The Gentle Side of Force – 8 skills of leadership Iearned from my friend the horse whisperer

horse whispererMy friend Steve is a horse whisperer, was one long before Robert Redford made the label famous. Steve’s been a cowboy forever, a genuine, sure ‘nuff, tall in the saddle hand-me-that-rope cowboy. He’s knows his way around a horse, knows how to care for them, and knows how to handle them. If you’re interested you can read about him and horse whispering here.

The fascinating thing about “horse whispering” to me is that it works and works very, very well.  Effective leaders have wonderfully developed skills of persuasion. They seldom, if ever, resort to barking orders. They don’t have to make people do what they want them to do or what needs to be done.

Granted, there are two sides to this. Finding willing, responsible, cooperative, skilled employees is a necessary component. But we don’t always have them, can’t always find them, or shouldn’t always count on having them at our disposal. We might have to get the job done with those who are reluctant or even downright resistant.

Please pardon the obvious correlation between associates/employees and horses. You, being intelligent and intuitive, already understand that I do not mean to imply that associates or employees are brutish or inhuman. I use the parallel in the sense that we must all take people who possess a natural independent will and somehow persuade them to cooperate and contribute to the cause or enterprise in such a way that neither party suffers injury or humiliation.

I always thought that horses had to be “broken.” I’ve seen the TV shows and western movies where the brave cowboy gets on a horse and forces the objecting animal into submission. Thankfully these days our understanding has increased and we approach the subject with more respect for the animal and more understanding about how to gain the role as leader. We have made the same progress in business and organizational dynamics too. I hope the days of the bullying supervisor are over.

I was so interested in Steve the Horse Whisperer’s technique that I researched just how it is he gets an untamed, unfamiliar animal to do what he wants it to do. I discovered that his techniques are remarkably parallel to those of effective leaders who understand how to apply the gentle side of force. 

Here is how it works:

  1. Establish Leadership and Partnership. Show that you are the Leader. Someone has to lead, particularly in our culture. Some cultures favor consensus but even there someone rises to the place of prominence and becomes the visible focus of leadership. Indeed, the capacity to establish leadership is a primary indicator of leadership. It sounds like circular reasoning but it really is axiomatic – leaders lead. Put even a few people together and give them an assignment, even a simple one. If at least one of them does not begin to articulate what needs to be done, if they do not begin to take charge, nothing will happen. I wrote about this awhile back which you can read about it here.
  2. Talk, communicate, establish two-way communication. The gentle side of force does not resort to issued decrees, broadcast statements, or memos. They have their place; in some cases it may be absolutely necessary. But talk to your people, face to face if at all possible. A global survey of senior executives and managers conducted by NFI Research solicited input about methods of communication with staff. One respondent said E-mail is great for scheduling and confirming meetings, phone is good for quick conversations that require two-way communications and a memo is preferred for long background pieces. In-person and scheduled meetings are always the best for any discussion requiring true dialogue and consensus.” Really good leaders know how…and when…to employ all three.
  3. Let the horse communicate when he is ready to accept you as leader. Establish who is the leader and who is the follower. It might take a while. If you’re new on the job or you have a new hire, understand that gaining someone’s confidence might take a day or two, probably longer. Don’t try to be buddies, try to be associates. Maintain the trappings and systems that conduct power safely. Every component has its place. Run the flag up the pole and see who salutes.
  4. Maintain connection and association, do not avoid physical presence. Keep your eyes on each other. The best, most successful, most effective leaders are those who maintain presence. General Patton was everywhere, so was General Bradley. If you want to turn powerful people into allies instead of enemies, keep them close. The emphasis on team building and team dynamics has made MBWA – Management By Wandering Around – popular again. First identified by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their big seller In Search of Excellence, the concept manifests itself when managers and leaders stay engaged within the workforce.
  5. Prove that you can be trusted, that you will not harm or compromise them. People are not stupid but they are skeptical. Just about everyone has been had before. Built over time and repeated experience another word for this is integrity. You are who you appear to be. I will pass through this quickly because the subject of integrity deserves a much larger treatment and is on the schedule for inclusion in this series in a few days.
  6. Test respect by asking that followers follow. Salesmen ask for the sale. Leaders ask for the lead. There comes a time, actually there will probably come many times, when you as leader ask someone to follow. You can buy a person’s time and talent, you must earn their respect and enthusiasm.
  7. Ask for a response – do not assume the follower will know intuitively. You will probably still need to point out what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and when it is due. In short, lead. Good delegation technique solicits a verbal contract of agreement, an oral memo of understanding that lays out what is to be done, who will do it, and when it will be completed.
  8. Saddle up and ride! When the gentle side of force has done its work, you can do yours. Lead! Pursue the goals, press forward, get going. You don’t do this just to show who’s the boss. You do this because you have worlds to conquer, places to go, objectives to reach. You’ve gained someone’s trust so make the most of it. 

Power Plays have a point. They deserve my time and your attention for the purpose of the ethical pursuit of noble causes whether they are for business or for charity.

Churchill and Hitler were both effective leaders. Here’s why.

churchillsteve21/hdc/people/69/0192Leadership as a topic can be completely separated from concepts of good and evil. Leadership in its execution has been used for both. There is perhaps no more certain contrast of this than in the parallel administrations of Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill.

One used his considerable skills of leadership to bring most of the world to the edge of annihilation, the other to stop it. One employed the techniques that typify exemplary leadership to call out the worst in human behavior, the other to call out the best. Like courage or sincerity, leadership as an act is morally and ethically neutral. True enough, admiration for leaders and validation of their leadership does often depend on the outcome, but there can be no doubt that the components of leadership are the same however it works out. While failure can often be traced to poor leadership, effective and competent leaders fail too, witness the fall of the Third Reich.

One may be a great leader while being a despicable human being. The two are not mutually exclusive.

In the case of Churchill versus Hitler, both were sincere and brave in the advancement of their beliefs even though Hitler’s were loathsome. Both were opportunists, taking full advantage of time, history, and circumstances to propel themselves into positions of power, garner a following, and motivate them to do their bidding.

It is the leader’s use of words to draw on the emotions of their listeners that seem to make the difference between effectiveness and ineffectiveness. One moved his nation forward toward light and victory, the other towards darkness and defeat.

Leaders do so by appealing to emotions which, throughout history, has remained remarkably limited and amazingly constant regardless of the times or the culture.

Take for example, Pericles Funeral Oration spoken at the public funeral of those who died in a war in which Athens was still engaged. Compare that with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and you’ll discover the parallels in principle are remarkable even though they are separated by millennia.

Leaders have  the power of persuasion. This is usually achieved by what the leader says and how s/he says it. In my work on the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States, I soon discovered that there is no Navajo language equivalent for our English word “leader”. A “leader” in the Navajo nation is an orator, one who speaks eloquently and persuasively. Well, there you have it. A leader is one who can move a crowd.

That phrase – “move a crowd” – points out another component. Not only can a leader speak well, but s/he can motivate listeners, inspiring them to “move” from where they are in their thinking and actions to something else. Demagogues do this very well.

I will go so far as to say that when a person in a leadership position becomes silent or fails to say something, s/he is moving away from leadership. There is no such thing as leading from behind when a “leader” falls silent. The label “leading from behind” is employed when a leader has screwed up and not been out front as the job demands.

Churchill spoke, spoke very, very well. So too, did Hitler. They both possessed charisma, that compelling charm or appeal that inspires devotion in others. Once that charm has worked its spell, the leader can convince and inspire people to do more than they ever thought of themselves.

Followers willingly accede authority to a charismatic person. Willingly! Followers grant to their leaders authority over them and give their money, time, attention, talent, efforts, even their very lives. From our vantage point, we can sit in judgment of those who caved in to a monster like Hitler, but in those times what he said, particularly in the beginning as he began his ascent to power, seemed entirely reasonable and held obvious appeal to the masses in Germany. They did not know, probably few even considered, where it would lead.

James MacGregor Burns wrote “One of the most universal cravings of our time is a hunger for compelling and creative leadership.” Time and again it has led to disaster. France cried out for leadership from Napoleon in 1799, Russia looked to Lenin in 1917 and doubled down with Stalin ten years later. No less than 13 million Germans voted for Hitler in 1932!

But it works out well too. In the US we can point to the leadership (words and oratory) of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and the others who persuaded reluctant colonists to throw off England’s mantle. Then there was Abraham Lincoln, the skills of speaking found in Franklin Roosevelt, the popular appeal of Ronald Reagan who won 49 states in 1984 (Richard Nixon won 49 states too and we know how that turned out). Even Barack Obama, who won considerably less States in both his elections, is obviously a gifted orator.

