What’s the difference between a great leader and an average one?
I’ve had the opportunity to observe dozens of leaders in my career. Some were exceptional, most barely passed for average. I’ve spent many hours tossing and turning on the idea of what makes for an exceptional leader, what makes them great. I’ve read books, had discussions with colleagues, watched videos and talked with people who are far smarter and experienced than myself.
After all of this wonderful introspection and discovery one characteristic continues to pop up which defines great leadership over average leadership. It’s a mindset, a willingness to do what others often won’t.
What makes great leaders is their ability and willingness to use ‘managerial courage’.
Managerial courage is the linchpin, the cornerstone, the apex for all things related to leading successfully. The word courage is of itself is an incredibly powerful word. The late John McCain had described courage as “that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve.”
Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and best selling author is quoted as saying “Courage is the quality that distinguishes great leaders from excellent managers.”
George also said, “courageous leaders take risks that go against the grain of their organizations. They make decisions with the potential for revolutionary change in their markets. Their boldness inspires their teams, energizes customers, and positions their companies as leaders in societal change.”
If we apply George’s and McCain’s definitions of courage we can surmise that ‘managerial courage’ is the willingness to make decisions which we believe to be in the best interest or our employees or company, regardless of the popularity or risks involved.
A deeper look into managerial courage and we find that it can be further described as a set of actions and beliefs a leader possesses which define who they are and how they go about leading and inspiring others. These actions and beliefs include:
There’s no other word I can think of other than ‘courage’ to appropriately define good leadership. Primarily because it is so easy to not do the things listed above, especially when times are tough, yet to do them consistently it takes great discipline and resolve. It also means we will inevitably make decisions which don’t favor ourselves yet position our employees or company for better opportunities.
Here’s what managerial courage looks like in real life.
Scenario: A CEO of ABC company is pressing his VP of Sales to reach revenue targets by year end in order for the company to hit its financial goals. The VP of Sales has one sales rep in particular who singlehandedly drives 30% of the company’s revenue, consistently coming in as the #1 producer in the company, year after year. The company relies on this sales rep heavily to produce and as such the company has benefited handsomely. Unfortunately this same sales rep also causes a lot of problems within the company. He’s had several complaints against him by other employees, has a bad attitude, disregards company policy, has even been caught using his company expense account for personal purchases. If that wasn’t enough our lovely sales rep has also caused two other employees within the company to quit. Even though this sales rep is a cancer to his company, the company overlooks his problems because he’s a top performer. They’ve swept the issues under the rug hoping things will miraculously improve by themselves. Let’s face it, he makes the company a lot of money, how can they walk away from that.
Does this scenario sound similar to you?
Managerial courage in the above scenario would look like this. The VP of Sales provides a variety of opportunities for the sales rep to improve while demonstrating the employee is acting in accordance with company standards and the VP’s expectations. In the event these opportunities to improve and or employment warnings are not adhered to the VP of Sales must make a tough and unpopular decision to fire the sales rep. It’s a tough decision indeed because the VP of Sales knows she very well may lose her own job because she just went against the CEO and fired an employee that represents 30% of the company’s annual revenue intake.
In this scenario, our VP of Sales chose an unpopular decision because it’s what was truly best for the company and its employees, despite what her boss the CEO had advised. The VP of Sales fired an employee who is a cancer to those around him. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how good the sales rep is at their job, if they are causing issues and aren’t able to adjust accordingly after receiving feedback they don’t belong there in the first place.
This is managerial courage. The willingness to make a decision to do what’s right even when the outcome may be unpopular or damaging.
It takes great tenacity, strength, fortitude, mental determination and care to be a leader and do so successfully. Sure, anyone can be a leader, but those who do it successfully stand head and shoulders above their counterparts when they utilize managerial courage. The characteristic of courage is the very essence of what leadership is all about.
Key Take Away:
Standing up for what’s right and having the willingness to make tough decisions is key to being a great leader, even if the outcome may be viewed as unpopular.
Read the book ‘True North’ by Bill George. It’s an incredibly well written book that teaches people who to be themselves while acting and making decisions which are in accordance with your beliefs.
The number one reason people opt out of entrepreneurship, which includes starting a business, being a solopreneur or even independent consultant, is fear. The wild west of entrepreneurship can come with a lot of unknowns as ambiguity and uncertainly is often synonymous with starting a business. It can be especially distressing for first time would-be-entrepreneurs to make the leap into small business as a result. The transitionary period from corporate life to entrepreneur, even the thought of this transitionary period, is marked with great concern and fear which keeps people from making the jump. For some it may be security at the current job, others it may be a lack of know-how in starting a business or simply a lack of self confidence in ones’ ability to make it on their own. Regardless of the reason, fear is a factor all potential and current entrepreneurs must overcome.
I’ve found the best way to overcome fear is to confront it head on. Fear grips us all, regardless of occupation, experience, background or capabilities. The difference between the people who let fear own them versus those who use it as a tool to achieve comes down to two things: acknowledgement and action. Rather than worry, it’s important we address our fears and understand them. When we take the time to acknowledge our feelings and emotions it allows us to better process why we’re feeling this way, at which point we can begin to build a strategy for using those fears as a motivating force towards success. Taking action against our fears comes in the form of slowing down, identifying your feelings, understanding the situation and then planning accordingly. If time is on your side rest easy knowing that you can plan to be an entrepreneur first before you ever jump in the ring. Create an attack plan, identify potential challenges and solutions on how to deal with them. While you won’t be able to plan for everything taking a proactive approach to dealing with fear and using it as a tool perhaps may be enough for you to finally make the leap into the world of entrepreneurship.
Key Take Away: Address your entrepreneurial fears head on, understand them and own it!
Action Item: Use your newly addressed fears as a guiding force to plan your entrepreneurial transition into being your own business owner. Build alliances, or peer groups, with other business owners to help with the transition while learning from their experiences along the way.
Interested in learning more about entrepreneurship and hearing stories from people who have made the leap into business ownership? Check out this event in Irvine, CA on 10/24/18: https://www.devicealliance.org/event/entrepreneur-event/
Have you found yourself saying ‘Yes’ to something at work and as you said it you wished you had said ‘No’?
This sound familiar:
Coworker: “Hey Jezebel, we’re starting a new project team to [insert mindless crap you don’t want to do] and we need an extra person. I know you’re swamped, it’s last minute and a bit outside your work but we could really use the help.”
Jezebel: [yes, this is you] “Oh I don’t know, I’m really busy with a lot of other projects. I’m in over my head already.”
Coworker: “C’mon, we really could use your help. We don’t have any other options and we can’t do it without you. Plus, you’re good at running projects. I’ll buy you lunch too!”
Jezebel: [still you] “Ughhh, okay fine. Just let me know when we’ll start.”
Coworker: “Right now.”
Let’s be honest here – this has happened to all of us at one point or another, and I’ve been Jezebel on more occasions than I’d care to admit. So why do we have such a hard time saying no at work?
Here’s are the nine most common reasons why we say yes at work when no is what we’re screaming from the mountain tops, silently in our heads of course:
Saying yes when you really want to say no is indeed a problem. According to the Harvard Business Review many of us say yes to avoid conflict at the office. When we experience this it leaves us deflated, frustrated and stressed. It can also lead to resentment between coworkers and an unhealthy work environment. Sounds fantastic!
So how do we go about saying no while doing so professionally and politely?
Dr. Travis Bradley, author of the best-selling book ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0’ and contributor for Forbes Magazine, summarizes the art of saying no beautifully in 5 steps:
When we say no our “ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects you’re in the drivers seat of your own life. It gives you a sense of empowerment.” – Vanessa Patrick, Prof at University of Houston
In theory this sounds fantastic. It’s a new sense of self. We’re walking tall and not going to take crap from no one. We’re almost begging for an opportunity to show off our new ‘No’ skills. Before you go off dodging and ducking everything that comes your way at the office make sure you keep in mind two things before you consider a ‘No’:
If the answer to either of these questions is yes be sure to purposefully slow your decision making down and get introspective.
Making decisions about your career, involvement in work at the office, supporting your boss or other management and professional opportunities up for considered is no easy task. It’s rarely a black and white decision as moments like this love to play in the gray area. When you’re confronted with a tough decision and you feel like you want to say no quickly think about the two questions above, assess the situation then move forward with your answer. If ‘No’ is still the right choice be sure to follow Dr. Bradberry’s advice to ensure your no lands as best as possible with your audience.
