7 Characteristics of Cowardly Leadership

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Team Leadership | 2 Comments

You remember the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz, don’t you? He was supposed to be the king of the jungle, but he had no courage.

I’ve known some leaders like the cowardly lion. I’ve written in a previous post about courageous leadership. It seems a counter post is warranted. And if I’m completely transparent — at times that coward has been me.

Let’s face it. Leading others is hard. There is often loneliness to leadership. Leadership takes courage.

You have no doubt encountered cowardly leaders. Perhaps would even admit you’ve been one too.

Here are 7 characteristics of cowardly leadership:

Say what people want to hear. The might say, for example, “I’ll think about it” rather than “No” – even no is already the decided answer. I get it. It’s easier. But the ease is only temporary and only comes back to haunt you later.

These leaders are also notorious for saying one thing to one person and another to someone else. They want everyone to like them.

Avoids conflict. In every relationship there will be conflict. In fact, healthy conflict is a necessary part of keeping relationships strong. When the leader avoids conflict the entire organization avoids it. Hidden or ignored problems are never addressed.

Never willing to make the hard decisions. Leaders don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. They don’t even have to be the one with the most experience. Leaders do have to be able to make the decisions no one else is willing to make.

Pretends everything is okay – even when they are not. When everything is amazing nothing really is. Cowardly leaders gloss over the real problems in the organization. They refuse to address them either because they fear don’t know how or their pride gets in the way.

Bails on the team when things become difficult. I’ll have to admit this has been me. I’ve written about it before, but when I was in business, and things were difficult, it was easier to disappear than face the issues. The learning experience was once I checked-out or when I was disappearing so was my team.

Courageous leaders are on the frontline during the most difficult days, leading everyone through the storm.

Refuses to back up team members. No one wants to serve someone who will not protect them or have their back. People need to know if they make mistakes there is a leader who still support them and can help them do better the next time.

Caves in to criticism. Make any decision and a leader will receive criticism. Even if it is unfounded cowardly leaders fall apart when people complain. They take it personal or refuse to see any value in it. These leaders see every criticism as a threat against their leadership rather then another way to learn and grow.

What would you add to my list?

Let’s be leaders of courage. In fact, I believe courage might need to be in our definition of leadership.

Do you find it scary to be a leader sometimes? What’s the scariest time you face as a leader?

Releasing an Employee For A Less Obvious Offense

By | Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 2 Comments

One of the hardest decision a leader makes is to release someone from employment. Making any kind of employment decision comes with the sobering reality, regardless of what the person did wrong, that the decision will likely impact others who are many times innocent.

I’ve heard many times that we should “hire slow” and “fire fast”, but that’s much easier to say than it is to do.

When due process has been given and every reasonable attempt to restore has been exhausted as a leader, we must make the right decision for the good of everyone involved. Even as hard as it is to make, when the offense is clear:

  • A person who is caught stealing
  • Someone who lies consistently
  • When an extreme moral failure has occurred

Those still aren’t always easy decisions, but they are often easier to clarify when the offense is clearly defined.

One of the harder decisions for me, but one I’ve had to make numerous times, is when I have to release someone for less obvious offenses. They aren’t clear-cut issues.

Sometimes these decisions are not for a specific offense, as much as it is the best decision for the organization. In my experience, many leaders miss these, because they are more difficult to clarify.

An example:

Years ago in the business world, I had someone on my team who was a tremendous producer. He could sell anything and made the company money. It was some of the external, not as easy to define aspects of his employment that made him a poor fit for the team. (He was disrespectful, flippantly avoided mandatory meetings, bad-mouthed the company, etc.)

It was hard to lose a top performer, but there were larger issues at stake I had to consider for the good of the company.

Here are a few other examples of situations I have experienced:

One who never meets agreed upon expectations. This one is so hard for me, because I usually let people help determine what they are going to accomplish. (I like to let people write their job descriptions and set their own goals.) And many times it isn’t a matter of whether they are a good person or not. They simply won’t do the work.

