with this individual. So during our first break, I pulled him aside and asked him, “Why isn’t this working for you?”

“Phil, it’s not that it’s not working,” he began earnestly. “I realize the importance of what you’re sharing. But, I keep waiting to hear you tell me what I really need most right now. Tell me why these new employees I have been hiring lately are not working out.” He continued.

“I do extensive searches to find the most qualified candidates available. Once we get them hired and trained, we provide them the necessary tools, resources and support to allow them to be successful in their new jobs. Then, I stand back anxiously awaiting their success. Instead, too often, I end up watching the wheels come off before my very eyes. My department’s productivity drops. Our quality ratings suffer. The customer is far from being satisfied. Trying to find what motivates these people is like trying to find the lost city of Atlantis. It’s impossible! In the midst of all that, the overall morale of my best, most senior employees has dropped to an all time low. Now, if you really want to make this a good, worthwhile leadership development program, just show me what I am doing wrong and help me fix it. Then I will leave here a happy man!”

The challenge was clearly before me. Though I admittedly didn’t have all the answers for his questions and frustrations, I did recognize one fundamental problem in his approach that, over time I’ve discovered, has tripped up a great number of otherwise well-meaning managers.

“Well, the first thing you should realize is you don’t always want the most qualified candidates for every job,” I stated rather matter-of-factly. The gentleman shot me a quick look of disbelief. I could almost hear him thinking, “So this is the clown they picked to help make our organization better?”

Despite what he might have been thinking, his spoken response was more subtle and measured. “I’m confused,” he admitted. “I’ve always been taught that a good manager surrounds himself with the most qualified people available. Now you’re telling me that those are exactly the persons I don’t want?”

“Possibly,” I countered. “And here’s the reason why. The ‘most qualified’ candidates, often are simply not the ‘best suited’ candidates for the jobs we need to fill. Do you understand what I mean?”

The manager’s confusion was obvious and predictable. I was suggesting a concept that ran counter to much of what he had been taught and had practiced throughout his professional managerial career. Yes, he was confused, but he was also curious. By his own earlier admission, the way he was doing it now was simply not working as he planned. He knew there had to be a better way, he just hadn’t discovered what that better way was. Therefore, he was open to suggestions. That’s what brought him to my training session in the first place.

For the next several minutes we talked as I shared with him some thoughts as to why the ‘best suited’ employees trumped the ‘most qualified’ employees almost every time. He seemed to find value in our discussion and maybe you will too.

One practical reason why we shouldn’t always hire the “most qualified” candidates is purely economic. We may not be able to afford them. As a result of the education and experience the “most qualified” individuals possess, they frequently expect and command premium compensation in the marketplace. To pay them what they are worth may be impractical due both to limited financial resources and to the possible internal inconsistencies that would be created by paying this “new” employee (regardless of how qualified he or she may be) at a rate over and above that which other more experienced, long term employees are paid.

A second practical reason involves professional flexibility. Many of us have discovered the hard way, that the more experienced and qualified an individual is, often the less flexible he or she may be to learning new and tailored ways of doing things. In other words, the “most qualified” individuals may already “know” what works (based on their past education and experiences) and therefore, be less willing to listen and learn about the history of how and why things are done the way they are in this organization.

Coupled with the reason listed above, another practical reason for concern deals with the type of reception offered the “most qualified” new employees by their new co-workers and teammates. If the existing work group is intimidated or frustrated by the manner in which new, highly touted employees enter the established work group, then dissension, teamwork and morale problems can result. It takes a skillful leader to be able to introduce new, high performing individuals into an established work group without negatively disrupting the chemistry of the group. It’s not impossible. It can be done. But it must always be done with great care and consideration.

Finally, observant leaders must always be on the lookout for any internal activity that might offer even the slightest impression or indication of legal impropriety or inappropriateness. Let me offer an example of what I mean. Assume, if you will, that you are just concluding an interview with an extremely well qualified candidate for a current job opening. During the course of the interview, you had already made the conscious decision that this candidate would not be a good fit for the position you have available. The candidate was obviously over-qualified, or too expensive, or too inflexible, or too cocky, or, well, you get the picture. It’s not that she is a bad person, it’s just that she’s not the “best suited” person for this job.

Just before bringing the interview to its end, you ask if she has any lingering questions? She offers only one, “What are you looking for in the candidate you will ultimately hire to fill this position?” Ever so innocently, you respond by saying among other things, “our intent is to fill this job with the ‘most qualified’ person available.” You didn’t really think about what you said, you just said it. But she thought very carefully about the specific words you used. You were just saying what you thought was the right thing to say. But what she heard was an implied promise.