My father once shared some sage advice with me: “never burn a bridge”.
I’ve been consistently amazed at how small a world it can be as I often times run into former colleagues, clients and friends who I shared a past relationship with to varying degrees from a past life. When I bump into these past connections its uncanny how often I find out the person I knew prior now has a direct ability to impact my current life, professional and personal. This is the prime reason I firmly believe one should never burn a ‘relationship’ bridge.
What about when we have to quit our job?
January and February represent the highest attrition months of the year, meaning the largest percentage of resignations and terminations occur within these two months. Why does this happen? Companies and employees alike are looking at the New Year and wanting to start fresh which typically means getting rid of employees that aren’t cutting the muster or employees themselves who leave jobs that have lost their luster.
When we’re the one to make the decision to quit our job it can be fun to think about the moment you deliver the news, after which you imagine yourself singing and dancing through the office like you’ve just won the lottery while your colleagues look at you like you’ve lost your damn mind. We experience our very own Jerry Maguire moment and we’re all too thrilled to ask everyone around us “who’s coming with me”.
In these moments are we thinking about how our actions will impact our future?
Some of us do, however there is a rising majority of people that seem to forget that the way we handle our resignation may or may not pay dividends in the future. If you plan to quit your job in the near term use these steps to deliver the news to your employer while leaving gracefully.
Step 1: Quit before things get bad
Often times we wait too long to quit a job that we know isn’t right for us. If you wait too long you risk your reputation suffering as often times our productivity begins to lessen as we aren’t as passionate about the job as we once were.
Step 2: Don’t tell anyone
It’s a big mistake telling colleagues you’re quitting before you’ve actually delivered the goods. The last thing you need is your boss to find out you’re quitting before you’ve actually confronted them with the news.
Step 3: Be professional but save the novella
It’s a good idea to inform your employer about why you’re leaving and perhaps even some small detail on where you’ll be going. Anything after that and you’re just wasting time and energy. This is not the time to spill the beans on all of the crap you hated about your job, the company or your boss, creating a drama tornado in the process. If you work for any sizable company HR will typically ask for this information however it does nothing to serve you for the future, it only serves their interests and that isn’t your problem anymore. The time to give feedback was when you were fully employed, not when you’re exiting.
Step 4: Make it official
Your resignation should be given to your direct boss and no one else. Be sure to provide him or her with a formal, typed out resignation. Google ‘resignation templates’ and you’ll have all the options to your hearts’ content.
Step 5: Respect & professionalism at all times
What’s most important to remember while you’re going through the resignation process is your professionalism will be noted by almost everyone involved. If you plan to continue working in the same industry or similar industry you’re current job is in more than likely you’ll run across your company’s employees in the future. For this reason and many others it’s important to be respectful to whoever is involved, which also means providing at least a two week notice to your employer. Also, you should never gossiping or talk ill about your boss or company after you’ve left. All that does is make you look bad in the process, which includes going online to rant about how thrilled you are to not work there any longer.
Step 6: Keep it classy
I once had an employee of mine who had quit send me a letter several weeks after the fact thanking me for the time she spent on my team while also sharing what she learned. I was really impressed by this because it signaled that while the job wasn’t for her any longer she did appreciate the opportunity while she was here.
In the end, we all will be judged by our actions so it’s best to remember these sage words…
“Never burn a bridge!”
As generations continue to evolve in our country so do the thoughts and feelings of people in present day.
One thing that has been consistent through the years is the questioning of authority across all sectors: government, public and private. Those who are in a position of authority certainly have a tough job ahead of them as they are constantly under fire by the very people they claim to serve, whether its justified or not.
Which leads me to an important question: Does questioning authority help or hurt us?
Let’s examine some current situations in our country:
Wells Fargo Scandal
Wells certainly isn’t the first bank to ever have dealt with a large scandal. Most of us recall the recent recession where banks by the hundreds got rich off of consumers thanks to unscrupulous business practices. Nothing new here. What is new with the Wells Fargo scandal is that it went on for a period of five years with almost zero questioning by internal management. Customers were certainly questioning Wells aggressive sales tactics however I’ve not been able to find one single instance of an internal person in management which stood up and said, “this isn’t right”. Two comments are appropriate here: 1) it’s highly possible this did happen it just hasn’t been publicly released; 2) when you’re an internal employee it can be incredibly scary to blow the whistle on your own employer, especially when your employer is the largest banking institution in the world. In this case, the lack of questioning authority proved to be harmful as thousands of customers were negatively impacted, jobs lost and countless tax payer dollars will be spent and wasted dragging this banking giant through the legal system.
