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Thoughts on Great Leadership

Thoughts on Great Leadership -

Leadership is not 'who' you are; it is 'what' you are. When you walk into a room where a meeting is about to be conducted, what are the people thinking of you?

1. Do they perceive you as confident and driven?
2. Are they certain you will present them with a clear strategy, vision and direction?
3. Do they definitively know that the result of the meeting will start the ball rolling, moving from the problems to the solutions? 4. Are they confident, no matter what project they are about to embark on or what problems they are asked to solve, that you are capable of directing or guiding them to a successful outcome?

Most individuals in an executive or managerial position would vehemently argue that the answers to the above questions are 'yes'. It has been my experience that on more occasions than not, the answer to one or all of the questions asked about many would-be leaders is 'no.'

If all of the answers truly are 'yes,' a leader has walked into the room.

Steps towards successful leadership

What must one do to ensure that the answer all of the questions is always 'YES - ?
The first step is simple: always make sure that you surround yourself with great people. You cannot learn how to be great from people who are not great themselves. If you want to become great, or a great leader, you have to surround yourself with people that will motivate you to be great by their example. We often emulate the people around us; surround yourself with people who fail, and you will find yourself emulating the behaviors that made them fail. Instead, surround yourself with leaders, and you will find yourself behaving like a successful leader.
Giving Credit
The most important step to take is towards being unselfish: make certain you give those who surround you all the credit. Not just some of the credit some of the time, but all of the credit all of the time.

The employee must know that everything they do will be recognized as something they did, and not something that you, 'the boss,' will ultimately take credit for. Not giving credit is a common mistake of most managers. Respect
A great leader never uses the terms 'my people' or 'my staff.' The simple fact of the matter is that they are not 'your people;' they are each their own individual, with their own mind, that just happens to be working under your area of management. I am surprised at how common this error occurs. 'My staff - .' 'My people - .' Drop this bad habit as soon as you finish reading this sentence.
People have to want to drive to work in the morning. Don't get me wrong. It is called 'work' for a reason; otherwise we would call it 'pleasure.' But it is important to remember that the people on your team are individuals with choices. Money will bring them back the next day, and the next week, and maybe the next month, but if a person is not happy to get into their car and come to work for you, they will not likely be coming to work for you much longer. Never assume that they can't find somewhere else, where they could make more money, better benefits etc, and not dread starting their car in the morning.
Are you a leader? Ask your self this simple question: 'Do people that I have the privilege of leading get things done so they won't get in trouble? Or are they getting it done because they don't want me to be disappointed in them?' Those are two very different statements. Even managers who think their team works for their respect might be surprised by the answer. Better yet, how would the employees you lead answer this question?
Anyone can get someone to do something by utilizing methods of fear and intimidation but only a leader can get something done because someone wants or rather needs the leader to be proud of them. Learn from Experience
I began my career as a wannabe leader long before I ever thought I was one. When we first enter the workforce (I happened to be thirteen) we are certain of one thing; we will have a boss and that we better please them if we want to keep the job. Our leadership training begins the day we meet our very first boss.

I was one of the fortunate ones, my first boss was a compassionate man, he even made me go home and get my mom before he hired me because he wanted to make sure I was allowed to be working. I think he thought I looked like I was 9 years old, I did.

Little did I know as I was breading fish and shrimp at 'Alfie's Fish-n-Chips' in Houston Texas that I was learning how to become 'The Boss', 'They' and hopefully, someday 'The Leader - .

Each and every boss we ever have plays a crucial roll in the development of our leadership skills. The 'Good the Bad and the Ugly', all have invaluable information to share with us as a witness to their actions and behavior.

When I seventeen in the United States Army, I was standing at attention in front of the desk of the 'Battalion Captain'. He began by informing me that he was going to teach me a lesson that I would never forget for the rest of my life!!! He proceeded to share with me that I was restricted to the barracks for an entire month; 'You are 'only' allowed to go to the mess hall and to college, then you will immediately return to the barracks. Additionally, I am going to remove you of any pay that you are expecting this month ($375) - .

Why Sir? I asked. 'Did I tell you could talk boy - ? No Sir. 'This morning you were five minutes late for formation Private Luckey - ! Five minutes late, he must be joking! He was not! 'You work on our Radar and Hawk Missile Defense Systems, is that not correct Private Luckey - ? Yes Sir. 'So when Russia fires their missiles at us, can I assume that you will be 5 minutes late returning the favor'. Yes Sir. 'That's what I thought - .

Well I learned a valuable lesson that month, never be late and if I was to make sure I called my boss and tell them. 35 years later, I over slept in a Seattle hotel. The CEO had the meeting stopped to look for me because he was certain that something terrible had happened to me. 'Cliff is never late, find him - !!! Unfortunately, there are some things we learn from our bosses that future employees wish we had never learned. I expect a lot from those I lead, 'if you're going to be late, call me - .

I moved up the corporate ladder surrounding myself with not only people I trusted and giving them all the credit but by making sure that they were 120% contributors in the first place. The great thing about this strategy is that I was able to establish teams that could accomplish great things, in short order. The problem with this strategy is that only less than 20% of the workforce is made up of 120% contributors. The other 80% are, well, 80% contributors, or less. How did I fair leading teams comprised of 80% contributors, well, not so good.

I learned a harsh lesson. I devoted all of my time to a specific group of 120% contributors. I will never forget it; at first it seemed like any other day, get coffee boot up the machine, check emails, as I read the first seven emails I was informed that an entire team was turning in their resignation, all on the same day, the entire 'Information Technology' department, no notice and no nothing. I later learned that they told their peers that it would be known as 'Black Tuesday'. Well it turned out 'not' to be Black Tuesday and the truth be told, at the time I was glad to be rid of the entire disgruntle group. They saved me a lot of time flipping them*

I swiftly moved my 120% contributors in to take over and ensure that Tuesday turned out to be a sunny day. It took me months to rebuild that group and cost the company a fortune in recruitment costs, training, lost productivity, etc.

How did I let this happen on my watch, if one or two quit, that was one thing but an entire department. I had to come to the ego deflating realization that I caused this. Yes I recovered but I could have prevented it if I would have known what I know now.

Every department, every group, every person requires your attention and leadership. I only rewarded 'Stars' with my time back then; today I devote all my time and energy to all employees regardless of their drive or willingness to succeed.

I had to learn to find a way to motivate people who were not necessarily self driven and actually came to work because you paid them a check, not because they wanted to part of a team that could conquer Corporate America.

Looking back, the way to accomplish this is rather simple. Make yourself vulnerable. What do I mean by that? Take the time to meet with as many employees as possible on a 1x1 basis and open yourself up by sharing with them who you are and what you stand for. Let them know how important they are to you succeeding, let them know that if you do not do everything humanly possible to assist them and ensure that they are happy driving to work in the morning that you will fail.

It is very humbling experience to tell an employee that your success depends on their success and that if it was not for their efforts and contribution to the team that you would be a dismal failure.

It has been my experience that this method is 100% failsafe. People (all people) like (need) to feel needed; they need to know that they make a difference. They must be confident in understanding that you need them to be successful.

* Flipping them 'A very derogatory term used by ruthless bosses to describe eliminating or replacing a person or group or people from an organization. Not to be used in front of human resources staff.

Steps towards building a successful team
Once you have established yourself as a successful leader, you can't forget that a leader is only as successful as the team he leads.

Now that they trust you, how do you get them to trust each other? This slow process begins with creating activities that have nothing to do with work. There are many ways to develop relationships that inherently build trust. Let me present you with a couple of ideas;

Bring the Team Together
Send an email to everyone in the group and ask them to email you with the response to this question, 'If money were no object and you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? Ask them to keep their responses confidential. Conduct a meeting the following week where each of the responses is read out loud by participants. Responses are passed around the room and selected randomly from an envelope. Have all the participants guess which person on the team wrote each response.
The person that guesses the most correctly wins a free lunch and they are allowed to take another in the group to lunch with them. Does this exercise sound silly to you and very un-executive like? If your answer is 'Yes' then you are not yet willing to do what it takes to become a great leader.

I won't take the time to explain all of the positive aspects of the exercise but I am certain of one thing, the process for establishing a highly successful team will begin to occur. You will have to take the risk to try this method and see what happens.

Continue with these exercises once a month, the following month have each of them bring in a childhood picture and ask them not to show it to anyone. As each picture is randomly shown, everyone guesses who it is in the picture and how old the person was at the time the picture was taken. After announcing whose picture it is, simply ask the person to tell everyone the following:
Where they were living? What were they doing at that age? What dreams did they have for the future? What did they think they were going to be when they grew up?

