Raising the level of your leadership




The First Responsibility of a Leader


I am often asked: “What is the number one leadership failure you have seen in organizations of all kinds?” The answer is easy. It is defining reality. According to Max DePree (retired CEO of Herman Miller): “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

Before vision and before strategy, organizations need to know the reality of where they are today. When Louis Gerstner took the helm of a faltering IBM in 1993, he shunned any talk of vision, strategy, etc., until he had taken time to fully and accurately understand the current situation.

…the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.

Louis Gerstner from Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

Defining reality is not easy and few organizations can do it without help. Why? Because it is so hard to get the unfiltered truth on the table because the truth is often not easy to swallow. Leadership Icon Jim Collins says: “Leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted (from Good To Great).

Brutal facts? No wonder it’s not easy.

Defining reality has the best chance of being honest and accurate if facilitated by someone who has:

  • No personal agenda
  • No stake in the outcome
  • No reputation to defend
  • No preferences
  • No preset positions about your organization or markets
  • No existing paradigms

If you are considering resetting your vision or strategy, or if you want to make sure you are on the right track now, make sure you really understand your starting point—where you are today. After all, if you don’t know where you are starting from, you don’t have much chance of getting where you want to go.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.


© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Anger As a Leadership Tool


At a Willow Creek Leadership Summit I attended some years back, one of the sub-themes was: “I will stop using anger as a leadership tool.”

Though I have seldom used anger as a tool in the workplace, I have used it at home. My wife once told me she was tired of walking on eggshells, meaning “I’m tired of your anger.” I’m sure my two daughters have also been on the receiving end. I can’t think of a time when anything good came out of one of my outbursts.

Anger supposedly demonstrates who is in control. What it really reveals is who is out of control.

Anger supposedly will promote change in behavior. What it really promotes is pervasive fear that paralyzes the organization.

Anger supposedly shows strength of position. What it really shows is weakness of character.

Anger supposedly reinforces “I’m right.” What it really reinforces is “I’m proud.”

It is interesting that in scripture, God puts angry words in the same list of sins as immorality, idolatry, sorcery, drunkenness…

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing…

(Galatians 5:19-21 NASB95)

Anger rarely if ever accomplishes anything good. It may accomplish what you intend, but only if your purpose is self-centered and intended to inflict humiliation and pain. Anger always has the effect of damaging relationships—at home, in the church, at your workplace. By the way, don’t kid yourself that “I’m sorry” will erase the effects of repeated outbursts. So, take to heart the Summit sub-theme. Resolve today that you will stop using anger as a leadership tool. You’ll be a much better leader.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.


Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Day Crickets


The Blue Ridge mountains are at the beginning of their annual fall glory. God has his pallet and brushes out and is splashing red, yellow, and gold all over the mountainsides. A few years back, I spent a week watching this annual transformation (hoping that He would transform me as well).

But one morning, sitting on the deck reading with one eye and looking at the trees with the other, I was rudely interrupted and irritated by a day cricket. When it should have been hidden under a leaf somewhere sleeping and waiting for nightfall, it was chirping away repeatedly: chhiiirrrrppppp… chhiiirrrrppppp…chhiiirrrrppppp. One stupid cricket that should have been asleep like all the other crickets was ruining my solitude because it seemed to be chirping just at me. If I could have found it, I would have stomped on it and put me out of my misery.

Most leaders have to deal with day crickets. Too often, we deal with them by stomping on them. We would be better off if we listened to them. It is true that day crickets are often chirping about things that aren’t relevant or sound more like science fiction than reality. But day crickets are often the source of breakthrough ideas that change the future. If Hewlett-Packard had listened to day crickets (the two Steve’s), HP would be Apple instead of Apple being Apple. There are about ten thousand examples of day crickets being stomped on in one organization, but changing the future in another because someone would listen to them.

There is another type of day cricket that is stomped on even more. It is the day cricket that tells us the truth about ourselves. How irritating when a day cricket dares suggest that we are arrogant, or controlling, or lazy, or full of anger and rage, or are acting like a bully, or __________ (you fill in the blank). In True North, Bill George says leaders lose touch with reality when “they reject the honest critic who holds a mirror to their face and speaks the truth. Instead, they surround themselves with supporters telling them what they want to hear.”

