Monday, May 21, 2012

Best Laid Plans

I am often asked about the keys to leadership. Of course, there are core characteristics that we can list and quantify. Most often, however, I hearken back to sound advice. The best bosses I have had assisted my career development through very human interactions. The strategy book is thrown out the window and you talk to one another in caring terms.

Here is some of the best advice I have received:

"If you keep working that hard, you will be a State qualifier"
At a tender age I began to participate in the sport of wrestling. To be an exceptional wrestler you have to have outstanding physical conditioning, unflappable will power, and extraordinary patience. You workout for hours a day to get to a 6 minute match in which every muscle in your body is used to exhaustion. All the while, you are controlling your diet to make weight. When you lose, you have no one to blame but yourself. Wrestling is not the world's most popular sport because very few people have the courage to endure it.

In wrestling your hard work is validated with gold medals. Wrestling also allows you to overcome your greatest opponent in life....yourself! When you know that you can push yourself beyond your limitations, you are consistently willing to try harder.

The season is long and tiresome. You work so hard and occasionally you lose. You question how far you can push yourself. While your friends are cruising chicks and drinking their first beer, you can't even eat. So, when my coach pointed to me at the end of practice and told me the words highlighted above that was all I needed. Indeed, our success is often predicated on one compliment from someone we respect. When my coach told me he recognized my effort, it made me want to try ten times harder.

"Once you have wrestled, everything in life is easier" - Dan Gable

"You will not beat them, you will become one of them"
In our professional lives we are always looking for opportunities to improve ourselves. I was with a company for some time and I was getting restless. I needed some variation to the daily grind. I did everything I could to get promoted. When the opportunity for advancement finally came my way I sat down with a senior leader in the company. He asked me why I wanted a position in management. I went into my professional mission statement of making the company better by evolving the workforce.....he stopped me and said. I'm asking you why you think it is a good idea to get out of sales and go into management? After a slight pause, I told him that I thought the middle management in our company sucked and that I was willing to commit myself to inspiring our workforce instead of regulating them. He smiled and then he proclaimed the statement highlighted above.

This senior staff member could have recommended me to the hiring manager but he felt I would be wasting my life if he did. He cared enough to tell me that I could do more than position myself for lifelong mediocrity. I cherish his advice to this day....because he was right!

"Don't go gettin' insecure"
People love having a new job because it allows them to wipe the slate clean. I cannot recommend strongly enough that when changing careers an attitude make over is absolutely critical. You probably left your former job because there was some bad blood....leave it there. Easy for me to say!

I had a new job and my boss was in from out of town. I had worked hard to get a meeting with a key prospective client and was really excited to showcase my talent for the new boss. I picked him up at the airport, we arrived at the client's location, and she was not there. The excitement deflated by the need to reschedule, my boss's precious time wasted.

As we hopped back into the car, I expressed my frustration. How could someone agree to meet and then neglect the importance of our time? To which he said, "don't go gettin' insecure on me". It was a critical turning point in my career. My boss didn't hire me to see me display my skill in front of a new client, he trusted my talent. Here I was still interviewing two weeks after being employed. Despite my career change, I was still carrying the baggage of the corporate politics from my former occupation. My boss's words caused me to remember my greatness, for far too long before meeting him I was ruled by people who managed to make me believe I was not good enough....and that I had to prove myself.

These three lessons have one thing in common. They are all simple words of advice given to me from people who genuinely cared about me....and in their simple words I came to understand that.

Leadership is the act of inspiring confidence. Management is the process of challenging job function.

Don't Forget to Remember!


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