On this one I like to make sure we have provided all the resources the person needs to be successful. I want to give the process plenty of time. But when the person is no longer respected by their peers or with volunteers and everyone else is wondering why I haven’t moved sooner, I know it is time to make a hard decision.

A team member doesn’t support the overall vision or direction. They may have the skills to be outstanding. The problem is their attitude or vision differs from the organization. If left unchecked, however, these people can serve as a cancer to the team more than an asset.

A person who has theoretically “left the building”. In terms of their commitment level, they no longer have any heart for the job. This may have occurred over time and it may even be something in their personal life which has caused them to change some of what they want in life. These type are often just hanging around for a paycheck.

All of these left unattended will likely bring down the morale and work ethic of the rest of the team.

Again, employment issues are always hard decisions. The harder ones for me have always been the ones without clear easy to define lines, often involving good people who are not longer a good fit. And I only shared a few. There are plenty of others I could have shared.

Leader, if I can be a voice to you here – making the right decision protects the organization, the teams involved, and, often, the ability of the team to respect your leadership.

Do you have a hard decision you need to make these days? It won’t be easy. It may even be a temporary setback for the team. But your credibility as a leader may depend on the quality of decision you make.

5 Ways to Listen to Different Voices as a Leader

By | Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | No Comments

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is forgetting everyone doesn’t think like them. I have personally made this mistake many times. We assume what we are thinking is what everyone else is thinking.

Wrong.

And time has proven this to me repeatedly.

The fact is people are different. They think differently, have different desires and, thankfully have different ideas. The way they process and share those ideas are often different from the leader.

This can be frustrating if we allow it to be, but with intentionality it can also be extremely helpful. As a leader, I limit the organization when I limit it to my ideas or abilities.

So, if you recognize the need and want to lead with people who are different from you, you’ll often have to lead differently from how you wish to be led. Make sense?

I’m just being candid here, but frankly, I’d be comfortable leading by email, but how healthy would such an environment be?

When you fail to remember this principle of leadership – that people are different – you frustrate those you are trying to lead. You get poor performance from the best leaders on your team and, worst of all, your team fails to live up to its potential.

Here are some thoughts to warrant against this:

(Please understand, I am using the word “I” a lot here. I don’t really like the term, because I think better leadership is a “we”, but I want you to see how I try to be intentional in this area.)

Welcoming input.

This has to come first and is more about a personal attitude. I have to actually want to hear from people on my team – even the kind of information which hurts to hear initially. Personally, I want any team I lead to feel comfortable walking into my office, at any time, and challenging my decisions. Granted, I want to receive respect, and I also expect to equally give respect. Knowing what my team really thinks empowers me to lead them better.

Intentionally surrounding yourself with diverse personalities.

One intentional thing I do is try to have good friends who stretch me as a person. I have some extremely extroverted friends, for example. They remind me everyone isn’t introverted like me.

On any church staff where I have led, I found some different personalities to compliment mine. I try to consistently surround myself with different voices, so I receive diversity of thought. We will all share a common vision, but we should have some unique approaches to implementing it.

Ask yourself, “Have I surrounded myself with people who think just like me?”

Asking questions.

Personally, I ask lots of questions. If you come to me with a question I am likely to answer with a question, such as, “What do you think we should do?” I give plenty of opportunity for input into major decisions before a decision is final. Periodically, I like to set up focus groups of people for input on various issues. I want to hear from as wide a range of people as possible.

Most important, I place a personal value on hearing from people who I know respect me, but are not afraid to be honest with me.

Never assume agreement by silence.

I want to know, as best as I can, not only what people are saying, but what people are really thinking. To accomplish this I periodically allow and welcome anonymous feedback. It is important to provide multiple ways for feedback. Even during meetings I welcome texting or emailing me (depending on the size and structure of the meeting) during the meeting. I’ve found this approach works better for some who may not provide their voice otherwise.

Structuring for expression of thought.

Here I am referring to the DNA and culture for the entire team. There has to be an environment where all leaders are encouraged to think for themselves. This kind of culture doesn’t happen without intentionality. As a leader, I try to surround myself with people sharper than me, but I want all of us to have the same attitude towards this principle of hearing from others. I believe in the power of “WE”.

It’s not easy being a leader, but it is more manageable when you discipline yourself to allow others to help you lead.

How do you structure yourself to hear from people different from you? What are some ways you have seen this done by other leaders?

Communicating Personal Vision – A Huge Challenge for Senior Leaders

By | Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 3 Comments

The Challenge

One of the greatest challenges I have felt as a senior leader is to regularly communicate the big picture vision I own in my head.

Of course, this is the idea behind vision and mission statements, but those are very broad statements. I am referring to the dreams I am currently dreaming. There are often specific goals and objectives I think we should currently be attempting as an organization.  

The importance:

I know I need to share what I’m thinking for people who can’t read my mind.  It is hard for those we lead to get inside our head, but so important if we want to lead well. If we want to earn and keep trust and credibility in our leadership, then we must make sure people understand our broad visions.

In fairness, they are thinking about their own individual responsibilities. Their role may not be to think for the entire organization. That’s usually the role of senior leaders.

What I attempt to do:

Sharing my heart for the personal vision I have requires more intentionality in communication. Many leaders assume others are following. It isn’t until people don’t accomplish what the leader hopes they will that they realize the people trying to follow never fully understood what a leader was expecting.

This is always a work in progress for me, and more difficult in a new position, but here are some things I try to to communicate my personal vision as a senior leader:

  • Communicate regularly
  • Keep notes to myself of what needs communicating (and I do that in categories of the people that need to hear it)
  • Utilize different communication styles for different listening types
  • Use understandable language – and explain when it is not (I like to draw a lot of diagrams to flesh out my ideas in front of people.)
  • Do not assume others know what I am talking about – they may not
  • Speak openly and transparently
  • Allow people the freedom to ask me anything they want

And the greatest suggestion I have – Ask lots of questions of others! Make sure people understand what you are saying.

What about you?

Does anyone else struggle with this challenge?  What suggestions do you have for a leader sharing their heart with those around them?

7 Ways a Leader Can Invite Constructive Feedback

By | Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 8 Comments

I remember an especially hard year as a leader. It was so bad several members of our staff had told me where I was letting them down. So much for having an “open door policy”. The next year I closed the door. 🙂

Not really, but this was a year where staff members said to me, “I have a problem with you.” They may not have used those exact words, but the point was clear – I can be an idiot at times. There were significant areas where I needed to improve. Thankfully, I haven’t had many of those years, but I’m glad now I had the ones I have, because they have taught me a lot about my leadership.

There is room for improvement with any leader and maturing leaders welcome instruction from the people they are trying to lead.

Most of the time when I’ve been corrected by someone I’m supposed to lead, I deserved it. Plus, anytime someone on a team is brave enough to rebuke their leader, you can be assured he or she is either:

  • Desperate and willing to do anything.
  • Ignorant or doesn’t care.
  • Feels welcome to do so.

In my opinion, good leaders try to create environments to live within the third option. I hope this was the case in my situation.

I should also say, especially on behalf of my fellow senior leaders, that criticism comes easily to leaders. We don’t have to ask for it. Do anything at all in leadership and someone will have a problem with it – and they won’t always be kind in how they voice their complaint. I like to say “you can’t see what I see until you sit where I sit”. Leading is hard and I am not suggesting we make it harder.

But I’m not talking about the negative type of criticism. I am referring to constructive feedback from people I care about and who respect me. We all need that at times.

Here are 7 ways to welcome correction from the people we lead:

An open door.

My work environment is somewhat different now, because we have a very remote working environment. As pastor of a large staff, it was even more important to keep the door to my office open. But it was more than than simply the door. As a leader, I try to make my schedule available to the people I lead. And, if I’m in the office, my door is “open” and I want people to know they can walk in anytime. In addition, I try to help teams I lead know that I consider responsiveness to be of highest value to me. If they contact me, I will attempt to answer in a timely manner.