CDC & DTaP Vaccine
In June of 2016 the CDC (Center for Disease Control) announced in a 13 page report that one of the nationally required vaccines, DTaP - which all children are required to take to enter school, has now been linked to cause autism. In 2016 it is expected that 1 in 68 children will develop autism in comparison to 1 in 150 in the year 2000. Autism is a major issue within our country with its occurrence rate doubling over the last 15 years. While this information is still very new to the general public it was eventually brought to the surface thanks to hundreds, if not thousands, of parents who stood up and demanded transparency from our government. In this case, questioning authority has proven to be helpful as the general public will now have more transparent information in which to make decisions by.
Societal Altercations with Law Enforcement
It’s a tough time in our country to be in law enforcement. It’s equally tough for many of our fellow Americans who feel their rights have been stricken from them as a result of discrimination. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on its one of the most sensitive topics in our country today. As shootings during police altercations continue it’s increasingly difficult to discern what is justified versus what is crossing the line, infringing on the rights of the common person. When we question authority in these moments it is vital that we do so with a quest for transparency and truth. This is why I believe Martin Luther King Jr. was so successful as he believed violence was not the answer toward successful activism and change. As a result he was able to lead our country through some of the largest equality reforms in our nations history. In this instance questioning authority is appropriate however the way we go about it can either support or diminish our cause which is why it’s important to think before we act.
Kaepernick Takes A Knee
Colin Kaepernick, NFL Pro Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, started a movement which makes a statement about the inequalities within our country, addressing the law enforcement altercations mentioned above. While he certainly has the right to a peaceful protest are his actions impacting change or causing further issues? Furthermore is the forum in which he’s doing it, employed by private organization (which the NFL is), appropriate? While I may not agree with all the things that go on in our country I still respect the flag and our national anthem as they symbolize the freedoms which were brought about by men and women who gave their lives so we could enjoy a life of choice in this country. There are plenty of other countries in this world who have much harsher living conditions, sometimes I think we forget how good we have it here even with our current day challenges. Are there equality reforms which need to be made, certainly, but we can’t lose sight of what’s important just to make a point. In this situation I believe Kaepernick’s questioning of authority and the way he is going about it is actually counterproductive to what his original cause is.
I’m a believer that questioning authority or the status quo for that matter is always a necessity however perhaps the real question isn’t ‘Does questioning authority help or hurt us?’ Perhaps the better question is ‘What is the best way to go about questioning authority to drive actual change?’
Please feel free to share your thoughts and remember to be respectful of other people’s views – it’s what ultimately makes this country great.
Back in January of this year I was less than a month away from being a first time Dad. To put it bluntly, I was scared! What do I know about raising a kid and how will I show up for our daughter so that she grows up to be a strong and healthy young woman? It’s a daunting thought process for a new parent as there is so much left to the unknown. What I hoped was that I would be able to lean on some of my leadership experiences from my career to get me through the soon to be experience of being a parent.
Six months later I’m amazed at what I’ve learned along the way about being a father. Infants have much to teach us as their souls give us a glimpse into perfection. They don’t have a negative bone in their body as their main desire in life is to be loved and cared for. Simple as that. Accomplish that and they’ll love you unconditionally. Along the way I’ve picked up some nuggets of knowledge, which mind you were bestowed on be by an infant, and are now the cornerstone for my focus in business and as a leader.
> Caring for others without expectation
I’ve learned quickly the importance and result of what happens when you give all of yourself to someone for their benefit and their benefit only. When we do things for people because we’re looking to get something in return it cheapens the relationship as the receiver almost always sees through the other person. What’s amazing is infants have this same perceptive quality. When you care for them unconditionally they love you no matter what. They appreciate and respect your kindness and give it back a thousand times what was originally offered. Leadership is the same way. Put yourself out there for others placing their careers ahead of your own and you’ll have a team of people who happily run through brick walls, achieving great heights along the way.
