Raising the level of your leadership




Stinking Up The Workplace


Our current house has a bedroom door that opens directly to our screened porch. When we first moved in, I decided one night to sleep with the door open, looking forward to some cool fresh air as I had sweet dreams. About midnight or so, a passing skunk decided to turn my sweet dreams into a smelly nightmare. After closing up the house, it was back to bed, but the foul odor lingered through the night, spoiling my cool fresh air and sweet dreams.

Per Wikipedia, four-legged skunks stink up the place by squirting a liquid from “two glands, one on each side of the anus. These glands produce a mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals such as thiols, traditionally called mercaptans, which have a highly offensive smell.”

I have seen two-legged skunks do the same thing in conference rooms and offices. For example…

Gossip really stinks. That is why the Dave Ramsey organization has a rigid “no gossip” rule.

Arriving late to meetings really stinks. It is rude, sending a message that your time is more important than others’ time.

Talking too much really stinks. It is arrogant, sending a message that your opinion is more important than others’ opinions. (I am often guilty of this mercaptan.)

Laziness really stinks. If you don’t do your job, someone else will have to.

Self-focus really stinks. Your kids are cute, but they are not the cutest kids on the whole planet (my grandsons are), and not many people really want to hear a minute-by-minute account of your weekend.

______ really stinks. What did I miss?

If you are the leader, it is your job to keep “mercaptans” out of your workplace. Skunks aren’t easy to reform, so you may have to get rid of them.


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© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

What Stings Worse Than A Yellow Jacket?


The WSJ has a lot more than business news. One of my favorite past editions included features about students building model bridges out of spaghetti, pessimism, toenail fungus, and Alabama coach Nick Saban. (I wonder how he felt sharing space alongside toenail fungus.)

That same edition had an article about “mean bugs”—the stinging kind. Bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants, all got some space, but yellow jackets are the most aggressive, sometimes chasing their victims out of pure meanness. Having been run down by a mad yellow jacket, I heartily agree. Dottie and I have also been chased by biting flies (in Maine) and have stepped on stinging scorpions (in Texas). According to the article, about “200 people in the U.S. die from stings every year” (Mean Bugs by Sumathi Reddy, WSJ, 7/15/14).

Sadly, a lot more deaths occur every day because of stinging tongues. According to James in the Bible, the tongue is a “restless evil…full of deadly poison” (James 3:8 NASB). The deadly poison of the tongue strikes everywhere: homes, businesses, churches, schools, and _______ (you fill in the blank).

Morale is killed every day by stinging tongues. Initiative is snuffed out every day by critical tongues. Relationships are damaged every day by angry tongues. Lives are destroyed every day by gossiping tongues. I’ve been on the receiving end, and too often—especially at home—I’ve been the mean bug myself.

As a leader, one of your jobs is to set the guidelines—and the example—for the conversation that takes place in your organization. It’s up to you. You can allow an environment that discourages and tears down or promote one that encourages and builds up. You can participate in gossip, or stop it. You can snap at everyone as a bully leader, or you can cut it off and insist on respect for everyone. One of my many hard lessons in leadership was allowing a chainsaw tongue to remain on my staff for too long.

You can spend a lot of money on training, consultants, seminars, or coaching, all trying to improve your work environment. How about trying bug spray that will eradicate stinging tongues? It is cheaper and much more effective. Spray yourself first, then….


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© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Get Some Dirt On Your Shirt


It is not unusual when a new leader arrives to sequester him in a conference room with the key senior staff and bombard him with hours of PowerPoint presentations to make sure he has a clear picture of the situation. If the situation is good, the focus is on who gets the credit (the CEO or senior pastor). If the situation is bad, the focus can be on who (China or the worship leader) or what (the economy) should be blamed. The entire view of things is from the perspective of and through the filters of the senior staff who…by the way…have the most to gain and the most to lose.

That was the plan in the mid-’90s when I arrived as the new leader of a small west coast aerospace machining company. Our owners wanted to merge it with our Nashville operation because it was losing money and customers. Machined parts for a Boeing 777 (or any other Boeing or Airbus airplane) are manufactured to tolerances within a few thousandths of an inch in high-tech, clean, organized, and efficient facilities. At least they are supposed to be. After handshakes and a cup of coffee, the executive team was ready with the PowerPoint. However, I scuttled that plan with “let’s take a walk first.” After more than thirty years in the aerospace business, I knew I could learn a lot just by walking around.

We exited the conference room, put on safety glasses, then stepped outside. It looked more like the Sanford and Son junkyard (a 1970’s hit TV comedy starring Redd Foxx; check it out on tvland.com) than an aerospace facility. The first thing I saw was a couple of acres of rusting truck doors, old machines, barrels of who knows what, obsolete tools, and piles of scrapped parts. Inside the buildings, the aisles were so cluttered with half-finished parts that it was hard to walk from one machine to the next. The paperwork for each job was scattered and oil-stained. I fully expected Redd Foxx to rush up at any minute and fake a heart attack (his tactic on the TV show when things were going bad). Because I saw it with my own eyes, I knew it was going to take a total change in management and months of hard work to fix it. I learned more in a thirty-minute walk-around than I would have in eight hours of presentations.