Include others in decision making.

If a decision affects more people than me, then I want more people helping to make the decision. This is true even if it’s a natural decision for me to make. The more I include people in the decision-making, the more likely they are to want to follow the decisions made. In fact, I seldom make decisions alone.

Ask for it.

Consistently, throughout the year, I ask people to tell me what they think. I ask lots of questions. I solicit opinions on almost every major decision I make. It’s a risky move, because many will, but it’s invaluable insight. And, the more you ask, the more freedom people feel in sharing.

Admit mistakes.

It’s important that I recognize when decisions made are my fault. People feel more comfortable approaching a leader who doesn’t feel they are always right.

Take personal responsibility.

In addition to admitting fault, I must own my share of projects and responsibility. The team needs to know that I’m on their side and in their corner. When they are criticized I own the criticism with them. I have their back. (By the way, this is only learned by experience.)

Model it.

It’s one thing to say I welcome correction, but when correction comes, I must model receiving it well. If I overreact when correction comes, I’ll limit the times I receive it. If I chooser retribution, I’ve shut further feedback off before it comes.

Trade it.

The best way to get a team to offer healthy correction of the leader is to create a relationship with the team where there is mutual constructive feedback. The goal is not for the leader to receive all the correction. The goal is for correction to be applied where correction is needed.

I should also say all these are still not enough. Constructive criticism from people who care about you and want your best, especially from people you lead, only develops over time as trust is developed. They have to trust you and you have to trust them.

Receiving correction – or constructive feedback – is difficult for anyone, perhaps seemingly unnatural for most leaders. I believe, however, when a leader is open to healthy correction from his or her team, the team will be more willing to follow the leader wherever he or she goes.

Leader, are you open to correction? Is your leader open to correction?

7 Things Which Drive Me Crazy in Leadership

By | Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 11 Comments

There are some things in leadership I could almost say I despise. Those things are almost always the ways people misuse or even abuse their leadership power – or the way other people respond to any attempt at good leadership.

And I have probably been guilty of many of these in my career. But, mostly looking backwards at the results, I hate when I did them as well.

Perhaps you have your own list, but this is mine.

7 things which drive me crazy in leadership:

Responsibility without authority – If you ask someone to lead something – let them lead. Don’t make them jump through humps, constantly come back to you for approval, or second-guess everything they do.

Small-mindedness – I like big dreams and those who dream them. It wears me out to be around people calling themselves leaders, but limiting themselves or their organization to mediocrity. I know I’ve never once out-dreamed God. Nor has any of us.

Naysayers – There is always someone who says it can’t be done, it hasn’t been done this way before, or no one will support your idea. It could be the result of their own misfortunes or it could be the way they are wired in general. Listen to wisdom, even constructive criticism, but don’t fall victim to people who resist every change.

Power protectors – Leaders who are easily threatened by others, always try to control people, or only say what they think people want to hear in order to be liked limit people and the organization.

Caution motivated only by fear – Some leaders refuse to take any risk if there is a chance it might not work. They take the safe route – especially when any outside pressure rises against them or the idea. Many times this is seasonal and based on circumstances, but sometimes it is a personal wiring of the leader. (By the way, I can be guilty of a number of these, but this one can impact me the most. I personally prefer a bold move of faith, but many times I let fear get the best of me.)

Bully management – Some leaders attempt to get results by force. They beat people into submission, never appear to be satisfied, or badger people to perform. This has always seemed like cowardly leadership to me.

Passion squelchers – I’ve known leaders who never liked an idea – unless it the idea originated with them. These leaders tend to say no to people more than they say yes. They don’t encourage growth in those around them unless it directly benefits them. Good leaders energize others to realize their individual dreams, even if there is no immediate benefit received to the leader or the organization.

What are some things you despise in leadership?

A Leadership Experiment – The Little Things Matter

By | Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, Leadership, Team Leadership | 16 Comments

In making a first impression the little things matter.

