Over the past fifteen years, I have spent a significant amount of time learning the best practices and behaviors of the most effective and successful business leaders. I have read the works of Stephen Covey, Peter Drucker, Jack Welch and many others along the way.
I have had the great fortune of being coached by men who have won national championships and leaders who have represented this country when we needed them most.
Although personal development and growth are a never ending process, these individuals have inspired me to be a more thoughtful and effective people leader.
In 2014, my wife and I were blessed with the addition of our son, Jake, to our family. Although he has only been walking the earth for two years, in his own special way he reminds me of the valuable leadership lessons that I have Iearned over the years.
I am sure that as he continues to grow and develop, I will have ample opportunity to provide him with wisdom that I have learned through experiencing a complete life, but for now, I continue to be the student and Jake is the teacher……..
LESSON #1: GET UP EARLY
I have always been an early riser, but my son is an EARLY RISER! He is awake before 5am every single day, no exception. Monday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, he is up early and ready to take on the world of toy trucks, cars, Play-Doh and sports.
As leaders, we all struggle to find enough time in the day to accomplish what we need or want to complete. Whether it is related to personal or professional activity, we all need to maximize the amount of time we are provided each calendar day. When we get up early, it allows us to develop a strategy for the day in an environment in which the needs and demands of life or business have not yet absorbed large sections of the calendar. The tranquility of the early morning is a protected place where one can define daily priories, develop plans and prepare for the business challenges that lie ahead.
Rising early also allows each of us to strike a more effective work life balance in which mornings may be filled with a morning workout or family time with spouses and children. Every morning I have a discussion with Jake about the day ahead. What is he doing today? Where is he going? Who will he be seeing? The opportunity to connect with him and talk about his day ahead is an energizer and better than any gourmet coffee in the morning.
LESSON #2: BE CURIOUS
Jake is hungry for knowledge. He is constantly asking questions about things he does not or should not yet know. “What color is that car?”, “Where are you going?”, “What time is it” and “What is that Daddy?” Regardless of situation, location or time of day, my son, is curious to learn more about the world around him and the people he comes in contact with.
When he is out in public he will approach random individuals and ask them their name, color of their home, the color of their shoes or the color of their car. His curiosity is endless.
In my professional experience, the most effective leaders all had one common trait….they were extremely curious. Whether it was about our clients, the organization, a specific process or our people, the finest leaders have a desire to understand everyone and everything around them. They frequently probe and ask questions so that they can be as impactful as possible when the time comes to make a decision or contribute to a solution.
When leading a team, your ability to develop trust with your people is critical to your success. When leaders are curious and get to know and understand their people and their views, they can provide a higher level of coaching, mentorship and support. Understanding experience, history, skills, motivations, concerns and goals creates a culture of trust on your team which will ultimately lead to higher performance. We engender trust through that curiosity and learn how we can best support them in achieving team and individual goals.
LESSON #3: BE PRECISE IN YOUR COMMUNICATION
Children have an innate ability to communicate effectively with minimal wasted words or “filler” in their delivery. Although each may have a limited vocabulary, they are adept at delivering precise messaging that cuts directly to what they want, need or feel.
Jake is a master of this skill. He has the ability to navigate interactions with his parents, friends, relatives and strangers by utilizing simple and direct messaging that clearly defines his goals. There is no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation as desires and needs are to the point and direct.
“Play with truck”, “Let’s go outside”, “I don’t like that”, “Mac & Cheese, please”. The efficiency and direct nature of his communication has reminded me to be crisp and clear with my team members when setting expectations, providing coaching and making recommendations on a solution or strategy.
People want to succeed and be valued by the organizations they represent. When setting expectations with our people, we need to provide precise direction. Although “professional latitude and empowerment” are part of any strong team, the expectations need to be crystal clear. Developing techniques that allow communication to be precise are essential to leadership success.
Jake has reminded me of the importance of this each and every day.
LESSON #4: BE BOLD
As we get older we continue to realize potential outcomes, both good and bad, that we were ignorant or immune to in our youth. Through experience, we gain a better understanding of the right things to do, but we can also become timid and risk averse as we have seen the pitfalls and obstacles that could arise.
As we age, we become more conservative and at times that benefits us. Other times it restricts development, innovation and achievement.
Jake does not have the benefit of experience. He has not been subject to the outcomes or consequences that paralyze decision making. He is not afraid to take chances and is bold as he is not aware of the potential ramifications of his actions. He sees the world as it is and is not looking through the filter of past success and failure. He might climb a little too high, run a little too fast or feed our dog his lunch, but he is fearless.
In business today, leaders are being challenged to be more creative, tear down pre-existing constructs and develop new environments that attract the best people. We are expected to deliver more cost effective solutions to clients and position organizations to grow in a highly competitive global economy. Bold leadership is no longer a differentiator, it is a requirement.
Leaders who remain stagnant, who do not evolve philosophy and strategy will eventually become obsolete as the market will remove your value. Your ability to accurately assess situations, implement strategies and lead new initiatives that add value will determine your success and worth.
Creative, Innovative and Bold….just like my 2 year old, Jake.
I have had some great teachers in my life. Whether at home, in the classroom, on a team or in my professional life, I have worked with high quality leaders that have helped shape my views and belief systems. Each has given me something different that I attempt to pass along to my people each day.
Little did I know that one of those great teachers would a 2 year old boy who loves trucks, Mac & Cheese and calls me “Daddy”.