Next time you are irritated by a day cricket, take a deep breath, steel yourself, pray for patience, then listen. You’ll be a better leader for it.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.


© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Humpty Dumpty


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Organizations are like Humpty Dumpty: sooner or later they are at risk of a great fall. GM took a great fall when Toyota and Honda came along. It took a lot of change and time, but GM eventually made it back together again. Blockbuster was pushed off the wall by Netflix; they never put things together again. Ask your kids about Blockbuster, you’ll get that blank-stare “what are you talking about” look. Sometimes companies jump off the wall (Lehman Brothers—risk and Enron—dishonesty) and sometimes they slowly slide down the wall to the bottom (newspapers and telephones). All the king’s horses and men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again, and if you wait until it’s too late, you may not be able to put your pieces together again.

The Coronavirus has knocked a lot of organizations off the wall: airlines, live entertainment venues, restaurants/bars, tourism, malls, churches, and many more. Racial unrest is shaking the wall of our society (with hopefully a good outcome). If you are expecting a return to the “2019 normal”, forget it; that normal has already fallen off the wall.

Conventional wisdom has been “if it’s not broke, don’t mess with it.” But the reality is: if it wasn’t broke before, it probably is now (or will be). Wise leaders—while working to survive in this pandemic year of 2020—are also looking ahead to 2021 and after. Technology will be different. Customers, clients, and congregations will be different. Demographics will be different. Competition will be different. The economy will be different. The question is: Will your organization be different or will you take a great fall? If you are going to be different, now would be a good time to get started.

[By the way, great falls can also happen in your personal health, finances and relationships. Get started in those areas as well!]

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.


© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Cadillac Or Chevrolet?


If I ask you—“Should a Cadillac dealer try to sell Chevrolets?”—your answer would be emphatically “NO.”

But they tried it once. Wanting to compete in the small car market, Cadillac introduced in 1981 a Chevrolet disguised as a Cadillac called a Cimarron. But even with a Cadillac emblem and a leather interior, it was still essentially a Chevrolet with a Cadillac price. It was a disaster for Cadillac from both an image and profit standpoint and was discontinued with the 1988 model. (By the way, wanting a Cadillac, but unable to afford a real one, I bought a Cimarron in 1987. It was embarrassing when I realized it was really just a Chevrolet in fancy clothes.)

I made the same mistake in business back in the ’90s. We were a Cadillac company—building large (up to 100’ length) expensive ($0.5M and up) aircraft assemblies for Lockheed, Airbus, Gulfstream, etc. Having some open capacity on some equipment, we decided to get in the Chevrolet business by going after some low-value machining business to utilize some of our open capacity and make a little “incremental’ profit. It was a disaster and a hard lesson.

We learned that if you have a Cadillac customer base, and a Cadillac cost structure, don’t try to compete with Chevrolet dealers.

There are many downsides:

  • Distraction from the real Cadillac business
  • Brand dilution and confusion
  • Angry and dissatisfied customers
  • False economies of marginal pricing
  • Used capacity that limits future opportunities for real business

So, when tempted, remember:

  1. If all that matters is price—it’s a commodity. It is hard to differentiate your business in a commodity market.
  2. Customers will not pay Cadillac prices for a Chevrolet. And you can’t fool them with a Cimarron.
  3. This almost never works as a “growth” strategy.
  4. If you worked hard to create a brand, protect it!
  5. The shallow end of the pool is always more crowded for a reason. (Think about it.)

By the way, the Cimarron was a pretty good Chevrolet; not a very good Cadillac.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to friend.


© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Boss is A Four-Letter Word


“Dick, they hate you.”

“Who hates me?”

“The people who work for you hate you.”

That was a tough day. Someone decided to tell me the truth about how I was doing in my first position as a boss. It was the day I learned that boss is a four-letter word. It was the day that I learned that controlling is not leading. It was the day I learned that leadership is a job, not a position. It was the day I began to transition from “me” to “we.” It was one of the hardest days of my life, but one of the most important.

Have you had a day like that? Do you know if you are a boss or a leader?

  • If “authority” is a word you use a lot—you’re a boss.
  • If you believe people work for you, not the organization—you’re a boss.
  • If you control and approve every action and decision—you’re a boss.
  • If you believe you have all the answers—you’re a boss.
  • If you love policies and rules rather than principles and values—you’re a boss.
  • If those same policies and rules don’t apply to you—you’re a boss.
  • If the best and brightest don’t stay long—you’re a boss.
  • If everything comes to a standstill when you’re gone—you’re a boss.
  • If you use budgets as a hammer—you’re a boss.

Don’t trust yourself to answer these questions objectively. Ask someone. If you are as fortunate as I was, they will tell you the truth about yourself. It may hurt, but you need to know because, “Boss is a four-letter word.”

[“Dick, they hate you” are the first words in 16 Stones. You can order it here on this website or online at Amazon.com.]

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.


© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Hazardous Cargo


Trucks carrying hazardous cargo are so commonplace on U.S. highways that many towns have road signs that prohibit the trucks from driving through the heart of the town—no hazardous cargo is permitted. Unfortunately, organizations of all types are full of different types of hazardous cargo.

In some organizations, the most hazardous cargo is the truth. It is routed around the corner office because the boss doesn’t want to hear it. And woe to the poor soul who dares to ignore the No HC Permitted sign on the door.

Rumors are a common form of highly toxic hazardous cargo. They move freely on the main communication highway of the office because the leaders operate with a “they don’t need to know” policy. If your followers don’t know what is going on, they’ll make something up.

Gossip is another form of hazardous cargo. It spills out in the hallways, contaminating everyone. The most destructive gossip originates in the corner office because it carries the approval stamp of the boss—but it’s still gossip. Here is a working definition of gossip:

Talking about someone, to someone else, when neither of you is part of the issue nor part of the solution.

Just because it may be true, doesn’t mean it should be shared. Is it kind? Is it necessary? Do you need to know?

By the way, if you think gossip isn’t so bad because “everyone is doing it,” in the Bible, it is included in a list of sins alongside “evil, wickedness, greed, murder, and arrogance” (Romans 1:29).

Want to raise the level of your leadership? Get rid of the hazardous cargo in your organization. Find someone who will tell you the truth about yourself and the organization—even when it hurts. Communicate the truth so rumors can’t gain traction. And stamp out gossip—starting with any gossip that originates with you.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.


© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard lessons Company.








Getting Rid of Pigeon Poop


So how do you get pigeon poop out of your attic? A Wall Street Journal article reported on the futile efforts of the Select Board in a well-known town in Massachusetts (unnamed to protect the guilty). Pigeon poop had piled up in the town hall attic and become a health hazard. The Select Board budgeted $125,000 to clean up the mess, but the lowest contractor bid was more than twice that. A group of citizens volunteered to clean up the mess for nothing, but that idea was nixed by the lawyers, fearing the city would be sued. Finally, someone had a brilliant idea: “If we can’t clean it up, why don’t we at least make sure it doesn’t get worse by keeping the pigeons out? We could patch their entry hole in the attic window frame.” Duh.

This true story is a great example of an organization focused on the symptoms, not the problem. There are lots of other examples:

  • Governments (guess who) that believe reducing the deficit is the same as reducing the debt and keep spending.
  • Companies that drive sales by the deep discounting of outdated products instead of introducing innovative new products at a competitive price.
  • Maintenance managers that are applauded for fixing the HVAC system on a hot summer day, but never change the filters or clean the coils.
  • Pastors who blame reduced giving on the economy instead of asking why so many people have left the church

We make the same mistake as individuals: heart patients go back to cheeseburgers soon after their quadruple bypass relieves the chest pain and golfers try to fix their swing by buying a new set of clubs (quitting would be smarter).

Why do we fall into this trap so often? Fixing symptoms is often easier and quicker than fixing the problem (but only in the short run). Once the symptoms are relieved, we move on to the next set of symptoms. Often, we focus on the symptoms because we are in denial about the real problem—very common when the leader is the problem. Unidentified problems continue their hidden destructive work until they finally erupt into the open with sometimes fatal consequences.

Tired of relief? Want to actually fix the real problem? Do this:

  • Patch the hole in the attic so the pigeons can’t get in, but don’t stop there.
  • Clean up the mess the pigeons left behind.
  • Ask someone if you are the pigeon.

If you enjoyed this post, pass it on.


© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, the Hard Lessons Company








Ask Your Barber?