When a visitor shows up on one of our church campuses for the first time the little things matter. When a parent decides to trust us with the care of their children the little things matter. In the way we follow up with guests the little things matter.

Most leaders and pastors believe this, but we often don’t pay attention to the little things. As a pastor, over the years, even as a very non-detailed, extremely big picture person, I started to notice the little things.

In one of of the first churches where I served as pastor, I felt I needed more buy-in from them in helping to lead the church. They were a great group of people who were passionate about reaching the lost, but they had begun to neglect some of the little things to keep a church operating. I wanted to encourage them to be more observant about what needed to be done.

I conducted an experiment. I placed a Sunday bulletin on the floor of the men’s bathroom right in front of the urinal. You couldn’t “go” without stepping on it or over it.

It stayed there through two Sundays and no one picked it up or threw it away. At the following Wednesday night leadership meeting, I brought the bulletin with me. I asked, “Does anyone recognize this?” (It was before I was a big a germaphobe as I am today.) Apparently, by the look on some faces, most of the men had seen it previously.

I wasn’t trying to be cruel, but it was a tangible reminder to them about making a first impression – the little things matter – and, more importantly, each leader plays a role in this. We were a small church. We didn’t have a custodial staff for the building we rented. We were the custodial staff. If the bulletin was to be picked up, one of us needed to do it.

They instantly recognized every man visiting our church in the last couple weeks had probably seen the bulletin on the floor of the men’s room. We only had one urinal – and we had very good coffee. Although it was a minor thing, just a bulletin on the floor, it had the potential to leave a larger impression. Imagine if the same visitor returned the next week to find the same bulletin still on the floor. (Of course, in a church plant, by the second week you may be plugged in enough to be picking bulletins off the bathroom floor.)

I’m not saying it was brilliant. It may not even have been nice. But the experiment made some impact. 

From this point, some of the men became more observant about the little things which needed attention. They started to take ownership in their roles as church leaders. I felt I had more participation in leading the church.

The point of this post is we must find ways to illustrate the importance of this principle – Little things matter.

By the way, I have always been curious if this same experiment would have worked in the women’s bathroom or would someone have picked it up?

Pastor, feel free to try this experiment at your own church. Or not, but little things do matter.

7 Default Zones Every Leader Should Implement NOW!

By | Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 16 Comments

There are a lot of gray issues in leadership. So many times I simply don’t know what to do. I try to lead by consensus building, but even with the strongest teams there will always be decisions about which we just aren’t certain what is the best decision.

This is why I like to have some default zones in leadership. When I can’t make a decision – I know where to default.

Having a default action when things on both sides appear equal or you are uncertain about a decision may help you make better decisions. These aren’t foolproof, as many things in leadership are not, but having a general idea which way you would “default” in common situations, which occur frequently in leadership, may prove to be helpful.

Based on the team you lead, where you lead, and your past experiences as a leader, your defaults may be different from mine.

If you consistently have to make the same type decisions as a leader, think through which way over time has proven to be best. This becomes your default zone.

Here are 7 of my leadership default zones:

In matters of hiring – default to no over yes.

If in doubt over whether the person is a good fit, I default to no. It is not worth taking a chance when adding to the team. When I haven’t followed this one it has usually turned out to be a mistake.

If you think you shouldn’t say it – Choose not to say it.

I don’t follow my own advice here often enough, but I’ve learned if my gut is telling me to “keep a tight rein on my tongue”, it’s likely to be a Biblical conviction. The more I discipline myself in this area the more respect I garner as a leader – or the less respect I lose.

If it’s between empower or control – choose empower.

Except in cases such as vision or a moral issue, letting go of control and empowering others almost always works out better than expected. Even if the person isn’t successful, I have seen the learning curve for them and the team is huge and often some of the best discoveries for the team are made when I get out of the way. The area I control always limit us in this area.

Choosing my preference or the team’s preference – go with the team.