Limiting our discussion to only the manifestation of the acts of leadership there is lots to say, and I intend to pursue the subject. I want to emphasize right now that my pursuit of this subject has no reflection on my personal political beliefs and should not be taken as such. I intend to explore the subject on the terms of effective leadership skills. History is better at qualifying the results and we will rely on it to do so.  (If you’re curious, and promise not to let your political beliefs persuade you to abandon this blog if they conflict with mine, you can read my columns at

So the next series begins later this week –  “POWER PLAYS – the components of leadership and how they are used to inspire and motivate.”

Here’s a brief outline of what I will cover:

  • The four elements of effective leadership
  • The definition of leadership and how it is different from authority and      management
  • Why and how vision is critical to powerful leadership
  • 4 ways to destroy your leadership role
  • Why strong, compelling leadership is imperative – there are 18 key pieces to      this puzzle
  • The role of your staff in exercising power
  • The 5 dilemmas we face and how to solve them
  • The three types of power and how each can have its place
  • Power sources – where to find, tap into, and transmit power to accomplish what      must be done

I hope you’ll log back in and follow the series through to its completion.


Keeper Trait #15 – Initiative

iniitiativeMany potential employers put it directly in their ads – “must be a self-starter.” It is, apparently, an all too unusual trait.

Perhaps more than any other trait, it separates the successful from the failure, the winner from the loser, the prosperous from the poor. A person with initiative does not wait to be told to something, does not sit back blaming anyone for his or her lack of progress, but steps up and gets going.

C. Northcote Parkinson said that The man whose life is devoted to paperwork has lost the initiative. He is dealing with things that are brought to his notice, having ceased to notice anything for himself.

Stephen Covey adds in his perspective when he says that Employers and business leaders need people who can think for themselves – who can take initiative and be the solution to problems.

In a general sense, your associates, subordinates, and employees will fit somewhere on this chart.4 levels

The Forced Laborer is always there BUT you have to go find them, take them to the job site, show them precisely what needs to be done, and either stand over them yourself or assign someone to do so in order to keep them working. They completely lack initiative.

The Hired Hand is a bit more independent. They will do the job once it has been pointed out, once the tools or devices necessary to do it are supplied, and once the task has been defined. But you usually do not have to monitor them very closely.

The Reliable Assistant has a good deal of initiative but may be a bit reluctant to volunteer. Once you issue a directive or point out a general task that needs to be done (which you can do by either specifying the task or the objective), they will take it from there. What’s more, they will aggressively account to you once they are finished.

The Trusted Associate is so in tune with the objectives of the organization, the supporting objectives of his or her department, and with the comprehensive vision articulated by you, that they will see what needs to be done even before it is pointed out. Then they will take charge and make sure it is done then report to you.

Forced Laborers and Hired Hands cost less money but more in supervisory engagement. Reliable Assistants and Trusted Associates cost more money but they free up manpower and, most critically, they free up your time.

People with the trait of initiative make the world, make your world, a better place. Now, if you’re a control freak, don’t be surprised if you drive people with initiative away. They do not like, and will not tolerate for long, too much meddling. It seems odd that control freaks bring trouble upon themselves. They drive off the independent types who could really help, who could extend their reach, multiply their effectiveness, and divide their work. They limit themselves to associates, subordinates, and employees who require copious amounts of oversight and management causing control freaks to lament that all they can find are people who have to be constantly managed.

So, what do you do? Find those with initiative and integrate them into your work circle so they can do what they do so well. Keep cycling through the others until you build a team that can run the engine of commerce without your constant oversight.


Keeper Trait #11 – Truthfulness

360_lie_detection_0713The tasks of evaluation, decision-making, and determining action are constant for leaders and managers. We must, from start of day to its close, gather information, qualify that information, and prescribe appropriate responses.

This requires intelligence and I mean that in the broader sense of information and intelligence gathering not just in the “smart” sense. Leaders and managers need information and should demand it, should settle for nothing less.

This is where trait #11 comes in. The people we assemble into work teams and staffs must be truthful with us and with themselves.

A truthful person is:

Honest about what they do, have done and consequently will do. They build a track record of reliability in the capacity to accurately report what they have done thus we can trust what they tell us about what they can do and consequently what they will do.

Honest about what has happened. When giving account (trait #2), their account is accurate in three dimensions:

                They have told us what happened (the truth),

                They have included everything in their report (the whole truth),

                They have neither embellished nor interpreted the facts (nothing but the truth.)

In so doing they have become reliable witness upon whose testimony we can rely and from which we can make the best decisions and take the most appropriate actions.

Honest about how things are because you need information based on facts not fabrication. You need to make decisions and take action based on facts not speculation. Peril awaits on either side – exaggeration or it’s opposite, minimizing.

We need to fight and defeat immaculate perception. There exists within just about everyone an inclination to magnify the importance and validity of our own ideas. I call it immaculate perception, the tendency to ascribe to one’s opinions the attributes of omniscience and consequently the belief in one’s omnipotence. In short, we think too highly of our own ideas and truthful people are a balance to that.

We need truthful people because we cannot be everywhere all the time and we cannot know everything. Corporate structures are guilty of insulating decision-makers from reality because they are often physically removed from the places where decisions are put into practice. The TV show Undercover Boss substantiates this. In every case, bosses discover that their decisions have been both useful and harmful.

Information, accurate information, is on our side. It is not our enemy. Truthful associates make the company stronger. Truthful information does not weaken the company, it only shows us where the weakness is.

Truthfulness is sought here as a manifestation of good judgment because being truthful will imply that the person knows what to say, when to say it, to whom to say it, and how it should be said. Now, the question arises here about why people who work for you and with you do not tell you the truth. It could be because they are dishonest people. Those do exist and you know what to do about it. But it could be that they are afraid to tell you the truth because of you.

It might be that the way you react to the truth has shut down the flow of information. If that is the case, the world of fantasy will gradually displace the real world and the consequences can be dire.

Many surveys show that truthfulness is a key component of leadership because it implies reliability, trustworthiness, and credibility.

Frankly, truthfulness is not a valued trait in some workplaces. The powers that be have given themselves to delusion and want to hear only information and input that supports that delusion. Other leaders are insecure and must be continually propped up by sliver-tongued sycophants.

What do you do when someone tells you the truth? How do you react? What do you do when you discover someone has been dishonest? What can you do today to encourage truthfulness in your company or organization?

Trait #13 is stewardship. See you in a few days.

Keepers trait #9 – Sensitivity

T101209-N-2943B-001his may seem like an unusual or even inappropriate trait and I want to be clear from this first sentence that I am NOT suggesting sensitivity in the emotional or psychological sense.  A sensitive associate is not to be confused with a touchy one. I do not mean someone who is easily set off, offended, or who must be handled with extreme care.

A sensitive employee is one who can discern and respond to subtlety. They “get it” quickly and clearly.

My father taught me, and I passed it on to my own children, that the way to make yourself invaluable to an employer is to quickly discover what is important to them and never disappoint them.  Find out their hot buttons and do everything you can to avoid pushing them. Instead, if they have areas and issues they prefer over others, meet them.

Sensitive employees do just that.

Sensitive employees and associates are:

  • Highly tuned in to the workplace. They can sense the mood of the moment and know how to respond to it.
  • Highly tuned in to the feelings of others and exercise great care never to offend, abuse, or ignore anyone on the team. This goes for managers and leaders too.
  • Comfortable working alone.
  • Respectful of the boundaries of others. They never intrude without an invitation or a compelling reason.
  • Particularly useful in service industries like restaurants, concierge services, and here’s a surprise, sales. Now you might think a sensitive person would be handicapped in sales because of the presence of rejection. But my sales model is not one of pressure, but of collaboration. In my last sales job I explained to all my clients that I was not intent on selling them anything but I was intent on helping them make the best selection for their particular needs.  (I was in the top 5% of sales for the region by the way.) We have all endured insensitive sales people who persisted on pursuing a script even though it did not match the setting. Telemarketers seem to be script-bound. Sensitive servers and salepersons can anticipate the needs of others before being told.
  • Capable of coming up with great ideas because they usually process information deeper. Sensitive people are usually inclined to creativity, have an inclination towards the arts.
  • Usually highly intelligent and possess great, active, vibrant imaginations. They are particularly good at finding a way where there is no way.
  • Know what your values are and match them.

There are downsides of course. Overly sensitive people can be moody, can be more inclined to self-medicate, and can be a bit hesitant to volunteer for fear of rejection. But, taken in balance, and used within the context I have set, this trait is an asset to the team.

Keeper trait #9 is appropriate skills and temperament. See you in a few days. I have been notified by my hosting service that they are moving my websites to faster servers so there might be slight and incremental outages in the service but it will be finished soon. Thanks for your patience.

