Leadership is Choosing to be Responsible

Leadership is all about making a choice, while management is about following orders or a process. A leader comes along side of their team to inspire, motivate, and care for them. A manager broods over their team with a critical and analytical eye. These perspectives are not taught per se, but they are driven by two distinct cultures and how each addresses responsibility.

In a leadership culture, the individual leading a team chooses to be responsible. It is their choice. No one forces them to be responsible. They know what it takes for their team to be productive and effective—Productive work is work that matters for someone who cares. It requires some form of inspiration, the proper motivational environment, and the team of workers to care about the customer.

In a management culture, managers choose to do what is required, not necessarily taking on any responsibility. In some cases, a manager is forced by various pressures to meet a measurement and they funnel the same pressures and expectations to their team. The atmosphere is charged with critical and analytical business views that rise above any personal attention or care for a customer. Regardless of the process, hitting the final required numbers are the end-all and be-all of the job.

When a new family comes into play with a child’s birth, the parents must immediately act as a manager to protect their kid from danger. For some it means baby-proofing the house and setting strict rules such as do not cross the street without holding a parent’s hand. As the child grows and learns the differences between right and wrong, the parent must shift from being a manager and become a leader to guide the child through future years as a teacher, then coach, and finally as a friend.

The transition from manager to leader is critical to the success of the family structure and the emotional and mental wellbeing of the child. In households where the parents never transition, the children become cynical and rarely take responsibility for their actions. The kids grow into adulthood without ever understanding who is responsible for their life. This drives an entitlement that expects others, or the government, to take care of them—Welcome Generation Z.

The key is that management is ideal during a crisis or major market shift, while leadership is best for the remaining 95% of the time.

When the COVID crisis hit, government officials stepped up as managers in the name of saving millions of lives. Once the actual death toll (not accounting for inflated numbers and numbers never reported) became known as a fraction of the original concerns, the officials should have transitioned from managing the people to leading them.

Thanks to politics and the officials who loved their new-found power, the transition back to leadership did not happen. The officials did not want the responsibility of the health or financial issues of the people. In fact, most pushed the responsibility down to local small businesses stating that all future deaths are on the businesses that chose to stay open during the pandemic.

Regardless of the bad choices of others, or who wins the battle of survival between government officials trying to save lives by shutting down businesses and small businesses trying to stay open to care for their numerous employee families, each individual needs to decide to be a manager or a leader. Both are the right thing to do at the right times, and also the wrong thing to do at the wrong times.

Difficult decisions like that require us to take on the responsibility to make the right decision for such a time as this. The thing that makes this decision easier is knowing that 95% of the time taking the responsibility and leading your team or family forward is the right choice. We just need to be careful to switch to a management style during the onset of a crisis, and purposefully shift back to a leadership style when the initial wave of the crisis has been abated.

To be a leader we must take responsibility for our actions and decisions. Also, we must never expect anyone else to take care of us, especially if they don’t have our best interest at heart. Here is where Generation Z struggles, thinking that government has their best interest at heart—but that topic is for another day.

Take responsibility for your choices and actions. Manage when you must, to get out of crisis, but get back to leading again as quickly as possible. And, don’t be a follower only, for all too often you might wake up to the realization that you are following the wrong person, plan, or politics. It’s your life, so go after being the best you that you can be by taking the risk of being responsible for you.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

Changing Careers

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I’ve been pulled into a few conversations on career changes and have learned that the average person changes careers 5-7 times in their working life. This number didn’t shock me as much as our new national average of people changing jobs every 12 months.

Since the average person takes 3-6 months to come up to speed on their newest job, you’d think that companies would want to keep them in that position longer than a year. After all, training costs and mistakes due to the learning curve are substantial.

One person suggested that our culture of self-care is driving the latest turnover. He suggested that people who stay at one job too long lose track of reality. They tend to only see life from the corporate perspective and rarely get a glimpse of what is happening in the real world—outside of what TV tells them. To stay alert and keep their job interesting, people are jumping more often with the hopes that they can grow in value.

There is also the fun associated with something new. I love to learn, and being in a new position would activate me to learn all that I can. The longer a person stays in one position, the more mechanical their job becomes. Not too many people want to be in a job that they can do in their sleep. If they do, they have probably dropped to a lifestyle of going through the motions and not being present in the moment—boring.

I’m all for a person strategically shifting their career a few times to broaden their knowledge and improve their skill levels. However, if they want their future company to see them as a benefit, they have to stay at each job long enough to develop their craft to the level of mastery.

I met one woman who worked for Dreamworks, Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Columbia. I met a man who worked for Pixar. It turns out that the woman had a great understanding of the industry and each company’s approach to market changes. The man, on the other hand, had developed his craft beyond that of most people in the industry.

I tried to determine which route would benefit their next job most. I concluded that the next position’s requirements would dictate which of the two would be best for the position—depending on the new company’s needs at the time. In other words, neither choice would consistently be a good choice.

Back when Walt Disney had to deal with the new rising animation union, he felt shredded by members of his staff who went on strike. It was a personal issue that changed his creative family business into a manufacturing machine. The wages and employee benefits went up, while loyalty to Disney hit an all-time low.

