My first encounter with Lloyd Shoppa was coaching 5th and 6th grade boys in basketball. My team was the Red Raiders. I don’t remember the name of his team, but I do remember they wore black uniforms and beat our brains out. He was a good coach. He was also a good production control director at Bell Helicopter where we both worked.
My second encounter with Lloyd came soon after I escaped the engineering bullpen and was promoted (my first promotion) to project engineer on the Advanced Attack Helicopter project team. I thought I was now special, and for sure our project was special , because the company president had anointed it as the company’s highest priority. To make sure everyone knew, we printed AAH #1 stickers and put them everywhere; not a popular move with all the other project teams.
It takes about three zillion parts to make a helicopter. Making sure each part is available when needed is a huge and critical task because a shortage can shut down a production line. Not cool. One of my tasks was to attend the daily all-projects part shortage meeting — chaired by Lloyd Shoppa. All the part shortages on all the different projects were discussed. For reasons I cannot now remember, I was not satisfied with the priority being given to the AAH shortages and felt obligated to remind everyone that according to our company president, the AAH was #1. My little speech was about as popular as the stickers.
Lloyd looked directly at me and said, “Dick, in this room, everything is #1.” In that one simple statement, Lloyd sent a message to everyone in the room, especially to me. He brought me down a bit, and lifted everyone else a bit. Something I needed, and something they needed.
That was about thirty-five years ago, but it was a lesson I have never forgotten. Rankings may be fine for college football, but when it comes to people, customers, project teams, etc., a high level leader is going to make everyone feel like they are #1. If you expect #1 level commitment and performance, don’t ever make people feel like they are #2.
So, who’s #1? Everyone!
(By the way, Lloyd finished his long successful career at Bell as the company president.)
Jim Collins has hit the nail on the head again. In How The Mighty Fall, he identifies five stages of decline that falling organizations go through as they disappear altogether or become irrelevant.
Collins defines Stage 3 as Denial of Risk and Peril. He says:
“In Stage 3, leaders discount negative data, amplify positive data, and put a positive spin on ambiguous data. Those in power start to blame external factors for setbacks rather than accept responsibility. The vigorous, fact-based dialogue that characterizes high-performance teams dwindles or disappears altogether.”
Basically, he is saying that the leader(s) are hiding from at least four fundamental tasks and principles of leadership:
1. Facts (real facts, not opinions) are your friends;
2. Defining reality is a key task of leadership;
3. Examine self first — no organization ever rises above the level of its leadership;
4. Get input and perspective from as many sources as possible (restricted access and input is a certain mark of Stage 3).
It is interesting that organizations get to Stage 3 by way of Stages 1 and 2: Hubris (organizational and personal) and Lack of Discipline (organizational and personal). Why does Stage 3 happen so easily in organizations? Leaders put self-interests and pride ahead of the organization. How many times have you heard a leader say: “This is my fault”?
As a leader, I’ve had my head in the sand a few times (maybe more than a few times). Where’s your head these days?
Labor Day included a visit to the Nashville Zoo with my three grandsons: Big Guy Buddy (7), Cool Guy Buddy (6), and Little Buddy (2). We started in the Jungle Gym and finished hours later with the alligators (who had enough sense to either sleep or stay in the water on a warm afternoon). Mid-day, just before lunch, we trekked up the hill to the African Savannah-home to three large African elephants named Hakari, Kiba, and Sukari. They were doing elephant things like sloshing in the mud, throwing dirt on their backs, and grunting while bumping into each other as they jockeyed for position. It was fun to watch and all three buddies enjoyed it thoroughly.
Hakari, Kiba, and Sukari are close in size, all dirty brown (gray underneath the dirt according to Cool Guy Buddy), have tusks of nearly the same length, big ears, big feet…you get the picture. So, how do you tell them apart? According to the information sign, you tell them apart by their tails. One has a short tail, one a medium tail with a kink in it, and one (Hakari, I think), a long tail with long hair at the end that drags the ground. And, sure enough, it was easy to spot Hakari who not only has long hair at the end of her (yes, her) tail, but also has a hairy belly (gross according to the buddies).
Later in the day as I was thinking about Hard Lessons, it was hard for me not to be reminded of a lot of so-called leaders I have seen. They spend their time sloshing in the mud, throwing dirt in the air, grunting and bumping into each other as they jockey for position, and in the process, their followers get muddy, dirty and squeezed. Unfortunately, they are hard to recognize because they keep their butts covered and we can’t see their tails. Or…can we?
At the beginning of every day, he arrived with briefcase in hand. At the end of every day, he left the office with briefcase in hand. He had the right look — a busy manager with so much to do he had to carry his work home.
However, during the day, the briefcase sat in his office, undisturbed and unopened. After a while, his employees noticed and began to wonder: “Is he really doing any work at home, or is this all for show?” They decided to find out.
How that brick found its way into his briefcase was never revealed. For days, even weeks, it was carried home every evening and returned every morning. Then came the day we all remember these many years later — he complained about how heavy the briefcase was and decided to clean it out. Under the watchful eyes of his employees, the briefcase was opened, the brick exposed. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember that he was angry, embarrassed, and humiliated. It wasn’t just the brick that was exposed — he was exposed.
It’s pretty hard to fool people over a long period of time; especially people you live or work with on a daily basis. And when we try, we wear ourselves out carrying a brick around. People will follow leaders they believe are authentic; leaders that really are what they appear to be. And when we aren’t authentic, in any dimension of life, sooner or later, we will be exposed.
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner