Gerry’s Blog

Self: Leaders Must Lead Themselves

How many times have you gotten up in the morning, gone to work, returned home, and gone to bed not having a clue as to what you did that day? Many of us have had that happen and then passed it off as just another aspect of the daily grind. I can remember early in my career finding myself on such a treadmill. I was more or less adrift without any concept of where I was going.

When I took my first job, I got off to a rocket-fast start. I managed to move up quickly from one job to the next, and I was lucky several times to be in the right place at the right time. My career took off, and with each new job I faced challenges of increasing intensity that took more and more time from the rest of my life. I did not complain, because I wanted to succeed. I also had the good fortune of an incredibly supportive wife, who was successful and hard working on her own. She understood and shared in my desire for success. All of this fed a frenzy of activity, most of which I thought was good.

To be honest, I had no real idea where all of this work was leading me. I had spent virtually no time thinking through what I was doing in my career or where my career was going. As long as I was moving forward, with more and more challenges and responsibilities, there was no time or reason to think about me. I was consumed by the job, and for a very long time that was all I needed.

 

After I had worked for about eight years, it finally dawned on me that I was doing nearly the same things that I had been doing at the start of my career. Yes, I was working in bigger organizations, had a bigger title, and was making more money, but in many ways what I had done in the past year was the same as what I had in the previous eight years. This realization was shocking, but also life-altering.

For the first time I realized that I was not in a career, I was in a job. I was not necessarily doing what I wanted; I was doing what my boss needed and wanted me to do. Satisfying the needs and wants of a boss in not in itself a bad thing. On the contrary, being the go-to person has a great deal of merit, as was evidenced by my explosive rise in the hierarchy. The problem was that I was paying no regard to my needs, my career, and my future. That was when I started to focus on the concept of self.

True Passion Drives Behavior And Creates Winning Performance

I am so into passion, and you should be too. If you have any question about the power of passion – emotion – in the work place, just think about the last time you saw a total, shocking upset in sports.  There simply are too many cases where the better team, did not win. Where a Cinderella team went on to win a tournament, or where, a weak, clearly less talented group of players won, in spite of their deficiencies.

Was Steve Jobs brilliant? Some would say he was, but I would suggest that his brilliance was eclipsed by his passion. He had a passion about his company; about his products and about creating demand where nobody knew it could be. Steve Jobs was no angel, and in fact, I have heard far too many stories about his potentially mercurial and even abusive behavior. But, one thing you can say, he had a passion for product design that was unparalleled in his industry. He may have been a tyrant, but he had passion that was infectious in his company.

This lesson goes to the heart of who you are as a leader. If there is anything that matters more to your being good at your job, I do not know it. If you have a passion for what you do, nothing during the day will wear you down, but, without it, you will be beaten up before the day is over. Management is one darn thing after another, and if there is not passion in your belly for what you do, I guarantee you, you will be exhausted.

Each of us wants to enjoy what we do. Nobody really gets up in the morning and says, I want to be bored today. I want to hate what I do. I want to be unhappy all day. Now many of you do get up fearing that all of those things will be true at the end of the day, but I can not imagine you wished for them. I had a job once, (not for long) where I really hated going to work. I have never been more miserable, and candidly, I did a lousy job. My guess is, most of you have had at least on experience like that. If not, consider yourself either lucky or brilliant.

Passion, the total commitment and joy of working is a blessing. With passion, you can achieve almost anything. So, my advice, find a passion, and follow it!

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What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate.

How many times have you heard that? Many people use that expression to explain away their inability to explain failure. Others use it to excuse their own failure to lead, by in essence “blaming” the other party for a failure to communicate (meaning listen) rather than to accept responsibility. In other cases it really is a reflection of a communications breakdown.

The plain fact is, leaders must be good communicators. It is our job to make certain that our staff understands their responsibilities, their duties, the processes, and ultimately our expectations of them.  If we do not do the basic communicating, we are failing everybody. Yet, one of the single most significant failures of most leaders is their failure to make their expectations of their associate crystal clear. And when I say crystal clear, I mean detailed, specific and with clear understanding by the associate of what it takes to be successful.

It is one of the great leadership travesties when a boss leaves everything so vague that it is impossible for the associate to know, understand and achieve the expectations of success. Worse still is when the associate is left to define success on their own, to then achieve it in their own minds, and to then find, at the appraisal point by the boss; that they “guessed wrong.” Then the feedback session happens, and the associate is shocked to find out that their vision of being applauded for doing a great job is shattered by feedback that says they have been performing at an unsatisfactory level.

Let me make it clear, this is not an observation made to exaggerate a point. I have seen this happen so many times, that it has been truly painful for me to watch. But the real question is, why would a leader not be clear to the associate? Unfortunately, I believe that it is because too many leaders have not properly thought through what the expectations should be. They “play it by ear,” and either assume that it will just happen, or they are just too lazy to take the time to do the work up front. They leave the decision about what they should have said were the expectations, to a time when the results are in.

Do not do this. Take the time to evaluate what it will take for you to be able to tell your associate…Great job! It may not always be entirely in your control, but it us essential that you give that guidance. If you do not get it from your boss, demand it.

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How Important Is It To Put People In The Right Job?

Far too many people end up in a job for which they are either not technically qualified for, or which they simply do not have the right behaviors, temperament or attitude. If you have ever been in a job that was wrong for you, then you precisely know the issue. I have had that situation, and I am certain that it had a huge impact on my job performance and ultimately my own psychological well being.

So, the answer to the question is quite clear…Yes! But, if it is so clear, how is it that so many people end up in the wrong job for them. Ironically, many times it is the employee who is responsible for the mistake, but, it is ultimately our responsibility as the leader to assure that the right assignment is made. Further, it is not just the individual who suffers when there is a misfit, the team, the larger organization, and ultimately the leader pay a huge price. This price is paid, because it is almost inevitable that a misfit will create a performance failure.

Often the individual will aspire to a job for which he is not suited, and it is always difficult to redirect that person from the aspiration, but redirect the leader must do. That causes the leader to make a judgment about the core competencies of the individual, and to determine if those are a match to the requirements of the job. This can often cause serious tension in the boss-subordinate relationship if the decision is not understood and accepted by the individual. On more than one occasion, I have had the painful responsibility to tell a person that they were not qualified for a specific job, and candidly, that conversation always ended up with a serious fracture in my relationship with that associate.

This is when the leader often makes the fatal mistake, and gives in to the passion of the individual. I have done it; and you may have as well. I will admit, there have been those rare situations where my initial judgment proved to be wrong and the individual actually succeeded at a job I thought they would fail in. Unfortunately those are rare, and my general experience is that my judgment was correct, and the person proved to be in the wrong job, and eventually needed to be moved; or worse still, quit or was fired because of the misfit situation.

My advice, if you doubt your own judgment, get a second opinion from somebody else who knows the associate, perhaps your Human Resources Department; or just bite the bullet, and avoid the mistake by relying on your first judgment. It may be rough with that associate, but, in the long run, you are likely to be more right than wrong.

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A Mistaken Hire

How is your “batting average” on hiring? Well, I am a very highly qualified interviewer, but, I have made many bad hires. Yes, I preach good interviewing techniques, and yet I have managed to be wrong almost 30% of the time. In baseball, a 700 batting average would be outstanding (in fact probably impossible), but, in hiring, it is very expensive to have 30% of your hires fail.

That said, I suspect that if you were honest with yourself, you would probably find that you average is even worse. I believe that there are two primary reasons that you are having trouble making good hires, and I almost guarantee if you would just change two things in your interviews, you would increase your hiring success by as much as 30%.

Here are my tips:

 

  1. Stop talking, start listening – most people simply talk too much. Decide that you will speak less than 20% of the time in an interview. If you do this, you will be forced to ask questions, that cause the applicant to talk much longer. Make certain that you ask no simple questions that have, yes or no answers. Make them open-ended questions that encourage the applicant to talk to you. Then ask simple follow up questions.
  2. As questions that cause the applicant to tell you how they did things. Not what they accomplished, but rather how they got those results. Again ask lots of follow-up questions.

 

These two things will change your interviews completely. By not talking you will avoid interviewing yourself, and you will avoid giving the applicant the answers to your questions by their picking up on things that you believe in. You need to know what they think, not how they can repeat back to you what you think. By asking how questions; you will force the applicant to explain in greater detail what they did to achieve results. The fact that they can give you results data, is interesting, but not enough. You must know how they achieved those results, and what was unique about how they did it.

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