Later on, once she learns that she has been passed over for the position, if she discovers the job was filled by a less educated, less experienced, less senior individual, a very real possibility exists that she will assume she has been ultimately discriminated against. After all, she heard you say, “Our intent is to fill this job with the ‘most qualified’ person available,” and in her mind, that means her. Is a lawsuit imminent? Not necessarily. That depends on factors too numerous to address here. But, why put ourselves in such a position of risk? It’s not worth it.

I can’t say whether or not the gentleman that initiated the exchange that led to this article actually left “a happy man” or not. I do think he left with a better understanding of the significance of the words we use, when coupled with the responsibility that comes with our roles as supervisors, managers and leaders. I wish the same for you.

Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Concept Director at LeadersOughtToKnow®
[email protected]

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Why Leaders Should De-Brief

There is a lot of evidence available to support the wisdom and value of investing necessary time, effort and energy in the pre-planning of any worthwhile task or activity. Pausing long enough to consciously and thoroughly think through the process, including the anticipation of required steps, phases and alternatives, can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure in any endeavor.

In fact, it has been suggested by time management gurus that for every unit of time (i.e., minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, etc.) spent in planning a particular activity, upwards of four times that amount of time can be expected to be saved during the implementation phase of those plans. In other words, if we spend a measly fifteen minutes poring over atlases and maps, carefully predetermining our vacation driving route through unfamiliar terrain, we can reasonably expect to save an hour or more that might otherwise have been lost due to road construction and congestion, wrong turns, dead ends and having to stop to ask for directions. For those of us who, so far, have refused to surrender our pioneer spirit by becoming GPS-dependent (is it just me and my Kentucky/Daniel Boone roots or what?), such focused pre-planning serves as a key ingredient in a more enjoyable journey.

I was in the midst of developing and presenting a months-long, comprehensive leadership and customer service training initiative for the management team of the Ocala (FL) Police Department, when I received an unsolicited call from Captain Jack Suess (pronounced “cease”). The call went something like this:

Capt. Suess: “Phil, I’ve been talking with the Chief about the training you’re leading for our agency. We were thinking that since you’ve never worked as a cop that you might be interested in seeing how law enforcement really works from the inside out. Understanding what we really do might be helpful to you in offering unique perspectives and even additional applications for the training concepts you’re sharing with us.”

Van Hooser: “I certainly would be interested. What do you have in mind?”

Capt. Suess: “We’re in the final stages of an investigation that has been underway for several weeks. Our undercover people have surveillance information concerning two juveniles and a known convicted felon who we know to be actively selling crack cocaine out of one of the public housing complexes. These guys are known to be armed and dangerous. They are also street smart and unpredictable. It’s critical that we get them off the streets before they hurt someone. We’re in the final planning stages of a S.W.A.T. operation that is scheduled to take place tomorrow night. Would you like to ride along with me as an observer?”

My pulse quickened at Capt. Suess’ suggestion. Was it fear, trepidation, uncertainty? I didn’t really know and there wasn’t much time to figure it all out. Having to real idea of what I was getting myself into, I heard myself ask meekly…

Van Hooser: “Are you sure I won’t be in the way?”

Capt. Suess: “Absolutely not! We will be glad to have you along. And don’t worry, you will be perfectly safe.”

Van Hooser: “Worried? Do I seem worried?” I asked, as I laughed nervously.

As scheduled, the following day at noon I arrived at the Ocala Police Department headquarters where I found Capt. Suess waiting. I was quickly ushered into a briefing that was already underway. In the room were a dozen or more uniformed officers, two plain clothes officers–a policeman and policewoman, a representative from the State Attorney’s office and the Chief of Police himself.

For the next 45 minutes or so, I listened as the group discussed detailed plans for apprehending the suspects. They carefully evaluated the intelligence they had and matched that intelligence with the best time, place and manner to make the arrests. Significant time and attention was spent considering the safest and most efficient approach for all concerned–the officers, the local residents, potential bystanders, even the suspects themselves.

As I watched and listened intently to the goings-on in front of me, I had to remind myself that this was not some sort of reality show. It was no show at all. It was reality! In front of me were professionals of the highest order, in the midst of planning and strategizing how to do a difficult job assigned them in the most judicious manner.

Once the meeting adjourned, I headed out to the driving range with my host where I watched the group practice rolling stops and vehicle evacuations. Every stop was timed and rated. No detail was too minor for consideration.

The balance of that afternoon and evening was spent in equally impressive practice and careful preparation for the planned activities of the evening ahead. It was an amazing experience to be a part of.

Finally, by 10:00 p.m.–a full 10 hours after I had joined the planning process–everyone and everything was in place. I won’t attempt to provide a blow-by-blow description of the events of the evening. Once the action started there were screeching tires, screaming sirens, shouts and arrests–luckily, there were no shots fired. Simply put, the plan was initiated and the intended arrests were made. From an organizational standpoint, the plan worked and the bad guys were soon behind bars.