There are times I have to make the hard decision to stand alone, but I try to surround myself with people smarter than me. If I am clearly outnumbered, I tend to lean on the wisdom of the team. You won’t keep respect as a leader if you continually stand opposite your team and keep being proved wrong. And if you believe in your team – prove it.

To do something in person or by email – Choose in person

By far, email is my most frequent communication tool. It has to be, just because of the sheer number of communications I have in a given week. But when I can, especially with our staff, I choose the personal touch. Get up from the desk and walk down the hall when it is an available option. Email and text are misunderstood far too many times. And we need personal connections to build strong teams.

If you have to assume or ask – ASK for clarification.

If you aren’t sure you understand what someone is thinking – if it doesn’t appear they understand you – rather than assume – ask. I’m continually asking my team something such as, “When you said _____, can you help me understand what you meant by that?” Misunderstanding leads to strained relationships and unhealthy teams. The best leaders I know ask the best questions. And they ask lots of them.

Commit or don’t commit – Choose don’t commit.

Leaders usually have more opportunities than time can allow. I’ve learned – the hard way – no one will protect my calendar as well as me. I’ve also learned when I over commit – I become less effective, I burnout easily, and, over time, eventually I’m useless. I disappoint less people when I don’t commit on the front end.

These may not be the ones you need – you may have your own, but learning your leadership default zones may make you a better leader.

Do you have any you would add?

One Simple, But HUGE Way to Better Empower a Team

By | Church, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | No Comments

Leader, let me share one of the best things you can do to better empower your team.

And, in full disclosure, I can be the worst at this, but it’s something I’m always striving to do better. (And try to help my team learn about me.)

You want to fully empower your team?

Here’s what you do:

Release people following you from a responsibility to accomplish the ideas you are simply processing.

Often as leaders we are constantly coming up with new ideas – some of them which seem to compete with ideas we’ve already shared. Sometimes as we dispense new ideas our team begins to feel overwhelmed, because they are still processing the last “new idea” we shared.

And it is not bad at all that we have new ideas. New ideas lead to new initiatives which can lead to new growth. When we are growing and learning personally the team with whom we serve will often be where we prefer to process our thoughts and ideas. That’s a healthy and natural part of leading people.

But that can also be where we can cause problems, if we are not careful. 

The team only knows what they know. If we as the leader don’t tell them, they can assume an idea we have is a project we are mandating. They can mistake something that is simply a new and untested thought – perhaps even randomly produced by something we read or something we thought about in the shower – is something we want them to act upon immediately. They sometimes hear ideas as directives.

And if we do this frequently it can begin to feel they have more to do than they have time to do it.

So, here’s the simple, but HUGE advice.

If something is not their current responsibility — let them know it’s not.

If it is just an idea and nothing more, simply let them know. And it is that simple.

You see, the team is always wondering.

  • What is the leader thinking here — as it relates to me?
  • What do you want me to do with that new idea?
  • How do you want me to help?
  • What will I stop doing if I start doing something else?
  • What’s my role going to be in this?
  • Are you going to hold me accountable for this?
  • Do you expect something from me here?

The reality is that as leaders we are often processing and presenting a lot of new ideas to our team. Again, that’s a good thing. But sometimes we are simply “thinking” – maybe processing out loud. Sometimes we aren’t assigning anything — we are simply exploring.

And it is in those moments we need to let our team know what is going on in our minds.

The more we can release the people trying to follow us from accomplishing something that is currently only in our minds the more they can focus on things for which they are actually being held accountable. And the more willing they will be to process new ideas with us.

The bottom line is to tell people what we expect and what don’t expect. Communicate more. Say words like:

  • “You are not responsible for this.”
  • “I don’t expect anything from you on this.”
  • “I’m not saying this is a good idea yet.”
  • “Feel free to push back on this one.”
  • “This is just for information.”
  • “I’m simply thinking out loud.”

Sounds simple. For people trying to follow it is huge.