Even if you don’t have kids you’ve probably heard this…kids require a lot of patience. My whole life I’ve struggled in this area yet through some caring feedback over the years I’ve managed to slowly improve. My daughter requires a whole new level of patience that I’ve never had to deploy before yet I find myself yearning for the opportunity to give it. What you come to realize is that many times people don’t do things on purpose which leads to feeling of being upset, frustrated, irritated, etc which is what can cause people to lose their patience. A lot of times it’s just a simple miscommunication. When we keep this top of mind at work we can approach situations with a calmer, more understanding mindset which alleviates our need to get fired up.
> It’s the small things that count
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in life, focusing on things that are completely irrelevant to our day or perhaps even the reason for being alive in the first place. I must admit, I struggle with this often. One of the best things I’ve learned from my daughter is most of the worldly challenges I’m faced with are actually quite insignificant and the reality is that some of the smallest things in life are what really makes a difference. A great example is every morning when I go to get her out of her crib (sometimes at a ripe 5:15AM mind you) I’m greeted with the biggest toothless smile you could ever image. It goes ear to ear and immediately puts me in my happy place. It’s moments like these that are great reminders for us that life is not all about spreadsheets, bottom lines and performance reviews. If we take this same approach with our employees at work we’ll find ourselves much more satisfied with our career experience.
> The Platinum Rule of Relationships
The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself. I’ve learned from my daughter that the ‘Platinum Rule’ is far more effective as the focus is to ‘treat others the way they want to be treated’. If I take the time to do the things which are important to my daughter (like throwing blocks, yelling at trees, bouncing to music or gnawing on the couch cushions) I find she’s far more involved and happy with me than when I have her do something I want to do. (which typically means she’s sitting there supervising me from her Bumbo) This same rule applies to our employees as when we treat them how they want to be treated and not how we ourselves want to be treated it sends a very specific message that we care about them and what’s important to their cause.
While this may sound a little cliché I can assure you it is all too real. I’ve grown up experiencing a life full of grand adventures and silly shenanigans. Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of fun living life yet somewhere along the way I forgot how to have good, honest fun. How to pretend. My daughter reminds me that having fun is a state of mind and should be a source of achievement often. While that may sound daunting and rather tiresome to focus on always having fun I can assure you the other side of the coin sucks royally. When you aren’t having fun life feels like it’s just dragging on by. So now if we aren’t having fun I make an abrupt face change in what we’re doing so that she’s smiling and giggling all over again. Your employees will do the same. If you purposefully make their work environment an enjoyable place to be your employees will enjoy coming to work, rather than having a serious case of the Mondays.
Back in December of 2015 I wrote on a topic that was near and dear to my heart as it is something I came across often in business, matter of fact still do today. It’s a challenge which all companies deal with quite frequently and seem to struggle creating a sound solution to the problem.
What is the challenge you ask?
It’s transitioning an individual contributor into a management role for the first time and doing so successfully.
Identifying a person, let alone the right person, to take on management responsibilities is becoming increasingly more difficult. HBR put out a stat recently which indicated companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time when hiring for management roles.
If it is so tough to hire for management than imagine the challenge and stress a person feels when they do get the job and are new to the role. I’ve been there and can share from direct experience that most often you get thrown into the deep end, left to tread water with a giant weight over your head. The majority of companies out there don’t offer formal training programs to their newly promoted managers therefore the sink or swim mentality is a very real and potentially frightening hurdle people looking to be promoted need to be aware of. Without the right training, development and mentorship it’s incredibly challenging how tough management jobs can be.
Have no fear my friends. Even if you find yourself in a management role without the necessary training and development there are many things you can do to improve your likelihood of success. If you follow these 13 steps you will be on your way to building a future that is purposeful and aligned for success as your lead your team to victory. (or a full write up and details of how each step below works click on the following links: part-1, part-2 and part-3)
1. Read “The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg and John David Mann
2.Have a 1:1 (One-on-One) with Your New Boss
3. Communicate Your Plans to Your New Team
4. Learn About Your New Role and How It Impacts the Business
5. Identify a Professional Mentor Outside of Your Immediate Company
6.Schedule 1:1 (One-on-One) with Your Team
7.Create Performance and Professional Development Plans
8.Develop Time Management Structure
9.Develop Relationships With Other Leadership
10.Create A Department Game Plan
11.Present Game Plan To Your Team
12.Create Systematic Communications & Follow Ups
13.Plan A Team Event
These 13 steps are to be used as an outline to reach success as you step into leadership. My best advice is to use this framework in combination with a style that is authentic to who you are as a person and who you want to be for others.