George Burns, the popular cigar-smoking comedian of the WWII and Baby Boomer generations (yeah, I know, I’m dating myself), had this to say about advice:

Too bad that all the people who really know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair.

He’s right. Sit in any barbershop on a busy Saturday morning and you’ll learn how to fix the government, which coach ought to be fired and which quarterback ought to be starting. You will also learn which is better, Chevrolets or Fords, and where to go for the best fried chicken (The Chicken House, New Albany, IN). Preachers can learn how to improve their sermons (shorter is better) and you’ll hear spirited debate about the virtues of John Deere (for real farmers) versus those “foreign” brands (for hobby farmers). Generally speaking, the barbershop mantra is: “If I want your advice, I’ll give it to you.”

Eugene Peterson, paraphrasing Proverbs 15:22, says, “Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed.” The problem? It’s easy to get advice; not so easy to get good advice.

There are times, lots of times, when we all need advice. We are facing a hurdle or an opportunity, and we aren’t quite sure what to do. We may have an idea and need confirmation, or we may have no idea at all. In either case, someone asks us, “Have you talked to ____________?”

An overall principle for seeking counsel is the old adage, consider the source. Here are some questions about the source that I ask:

  1. As a Christian, my starting source for advice is always: “What does the Bible have to say about this?”
  2. Is the source speaking from first-hand experience, not just theoretical or academic knowledge? I want to talk to people who have been on the front lines of leadership.
  3. Do they have a personal agenda? Be careful if they have something significant to gain or lose.
  4. Have they experienced some failure? The road to humility always has a failure marker or two. The best counsel will come from someone who is genuinely trying to help, not impress.
  5. Do I know them personally? If I don’t, I seek input about them from people I do know and trust.
  6. Are their values consistent with mine? Do they live and lead their organization in a way I am comfortable with?

A few concluding thoughts:

  • Getting a second…and third…opinion is always a good idea.
  • “Don’t do this” advice is often a lot more valuable than “do this” advice.
  • Don’t act on any advice that gives you a queasy feeling in your stomach.
  • In the end, you are responsible for the outcome. Gather as much input as you can; make the best decision you can; then man-up and accept responsibility for the results.
  • If you too are a Christian, is the “peace of Christ ruling in your heart” about this?

(This post taken from chapter 3 of 16 Stones. If interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.)


© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company








Underground Nests


I hate Bermuda grass. Why? It spreads uncontrolled into our mulch and hides the underground nests of fire ants and yellow jackets. How many stings did I get? Twenty-six! Did they hurt? Yes! Did I get revenge? Yes! (Using Bonide MAX.) I poured out my wrath, hoping the Bonide hurt them as much the stings hurt me. Yeah…I know…that is not a very forgiving spirit. (I looked in scripture and couldn’t find anywhere that said I should forgive stinging creatures of any kind.)

Organizations have underground nests that can sting as well—nests that have a different mission…or personal agendas…or are only concerned about their self-interests. As the leader, you cannot let these nests grow and thrive. In fact, you need to pour Bonide MAX on them ASAP or you will get stung and the organization hurt.

First, make sure the underground nest doesn’t exist because of your ineffective leadership. Sometimes nests develop because the workers have no confidence in the leader to actually lead them. So they choose a queen to follow and go underground as a survival mechanism. As in all things, always start with self-examination. Not sure if you’re the problem? Ask someone who will tell you the truth.

Second, you have to get rid of the queen. All fire ant and yellow jacket nests have a queen at the center of everything. Your organizational underground nest will have one too. Whatever you have to do, get rid of the queen! Until you do, the nest will grow in size and continue to buzz around stinging everyone that is not part of the nest.

Third, you need the workers, so try to eradicate the nest without eradicating all the workers. Give them a reason to choose to follow you instead of the queen. Being a leader instead of boss is a good way to start.

Enough fire ant stings can be fatal to small animals. Underground nests in your organization can be fatal too. So ignore them at your and the organization’s peril.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.

© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.


1 2 3 4 5 33
  • On Leading Well…

    "The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."

    Kouzes & Posner

     

    The Hard Lessons Company
    © 2014-2020
    All rights reserved.

    337 Whitewater Way
    Franklin, TN 37064
    615-519-3765