As a leader, you need unfiltered information and a clear perspective. You won’t always get it in a PowerPoint presentation. Get out of your office and take a walk with your eyes open and your ears unplugged. A little dirt on your shirt won’t hurt you.


© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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15 Minutes


In his terrific book, True North, Bill George says: “People today demand personal relationships with their leaders before they will give themselves fully to their jobs.”

If you are the leader, you have a positional relationship with everyone who works for you—you are the boss. However, if you would rather be a leader than a boss—and you should want to—you are going to have to develop personal relationships with you the people you lead.

The starting point for personal relationships in organizations is respect. The building blocks of respect are time…

“How does a person show respect for anything? He gives it time.”

Coach Mike Krzyzewski Leading With The Heart

and listening:

“…listening is probably our greatest opportunity to give attention to others on a daily basis and convey how much we value them.”

James C Hunter The Servant

By the way, M. Scott Peck nailed it when he said, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” Included in “anything else” are checking email, text messages, and taking phone calls—all of these can wait fifteen minutes. (For me at home, this means putting down the WSJ and turning off CNBC.)

Why fifteen minutes? Because that is about what it takes—on a regular basis—to build a personal relationship with your employees. Fifteen minutes with each one, once a week, listening as they share about their life—kids, hobbies, church, fishing, golf, etc. On their birthdays, make it lunch. And then occasionally, to really show you respect them, ask, “What do you think we should do about _________________?”

Now, some of you are thinking I don’t have time to do this. If you have ten people working for you, it will take 2½ hours per week—about 5% of a 40-50 hour workweek which is typical for leaders. Do you really want to send a message that the people who work for you aren’t worth 5% of your time? What’s at stake here? Only whether your people will “give themselves fully to their jobs,” or not.

Would employees who “give themselves fully to their jobs” make a difference in your organization’s performance, morale, future, etc.? It’s up to you. Get started today…“Hey, Joan, let’s get a cup of coffee.”


© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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Myths About Change


Failed change is more common than successful change in people and in organizations. Change is hard to initiate and even harder to finish. Why? Change Myths are part of the reason.

Myth #1: People and organizations change when they need to. Really? Why are so many people overweight? I need to lose about ten pounds. I’ve needed to for a long time. But I haven’t made the changes necessary to lose it. Some people need to stop piling up debt—but they don’t. Organizations have a lot of changes they need to make. But for whatever reason, they don’t get around to it, or when they try, it fizzles out. It takes a lot more than need to drive successful change.

Myth #2: People and organizations change when they want to. Not only do I need to lose those ten pounds, but I want to. Enough said?

Myth #3: Fear is an effective means of promoting change. “If you don’t _, you’ll be fired.” What a waste of time. Any change that arises from fear will be short-lived and marginal. It is a sign that bosses and bullies are in charge, not authentic leaders.

Myth #4: A PowerPoint presentation which fully explains the reason will successfully drive change. “If they understand, they’ll be eager to change.” Baloney. Somebody else will be giving reasons for not changing. And what about all the right brain artists out there? They hate PowerPoint presentations.

Myth #5: Casting vision over and over will bring change. This is just hubris on the part of the leader—believing that people will do whatever he/she asks them to do. People and organizations do not change because of somebody else’s vision.

So what will initiate and sustain change? Two things: people and organizations attempt change when they have to, or when they are inspired to. The leader’s job is to inspire it before the “have to” kicks in. Think about it.

It is easier to get married than to stay married. And it is easier to start change than it is to complete it. The leader’s biggest challenge is between the starting point and the finish line, which points to Myth #6: Leaders are not responsible for the execution of change. Once change is initiated, if the leader moves on to something else, it won’t be long before the team does too.

Start to finish—inspire, initiate, and implement—that’s the leader’s job. And that’s not a myth!

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© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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.

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© 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.

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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.

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© 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








Leader's FICO Score (#3 of 4)


Since credibility (credit-ability) is the most essential quality of leadership (essential meaning you can’t lead without it), it is crucial to know what it is and how to get it.

Credibility is that combination of trust and confidence that convinces people you can successfully lead them into the future. As a result, they voluntarily decide to follow you.

Trust is fragile—easily broken. Trust takes time to build, but can be torn down in a moment. Without trust, you can’t lead. You can herd, but you can’t lead.

Building trust starts with integrity. Integrity is simple. God gave us three integrity rules to live by:

  • Don’t cheat
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t lie

The telling points of integrity are the little things like inflated expense accounts, taking office supplies home for personal use, business trips that are really vacations, and using organization credit cards for personal items. No matter how “small” your cheating, stealing or lying is, it is still cheating, stealing and lying, and your credibility will be destroyed by these things.

Dependability is also simple. It is always doing what you say you will do and always being consistent. Few things destroy trust faster than unfilled promises. And, few things create anxiety more than inconsistent behavior. Make sure that “my word is my bond” is actually true for you, and make sure that people know what to expect from you, especially in stressful situations.

Another important part of building trust is humility. Simply put, leading a team is not about you, it’s about the team. People trust you because they believe that you have their interests at heart, not just your own.

Every now and then look over your shoulder. If fewer and fewer people are following, it may be because they don’t trust you. So, what are you going to do about it? Do you have anyone who will tell you the truth about yourself? If not, find someone.










  • On Leading Well…

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