I recently posted on the need for leaders to delegate and some steps to doing so. (Read those posts HERE and HERE) Following this post, I asked a supposed leader in an organization for a decision from his organization. It appeared to be a minor decision. It certainly would be in our organization. I have held leadership positions in larger organizations, and it would have been a minor decision in either of those places. This leader, however, had to pass the decision up a chain of command. We eventually received a yes answer, but it took a great deal of time through several layers of people to get there. By the time we got the answer, I didn’t need it anymore. (True story.)
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.)
In my leadership experience there are two kinds of leaders.
There are those who are willing to lead leaders.
And there are those who will only lead followers.
Some leaders refuse to be leaders of leaders. Sadly I have witnessed many pastors who fall into “follower only” category. They refuse to allow leaders to develop in the church. Perhaps their fear of losing control or power, being upstaged, or simply never learning the value of empowering others, causes them to keep laypeople from becoming leaders within the church.
This is not to say we don’t need to lead followers, because of course we do. Every leader has followers or they would be no one to lead. Some of the best workers in an organization and, certainly in the church, are those who care nothing about leadership.
And I would say we don’t simply need leaders in the church – we need servant leaders. People who serve others expecting nothing in return are the best kinds of leaders and follow the example of Jesus.
Also true, it is hard to be a good leader until one learns to follow. At some point, however, those with the propensity towards leadership in any organization will want an opportunity to lead. This is especially true of younger generations of people.
And when those who were once in a position of being a follower begin to lead the real leadership skills of the people in senior leadership are tested.
Here’s the deal. Leaders of leaders allow other people to develop in the organization. They give people freedom to dream and give people a sense of ownership. They let them determine the “how” in their area of responsibility.
More so, they recognize and even hold as a value that as leaders develop the entire organization advances and everyone wins.
Leader of followers, on the other hand, try to keep followers from ever becoming leaders.
I’ll be honest, it is much easier to lead only followers. People will do what is requested of them. They are loyal and not usually as critical. They don’t challenge systems and traditions, processes and the way things have always been done.
As much as every organization (and church) needs loyal followers – if new leaders are not developed – if everyone remains a follower – not much will be done to take the organization to the next level. People will wait for existing leaders before they do anything new. And the organization (or the church) will be limited to the abilities of current leadership.
And for those who question my often business-like tendencies (even though I have a long business background, which I believe God uses in Kingdom growth), we need only look to the example of Jesus; how He developed the disciples, sent them out, and appointed them as leaders. Call them what you want – use another term other than leader, but they appear every bit a leader by any definition of leadership I use.
The other side to leading only followers – when people with the propensity and desire to lead are stifled from realizing their full potential as a leader – they will eventually either leave the organization or cause problems within the organization. I have especially seen this take place in the church. The organization as a whole suffers, because they are limited to the level of success which can be realized by the intimidated top leader who refuses to let other leaders develop.
If an organization (or church) allows people a chance to lead the organization’s potential for growth increases immensely.
At some point every leader has to make a decision.
Do you want to lead leaders or only lead followers?
Personally, I prefer to lead leaders.
Inactivity rarely produces anything…
Waiting on God doesn’t always mean doing nothing…
Jesus said, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4)… He was in a time of waiting…yet He continued to act on what He could do…
Do what you know to do today…
Take initiative towards change you know you should make…
In Joshua 3 they had to get in the water before it started to part…You may have to get in the water first, before you start to see results…
Create action…it is often then God begins to reveal the destination He is taking you towards…
What action do you need to take today?
Frankly, finding that balance has always been difficult for me, and at times in the life of the organization, one area does require greater attention than other areas. The key for me is to always keep the big picture in my mind of what we are trying to accomplish, while recognizing the individual contribution, each area needs to bring to that success. I can never allow one area to cloud out my perspective of the other areas.
I once wanted to be known as the life of the party. I’m funny, quick-witted and actually kind of silly at times, but these days people seldom see the real me. My family does, and often the people I work with gets to see who I really am, but except for occasional bursts of randomness the rest of the world thinks I’m always serious, always thinking about something purposeful or profound. (Social media has helped with that some.) I had to come to the realization that I’m an introvert and, in crowded settings, I most often shut down the wild side.
Knowing who you are is the first step to becoming a person of influence.