7 Things I Learned about Leadership from a Poor Management Experience

By | Business, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 19 Comments

Years ago I was working in retail. I was in college, but serving in a junior management for a large department store. I was responsible for ordering the basic items in my department, making sure we were always in stock with regular sellers. One of those items was a collar extender.

(I don’t know if those are even used anymore, and I never used one personally, but basically it was a metal button extender which hooked the button and extended a new button further – allowing a man to wear a shirt longer as the man grew larger by making the neck bigger. You know you wanted to know this.)

Anyway, we normally kept a couple boxes with 12 extenders in each in stock. When we had sold one box I was to order another box. They weren’t fast sellers, so it didn’t happen often. I noticed one day we were down to our last box, so I placed an order, but instead of ordering one box of 12, I incorrectly order 12 boxes of 12 – which was pretty much enough for a decade of extender sells.

I had made a mistake.

How did “management” handle the issue?

Well, I must admit, it wasn’t by using good leadership principles.

The morning after the arrival of our new case of extenders, a memo was sent to all area managers, in every department, throughout the store. It read something like this:

“From now on, all orders will need to be signed by a supervisor prior to completion.”

I was instantly frustrated, since I knew the memo was a direct response to my mistake. No one had said anything to me. I had not been reprimanded. It was never mentioned otherwise, but now we had a new policy, which affected everyone, because of my one error. (BTW, extenders retailed for $1.25 each back then.)

The new mandate slowed down the progress of everyone, because they now had to wait for approval before they could order basic needs. It was not accepted by other managers, proved to be more of an inconvenience than it was worth and soon no one practiced it at all.

What did this experience teach me?

Weak management never produces the desired result and is never good leadership.

How should it have been handled?

In my opinion, I should have been called aside, made aware of my mistake (to let me know they knew), and be allowed to learn from the experience. If I continued to make the same error, which I never did again, then further action could have been taken.

The incident helped shape some of my leadership.

I should also point out these same managers who taught me this lesson from a negative impact it had on me also taught me many, many positive lessons in leadership and management. I’m drawing from this one, because it was such a valuable learning for me, but I don’t at all mean to devalue their other investment in me as a young leader.

Here are 7 things I learned about leadership from a poor management experience:

Never send an email (today’s memo) to correct an action.

Address the person. Be relational. Do the hard work of confronting the real problem – even if it involves people. It’s the right thing to do.

Never over-react to a minor issue.

This was not a major expense to the company. Seriously, had they addressed it to me directly – I would have probably volunteered to buy the excess collar extenders rather than see a needless policy implemented. It ended up costing more in opportunity costs as needless work was placed on others, since they added another layer to the ordering process.

Never make a policy to correct a single error.

Policies should be few and effective. When you use a policy to address broad issues when it’s really a singular issue you burden people with needless bureaucracy, which only stalls efficiency and frustrates people. This is never good leadership.

Never single someone out publicly who hasn’t been talked to privately.

Do I need to explain this one? Seriously. This pretty much goes back to the Golden Rule. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.

Never punish everyone for the mistake of one.

This is so unfair. It builds resentment among people who should consider themselves a team. It pits people against each other.

Never act like it’s not a big deal if you think it’s a big deal.

When my managers talked to me during this incident they acted like everything was wonderful. I recall one even joked with me when I came to work the day the “memo” was released. I felt very betrayed.

Never be so weak as a leader you fail to address the real issue, or the real problem, even if the real problem is a person.

This could be a major determinant of whether someone is really a leader or not. Leaders don’t shy away from the hard conversations. They realize these are necessary for the health of the organization and the individuals involved.

I am certain I have repeated each of these myself at times, but the experience truly did shape my leadership and management practices. The best thing this experience did for me was give me a principle I have used and often shared with other leaders:

If you need to slap a hand, bring a ruler and show up in person.

To use another word – LEAD.

By the way, if you ever need a collar extender I know where you might can find one.

(In complete transparency, it’s been over 30 years and I don’t remember all the specific details of this incident. But I know the basics of this story are true and it shaped me greatly. I wrote more about this is my book The Mythical Leader.)