I must admit, it was an exhilarating experience, one I won’t soon forget. However, I must also admit that as we drove back into the police department parking lot at about 11:30 p.m., I was more than ready to call it a day. As I exited the patrol car, I stepped around and extended my hand to Capt. Suess. He just looked at me.

“Thank you for including me in all this. It’s been a very valuable day for me. I’ve learned a lot,” I said.

“You’re not free to go just yet,” Capt. Suess said matter-of-factly, without accepting my hand. “We still have the operation de-brief to attend to. Follow me,” he said, as he turned and headed for the administration building. My options being limited, I did as I was told.

I followed Capt. Suess back into the briefing room where the day had started for me almost 12 hours earlier. There we found most of the officers who had been engaged in the operation of the evening, already assembled. For the next 20 minutes or so, I listened to the roundtable conversation as it centered on specific answers to a handful of questions.

As I listened intently to the discussion around me, a professional reality soon settled over me. I realized that I had worked as a manager in corporate America for the better part of 10 years. I had been engaged in the planning and implementation of innumerable plans and projects during that period of time. However, in that briefing room on that evening I realized for the first time that I had never before been involved in any sort of de-briefing AFTER the operation had been concluded. As interesting as the previous 11+ hours had been, those last few minutes provided me the tidbit that would allow me to be a better leader and communicator from that point forward.

That night I learned the power of the de-brief. Since that night I have been sharing the lessons I learned there with my management audiences by way of 6 questions. Consider these 6 questions carefully. First, ask yourself how often you have used each in the past. Second, ask yourself how valuable they might be should you start using them now. Of course, to yield positive benefit each question needs to be asked openly, answered honestly and acted upon accordingly.

The 6 questions are:

  1. What did we do well?
  2. What did we do poorly?
  3. Who should be acknowledged publicly for their superior performance?
  4. Who should be redirected privately for their sub-par performance?
  5. What have we learned from this operation?
  6. What should we change before the next one?

We all recognize the power that resides in proper planning. But, as has been said before by others, feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Concept Director at LeadersOughtToKnow®
[email protected]
[email protected]

manage a confrontationHow many times in your role as leader have you experienced a clashing of attitudes or ideas with one of your followers or even another employee? How often are you called in to mediate or resolve situations where people just don’t see eye to eye on an issue? It happens frequently, doesn’t it? And if you’re like most people, you find these situations uncomfortable and full of emotional minefields.

As leaders, we recognize that problems like these need to be addressed, but so many of us hate and therefore avoid the confrontation we know needs to take place. We say things like, “this will only make matters worse.” “I’m not sure I can control my emotions.” “Maybe if I give it some time, the issue will resolve itself.” Do any of these sound familiar? Probably so. Unfortunately, it is at best, wishful thinking.

Knowing how to successfully manage a confrontation is a skill that all leaders need in their toolkit. If you’ve been avoiding confrontation for fear of doing more harm than good, consider equipping yourself with these techniques for managing the situation effectively.

How to Manage a Confrontation

1.  Prepare yourself in advance. Clearly determine the cause for the confrontation. Are you addressing a performance issue, an unacceptable attitude or perhaps a safety issue? Also determine the purpose or the goal for the confrontation. What do you want the confrontation to achieve? How do you want to be perceived after the confrontation? With these answers in mind, it will be easier to stay on target during the confrontation.

2.  Do not procrastinate if a confrontation is necessary. Many leaders try to convince themselves that the problem with work itself out or dissipate if left alone. Putting off what needs to be addressed allows more time for emotions to grow and frustrations to fester. The reality is that bad news does not get better with time.

3.  Avoid extreme emotional involvement. Never initiate a confrontation when you are emotionally charged. This is difficult, but that is why preparing yourself in advance is so important.

4.  Choose carefully the time and place for the confrontation. Go behind closed doors if possible. Confrontation in front of an audience invites embarrassment and offers undue opportunities for “emotional performances.”  Consider timing the confrontation at the end of the work day. This gives the other person an easy exit for cooling off and considering the issue.

5.  Work to determine the other person’s driving needs. Try to evaluate the issue from their vantage point.

6.  Willing accept some measure of responsibility for the situation – admit fault if you are to blame in part or in total.

7.  Allow the other person time to vent. Remember, you have had the advantage of sorting through your emotions before initiating this confrontation. Give the other person the same opportunity.

8.  Zero in on the problem, not the person. Positive confrontation focuses on the problem. Negative confrontation focuses on the person. Frame the conversation in terms of specific expectations for future performance. Encourage feedback regarding alternative solutions or approaches for managing the issue.