It is my belief that anyone CAN be successful in leadership so long as they have the right attitude, mindset and care for others. This is the foundation for which you need to be successful in leadership. Having a leadership game plan along the way merely keeps you on track, increasing your chances for success and happiness, providing you the best opportunity to serve those lead.
Last week I had an opportunity to do lunch with a long term client and friend, a lunch I always look forward too. My lunch comrade, we’ll call him ‘Johnny Appleseed’ for the sake of this article, is an engineer by trade and currently in a management role overseeing a technical design team comprised of a diverse group of folks with a variety of skill levels, career tenures, abilities and attitudes. Let’s put it this way, he’s one smart bloke.
The reason I enjoy our conversations is because we talk as real people. Titles and experiences are set aside. There’s no fluff, no PC, just straight talk, feedback, challenge and of course light hearted banter.
During lunch Johnny Appleseed inquired about how our business has been coming along. As I shared with him the great experience and opportunity I’ve had with the business we found ourselves weaving into a topic that really caught my interest. Mainly, Johnny Appleseed’s response to the topic.
Which are you – the Apple or the Seed?
I shared with good ole Johnny Appleseed that the consulting and coaching business has broadened my horizons on business leadership, strategy, operations and a plethora of other titillating things. Some of which I’d rather not deal with but, hey, that life. 95% of it has been great so I’m happy to deal with the other 5%.
I then brought up a situation to collect my good friend Johnny Appleseed’s thoughts. Have you ever noticed there are people out there that say,
“What I wouldn’t give for an opportunity to do that. I’d jump at it in a moments’ notice. When can we begin?” ‘That’ references a new opportunity, a calculated risk, a chance to step outside the box and do something spectacular. In our conversation ‘that’ referred to the number of conversations I’ve had with people throughout the years, especially recently, where they initially talk a big game, but as time goes on reality sets in and the same person who was so excited at first doesn’t follow through on their word, or even respond at all. Heck – maybe the underlying factor is me? Certainly room for debate there.
Which are you – the Apple or the Seed?
Johnny Appleseed gave me a delightful smirk and laughed as I shared this with him. We both knew what I was sharing with him was nothing new. People all over the world say one thing and do another all the time. I’m certainly not experiencing anything new as I’m sure you all have experienced this for yourselves at one point or another.
Yet – this was and still is different.
As I shared more, I told Johnny Appleseed that these people I’m engaged with come to me first, more times than not. They ask for my advice, suggestions or ideas on how to get to the next level, make a career leap, overcome a challenge, etc. When I share with them my advice they respond with cheers, high fives and knee slides, often times wanting to act immediately with great enthusiasm. Yet as time goes on their inspiration eventually goes by the waste side. Months go by and they’re still in the same rut they were in before. Same rut, same agonizing complaints and issues.
Which brings us back to the original question. Which are you – the Apple or the Seed?
Johnny Appleseed politely stopped me during my rant and said the following:
“Travis, it’s the classic example of the Apple vs. the Seed. People initially look at the apple and think, ‘I know apples, they taste good, make great pies, etc. Sure, I’d like an apple, matter of fact, a whole truck load of apples. Give me whatever you’ve got.’ You could give them a bunch of apples but that will only hold them over for a limited amount of time.”
Here’s where the brilliance of Mr. Johnny Appleseed comes in…
He continues, “what if we gave them a sack of apple seeds instead? They could eat apples the rest of their life, not have to worry about running out and even make their own business out of selling apples and apple related products. Sure, it will take some back breaking work to get the apple seeds planted, the trees fully developed into a thriving orchard, and so on. The end result is you’ve accomplished something great.
By taking an opportunity, you’ve then managed to build an apple empire and it was a direct result of your sweat equity – which is what you asked for originally.”
(By the by, Stemilt Growers, LLC ranked the largest apple produce company in the US and has an estimated $667 million in total revenue annually, predominantly off the sale and distribution of apples. That’s a lot of Pink Lady’s!)
