Treadmill or Dreadmill?
Treadmill runs are my least favorite way to get exercise but when it is -13 outside with a foot of fresh snow, the outdoor running needs to take a backseat. At least that was what I was trying to convince myself as I ran on the dreadmill. Pounding out the miles I tried to think of creative ways to entertain myself.
“I wonder what the other people would think if I leaned over the side of my treadmill and launched a snot missile.” Grinning like a madman I kept my pace up as I wondered what else I could do to amuse myself. People watching entertained me for about fifteen minutes but you can only look at other people so long before that got boring also. Trying to watch the televisions mounted on the walls was distracting because every single one of them was on a different channel. What to do, what to do?
Letting Thoughts Wander
Knowing I had at least another forty-five minutes on the dreadmill I let my thoughts wander to the place that my thoughts wander to on long runs. Running has always served a purpose for me. Running is where I find my peace now, it is where I find my center and it is where I unlock words from the back of my brain.
This particular day my mind kept on drifting toward my approach to leading my team at work. In particular, I was trying to figure out why it is the word “manager” disturbs me so much. I carry this job title but quite frankly I don’t want it. I’m not certain when this happened but it deepened when I began running and the deep thoughts began to come out.
Management or Leadership
Peter Docker once said, “Management is about handling complexity. Leadership is about creating simplicity.”
As I write these words I struggle to make sure that I am not insulting people that have always sought the title of “manager” because that’s not my point.
My point is simply this. When we are given the responsibility of a supervisory position we are given the additional responsibility of being the one in our office that begins to set the pace and direction for everybody else in the office. The very act of setting pace and direction is the difference between management and leadership.
I believe our culture is crying out for leadership. We have so many people who are just moving from one place to another handling complexity but most people want simplicity.
Creating simplicity also creates an opportunity for those we are entrusted to lead. When we create an opportunity for people we create a work environment that people want to be a part of instead of just someplace where they can earn a paycheck.
So as I pounded away on the dreadmill I began to think of the ways that we can be leaders rather than managers and create the kind of work environment that people want to be a part of.
Be the Leader You Want to Follow
1. Be the leader you would like to follow. In the last three years, I have had four separate managers over me. Each time I keep expecting to find a person that wants to lead and I keep finding that what I have instead is people that want to manage or handle complexities or even in some cases create complexities that keep my team from at their best every day. So as it dawned on me that once again I was not going to have leadership over me I decided to be the leader I wanted to follow. The difficult step in this is that you need to do a very harsh assessment of who you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are and how to overcome each one. Once you’ve done that then you’re ready for the next step.
Listen More Than You Talk
2. This is probably one of the more difficult things I have done in my career. I like to talk, it’s why I’m a pretty strong sales person. I had to force myself to listen a lot more than I talk. Not just to my customers but also to the employees that work with me. When I am listening well I find that I can assess the individual traits that each one of these incredible people has and then I can begin to find ways to help them work on their strengths instead of trying to force them into improving their weaknesses. I am a strong believer in finding your strength and then continually improving what you are strong at and then finding people that are strong in your weaknesses and turning them loose.
Set the Pace
3. Setting the pace for the people you work with is so incredibly important. It requires you to sharpen your communication skills and also your analytical skills. These skills are important to pace because they allow you to be informational. Nobody likes working for “mushroom” managers, those managers who keep you in the dark constantly and feed you a bunch of crap. However, people that know the direction you want to go, when they need to get there and what their role is in getting there have an automatic buy-in when it comes to reaching goals and even budgets. The corporation I work for is comprised of over two hundred branch locations. I manage one of the smaller, more remote branches. As a corporation, we are really good at slogans and marketing but really do not communicate what the goals are. I remember my first district manager when I asked him what the goals for my branch were. He looked at me like I was some strange ogre and simply said, “Profitability. Your goal is to be profitable.” Okay, what does that look like? Are we talking lots of profit, just barely getting there profit? Gross profit or net profit? I realized that upper management had no possible way of defining what profitable meant so instead I went back to step one. What kind of leader did I expect? I came up with reachable sales and gross margin goals that would challenge each one of the people I work with. Then I explained what their role would be in getting there and how if we worked together we could all enjoy the fruits of an office that corporate could be proud of. This is what it means to set the pace. It means finding a clear way to set goals that are challenging yet reachable and then explaining each person’s role in reaching those goals.
4. Lastly, celebrate victories together. I delete e-mails I receive before reading them that start with “we missed the mark” or “we need to step it up”. I am not interested in where I failed, I am very much in tune with what happened when I fall short of reaching a goal and don’t need the reminder. However, I do enjoy celebrating together when we achieve successes and overcome odds. It can be as simple as rewarding each one of your people with a free hour off work to go do some shopping or as big as taking everybody and their families to dinner to celebrate victories together. Celebrating victories allows you to discuss what happened when you didn’t hit a goal. When people know that you are willing to celebrate victories then they are also willing to discuss what happens when you don’t hit your goals.
Leader vs. Manager
I love being a leader instead of just a manager. I know that the rewards for being a leader may never come from my corporation but I do know that the people I work with are becoming successes at what they do and that is a good thing. I want to become such a good leader that my people become so skilled at what they do that they can be promoted above me even. The true mark of a leader is a person who can create people who in turn become even better leaders than they are. This is who I want to be. My deepest desire is that I raise up people who do greater works than I ever could have done and change the very culture of the companies they work for.
Our society is crying out for leaders that will lay it on the line for people and is tired of people that earn a title who become masters at handling complexities. People want to work in an environment where they are appreciated and believe they can climb the mythical corporate ladder but still be themselves. This means that those of privileged to be in leadership must become the leaders we want to follow, listen more than we speak, set the pace and celebrate the victories with those who we are privileged to lead. Strive for these qualities and we may just see a revolution of people that aren’t just showing up to work for a paycheck but actually want to be there to participate in accomplishing something.
All this from a dreadmill run…maybe I should do…nope, not going to happen. Get me out for a run in the mountains where I can dream big, get deeper thoughts and enjoy the peace of a mountain trail.