You may not find a solution immediately. You may never completely agree on the issue. But a leader’s responsibility is to address difficult issues and ensure steps are taken to work toward a mutually agreeable solution. It’s hard work – and something that leaders ought to know.

Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Concept Director at LeadersOughtToKnow®
[email protected]

Need More In-Depth Training for Resolving Workplace Conflict? Find it Here.

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?are you afraid of success

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®
[email protected]

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
[email protected]

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
[email protected]

It’s sad to say, but too many organizations around the world still don’t see the value of investing in the professional development of their most valuable resource—their people.

They ask short-sighted questions like, “Why would any organization invest resources, in times like these, developing leaders when there’s no guarantee that they’ll even stay with us?”

Or, how about this one: “What’s wrong with people today learning leadership the old-fashioned way, like I did — by the seat of the pants?”

Choosing to ignore the need for focused professional leadership development may appear to be an option for some organizations — just not the great ones. Companies like Proctor and Gamble, Nokia, Amway, Rockwell Collins, Capital One Financial and General Electric, to name a few, have long recognized the value — and profit — associated with developing leaders internally.

In an August 2010 article published in the Wall Street Journal, the author made the following points:

• Business layoffs and cutbacks in recent years have thinned the manager pipelines.

• Baby boomers who postponed retirement during the recession will soon start departing.

Too many organizations, for too long have turned a blind eye to the inevitable reality that their supervisors and managers were aging. Supervisors and managers you work with are beginning to vacate their leadership positions in droves. Unfortunately, too many organizations have done too little to address their succession planning needs in a practical way.

In other words, the need for more and better leaders is not just a future need — they are needed now.

An earlier article in FORTUNE magazine put it this way, “Your competition can copy every advantage you’ve got—except one. That’s why the best companies are realizing that no matter what business they’re in, the real business is building leaders.”

But, back to that earlier question: Why is leadership training even necessary?

First, there exists a dire need for more effective leaders in almost every business organization in the world. Second, employees and people of all kinds and cultures have a strong desire to follow — to be led. Finally, well trained leaders today can actually make a difference for the organizations they represent — a difference in profitability, a difference in productivity, a difference in on-time performance, a difference in employee engagement, even a difference in safety awareness.

These well trained leaders create a lasting difference by establishing a culture of leadership that is sure to permeate the organization and extend well beyond their time of individual service.

The success and viability of organizations in the future is quite literally being shaped today by the quality and capability of that organization’s leaders.

Not too long ago I was working on-site with a corporate client, conducting leadership training. An employee approached me and asked if we could talk. As soon as the conversation began, it became quite clear that the employee was terribly upset with his supervisor. For the next few minutes, he railed on about a mistake he believed his supervisor had made and how that perceived injustice was continuing to affect his performance in a negative way. He questioned how such a fundamental mistake, in his mind, at least, could have happened in the first place. Finally, in an exasperated tone, he ended his remarks to me with this statement:

leaders ought to know“This person is in an important leadership position, and, well, leaders just ought to know better.”

“Leaders ought to know better.” Now there’s an interesting concept, I thought.

Let’s face the facts. Most of us were never formally trained to be a leader. Most of the managers and supervisors I know, initially earned their opportunity to be in a position of leadership because they were smart, hard working and really good at what they did before being promoted to a leadership position.

The engineer had a proven ability to analyze schematics in the search for inaccuracies, while the accountant was adept at interpreting the nuances of a balance sheet with relative ease. They were good at what they did because that’s what they had studied and trained to do. After years of hands-on experience their proven ability and performance had elevated them to a level of competence and visibility, thus earning them a positive reputation and recognition for the good they did.

Then one day their boss called this peak performer into her office and announced that she had good news. After much careful deliberation, it had been determined this person had earned the right to be promoted to the level of supervision or management. In other words, overnight this person was promoted to a position of leadership.

But, did that make them a leader? For far too many of us, that’s where the trouble begins.

The person was confident and capable in his or her ability read blueprints or to create an amazing spreadsheet, but far less sure about their ability to communicate group objectives effectively, to lead their new team through a process of consensual decision making or to successfully accomplish the dozens of other responsibilities expected of a leader daily.

This was all new territory. They hadn’t been trained for this. And add to the equation that from day one, the employees and individuals this newly minted leader had been tapped to lead were thinking, “Someone in an important leadership position like his or hers, well, they just ought to know better.”

That’s why we’re here – because there are some really important things that Leaders Ought To Know.

But we don’t want this to be a monologue on leadership – we consider it a conversation and we want you to join the exchange. Your insights will make the discussions more relevant and on point, so please share your questions, comments and perspectives at any time. Because Leaders Ought To Know…

Phillip Van Hooser
Founder & Concept Director
[email protected]

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