Tuesday, July 15, 2014

There is Always a Cost!

A friend of mine is a wonderful mentor. He takes comers from all social and professional corners and he is often brought others to mentor by his peers because his reputation for giving sound counsel. No matter what, he finds time to meet with them, either physically, by phone, or via the internet. During one of our conversations, he kind of set me off by noting that “Spending time with these people doesn’t cost anything."

The old adage “Time is money” shot through my head. My friend is a rising executive with visions of reaching the C-Suites at some point. He often laments and stresses over the fact that he has little time to enjoy life and tend to important things. While I’m not so ridiculous to directly correlate every second lived with a dollar figure, I have in the last couple of years begun to think about time in terms of value and see time spent doing one thing as trading for another. I noted to my friend that as he steps higher on the corporate ladder, his free time will only become more constrained, so he should be more protective of it. He should guard against the frivolous use of it. “The worst person to be using your time is someone else,” I suggested.

My point was not to wag my finger at him and tell him to stop being the wonderful mentor that he is. I wasn’t telling him to stop being someone that others can look up to and even reach out to. It’s one of the many things that got him to where he is today!

What I would prefer is that he begins to note how much time he allocates for this practice. I’d prefer he efficiently doles out his unadvertised mentoring services, lest it begin to eat away at the time he has for other things he truly values such as his family and others close to him. Most of all, I wanted him to realize that “There is always a cost."

I proposed that if he was allowed a meeting with a famous CEO and that person said up front “Look, I don’t have a whole lot of time, so can you be quick and efficient about this,” he’d respond with an emphatic “Of course! Your time is valuable and I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to speak with you!” I said that he would totally understand that famous CEO being protective of his valuable time. I then suggested that my friend be the same way with his own time.

In this day and age of bumper-sticker wisdom and politically-correct uber-kindness, those that tend to look out for #1—themselves—are often demonized. I only suggest that we loosen up on the self-criticism and begin to value our most precious resource. Because in the end, every interaction we have costs us in the most valuable of currency--time--and because of that there is always a cost.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Just Inside the Gates

I was at a leadership seminar and listened to a young, talented rising executive explain his plight: “I come in and I’m told I have to manage this group of line leaders…one of them has fifteen years, another seventeen, and another over twenty. I mean, I’ve got ideas and I want to make an impact, but my assigned mentor told me to defer to them (the more experienced employees he supervises).” I couldn’t help but smile. It brought back memories from another world: my time in the military. I can’t remember how many times I heard the refrain told to new officers fresh out of our nation’s best institutions of high learning and the Army’s best professional development schools, “When you show up at your unit, you need to shut the hell up and listen. Your NCO’s job is to train you. You’d be best served to keep your head down and do exactly what he tells you.” Well, so much for “leading".

Just like the military, corporations spend millions of dollars a year finding and installing talent throughout their ranks in order to enhance organizational performance. The talent has to varying degrees been vetted, found to have been sufficiently challenged by any number of agreed upon institutional prerequisites (formal education and prior professional experience for example) and passed. We hope to cull new ideas, fresh perspectives, and new approaches from this newly-injected talent. Or do we? Sure, some of it might be to cover standard turnover or fill in growth-induced gaps, but what about drawing from this new talent? Isn’t that one of the benefits of new folks coming in?

Every now and then I read a piece on LinkedIn or elsewhere on social media asking “Why are your employees leaving?” or something similar. It makes me wonder how often talent is hired after receiving the recruiter’s sales pitch about an “exciting company with a culture that encourages entrepreneurism and an innovative spirit” only to have all that stifled right inside the gates. It leads me to ask, “Who are the first people the new hires meet after they are hired?” Who is suggesting to newly-hired talent to hang up all of their “bright ideas” and join the organizational assembly line of same-old, same-old?

If you begin to recognize talent that held a ton of promise when they were hired slowly leaving your company and it makes you wonder why, I encourage you to look “just inside the gates” of your company. Who is representing your company in those crucial initial phases of a new hire’s career? I’m guessing you’ll find a few folks that make life difficult for new talent to truly spread their wings. They are the ones who spew “the truth” that the recruiter left out and tell your freshly acquired talent with new ideas, fresh perspectives, and new approaches to put away their goals, dreams, and new ways of doing business. “This isn’t the place for all that!"

I encourage you to go "guard" your company’s gates for a day or two. If you are in a position of influence, note new hires interactions, both formal and informal. Listen to what’s being said. The insights one can derive in general is valuable. That value is multiplied, though, when your company’s culture is perceived to be at fault for promising employees leaving.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Are You a Robber Baron?

I’ve been listening to Simon Sinek’s book “Why Eater Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t” (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1480542571) through Audible.com. I recommend giving it a listen if you want to better understand your most important resource as a leader (and as a person): people. It has helped me analyze my experience with leaders in my past as well my own experiences while in leadership roles.

We are all social creatures, none of us oblivious to others’ perceptions. Sinek’s work has made me question “What kind of leader am I?” more than once. The question beats constant throughout the book. The introspection it invites is very valuable, if not downright scary at times. I’ve thought more than once, “Crap; I used to do that!” and have damn near crumpled in internal embarrassment at my past actions. The end, though, is that I will look for these types of behaviors in the future and will be more cognizant of the impacts of my decisions on employees in the future. I hope many of my past leadership pick up Sinek’s book as well; especially those I call The Robber Barons.

They are the bosses that seemed more interested in lining their own pockets with the riches of praise and glory from the “lords and ladies on high”. They do it at the expense of the “peasants” that work the fields, ignoring the common good of the whole, hoarding the praise and the privileges that come with their title and status as “the boss”. We all have had them. Or have we?

Knowing what I know now, I can look back and say that my memory hasn’t always served me right. I’ve been overly-hard on some of the leaders I might have previously considered Robber Barons. For others, a more apt description couldn’t be given. Still, it always leads me back to the same questions: “What kind of leader am I? Did my people see me as a self-interested tyrant?"

The inevitable answer for some of my past employees is “Yes! That guy’s a beast to work for!” And I can never escape my often-noted adage “Perception is reality.” I accept that some people who’ve worked for me in the past probably spit when they hear my name. Okay; I get it. All I can do is try to mitigate those perceptions in the future while still getting the job done. Experience has made me a little more empathetic to the plights of others for certain.

As you take a leadership role in your organization, I invite you to ponder the mental image of The Robber Baron and all of the negative connotations it agitates. Fight becoming the embodiment of that perception. Ensure that your people are properly rewarded and recognized for their hard work. Spill praise from the treasury and share your “riches” and privilege with those that comprise your team. You may not win everybody over, but the majority of the people will work harder for you in the long run.