As the conversation continued we both had a good laugh at the absurdity of the analogy, yet we both knew we couldn’t ignore the basic truth that came of it.
If you truly want to be great you can’t be the apple. The apple is already grown and on its decline to death in your belly or back to the ground where it will dissolve and be never more. The apple represents the hard work and determination of another person who patiently nurtured those apples so they could grow up to be great and delicious. That persons’ dedication, love and care is what brought about those apple and they’ve now sold it to you at a minor cost. You bought that apple because you knew what was in store – a tasty little treat.
But that treat only gives you a moment of gratification.
The seed on the other hand represents opportunity. It represents what is possible with some hard work and good ole fashion belief that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. The seed represents far more opportunity than the fully grown apple ever could amount too.
All too often I see people talk as if they are going to be the next great thing however once they find out how much work and dedication it really takes to get there they have a tendency to relinquish their dreams and settle for their current realities. It’s a damn shame.
The moral of the story, thanks to my good friend Johnny Appleseed, is if you want to be great in your career, you have to take a leap of faith and create your apple farm, orchard, what have you. Simply taking an apple (someone else’s hard work) won’t get you to the promise land.
Dreams can come true. That’s what this country was founded on and I believe that DNA still exists in the very fabric of who we are today. Each of us has that fabric woven deeply within us. Let’s leave behind all the excuses, entitlements and ‘what-ifs’ and go out there and create our own apple farms. It’s perfectly okay to still buy other people’s apples but don’t expect to become great off of someone else’s hard work.
I humbly thank Mr. Johnny Appleseed for the lesson and great reminder on what it takes to be great in this world – you’ve got to be the seed!
The past 10 years in leadership has taught me many things, mainly that I still have much to learn. As the saying goes, ‘you learn something new every day’, I find this to ring true especially as I dive further into my career. The lessons I’ve taken in over the years, whether it was through the school of hard knocks or via someone who cared enough to help me, have all prepared me for an experience which is coming quickly.
The experience of being a parent.
Leadership doesn’t just exist in the workplace. There are many people around us who view leadership as a constant part of who they are, something they do at work, at home and even when no one is watching. My experiences with leadership have predominantly been focused in the office space up until recent when I got the opportunity to marry an amazing woman in 2014. Thanks to this new experience, I’ve learned much about myself and how I interact with others as a result of the perspective I’ve gained through being married. My leadership insights and abilities have also changed as a result thanks to the caring support my wife has shown me.
Fast forward to the start of 2016, my wife and I are now several weeks out from welcoming our first child, a girl, into the world. For those of you who are parents I’m sure you have all sorts of stories, memories and ‘watch out now’ warnings for my soon to be first time experience as a parent. I’m getting a lot of advice right now from those of you who have been there and done that, most of which has been helpful and much appreciated. Some of which has opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before.
My wife and I are excited to welcome our daughter to our family, Miss Ava Rose Smith. Ava’s not even here yet and she’s already taught me so much, I can only imagine what I’ll learn once she’s actually here.
Which brings me to the reason I wrote this article.
Leadership, in my opinion, isn’t something that is turned on as you drive to work, then turned off once you walk out your office door. Leadership, good leadership for that matter, is a combination of a healthy state of mind, willingness to act and a care for others that goes beyond ourselves.
Strange, those very attributes are what I’ve been told are required to be a great parent.
I’ve had the better part of the last year to think long and hard about the type of parent I want to be. Similar to being a leader in an office setting, I’ve waxed on for some time now contemplating how I’m going to handle this new experience called parenting. Will I be able to rise to the occasion and help lead our family into the future? I certainly believe I’m fit for the challenge but must admit I’m a bit nervous. Nervous in a good way. Some of the things I’ve found myself tossing and turning on are:
If my soon to be daughter Ava could understand me now, I would tell her this:
Sweetheart, as your father my sole purpose in life is to do whatever I can to ensure you grow up with everything you’ll need to live happily, experience the many great things life has to offer and one day become a wild success of your own. When the day comes for you to start thinking about your own career or family I know I will have succeeded as a father if you know these five truths:
As one of the two leaders of our household I hope that by declaring my intentions I’ll be able to hold myself accountable to doing them consistently, even when times may be tough. I know it won’t be perfect but it’s a start. I learned this little trick when I was coming up in a leadership role at work. It’s one thing to write it down on paper but if you openly speak it to an audience, proclaiming your intentions, it has a very different level of accountability and often times results.