Keepers Trait #5 – Creativity

sinksFor my birthday, my son took me to a new restaurant in downtown Ft. Myers, Florida, near where I live.  Ft. Myers was winter home to Thomas Edison. While here, he invited close friend Henry Ford down for a visit. Ford liked the place so much he bought the house next door to Edison. The estates are now a historic site and have prompted a number of Edison and Ford themed businesses. One of the newest is called Ford’s Garage, the restaurant we visited on my birthday.

The entire place is cleverly done, from the vintage Model T hanging over the bar, the shined-up institutional furnishings. The napkin rings are hose clamps. The thing I found most creative was the faucets in the bathroom. They are gasoline filler nozzles connected to the water lines with black rubber hoses.  Everywhere you look there is creativity.

This is not a plug for Ford’s Garage. It is an appeal for Keeper Trait #5 – creativity.

“Creativity means making something new or rearranging old things in a new way. “

The operations of any organization, large, small, commercial, or non-profit all require people who can solve problems, tackle dilemmas, and inspire customers. We have become bogged down by data and analysis gained from gathering preference statistics and conducting focus groups.

Anyone who has stayed in a roadside hotel can spot it. Rooms are totally lacking in creativity. They all are about the same size, have the same style of furniture, are appointed with a bed, a desk type of area, a counter to put suitcases on, an mini-bar, and a flat screen TV with remote. The colors and décor may vary but the basics are there.

Spurs to creativity, says Vance, are change, stress, and excess. “Moderation kills creativity.” Average people can achieve great things, he promises, when “they’re pissed off” or “they’re on fire with a cause.”

Now, most of us are not in the business of designing new businesses or redecorating apartments. The most likely venues whenever we talk about creativity are in design businesses, graphics arts, or architecture. But creativity is a keeper trait for every business or organization.


Because there are three basic premises to creativity:

Premise #1 is that “A” must equal “A”. “A” cannot equal whatever you want it to equal. If creativity means making something new or rearranging old things in a new way, one must know for certain what the old thing is and one must know what already is so that something new can be fabricated.

Premise #2 is the Law of Cause and Effect. Creative people understand the difference and are able to sort the differences out.  They know that most people will deal with effects but seldom get to the causes. Creativity comes in when they begin to develop solutions to problems, a highly useful and oft-needed skill.

Premise #3 is the principle of influence. Leadership is influence. People willingly follow because they are influenced by someone (positively and negatively). Influential people are people with ideas. Ideas require creativity. People with ideas are moving towards leadership. People without them are moving away. There is no such thing as leading from behind. One may fall behind. One may lag behind. But whoever is at the head is leading. Influential people are idea people.

There are two manifestations of creativity. On one hand, there is artistic and scientific creativity. Those are the Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs types who come up with brilliant ideas. I had a business partner once who was very creative. He could design a machine for our shop where no such existed.

On the other hand, there is creative problem-solving – the ability to overcome obstacles by approaching them in novel ways. This is the kind of creativity that comes in most handy in the business world. This is the kind we will find most useful to most applications for us. Success magazine recently ran a good article on this here.

Chanting once again my mantra about the purpose behind hiring others, let’s all say it together. We gather associates because they:

  1. Extend our reach.
  2. Multiply our effectiveness.
  3. Divide our work.

Creative people are idea people. They see solutions, embrace objectives, and find a path through. They are eyes through which we can see farther, ears by which we can hear more, and arms by which we can reach out more.

Keeper trait # 6 is organization. See you on Thursday.

Accountability, traits of keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful – #2

power plugI had ordered a meal and let the conversation around the table carry away the wait. When the order arrived, it was a different server who placed my plate in front of me. It was almost correct. I had ordered fish and what was on my plate was indeed fish. The problem was I had ordered it prepared a different way.

When the server sat it down I told him so and also suggested I keep it. I’d waited long enough.

In under two minutes the server who had taken my order was at the table offering an articulate and sincere apology for the mix-up. In that one moment, the server identified herself as a Keeper. Why?


An accountable person understands that mistakes happen and they own up to them when they do. They don’t have to be chased down and confronted about it. They don’t try to cover up or ignore it hoping it goes undiscovered. No, they report to you and explain what happened.

Accountability is an active trait, not passive. It takes the lead. Accountable people offer no transparent excuses, no blame-shifting, no relocating the guilt. There is a reality show series on TV called Restaurant Undercover or something like that. Restaurant owners who suspect an employee of theft hires a company to install hidden monitoring devices to find out what happens. I have watched a few episodes. In every one I’ve seen, when the culprit is caught they try to relocate their guilt back onto the restaurant owner. They all claim that their job performance is above and beyond the call of duty. They refuse to even acknowledge their incompetence or thievery instead they try to shame the owner because they are not more appreciative of the culprit’s hard work, sacrifice, and effort.

Weasels annoy me…big time. I live by the creed that if something is amiss, simply acknowledge it, find a solution, and keep moving. Accountable people exhibit two character traits that add to their keepability.

First, they conduct their lives with a high degree of responsibility. I will explore the traits of diligence and prudence later in this series, but those two traits find a seed plot right here. Accountable people don’t like error or defeat and live so as to avoid it as much as possible.

Second, when it happens, they report it to their superiors and those connected and involved associates before it becomes a bigger issue. They realize that failure is an event and live so that it does not become a way of life.

Throwaway people don’t. They live carelessly, fail to exercise due diligence, ignore prudence, and cover themselves with the slippery film of excuse-making and blame-shifting.

Whenever you are engaged with employing others, you do so because there are jobs that must be done that you, because of time or skill, cannot and should not try to do. I’ve said this so often in this blog through the years that it’s become almost a mantra. We engage others to extend our reach, multiply our effectiveness, and divide our work. We hire others, we delegate responsibility to others so they will solve problems, not create more.

The accountability component is built of the reality that a leader can never give away all his authority. S/he is ultimately responsible for what happens or doesn’t happen. All responsibility and the authority to fulfill that responsibility is released under a carefully determined agreement. Whenever you as leader/manager allow others to participate in the process of work for your company, whether it is one person or dozens or more, a contract implication exists.

By implication in accepting the responsibility the person accepting the job has agreed that if you will grant them the authority to do this job, they will award to you the accountability both you and the task deserve. Whenever an associate accepts a responsibility, they become, at least in that instance, a subordinate. Because authority and responsibility flows much like an electric current, if power is ever going to accomplish work, it must flow within a circuit. Current leaves the source, flows through wires and machinery, and returns to the source. If the circuit breaks, power stops and along with it the machinery. If it short circuits, a destructive fire could result. You as leader/manager release power (authority) to do the job but the circuit must flow back to you. The return trip is called accountability. The power source is you. To maintain a safe and effective flow of power, it eventually has to come back to you.

You have every right to expect that the accountability comes to you. You should not have to go get it from anyone. This initiative is what makes someone a keeper. They find you, make their report, and keep the machinery running. I do want to state that accountability does not only exist when something goes wrong. Accountability is not limited to the times something goes wrong. Perhaps most often accountability need to function when everything goes right.

When someone accepts responsibility they agree to three things:

  1. I will do it
  2. I will let you know as soon as I know if I am not going to be able to do what we agreed to in the time we set.
  3. I will tell you why I cannot meet my obligation and what I will do to prevent it from happening again.

Accountability is a broad topic and I do not presume to have addressed more than one facet of it in this post. However, I do want to include one more piece of the subject.

Some leaders/managers are uncomfortable either holding people accountable or accepting accountability from a subordinate or an associate. If this is you, you’ll need to acquire that ability. The flow of authority and responsibility depends on a system of accountability. Quality control, customer satisfaction, obligations to constituents, the very vision of the business or organization rests on the smooth flower of power throughout the system. Please do not minimize when an employee or associate brings news of a failure. Don’t over-react either. Deal with the issues, leave persons and personalities out of it, move on. Don’t gloss over it when they do well and report a success either. Celebrate the completion of a responsibility and build the bank of good will between your and those you rely on to carry out the many tasks of your group.

Next installment = Psychological security, maturity in action.

Resource-fullness, traits of keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful – #1

A fellow woodworking business owner has a unique and clever way of qualifying applicants for jobs. He brings them into the shop and offers to pay them for one week. During that week they have but one assignment. They can build anything they want in the shop, use the shop’s equipment and supplies under the condition that whatever they build must be planned, started, and completed in one work week.

The shop owner learns a lot during that week. One quality he is able to monitor is resource-fullness. He can observe, before he hires them, if they can learn their way around the shop, plan intelligently, use the machinery, complete something on time, produce commercial grade work, and solve the inevitable problems that arise.

Yes, I am aware that resource-full is misspelled. I did so intentionally. Resourcefulness is a dense word crammed with meaning. Resource-fullness crams in a little more.

In this series I am exploring the qualities that make for exceptional associates and employees; those capabilities, attitudes, and traits that make them keepers. The title says “not-so exceptional” because I believe there are lots of them around. They are all mixed in with everyone else but they are there in large numbers. Just not large enough.

I put resource-fullness at the top of the list because it is the most important trait by far when I look for associates. I want someone who can garner the components necessary to get the job done. Resource-fullness is both internal and external, that is a resource-full person has certain attitudes that always find expression in certain actions.

Inward Attitudes:

A Can Do spirit. One of my favorite movies in In Harm’s Way starring the Duke, John Wayne, and Kirk Douglas. In the opening segment, Wayne’s heavy cruiser is torpedoed and has gone dead in the water. A nearby destroyer pulls alongside to help. Wayne asks the destroyer’s captain if he can rig a line for towing and send over some pumps. The answer to both was, “Can do, sir.” Interestingly, the “captain” was not the ship’s captain at all but a Lieutenant JG. The captain had been ashore when the ship sortied to leave the harbor. You’ve probably guessed that the date was December 7th. The same Lieutenant JG soon found himself promoted, the result of his ability to get things done.

A Never Say Die tenacity. Resource-full associates just refuse to give up. If they don’t know the way, they find a way. If they don’t know the way to find a way, they find the way to find a way. Associates who are easily defeated are not keepers. Your work and that of your organization is too important to be placed in the hands of those who are easily stopped.

A High Capacity Server. I am borrowing here from today’s dimension of technology. If bandwidth is narrow and the number of users is high, connections are so slow. Some people are like that. They’re nice enough people, but way too slow on the uptake. Hint: If things have to be explained, and explained, and explained again, you are not talking to a high capacity user. Clichés become clichés because the meaning is so universal that the expression gets used and then over-used. One such is “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Well, it is. Resource-full people catch on quickly. Just a word and they get it, And then that run with it.

An almost paranormal intuition. Resource-full people are people who know. They can’t always tell you how they know. They may not even understand how they know. But they know. They possess a keen insight into the dynamics of how things work and can interpret that into what needs to be done. Resource-full people are not bulldozers, simply demolishing any impediment or opposition. They know the way through. Sid was working for a company in the middle of a giant relocation project. It was not a particularly large company but it had been in the same facility for many, many years and had spread over several buildings. They were downsizing and had to move. The deadline for vacating the property loomed and there remained yet lots to be done. The director had run out of options and was near panic. Sid called the local high school and asked if there were strong young men who wanted part-time work. Soon a squad of muscle arrived and the move finished off on time.

External Capabilities:

An Action Focus. Resource-full people move. They move forward, sideways, round about, but they move. They hate meetings, grind under the thought of a committee, and write reports only as part of the job. They love action. They are take charge and get it done people.

A Cadre of Contributors. Being full of resources, one depository of those resources is a band of others who know things to. They know suppliers, workman, technicians, counselors, and information people. They are able to tap into the best minds and warehouses available because their experience and personality has put them in connection with them.

Powers of Persuasion. They are skilled negotiators and persuasive managers. They have a natural authority and a command presence. In short, they are leaders just like you are.

Life is a problem solving venture. So is business. Daily, sometimes hourly, oftimes it seems momentarily we are confronted with something that doesn’t work, a system that has failed, a component that is out of stock, a machine that has broken, a person that is being contrary, a problem to solve.

You hire people to solve them, not create more. Resource-full people are those people. When you find them, try not to run them off (Hint: That is my next series – The ways we drive away our best people.)

The next installment in this series is aggressive accountability. Coming up Thursday, April 18th.

Keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful

employeeShe was a hidden gem. A degree in Business Admin, she had taken a job as a server just to get a job. In the economy of her city, jobs were not that easy to find and even though she was way over-qualified, she took the job. For several months she worked, showed up on time, handled her duties diligently, and said nothing while her superior bungled his.

Eventually top management gave up trying to educate and train that manager to handle the minimal demands of the job. When they let him go, they asked her if she would accept the position. She did and grabbed onto it from the first moment. Within hours the top management saw that their choice had been the right one. Now, quite some time later, the positive report holds up. This is a true story, by the way.

So this event provoked me to consider just what it is in certain people that make them stand out, that make them valuable assets to a company or organization. I came up with the following list which I will discuss deeper and post, one at a time, over the next several days.

Here is my list of 16 personal qualities found in people you must keep around you. The series begins tomorrow.

  1. Resource-fullness
  2. Aggressive accountability
  3. Psychological security
  4. Loyalty (personal & institutional)
  5. Creativity
  6. Organization
  7. Diligence
  8. Prudence
  9. Sensitivity – they understand what is important to you
  10. Skills appropriate to the position
  11. Truthfulness – no sycophants need apply
  12. Stewardship
  13. Learn-able
  14. Teach-able – can bring others along
  15. Volunteerism (Initiative)
  16. Polite

Beware the naked man who wants to give you fashion advice

 “Well, you have your degree. Now you’re going to get an education.”

One of my professors said that to me the night I graduated. She was correct.

A few weeks later I had moved with my new bride (who is now my not-so-new bride but exciting nonetheless) to Northern Arizona for our first post-college, degree-enabled job. Four years of formal education delivered by some of academia’s finest minds would lead one to think that graduates of the program would be equipped for every good work.

Our first morning there, I stepped outside, looked up into the clear Arizona sky and said right out loud,  “I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

I figured it out eventually.

Fast-forward now several decades to a Harvard commencement program. My son was receiving his Master’s degree and we were there to witness and bask in his accomplishment. The commencement speaker, himself a Harvard grad, began to speak and what he had to say remarkably paralleled my own story. Years invested in higher education, launching into career post-graduation with no idea of what to do, eventually figuring things out and making a successful life along the way. We both got the bulk of our education after receiving degrees.

So, you are wondering, what is my point?

Employers place a good deal of emphasis on education and experience for good reason. Education alone seldom prepares one for work and life in the real world. It does expand knowledge. It does provide information both general and specific. But it does not, and cannot, prepare one with the thousands of nuances and insights that come from living life and interacting with its many opportunities and curve balls nor can it provide the street smarts that comes from working in your field.

You remember the old story about the young executive who asked of his mentor hos that mentor became a success. “Good decisions,” replied the man.

“But,” asked the young man, “how can I learn how to make good decisions?”

“Simple,” replied the mentor, “that comes with experience.”

“How do I get experience?”

“Simple,” replied the mentor. “Bad decisions.”

Most of us have been subjected to the friend or relative who can well tell us how we should raise our children but their words do not resonate for one glaring omission. They’ve never had children of their own.

A friend once told me, with a completely straight face, that he was the best husband to his wife that he had ever known. When I asked him how he knew that, he remarked that he had been to a marriage seminar and what he learned there had assured him he was.

Now, there is probably no doubt that what he learned was true, accurate, and worthwhile. But education’s power to transform is limited until it encounters the catalyst of real life. Why? Because life is full of “Aha” moments, those increments of time when what you have learned and what you have become aware of collide to produce truth and reality. Education is quite good at swelling the head by filling it with information but frankly it is of limited appeal and therefore limited use to practical leaders (notice the title of this website) until it has been tempered with the sting of battle and shaped by the exigencies of life.

Now, this essay is more than an exercise in examination and opinion. There is a point.

I was interviewing potential associates for business and asking if they had ever owned a business. Most had not. One employee who left my employ (fired him for unsafe shop practices) and started out on his own told me later he had no idea what a challenge cash flow was, that he was used to getting paid regardless but as an owner he got paid last if at all. Well, duh?

Another told me he had been in business but when I asked the nature of the business he said it was a small shop located in an out-building behind his house in which he made the occasional piece of custom molding on order for the company he worked for every day. So, while technically he was a business owner, it was not the type of business that could, by any stretch of the imagination, be equated with a stand-alone business that demands finding customers, fulfilling orders, handling payroll, making lease payments, and the dozens of other pieces of business of a real business. His was a “business” for tax purposes only and met the criteria for tax reporting that allowed certain deductions.

So here’s my point. Neither of those guys had the complete package. One had experience in the field but completely lacked both business knowledge and experience. The other had some limited knowledge but had never embarked on the unknown sea of commerce; his was a boat in a bathtub but he fancied himself a blue water sailor. (FYI, the last I knew this fellow was marketing himself as a business consultant.)

When I was in college I noticed the large number of alumni who had gravitated back to the school to teach. Then I checked into other institutions of higher learning and found the trend was the same. I asked that same professor who predicted when I would get an education why this is so. She said, “Because those who can do, but those who can’t come back here and teach you how to do what they could not.”

Without doubt you will encounter a goodly number of consultants who offer their services to help you solve a problem, build a business, or make a life. There is little doubt they will have good things to say and might be worth their fee. But before you hire one of them, ask them just exactly what they have achieved in their field. Beware the naked man who wants to give you fashion advice.