It took years of flops to rebuild loyalty and have employees take pride in their work. Today, Disney is a company that most people long to work for regardless of its wages and benefits.

Maybe that’s why there is a new movement among midsized companies to be slow to hire and quick to fire.

These companies don’t want their culture to be negatively affected by anyone, so being thorough in the hiring process makes perfect sense. Along those same lines, these companies don’t want to keep a bad egg one day too long for fear that they will spread their negativity throughout the ranks.

The next time I’m in a position to hire someone, I’ll follow the following three steps:

  1. Only hire those who fit your corporate culture and daily attitude.
  2. Immediately fire anyone who bucks the company culture or vision.
  3. Find ways to keep quality employees well beyond 12 months.

Whether you’re a hiring manager or looking for your next beneficial position, consider what added value you’ve gained from your current job. Then consider what company can improve by taking advantage of picking you up. Next, decide how to position yourself for a raise or a job change.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

 

Failure Breeds Success

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There are several notable authors speaking on failing forward and the need for environments that allow for, or support failure. None of the individuals speak to the importance of failure and how it increases our ability to think and drive innovation. Out of those who speak about the positive aspects of failure, most seem to do so with failure as a caveat, not a requirement. The truth, however, is that failure is a necessary part of success.

Over the years, I’ve talked with numerous award winners, self-made entrepreneurs, and multi-millionaires. In each case, when talking to a person that made the trek up the hill of success, they shared how integral and critical their failures were in getting them to their goals and big wins. No one was able to succeed until they experienced a healthy dose of failure.

The secret weapon of failure must be added to our creativity tool belt. This tool empowers us for the big wins that company’s need for growth. It also wipes out fear from our workforce, promoting a healthy attitude for calculated risks that drive innovation, instead of the shrinkage driven by a risk-averse environment.

Colin Powell, one of my favorite leaders, says, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Flaws are found in every product and service. When we choose to look at the negative and learn about the need that is not being met as a result of the given flaw, then we can learn from that single point of failure and innovate a new and better solution. If, however, we pretend that our product or service does not have a flaw, then we fool ourselves and give an opening for another company to build our mousetrap better. We lose market share—by choice.

Failure sets us up to win with three benefits:

A Growth Mindset

We all start from a position of failure. This is easily seen in my first swimming lesson at Sunset Pool. I was afraid of the water, like two-thirds of Americans, and I tended to sink instead of float. By focusing on my inability to swim, I was able to add to my skill set. By the time I was an adult, I was a PADI and NAUI certified diver that swam with sharks. (According to National Geographic there are 375 types of sharks and only about a dozen are considered dangerous.)

A growth mindset was a simple idea discovered by Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, that drives motivation and productivity. The concept is that we can change or improve our basic abilities in order to make great accomplishments. By seeing failure as a stepping stone of learning, being able to consider new ideas that would never have popped up had we not failed, we can alter our products and services to be a better solution for the customer.

A Customer-Focused Perspective

I learned at an early age that failure meant you didn’t have or offer what the customer wanted. I’ll never forget the meeting I had with the vice president of a national youth organization. I was told what the organization wanted and I clarified what they actually needed to be successful. While I was 100% accurate in my assessment, which was later proven true, I was dropped from the project because I didn’t deliver what they wanted.

The disconnect was due to me being focused on their customers and donors, while the vice president was focused on assigned objectives. The organization moved ahead without me and saw a massive failure. They soon realized that their objectives were not aligned to their customers and donors. After making several phone calls to key people, they discovered that the needs in their market were perfectly aligned with my initial recommendation.

My failure taught me a valuable lesson about having a customer-centric perspective. I could have gotten the original contract had my recommendation matched their objectives, but I stood by what I thought was right, not what they were willing to pay for. The next customer that called me in for a quote that wasn’t aligned to their market, I offered exactly what was being asked for and supplied a phase two proposal covering next steps should phase one not work. One company suggested we forgo phase one and just jump to two. I was thrilled that they had made the determination after understanding the differences between phases.

A Trajectory for Success

When failure no longer looks like a problem, but rather the next step of an exploration seeking the best solution, the company finds itself on a trajectory of success no matter what scenario is first developed. I had a friend who once told me that some things aren’t worth doing perfectly. The saying stuck with me because my marketing background suggested that speed to market was far more powerful than second to market—unless you pour a ton of money into the second product’s release.

My friend explained that when a product or service is 80% ready for release, to go ahead and release it while continuing to perfect it. Within six months, regardless of having released the product at 100% or 80% complete, the product will still be tweaked from the market’s initial feedback. The amount of time it takes to polish the final product is not worth the quality difference compared to the percentage of market share gained by releasing first.

While this holds true with most products and services, it does not work in film and music sales. Once the product is created, you rarely have an opportunity to fix and rerelease it. This is why entertainment companies do test screenings and focus groups—to get it right the first time out.

My failures have given me wonderful tools that move each of my projects a step closer to success. Without those failures, I would have no idea how to make a new product or service successful. When we review our failures and determine the lessons learned, we drive success in our next venture. In other words, failure allows us to grow, focus on our customers, and create a process that forces our success.

Shouldn’t we all be thankful for our failures?

© 2019 by CJ Powers