The WHAT Test.
Over the years, I have found numerous uses for this simple strategy of thought. The WHAT Test is an acronym of steps to force you to think through how committed everyone involved actually is to a project, relationship or goal. It doesn’t ensure success, but it can help you avoid the disappointment of not having thoroughly thought about the agreed upon direction and level of commitment before you begin.
This is a framework I personally use, often verbally and sometimes just in my own mind of discovery working with a team. Through experience I have learned the hard way what happens if I don’t filter something through The WHAT Test.
Here’s The WHAT Test:
Where do you/we want to go?
It sounds simple, but it’s really not. Many times when one person is ready to celebrate success another thinks you’re just getting started.
Talk through the end goal. What do you/we want to accomplish? Let’s collectively define a win. Make sure it is very clear up front where you/we want to go and how you/we will know when we’ve “arrived” at our intended destination.
Sadly I have many times come to what I thought was completion on something I was asked to do, but I didn’t live up to the expectations of others on the team or in the relationship.
How will you get there?
What’s the plan? What are the action steps to get us to our goal? If we are going to be successful, what will it take to get us there?
Who is going to do what? Who’s responsible? Who’s in charge of what? Who is going to hold us accountable?
This is where you ensure there is adequate strategy in place to accomplish the goal.
Are all parties in complete agreement with the previous two questions?
This is critical. Unfortunately, I think we often neglect this important step. Don’t move forward without knowing everyone is on board.
What happens many times is we agree to an overall vision on the front end, but then as the process continues and everyone has their assignment there are reservations by someone and we didn’t take the time to understand them.
Once the actual strategy is in place it’s good to renew agreement before proceeding. Make sure everyone is fully on board before you press the “Go” button.
Will you everyone see it through?
This may be the most important one. I often ask: Are you willing to pay the price to see it through?
This is almost a covenant agreement type step – and may, at times, even involve an actual covenant or contract. Most great ideas fail – not because they weren’t great ideas, but because no one had the commitment to see them through. This frequently happens to teams. It can be especially true when relationships are involved.
Decide on the front end all parties have a “whatever it takes” attitude. This will save you many headaches and heartaches down the road.
Obviously, each of these have multiple layers to them, but this exercise always seems to shake out some of the initial reservations, which may not have been spoken. It helps to expose and hopefully avoid on the front end some of the personal obstacles there may be.
Let me give you a few examples of when I’ve used this:
- Working with a couple trying to rebuild their relationship – could be after an affair or serious breach in trust has occurred.
- Prior to attempting a difficult project or assignment as a team.
- Before a business partnership is formed.
At the beginning of an important venture – Take the WHAT Test
WHAT you are trying to accomplish will seem more attainable when you can easily pass the The WHAT Test.
There are dozens of applications for this simple formula, but the point is strategically thinking through these steps will help protect, build or rebuild relationships – plus help all parties avoid disappointment.
As I said in the opening of this post, sometimes I do this openly with all parties involved and sometimes I simply force the questions in an informal way, but I have actually called off a project because The WHAT Test revealed I didn’t have the full support of the team. And, when counseling a couple in their marriage, to use that example, if one spouse is not willing to move forward, couple counseling is not going to be very effective. It helps to know where people are in their commitment level.
I’ve been having a problem with my youngest son lately. He isn’t reading all the emails he should be reading. In fact, we almost missed paying some fees he had due for college, which could have made him miss some deadlines for school. You see, Nate’s a busy college student. He’s consumed with school work, church activities, and a host of social activities. If you want to lose his attention quickly…send him a really long email.
I can’t complain, because he’s wired like me. He is always busy doing something, hates unproductive time, and some emails, if they tend to ramble, simply don’t capture his attention. I realize it’s ultimately our problem, not the sender, but it almost seems a waste of time to process an email that could have been written with the same information in a much shorter form. Just being honest…I don’t read all the long emails I need to read. Sometimes I miss details, because the email was too long to process.
That’s my honesty….I’m working on it…but lately it seems I’m getting a ton of chapter length emails and it prompted me to think through this issue. If you want me to read your email…and people wired like me, here are some suggestions. In fact, if you simply want to make sure your emails are read, regardless of who you email, consider these thoughts.
Here are 7 ways to ensure your email gets read: