Great Leaders Look for Opportunities to Show This

Great leaders know that success is the result of extra efforts by amazing employees. These leaders look for opportunities to show their appreciation.

Looking for Opportunities

Last week, I was out in the factory and saw my company’s top mechanical engineer working on a drill press. He was modifying parts so they could be used in production. I knew he had been there all morning reworking these parts because we had a big customer order that had to go out. It wasn’t his job but he did it anyway because he cares deeply about the success of our company.

As a leader, I couldn’t just walk by and ignore his efforts. I stopped and talked to him. I told him how much I appreciated him and the work he was doing. He didn’t have to be standing at a drill press all morning working on these production parts but there he was. I had to acknowledge his extra efforts.

The Problem with Most Leaders

The problem with most leaders, however, is they miss these opportunities. Most leaders are sequestered in their offices and oblivious to what’s happening with their teams. They are unaware of the extra efforts their best employees are doing every day. These employees are left feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated.

One of the most frustrating things I see in leaders is a negative or indifferent attitude towards people. Many choose a career in leadership who don’t have an appreciation for the impact they have on their teams. Unfortunately, these leaders usually find they are less effective when they lack a people-focused mindset. The reason is that leadership is inherently a people business.

“Leadership is a people business.” Jon S. Rennie

The entire role of a leader is to motivate a team of people towards accomplishing an objective. Great leaders know this and they know it’s important to show appreciation. They also know people are messy. People have issues, problems, emotions, quirks, hang-ups, baggage, and can be unpredictable. A great leader can see past the flaws, love their people, and motivate them to do great things. In my opinion, you can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people.

“Great leaders aren’t afraid to love their teams.” Donald Miller

A CEO who Cares

Donald Miller, founder and CEO of Storybrand, sees it the same way. I like his thoughts on this subject as he reflects on the culture he built at his company. One of the core values he put in place was to “make his employees’ dreams come true by serving clients faithfully.”  I thought it was interesting that he purposely intertwined serving customers with the dreams of his employees. In his view, loving your employees and showing appreciation means helping them reach their full potential.

“Great leaders can see the greatness in others when they can’t see it themselves and lead them to their highest potential they don’t even know.” Roy T. Bennett

Miller credits the growth of his company to the “secret ingredient” of love. Things changed at his company when they started to live out these core values. As he loved and respected his employees, they loved each other, and they worked as a team to better serve customers. He built a culture of respect with a foundation in love.

He has two fundamental rules which have helped him create a culture of love and respect:

  1. Hire people who are better, smarter and faster than you.
  2. Never mess with their hearts.

Make a Positive Impact

If you’re a leader, you have a deep impact on the lives and careers of the people working for you. You need to be patient with their flaws and take time to truly appreciate their contributions. The biggest problem with employee engagement in most companies today is that employees feel their bosses don’t appreciate them.

Imagine how they will react when they see their boss truly cares!

Reach out to me a Twitter and let me what you do to show appreciation for your team members.

Stop Reading and Start Doing

Reading and research are great but they can also keep you from achieving your goals. Sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is to just do it.

A Man of Action

Last week I had the chance to meet an amazing leader, Mike Erwin. If you don’t know Mike, you should. He’s the guy who started one of the most significant and impactful military veteran organization in history, Team RWB. That would be a life’s work for most leaders but not Mike. He used what he learned in creating Team RWB to launch another non-profit organization, The Positivity Project, which trains school children across the country in the importance of positive relationships and character traits. Both of these organizations have impacted the lives of thousands of people in significant ways.

Mike is a man of action. He’s not afraid to turn what he is learning into real, concrete results. He is willing to take the leap and get started knowing he doesn’t have all the answers. Mike understands that, at some point, you need to stop reading and start doing. He recognizes the best way to learn something is by actually doing it.

“We have a world of information at our fingertips. What we need is the wisdom to discern what to do with that information.” Mike Erwin

Taking Action on What you are Learning

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love to read. I believe that leaders should be life-long learners. I also prefer to listen to leadership books on Audible or business podcasts instead of music when I’m traveling. I’m constantly being exposed to new ways of thinking. But what you may not know is that I keep a commonplace notebook, a simple place where I keep all the things I’m learning and the various ideas I have. And, I love turning those ideas into action. Let me give you an example.

I’m currently reading Stadium Status: Taking Your Business to the Big Time by John Brubaker. This is an amazing book about the mindset it takes to grow your ideas into a movement. In one chapter, John talks about a successful approach he used during his time as a college lacrosse coach. He knew the importance of building a great team and the significance of recruiting, so he coined the phrase “Recruit Daily or Perish” or RDOP. John wrote these letters everywhere in his office and even had them printed on the back of his phone. He knew he had to reach out to at least 20 people every day to recruit players, boosters, and supporters of his program. I loved this concept so I wrote it down in my commonplace notebook but then I did something else, I took action.

Quick Wins

I adopted and adapted John’s approach to fit my needs. As a small business leader, the most important thing I need right now is growth and orders. So, I took RDOP and changed it to SDOP, “Sell Daily or Perish.” I added contacting 20 customers a day to my daily routine. In the past two weeks, I have connected with more than 200 people in my industry, looking for a way I can help them. As a result, I have become more sales-focused and my company gained more than $40,000 in new orders. Taking an idea it and turning into action yielded significant results.

“It takes more than coming up with some great ideas to succeed in life. The land of success is only full of doers.” – Edmond Mbiaka

Too often I see leaders who read and research but they never take action. They are overcome with the paralysis of analysis and the fear of the unknown. They think that, if they study an idea long enough, they will know exactly how to do it. The truth is, you will never know until you try. I prefer to take the Mike Erwin approach, to take what I am learning and create real, concrete results. I know I don’t have all the answers but I’m going to learn along the way.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Take the Leap

So, what are you studying right now? What is preventing you from turning that into action? Maybe it’s time take to the leap and get started even though you don’t have all the answers.

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what projects you’re working on.


P.S. In his spare time, Mike Erwin also co-authored a book with Raymond Kethledge called Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude which is one of my favorite leadership books. It inspired me to write an article about leadership and solitude.

The Problem with Short-Term Bosses

I was talking with some former colleagues the other day about a manager we all knew who had recently been fired. Her time in the role was short and now it was over. None of us were really surprised. She was brought in from outside the company to stir things up. And she did. Upper management wanted quick results so she focused on short-term fixes. She was a bull in a China shop. She brought in her own people, boosted the financials by deep cost-cutting, fired long-term employees, and instituted a top-down autocratic management style. She was laser-focused on short-term results and refused to listen to the concerns of employees and other managers. Anyone who challenged or questioned her authority was let go.

As you can imagine, the business results improved but morale dropped sharply. The good employees eventually all left the company and most of the institutional knowledge left as well. The only people who remained were those that were loyal to her and those that were quietly waiting for her to leave. Fear and anxiety became the norm. As a result, company performance ultimately fell off and all of the short-term gains she had made vanished. The company began to lose money and market share. Eventually, upper management had no choice but to fire her. The damage was done.

“You can’t build a long term future on short term thinking.” Billy Cox

Time and time again, I see companies bringing in short-term managers to fix long-term systemic problems. Often these companies have fundamental, structural flaws that need to be addressed. They have complex problems that need long-term, systemic thinking. Consider the examples of Radio Shack, Sears, K-Mart, and General Electric. Each of these companies has deep-rooted issues that have taken decades to develop. For years, leaders of these companies have focused on a series of attempts at short-term fixes. In the end, this short-term mindset has done little to address the underlying, long-term problems.

“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” H. L. Mencken

Consider a similar company, Levi Strauss & Co. The iconic denim brand reached its peak in 1996 with $7.1 billion in sales. After that, sales declined rapidly. Competition from other brands and a lack of creative and new ideas pushed it from the center of American culture. Young customers were fleeing to newer and trendier “designer jeans.” Levi Strauss was going the way of Blockbuster. It was just a matter of time.

In 2011, a 28-year Proctor & Gamble executive named Chip Bergh took over as CEO. He inherited a company steeped in debt, struggling to reinvent itself in the highly competitive U.S. denim market. Instead of a series of short-term actions, however, he developed a long-term plan to put the iconic brand “back in the center of culture.” Instead of cutting costs, he invested in innovation and a new research-and-development center called the Eureka Innovation Lab. He also went back to basics. He focused the company’s efforts on making the best jeans, especially for women. He purposely stopped chasing other clothing categories that were a distraction. He also became less reliant on retail chains like J.C. Penny’s and Macy’s. Instead, he expanded the network of Levi-branded stores.

What’s even more surprising, is that Levi’s board gave him the time to execute his plan. And, it worked. After six years of implementing his turnaround strategy, Bergh finally saw the results. Levi sales grew by 7.7% in 2017 and by 13.9% in 2018. Last week, Bergh announced plans to take Levi’s public after a 34-year absence from the stock market. Bergh now feels that Levi Strauss has the potential to be a $10 billion company. He stated that “Levi’s lost a generation of consumers in the early 2000s, but today our customers are younger than ever—and we’re gaining momentum as we bring them back.” Long-term thinking brought Levi’s from the brink of collapse back into the center of culture.

“Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity.” Bruce Lee.

Stories like this give me optimism. Senior managers of other struggling companies should be able to see the extraordinary turnaround of Levi Strauss and realize the time and effort that was required to make this happen. This is clear evidence of the power of long-term thinking and the patience required to allow these turnaround plans to come to fruition. Maybe someday we will see an end to short-term managers and the illusion of quick fixes.

Long-term thinking saved your favorite jeans. It can save your organization as well.

As always, reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you think.

If you are looking for a good book on long-term thinking, you should read Go Long: Why Long-Term Thinking Is Your Best Short-Term Strategy. This book reveals how some of the world’s most prominent business leaders resisted short-term pressures to successfully manage their organizations for the long term, and in turn, aim to create more jobs, more satisfied customers, and more shareholder wealth.