I look forward to being a parent for all the typical reasons people say they like being parents, but I also look forward to it because I view being a parent as an honor, something I’m humbly thankful to have the experience to do soon. I believe I’ll be a successful parent because interestingly enough, that’s also how I have viewed my leadership opportunities in my career. I didn’t always have this mindset. To give credit where it’s due I owe my parents more than what is possible to offer in this world for helping to instill this in me. I’m forever grateful for these life lessons and have tried my darnedest to implement them in my life, while sharing them with others as often as possible.
I’ve been told by many that parenting is a great experience but you must be ready for the inevitable ups and downs, moments of triumph and setbacks, but in the end if you believe in your family you will prevail. This advice has served me well in the professional setting as it’s important to know no one is perfect, mistakes will happen, but in the long run with the right attitude, care and determination we all can and will succeed.
As for my ability to parent, only time will tell what the outcome will be. My hope is that parenting is similar to leading professionally where you choose to care first about those you lead then help guide them to where they want to be, no matter the cost.
“At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success is the positive involvement of parents [their leaders].” - Jane D. Hull
Last week I had the chance to reconnect with a former colleague and friend to get caught up on life over a brilliant sushi buffet. Heading into the meal, little did I know that our soon to be conversation would forever change my perspective on leadership. For the purposes of this article we’ll refer to my friend as King Salad. (weird to say this but he’s got impeccably styled hair [aka salad], and if you’ve seen a picture of me you’ll know why I’m saying this as I’m a bit lacking in this department)
Eventually conversation with King Salad drifted into the inevitable “how’s work coming along this year so far”. King Salad’s first comment both surprised me and caught my attention as he said, “I’m focusing my energy in 2016 on ‘Managerial Courage’. Not to say that I wasn’t interested in the conversation prior, certainly not the case, but without knowing it he had just triggered something in me which made me ultra-alert and increasingly interested to learn more about his perspective of Managerial Courage.
As I sat on the edge of the booth listening to King Salad share with me why he was focusing on Managerial Courage a thought jolted my brain which hit me like a lightning bolt. King Salad never saw any of this but he was probably wondering why I was so enthusiastically engaged in the conversation, no longer even eating.
What was the lightning bolt that stopped me from eating my precious sushi? I realized something that I had never thought of before:
Managerial Courage is the linchpin, the cornerstone, the apex for all things related to leading successfully.
It was so clear in that moment! In the absence of Managerial Courage all other leadership qualities and characteristics suffer as without Managerial Courage we can only hope to be mediocre at best when it relates to leading and influencing others.
What is Managerial Courage anyways? Simply put – it’s doing the right things as a leader, especially during tough times. Seems simple, yet it’s devilishly difficult to act on consistently. A deeper look into Managerial Courage and we find that it can be further described as a set of actions and beliefs a leader possesses which define who they are and how they go about leading and inspiring others. These actions and beliefs include:
The more I thought about it the more I realized that all this time I’ve missed the bigger picture as it relates to successfully leading others. I even laughed at myself because the notion of Managerial Courage has been in front of me for years yet I had failed to connect the dots leading to my current awareness on the matter. I always knew to lead successfully you had to care about those you supported as well as come to grips with the fact that the decisions you make won’t always be the right ones. I knew leading was an art, not something to be achieved at a moment in time, but something to work towards continuously throughout an entire career as a student of the game.
What I didn’t realize until this past week was that the genesis of leadership, the very foundation that exceptional leadership stands on, comes from Managerial Courage. It takes great tenacity, strength, fortitude, mental determination and care to be a leader and do so successfully. You can’t fake leadership, you can’t say one thing then act another. People see right through that.
Sure, anyone can be a leader, but those who do it successfully stand head and shoulders above their counterparts. It’s worth mentioning that few people fall into the category of great leaders which is why the concept of Managerial Courage is so important.
Courage is the very essence of what leadership is all about.
I am beholden to my friend King Salad for the awareness he brought to me over our sushi meal, it was an invaluable learning opportunity one which I’m thrilled to share and pass on.
What does Managerial Courage mean to you?
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.