Gradually, the team begins to get to know one another in a manner that never would have been possible in normal day to day operations of the company. Shake it Up
All leaders facilitate positive change, positive change does not occur by osmosis. All great leaders have one thing in common; their peers generally think that their methods are unorthodox and very un-executive like. It is up to you to take the risk to facilitate change without fear or concern of the perception of your peers.

A few years back, I first became aware of how threatened peers could be when I developed a program called 'Become Chief Technology Officer for the Day'. All employees get to vote on who in their department would make a great Executive for the day. Voting is conducted with the understanding that whoever is selected or voted in, will be interviewing them that day and asked questions like 'What would you change in the department if you were empowered to do so - ?

After an employee is voted in, roles are reversed and you lose your office for the day. The employees absolutely love this opportunity and the 'Big Shot' becomes one of them for the day. What did my peers think? They hated it, 'How dare you violate the sanctity of our position of 'Officer' of this company', let a commoner have the position that I worked 50 years to get. Executive blasphemy!!!

After the person completes their mission you meet with them and listen to all of the suggestions the employees came up with. If they are good ideas, implement them.

Important Note: If you ever overcome the fear and try something like this, you must establish a rule that the Officer or VP for the day is not allowed to intervene in or try to handle any HR related issues.

Why Become a Leader
I was recently asked an interesting question. 'I know what the company gets from having a great leader and I know the employees gain a lot from working with one but what does the leader get out if?

I must admit the question caught me off guard. I assumed that everyone wanted to become a great leader, didn't they?

The greatest thing about being in a position of leadership is the ability to recognize talent and open doors for employees that would have not otherwise been opened or taken years longer to be opened. Through a process of your mentorship and guidance, their determination and drive they go on to do great things, make a huge difference in Corporate America and make vast amounts of money.
The next to best thing about being in leadership is the great stories you get to tell in your old age about the crazy things you have seen employees do. I have so many examples of the surrealistic workplace that I simply don't know where to start. I don't want to deviate too much from the intent of this writing but I must appeal to your sense of voyeurism and share with you a couple of instances into what I call 'seeing out of the glasses of the deranged employee - .

I had two highly educated engineers come into my office one day; they were obviously upset and highly distraught. 'He wrote on my shirt with an ink pen and I want him to buy me another one'. I am not going to buy him a shirt unless he gives me the shirt that he is accusing me of writing on' 'I am not going to give him my shirt; I would not be in a position of having to give him my shirt had he not wrote on it!' Well, I am certainly not going to pay for a shirt unless I get to wear it!

How does a great leader sort through a situation like this? I haven't the slightest idea. I instructed both of them to go outside of the building and handle it like a couple of 'Men'. They both left my office and I never heard anything else on the subject. I often wondered what came of the 'Shirt Incident - .

One day I heard a very loud ruckus, yelling and a crash at the other end of an open building. I swiftly left my office and began to run to the other end of the building. *Valerie had thrown a two foot tall file cabinet across the office floor, slamming it against some servers. I asked the astonished looking group of people 'What on earth has happened - ? *Valerie was inconsolable; I could not make sense of her angered babbling. '*Rick, what happened' I asked? 'Someone moved Valerie's coffee cup from where she had left it yesterday Cliff.'

How does a great leader sort through a situation like this? Valerie left the building seven minutes later after I terminated her.

* Some names have been changed to protect the guilty
Moving Forward
I often wonder if I am a great leader or just an average boss. I will never really know the answer to that question, because the one asking it can't be the one who answers it. The answer to this question can only be answered by the thousands of employees I have had the honor of leading in the last 20 years. My ego insists that I must be but the reality is that I made a lot of mistakes over the years. I can only hope the answer from most of the ones that I did not fire or layoff is 'Yes' Cliff was a great leader.

Copyright February 2005 Written by Cliff Luckey edited by Robert Cole

About the author:
Cliff Luckey is currently the Vice President of Sales and the Member Service Center for Velocity Credit Union in Austin Texas. Prior to coming to Velocity he was the Chief Technology Officer, Vice President of Engineering and Vice President of Mergers and Acquisition Technology where he was responsible for the product development and technology implementation across Interland's web and application hosting services and its state-of-the-art data centers. With more than 29 years experience, Luckey is a seasoned technologist with extensive internet, telecommunications and networking experience. Prior to Interland Cliff was the Chief Technology Officer for Aperian, Luckey worked for GTE as a Director for its Enterprise Management Center. Luckey received his technological training from the U.S. Air Defense School (U.S. Army). He also served on the Technical Advisory Board for Surgient. Networks, Inc.

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